Book review: Getting even gloomier about Pakistan - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 1 July 2012

Book review: Getting even gloomier about Pakistan

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.


  1. To the point.

  2. A must read for Sharakuh Khan and what at perfect match...only he can afford to read it.

    But jokes apart, seriously people like Sharakuh Khan, Manmohan Singh, Advani, IK Gujral, Mahesh Bhatt and Manishankar Aiyar should read least before they start justifying pakistan's action and habits on news channel.

    For SRK, he should think what is precious to him? country which accept him without his religion or people who have invented religion just to stay together. This should be crucial before other pakistani player jumps into him for tight embrace in next edition of IPL.

    What a irony we have, we love people who embrace pakistani murders, but instead use filthy language on simple Indian guard doing his duty. Since this nation accept people like this....this country will never rise.


  3. I've been living abroad for quite some time and been in the company of so called highly educated Pakistani's and to my amazement they r stupid enough to still believe that India waged all the wars against Pakistan and lost every one of them...that 1971 was won by Pakistan but in the end Bengali's betrayed them and that India attacked Pakistan seven times...they feel they r different from Indian muslims and considers themselves as born muslims and not converted muslim like Indian muslims....they don't have any clu of their damn identity wat so ever..don't pin too many hopes on that doomed country....

  4. What can you say about the lot in Pakistan but need of UN sponsored psychiatric help! Ever ungrateful lot! Reality eludes the supreme scrounger from the West Asia!

  5. What can you say about the lot in Pakistan but need of UN sponsored psychiatric help! Ever ungrateful lot! Reality eludes the supreme scrounger from the West Asia!

  6. Objectively speaking, the ‘magic glue’ that holds Pakistan together as a single country is 'Anti-Indian-ism'. If ever Pakistan succeeds in its plans of breaking up India, then there will be no Pakistan either. Pakistan, it seems, knows what it does not want but knows not what it want. And this is a certain path towards anarchism, not all Pakistanis have come to realise this.
    Every nation-state has its time under the Sun. India did not exist the way it is today 65 years ago and most likely will not be the same in the next 200 years from now. But what India today is is a unique experiment in the history of humanity, an experiment towards plural, diverse yet harmonious collegium. If ever India falls may it fall for a superior and better vision of the future for the mankind and not to the hollow opportunistic anarchic intentions of Pakistan. --S

  7. During my MBA at an older IIM, we were fortunate to have a retired professor from the IAS training academy (Hyderabad). He explained a term called the "condom ego". I will not go into the details here, but this was used to describe people whose real life capabilities were like the size of the real-life condom, but whose egos were equivalent to the size of the inflated condom (it will inflate to a huge multiple of its original size).

    I stay in the US for the last few years and have met a lot of Pakis. Even though the squalor in their country is worser than in India, they speak as if it is as rich as US. They usually do blue collar jobs here (taxi drivers, grocery clerks) but think they are much better than Indians who hold much higher paying white collar jobs (Common retort-"Computer mein ho na?", although i am in Finance, and they do not know the difference). They never admit losing so many wars to India. They do not think they are exporting terrorism. They think they are more powerful militarily than India. A common refrain-One Paki soldier is equal to 50 Indians. And these are Pakis who are in US for a long time.

    From what i read from your experiences, Ajai, they match a lot.


  8. Unnecessary sophistry to describe what VS Naipaul said: "Pakistan is nothing but a Country of converts hating their former country, life, culture and religion".

    That is the base line which does not need Oxford English for explanation.

  9. Very well put :)

  10. Islam itself has to modernize and come to grips with modern society and how to deal humanely with other faiths and people who reject its authoritarian views of what faith should be. For Pakistan to adopt this Work in progress, new faith which itself is struggling to cope with modernity, as the bedrock of its national identity, well that has been the biggest disaster. Instead of reforming and modernizing Islam, they have ruined it further by associating it with modern day terror. Islam had a choice of leaving its ancient baggage of bloodshed against indigenous faiths aside and embracing a new, more spiritual path one that could have been akin those of the khudai khidmatgars of the frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Instead, in Pakistan, it has become more of an excuse for violence against everyone not suitably Muslim. The Ahmediyya's who did so much to create Pakistan are now apostates and hunted down for daring to call themselves Muslim. The Sunnis kill Shias and the Shias retaliate. All persecute Hindus and Sikhs in the most brutal and brazen ways possible, abducting young women, forcibly converting them and molesting them. Such behaviour is justified using the concepts of jihad - the Pakistan Army's motto after all - and the actions of previous ghazis. Instead of becoming better than those who brutalized their ancestors, modern day Pakistanis have sought to embrace the worst aspects of their so called conquerors. Its depressing, because this sort of nhilism and absolute hatred of the "other" - anyone who rejects the Pakistani identity of manufactured Panislamism for instance, is an enemy and must be eliminated. This sort of call to violence means that terror against India will always remain, for all Indians are fair targets.

  11. Well written piece, Ajai. I have not read Ms Pande's book, but I agree with your views after I finished reading Hussain Haqqani's book about his own country, Pakistan. Pakistan's desire to be different than India by despising its historical connections, while simultaneously spending its energies to match its primary rival runs deep.

    The only peace initiative forward, in my view, is for India to strenghen itself, militarily and economically, so that Pakistan realizes it's imperative for her to bandwagon with India for her survival and success.

  12. Have a read of will give you idea's from non-indian(or Pak) view point.

  13. I consider Pakistani's creation as the price that India has paid for the numerous invasions and insubordination suffered in the last millennium at the hands of middle-eastern invaders. The current border at India's Punjab sort of represents the last fighting stand made by Indian people, you could say it is signified by the Golden Temple (Ideally, Lahore should have been the border). The land west of the Golden Temple should be considered as a loss incurred by the lost battles, beginning With Prithviraj Chauhan's in the 11th century.

    The land where Pakistan currently is, rightfully belongs to the Indian subcontinent, the people of Pakistan are essentially Indians, influenced (rather intermixed) with some central asians and greeks. It is not entirely wrong that they want to align their lineage more closely with their central asian forefathers. They are a separate country, because they have a different religion than India's majority.

    The bigger question is, what does the future hold for the Pakistani people. They need to resolve their identity crisis, acknowledge the history in its rightful earnest, reconciliate with India (which means give due respect, and not show immature defensiveness by attacking India periodically) form some resemblance of a normal country that other countries can deal with. Lets hope Pakistan can do all of this, before they lose their cool and not start using their little firecrackers in frustration.

  14. Why you need to read 200 hundred page book for pakistan foreign policy just
    one sentence in enough for that..
    Love jehad and hate India

  15. Absolutely wonderful article... As an Indian living in Dubai, I can clearly see the very same feeling running through all Pakistanis living here...
    Our unfortunate friends still strongly believe that their root lies in an imaginary Arab landscape...

  16. Excellent review. Sad truth of our times. Having such a neighbor keeps India united.

  17. Shukla you are extrmely lazy with comments management. Unfortunately, this is not the way a modern blog works. Where is the interaction if you keep siting on comments.

  18. Thanks for the heads up, Mr Shukla. Kinda pricey, though.

  19. @ Anonymous 04:45

    You write: "Shukla you are extrmely lazy with comments management. Unfortunately, this is not the way a modern blog works."

    You're saying ancient blogs used to work like this???

    Boss, this may be a "modern blog", but its run by an ancient blogger who follows the quaint practice of taking Sundays off.

    Surely you don't grudge me that?

  20. regardless of Pakistani views towards India, the blame lies squarely with the Indian civil leadership.If careful thought was given BEFORE Pakistan even came to existence OR by taking advantage of the military gains against Pak in the three wars India fought and by not going behind China to forever make that country an arch enemy hand in hand with Pak - India could well have remained either one unified nation OR could have caused an implosion of Pakistan.What Pak can do to India today is because it has unreserved support from China.With the grand infrastructure between the two running North, even if India now gains any momentum, courier delivered reverse engineered weaponry from China will snuff out any chance of victory.

  21. @Broadsword

    I think many indians are well aware that their country sits next to a psychiatric ward yet these many same people have not come to terms with the logical solution.

    Take a simple indian analogy. There's a mad dog biting around in your neighbourhood. The average indian will not kill it. Instead, he waits till someone else will kill it for him and in the mean time, he takes a defensive posture.

  22. Pakistan is nothing but an orphan searching for an imaginary mother.

  23. I have said is often here,the very basis of Pak nationalismand nation(If there is any such thing, manufactured and imagined as it is!!!) is an antithesis of everything that defines India and the subcontinent.Pakistani sense of history is that of fantasy,dreams and wishes.Its a comedy that no history of the Central Asian regions or Turks ever give any recognition of a Pakistani role in their affairs,while pak history treats it as a lynch pin to their culture and nation!!!This is a deep rooted and ingrained psyche in pakiland and to call them as long lost brothers is the biggest gaali for them!!!According to them the Indian Gene pool stops at the borders of Pakistan delineated in 1947 and God decided millenia ago that pak genes would remain limited to the geographical boundaries of that paradise called Pakistan.
    NO paklander has ever given a sufficient reply as to where the poor East Pakistanis(Bangladeshis now) fitted into their Central Asian Dreams!!!!

    Mark my words, they will NEVER be friendly relations with Pakland as long as define it to be an antithesis of India.
    At b est lets be indifferent neighbours and let it stay at that.

  24. Shukla if we can visit and comment on your blog on sunday, i don't find any reason for you to be lazy about this.

    You just retort to usual antics when pushed. Embarrass your readers on their choice of words or spelling and if that does not work deploy your old retort, "don't visit my blog".

    Seriously, Shukla blogging and reading is stress busting so this is activity most suitable for weekend. Anyways, i can suggest you to try it. Can't push it down your throat if you want to keep Sunday as a most holy day.

  25. Most Pakistanis however hold very divergent view compared to Congress supported think tank of Aligarh lineage that Islam spread in India (undivided) through sufism.

    I think Press Councillor would like to correct himself that they came galloping and did rape and murder called 'Hindu Kush' and Multan. Later this plunder spread through entire Punjab, Sindh, Central India and Bengal. Yes, Islam did spread in India through sword and rape.

    Yes India was raped into Islam and Pakistan was the product. Probably, this guilty feeling led its founding fathers to go for its present name.

    So what is new equation of world peace (WP)


    Mr. Press Councillors just a small tip for you. If you sell your appartment in vasant kunj, you will be able to feed your entire flesh eating tribe for 2 years. Big deal isn't it. Certainly it is for people on horse back.

    You know why Pakistanis buy bulk of everything, because they are not sure when will there be Military Rule and all supplies rationed. We don't have that in India with our markets getting fresh supply everyday we need not hoard.

  26. Okay - its an awesome book. Moving on..

    I think its rather late in the day to discuss the problems arising from psyche of Pakistan. This is like the west 'discovering' the root of terrorism in Pakistan in 2008. It is 20 yrs too late and arrived when the disease has spread to vital organs like army, government.

    I think the discourse has to change to what needs to done to cure the cancer. Here are some ideas:

    1) Invade and reorganise. Pentagon did leak (intentionally?) a Balkanized map of Pakistan. Is that the cure? unsure.

    2) Invade-lite ? May be some sort of extreme client state (colony?) of NATO? Possible.

    3) Complete and total change of history books. Rapid westernisation? Right away!

    4) Total dismantling of the feudal leadership? The 30 odd families that control all the land resources? Needed yesterday!

    5) Fundamental change in structure of the Pakistan army and ISI? Assimilate ISI within the CIA and then purge it from within? Possibly already underway?

    6) .. any others?

  27. Baaz nahin, Ullu hoon3 July 2012 at 00:16

    Intellectually sloppy argument Ajai. Even if we accept all the pathologies Pande describes, it does not mean that Pakistan is an irrational state. Every country likes to believe its opponents are "irrational" extrapolating individual psychological issues to state level. Americans said that about the Soviets and Chinese, Israelis and Arabs say that about each other. So Indians saying Pakistan is irrational pointing to individual attitudes is equally lame.

    Secondly this is a very partial reading. For every screwed up Pakistani there is at least one perfectly normal Pakistani who has little interest in total and permanent war against India. We can debate what the percentage of hawks vs doves but that is clearly the case, and opinion poll after opinion poll proves this.

    The problem is that Pakistani institutions empower the hardliners in India policymaking, not that there are crazy hardliners in Pakistan (I think we knew that in 1965). And even within the hardline factions, there are different attitudes towards India (Punjabi/Mohajir dominated JI vs Pathan dominated JUI-F).

  28. One thing is there now,the internet,social media,viral videos,global network television and the war on terror is showing the world and Pakistanis themselves,what they truly are and what the world thinks of the.The average Pakistani abroad now is quite defensive of his/her position and is not unaware of the reactions,bordering from wariness to derision that the word 'Pakistani' now elicits.
    Even the Pakistani at home,seeing the antics of their army,leaders,supreme court and their elites are realizing that they are not the super duper stuff that they make themselves out to be. When all you do is beg for aid from USA,China Saudi Arabia and at the same time get kicked in teh rear by a drone,even the most die hard pakistani knows things are bad.

  29. @ Anonymous 16:20

    You write: "You just retort to usual antics when pushed. Embarrass your readers on their choice of words or spelling and if that does not work deploy your old retort, 'don't visit my blog'."

    What an astonishing comment! Where have I said "don't visit my blog"? This is pure imagination.

    As for "embarrassing" my readers... I can't see where I embarrassed you. I made a joke, directed as much at myself as at anyone else. Is that what you call "embarrassing" you?

    I guess we live is different planets! Do keep visiting my blog please... you need to loosen up a bit.

  30. @ Baaz nahin, Ullu hoon

    First of all, I love your monicker!

    Your argument however is hardly valid. India is just one small voice in the global cacophony that calls Pakistan an irrational, dysfunctional, psychopathic state that lives in a permanent state of denial.

    You have a point in saying that there are plenty of rational Pakistanis. But, sadly, they have surrendered to the irrational Pakistani state and have gone down without much of a fight. They bought into the anti-Indianism that Aparna Pande talks about. And when anti-Indianism was invoked to justify radicalization, they found themselves without a convincing counter-argument.

  31. I believe there are far too many
    analyses available on Pakistan's PAST and PRESENT and

    Pakistan behaves the way it does
    WHY Pakistan is in this present

    Now what remains to be seen is what happens in the NEXT 10 years

  32. This book must be very good and all views are almost equal to a book published by Dr Shiv Shankar Sastry on Bharat Rakshak. Anybody interested in this type of realistic views but don't want to shell out this big money, can take a look at Dr. Sastry 's open book, "Pakistan a failed state."

  33. why is it when indian students get slapped in Australia they start crying?

  34. Baaz nahin..

    Unfortunately, the likes of you will pat yourself on your back having found "one" rational Pakistani, while the likes of Ajai and me have to think about the non rational Pakistanis who keep attacking India with bombs, bullets and bigotry..

    I am least bothered about yours and Pakistans search for a liberal utopia, whenever it comes, when it comes, if it comes. What I am bothered about is Pakistan today, full of hatred and violence, plus able to export that violence at short notice..

    As another poster said, the time has come to discuss options on how to deal with Pakistan, but whats amazing is that even old milutary hands like Ajai are discussing what Pakistan is, today..

    Ultimately this all comes down to projection, India has assumed Pakistan is like itself, seeking to better itself whereas Pakistan thinks its perfect and makign India islamic is the answer

  35. Just keep your Nukes ready & if the 'porkis' want some then i think we should give some! Cheers! ;D

  36. Pakistan is on its way towards becoming history; why bother about it and give it so much importance like the idiotic doves of the Indian Foreign Service have done over the past few decades.

  37. Ajai sir very eloquent narration :-)

  38. Hi All,
    I wish to have this book.

    Anyway, I do not think Pakistan will be a history; at least not in the next 25 years. Yes, state Pakistan will continue to neglect its own people, will produce more and more terrorists. It will harbor, support, & train terrorists to attack India.

    Pakistan Army will not allow Pakistan to be a history. Also China & Saudi Arabia want Pakistan exists as a country. They will do everything to keep Pakistan floats.

    For Chinese Army without Pakistan it will be disaster for it to go against India {I used Chinese Army because, most of the Chinese people do not like Pakistan, of course like not India too. But considering the support Pakistan gets from Chinese Government, Chinese People do not reciprocate in a similar equal manner. For Chinese people, Pakistan is really insignificant}.

    Similarly, for SA, Pakistan is needed for a number of reasons. Arabs know very well that sub-continent Muslims, especially Pakistanis, are better servants for Arab masters than any other Muslims. SA also needs Pakistan against Shia Iran & Israel. It also needs Pakistan to propagate hardcore Salafi Islam. A poor Pakistan is better for the benefits of Arabs in the Gulf Countries.

    Therefore, Pakistan Army will at any cost will be the lungs, heart & brain of Pakistan. Its only agenda is what it can do to destroy India, while the country falls into chaos. One has to read latest Ahmed Rashid's book.

    Only people who can save Pakistan is Pakistanis. But they cannot do it because they lost their own identity. Like some of the Indian Muslims, Pakistanis have basically forgot whether they are Pakistanis or Muslims. This aspect is clearly visible when one sees Pakistanis in Arab countries. They act like they are superior to non-Muslims, but the reality is that sub-continent Muslims are the best menial servants than their Indonesian counterparts or rest of the Muslims.

    But many Muslims (again sub-continent Muslims) claim than Muslims are the same everywhere. It is true when it comes to religion. But the identity wise, Arab Muslims are very different from Turkish Muslims, Persians, Syrians, etc. See the civil wars that have been going on many Islamic countries such as Syria, Bahrain, etc. Or the soccer violent that occurs every Egypt-Algeria match.

    This is what sub-continent Muslims lacking. The moment they realize the fact that Indian Muslim or Pakistan Muslim is different from Arab or Turk Muslim, they will become prosper.

    In Pakistan that will not be allowed by Army and Madrasas, which function with Arab money. Any leader who wants to come up and claim that he or she is be "a Pakistani Muslim," will be assassinated by either Army or terrorists/militants.

    Well, Pakistan really needs new "Muhammed Ali Jinnah." The Old Jinnah will be weeping in heaven seeing the state of present day & future Pakistan.

  39. Ajai sir in response to your post @ Anonymous 16:20 I could help my imagine the look on your face when you were reading it and responding to it and I was LMAO... :-), you should stop embarrasing your readers ... :-)


  40. India needs to forget pakistan . concentrate on good governance,development, take indian economy from 2to 8 trillion dollars
    make heave investments in agriculture industry ,mining education health ,housing ,sanitation infrastructure
    women and child welfare,modernisationand transformation of armed forces so that ther is no poverty squaller
    hunger , malnutrition exploitation . the police civil services, judical reforms together with responsibility and accountability by all public servants ,may be move to a presidential form of govt so that no dynastic politics. this will leave pakistan far behind and it will have no choice but to fall in line . increase the armour regiments toover 100. massive investments in artillary infantry
    transformation from 1970 mindset to 21 century.fighter squadrons over 60 nuclear ssns and ssbn


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