by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th June 12
Title : Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India
Publisher : Routledge (New York), Contemporary South Asia series, 2011
Pages : 245
Cost : Rs 6,750/-
Aparna Pande’s excellent book, Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India, is a must read for Indian travellers to Pakistan who tend to gush to the locals, “You know, this is just like India, we don’t feel like we’ve come to another country”, and then feel perplexed by the Lahori’s cold response. Secure in our millennia-old identity, few of us Indians are aware of Pakistan’s quest for an identity; the logic of its “anti-India” worldview; and the many fictions that our neighbour has embraced in answering that simplest of questions: “who am I?”
I recall my own bewilderment when I met the Pakistan High Commission’s press counsellor before my first visit to that country. Invited into his office, I was treated to a diatribe about how Pakistan was so different from squalid, beggar-infested India. “We come from Central Asia, galloping on horses across those wide open grasslands,” he told me, his hands pumping imaginary reins as he gazed past me at imaginary grasslands. “We feel caged in the tiny houses you have here.” He was referring to his Vasant Vihar flat.
As he expanded on this theme, contrasting how Pakistanis bought oranges in baskets of a hundred, rather than the half dozen oranges that an Indian would buy, I dismissed him as a crank who had served too long in a difficult posting. But within Pakistan, and especially amongst the policymaking elite, I soon encountered similar views: the embrace of Afghan, Persian, Central Asian or pan-Islamic identities to repudiate any shameful linkages with the unwashed masses of India. Historical connections with India, it would appear, existed only through the pre-British, Muslim ruling class.
Pande’s book explores how and why Pakistan repudiates its history. For this, you have to pay Rs 6,750/- for a slim, handsome volume that is a part of Routledge’s Contemporary South Asia series. But that daunting amount buys you a carefully researched historical analysis that traces the crafting of our neighbour’s national identity, from the time that the Muslim League convinced itself that a nation could be constructed on the basis of a shared religious identity, with Islam substituting for nationalism. Such an identity, Pakistan’s leaders felt, was as central to the new state’s survival as the armed defence of its physical borders. Any ideological frontier naturally requires an ideological “other”, Pande argues, which for Pakistan has always been a malevolent “Hindu” India, epitomised by the crafty Hindu bania. Such a worldview permeates through Pakistani society, being propagated through a “Pakistan Studies” curriculum at all levels of schooling.
Pande deconstructs Pakistan’s pan-Islamic ideology (it was the world’s first Islamic Republic), which it sustained with difficulty even through Cold War alliances with the “anti-Islamic” west. Saudi Arabia described Pakistan’s 1954 entry into the US-led Baghdad Pact as “a stab in the heart of the Arab and Muslim states,” while Islamabad’s pro-west stance during the 1956 Suez Crisis seriously damaged relations with Egypt. Meanwhile Nehru’s stock remained high across much of West Asia, so Pakistan could cite Islamic solidarity mainly in its relations with Turkey and Iran.
But Islamabad continued to play the pan-Islamic card, irritating old civilisations like Egypt by lecturing them about religion as the predominant marker of identity. Pande quotes Egypt’s King Farouk’s acid observation that “Pakistanis believed that Islam was born on August 14, 1947.”
The author highlights Pakistan’s contortions in reconciling pan-Islamism with its friendship with Communist China. Even in 1956, Prime Minister Suhrawardy was saying, “I feel perfectly certain that when the crucial time comes, China will come to our assistance.” Pakistan’s vocal advocacy for the rights of Muslim minorities anywhere does not extend to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, who Beijing has long persecuted as separatists and supporters of terrorism. At successive meetings of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), Pakistan has dissuaded fellow Muslim countries from tabling a resolution on the Uyghur issue, even while raising the issue of Kashmir and allegations of persecution of the Muslim minority in India.
Too many Indians, especially policymakers, deal with Pakistan as if it were a normal country that makes rational calculations to materially benefit its people, rather than a confused, ideological hybrid for whom confronting the “other” remains the primary buttress of a shaky national identity. Too often, Pakistan’s unshakeable opposition to India is laid at the army’s doorstep, based on the simplistic conclusion that peace does not suit the generals. Pande’s dense but readable book leaves the reader with the gloomy conclusion that anti-Indianism runs much deeper, flowing along the roots and branches of an artificial and ill-conceived national identity.