Keep Talking and Keep Listening!

They say listening is more difficult than talking. But what is even harder in today's world is to communicate - an intense process of listening and talking and listening and responding........
This is a forum for people to engage in a conversation which is an art that many people don't know. Lets listen to others while maintaining the courage of conviction.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Maleeha Lodhi Juggling a Dream

Maleeha Lodhi’s edited volume is one of the few books that Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Public Relations’ head Maj. General Athar Abbas recommends to his visitors. The value of this book for Pakistan’s armed forces and establishment is that it presents Pakistan as ‘beyond a crisis state’. The basic thesis of the volume is that there are many things which are not right about the country but that in itself does not qualify it as a failed or failing state. The seventeen contributors have come together in this volume to present the generally unsung successes of Pakistan or to make it look like a normal state, like any other.
            Having gone through the book from cover to cover a reader can get a bit lost. There are some chapters which tend to stand alone as Ahmed Rasheed’s on Afghanistan. Broadly, the seventeen chapters can be divided into five discussion themes: (a) presenting an alternative narrative, (b) history of Pakistan’s birth (c) debate on the changing nature of civil- military relations, (d) opinion by Pakistani expatriates on technical issues such as improving governance, economic development, solving problems of energy generation, and improving quality of youth through education, and (e) military-strategic issues such as nuclear security, military strategy, relations with India, and debate on Afghanistan. The book is a great example of an edited volume since it does not burden a reader with a long introduction and conclusion. Moreover, it neatly brings together three kinds of authors: (a) those who have a big name and hence market value such as Ahmed Rasheed, Ayesha Jalal, Akbar S. Ahmed, Ishrat Husain and Mohsin Hamid, (b) writers with technical expertise or a bent of mind which is sympathetic to the military establishment like Muneer Akram, Riffat Hussain, Brig. (retd) Feroz Hassan Khan, Shuja Nawaz snd Meekal Ahmed, and (c) young writers who are meant to bring a fresh perspective, for instance, Moeed Yusuf and Ziad Haider. The book is wanting in terms of a solid debate on youth, women, and relations with the US, India and the Muslim world. The chapter on youth and education by Moeed Yusuf or Riffat Hussain’s contribution on analysing a couple of decades of India-Pakistan peace initiatives does not fulfill the purpose.
Irrespective of how sympathetic one feels with Lodhi’s agenda of improving Pakistan’s image, the task could have been done in a more sophisticated manner than, for instance, by Mohsin Hamid’s suggestion that the country must be taken seriously because it is the 6th largest country in the world and has more non-Muslims living in it than the total population of Toronto and Miami. Even more non-serious is the suggestion that honour killings can be ignored because better things happen as well such as men dressing up as transvestites and doing a television show. All states and societies have inherent contradictions. But one behaviour pattern cannot be deemed as representing the overall attitude of a society. Pakistan’s problem is not that it will physically dissolve. At this juncture, it is physically secure with all external and internal stakeholders interested in keeping the state alive. However, it is also a fact that all players want to dominate and capture the state including the militants.
            So, the narrative in this book does not really explain the direction which the country is taking, nor does it analyse the impact of the growing latent radicalism in Pakistan on the future of its people and the region as a whole. It is even more difficult to sympa- thize with Akbar S. Ahmed’s assertion in the book that the historical confusion regarding the state’s ideology, which dates back to its birth, is nothing more than strategic vagueness that was meant to gel different people and schools of thought together. The confusion created due to the lack of clarity of the country’s earlier and later leadership has pushed the country in a direction where it has become a nest of militancy and latent- radicalism. What is required, as suggested in Ziad Haider’s excellent analysis, is an alternative narrative. However, neither Haider nor any other contributor to this volume has mulled over the issue of an alternative religious, political and social discourse that may take the country out of its current logjam.
            Pakistan’s fundamental problem is that the state defines citizenship on the basis of a citizen’s putative relationship with religion and the central establishment. This leaves out millions of non-Muslims or members of minority ethnic communities from a sense of representation. Those that choose to protest their rights like the East Pakistanis or Baluch are then brutally butchered in the name of national security. This volume chooses to focus on religion related violence. This category of violence cannot be stopped because the problem of the religiosity of the state becomes compounded with another issue of a powerful military bureaucracy, an institution which tends to use all measures including religion and violence to gain its military-strategic objectives. According to Zahid Hussain, some of the militant groups were connected with the military due to the role they played in the possible resolution of the Kashmir issue or in helping GHQ Rawalpindi deal with India.
            Whether it is the urge for strategic depth in Afghanistan or India in general the state’s strategic goals have been critical in changing social ethos and framed the attitude of the middle class. It is not the modern and liberal socioeconomic category that Lodhi imagines it to be. Had the editor gone more than skin-deep in digging into the character of the middle class, she and other contributors to this volume may have found that the bulk of the middle class is, in fact, radicalized or not liberal at all. The fact that people do not generally vote for the religious parties does not indicate the character of the society. Pakistan’s electoral politics responds to patronage politics and not to ideological politics. Maleeha Lodhi clearly shuns the feudal and patronage tendencies of the country’s political system and links it with the traditional elite. However, such analysis lacks depth and fails to present the correct picture that feudalism in Pakistan has actually morphed into different shapes and penetrated various institutions including the military and civil bureaucracy. So, it does not make any difference if, as Shuja Nawaz writes in his chapter on the military, the armed forces have become more diverse in terms of their ethnic composition or are increasingly from urban areas.
            A number of authors in this book use highly superfluous and unscientific methodology to explain different social norms. In fact, there is little analysis on how the military visualizes itself or its role in the country’s power politics. The GHQ does not intend to empower the political leadership. Hence, Saeed Shafqat’s notion that the extension given to the Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani indicates a level of confidence of the political leadership in its own capacity to deal with the military, appear comical. Shafqat’s piece is certainly in a more academic style than many other chapters in this volume as it experiments with the concept of elite negotiation to explain the current coexistence between the political forces and the military. Pakistan’s military bureaucracy is known for making partnerships with civilian stakeholders which eventually make the organization last longer than, perhaps, its counterparts in the Middle East. The story of the coexistence between civil and military narrated by Shafqat does not do justice in explaining the real malaise of Pakistan’s political system.
It would have been a good idea to have a chapter dedicated to understanding Pakistan military’s preoccupation with India. In this regard the chapter by Muneer Akram, who is a senior Pakistani diplomat, on strategic issues is refreshing. It clearly explains that the establishment has moved away from its fear that India wants to destroy Pakistan. It is rare in the works on strategy to come across a clear perspective on the military’s perception on India as in the chapter mentioned here.
            Equally good are the chapters on energy security and bureaucratic restructuring. Though a bit dense Ishrat Hussain’s chapter on administrative restructuring is another good contribution which will help any Pakistani government in improving governance. If asked to summarize the book, it is an expression of the desires of many Pakistanis to emerge as a successful country. Whether this dream will get fulfilled is a million dollar question which sadly doesn’t get answered in this book.