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THE SUBCONTINENT

PRAVEEN SWAMI

that casts Pakistan’s army in a less benign light, claiming it reflects ‘ignorance both of military needs and of Pakistani realities’. The footnote refers us to Ayesha Siddiqa’s Military Inc., a book that created something of a sensation after its publication in 2007 by laying bare the substantial economic interests of the army. Siddiqa argued that the army made use of Islam and national secur ity concerns to subvert democratic politics as a consequence. Several serious critiques have been made of Siddiqa’s line of argument, but proposing that she is out of touch with ‘Pakistani realities’ is not one of them; the scholar lives in Islamabad and Bahawalpur, and worked with the country’s defence audit service.

A FA I LED STATE? PAKISTAN: A HARD COUNTRY

By Anatol Lieven (Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 560pp £30)

BACK IN 1966, The Times gushed over Pakistan’s success, describing it as ‘one of the most remarkable examples of state and nation building in the post-war period’. In the decades since, the newspaper’s discursive arsenal has been equipped with somewhat different ideas: in March 2009, it described a Pakistan that was ‘losing the war on religious extremism’ and facing a future as a ‘failed state’.

Evidence that the army actively subverted the democratic interregnum of 1988–99 has long existed. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, has recorded the role of the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) in bribing and intimidating politicians to secure particular political outcomes. Democratic governments, as the economist S Akbar Zaidi has pointed out, were in office, but not in power.

Anatol Lieven sets out to demonstrate that both these discourses are false. His Pakistan is a ‘quite inert and somnolent mass of different societies, with two modernizing impulses fighting to wake it up’ – Islamism and Westernisation. Barring a catastrophic catalyst, like a climatechange disaster or an invasion by the United States, there is ‘a fair chance that Pakistan will in effect shrug both of them off, roll over, and go back to sleep’.

Perched somewhat uncomfortably between scholarship, journalism and travel-writing, Lieven’s book self-consciously locates itself in the tradition of the colonial chroniclers whose t houghts pepper t he t ex t . Kinship and patronage, he cont ends, const i t u t e t he ba s i c building blocks of Pakistan’s polity; ideological movements ‘can topple regimes and bring new ones to power; but they do not change the basic structure of politics’. But the state’s lack of resources and its institutional weakness mean that political actors simply cannot deliver on their promises: ‘rather like trying to get a very skimpy blanket to cover a very f at man’, there just isn’t enough to go around.

Poster of the Bhutto-Zardari family, 2010

Lieven’s contention that political life is shaped by primordial kinship networks, not supposedly alien ideologies, is also reductive. There is a welter of work by scholars such as Arif Hassan and Mohammad Qadeer about the dramatic impact socio-economic change has had on the str ucture of politics in Punjab. There is no doubt that traditional institutions like kinship networks play a crucial role, but, as Khalid Sayeed’s work showed decades ago, intense battles over ideology, identity and faith have also shaped public life.

Lieven’s emphasis on Pashtun traditionalism is similarly facile. Thomas Ruttig’s discussion of pashtunwali, the traditional code beloved of the mass media and Lieven alike, has noted that power, and not a set of mythic values, governs actual behaviour.

Lieven’s perfectly tenable critique of Baloch nationalism is undermined by its approving reliance on the unabashedly racist Sylvia Matheson:

Inevitably, Lieven argues, politicians are compelled to ask the country’s pre-eminent institution, its army, to step in. In his view, the army is ‘a sort of giant kinship group’, just like the other actors in the country, competing for patronage and power. Pakistan’s often-reviled army is thus, in Lieven’s vision, a good thing, an organic, quasi-traditional institution necessary to hold back the nation from an otherwise inevitable lurch into the abyss.

Lieven is dismissive of the growing corpus of literature

Can these traditionally lawless tribes, so cussedly and illogically proud that they consider it more praiseworthy to steal cattle and grain than to demean themselves by working and earning money – can such men as these ever fit into the pattern of modern, democratic civilization as we know it? Lieven relies excessively on anecdote. He posits, for example, that ‘constant mass migration from the countryside

LITERARY REVIEW June 2011

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