Foreign policy is determined by a number of factors, some realistic, like geography; and some ideological, like identity. Political science theory says a flexible foreign policy favours a normal state. But if you have ideology as a driver of policy then ‘fixity’ becomes a flaw. Above all, it is the national economy with its edict of ‘rational opportunism’ that first revolts against this fixity.
Aparna Pande, a PhD from Boston University and a research fellow at Hudson Institute, Washington DC, in her critical book Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India (Routledge 2011) points to flaws of state identity in Pakistan’s foreign policy. She begins by perhaps according nationalism a benign definition: “Islam and Islamic unity are the principal drivers of this ideological foreign policy, which fit in with the leaders’ conviction that Islam could be a substitute for nationalism as the basis of Pakistani identity.”
Pakistan’s hostile gravitation to India is based paradoxically on its passion for escaping it: “In some ways Pakistan has been trying to escape its Indian legacy — historic, geographic and civilisational — and attempting to find security in a virtual relocation through ideology.” The fulcrum of ‘fleeing India’ was its religion-based identity. The founding fathers also constructed a national narrative to develop the ‘other’ in India as an existential threat.
She sees this religion-based definition of India in Pakistan’s adoption of Hindustan or Bharat as India’s new name. She writes: “Pakistan was the first country to call itself an Islamic Republic, and the 1949 Objectives Resolution of Pakistan’s First Constituent Assembly emphasised the need for ‘ordering lives in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam’…. Over time, the existential threat to Pakistan has been expanded to include all global powers engaged in conflict with Muslims. This has included, at different times, the Soviet Union, Israel and the United States” (p.2).
The book juxtaposes two definitions of Indian culture, one by Jinnah who thought it separated Muslims from Hindus; and another by Abul Kalam Azad who saw it as a binding factor. Recall here also a debate between chief cleric of Deoband, Hussain Ahmad Madni, who accepted the nation state with Hindus and Muslims as one nation in it, and Allama Iqbal who rejected the nation state after seeing its self-destructive obsession with war through nationalism in Europe.
Pande gets the story of Pakistan’s foreign policy right, putting the blame on Pakistan for its failures, except one reference to former BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s biography of Jinnah, titled Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence, in which he blames the Congress leadership. There were others too, like Seervai; but about identity, MJ Akbar in his latest book Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan (HarperCollins 2011) quotes Lala Lajpat Rai: “There can be no doubt that the Hindus are a nation in themselves because they represent a civilisation of their own” (p.179).
Muslims were not the only community thinking of a separate identity.
There is yet another brilliant woman, this time a Pakistani scholar born in Karachi with an MA from Karachi University and a PhD from Columbia University, who thinks identity, is more a problem with Pakistan than a solution. Farzana Shaikh in Making Sense of Pakistan (Hurst & Company 2009) says “chronic ambiguity and confusion over the meaning of Pakistan as a homeland for Muslims has raised questions about the status of its non-Muslim minorities and their claims to qualify as Pakistani” (p.60).
Both authors write thought-provokingly about how Pakistan has “imagined itself wrong”, resulting in a fixed foreign policy that defies pragmatism and a polity where non-Muslims suffer and Muslim sects fight one another for ownership of the state.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2011.
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