The Idea of Pakistan
Rizwan Zeb ·       

Stephen Philip Cohen is widely regarded as a leading authority on South Asian affairs. His work on the armies of India and Pakistan is indeed phenomenal. His recent India book: India, the Emerging Power is the best work on India's emerging position in the regional and global order. Like his army books, after his India book, he recently published his equally important, though different in approach, style and theme, book on Pakistan: The Idea of Pakistan.

The basic theme of the book is that the "Idea of Pakistan" has fallen short of its ideas and the biggest question today is how the idea of Pakistan will work. Instead of following the chronological order to describe the details of developments in Pakistan, Steve Cohen has discussed in different chapters, players, factors and issues which in his understanding best define Pakistan: Idea of Pakistan, the state of Pakistan, Regionalism and separation, demographic, educational and economic prospects, Pakistan's future and American options. Regardless of a few oversights, the book is eminently readable, and is full of objective insights.

Pakistan since 9/11 has once again become the frontline state in the war against terror and the biggest US ally in the region (perhaps not especially after the recent developments in the US-India relations). At the same time, American policy makers think that Pakistan is not only part of the solution but is also part of the problem. Anti-American sentiments are on the rise in Pakistan. This makes this book more timely and relevant as the author not only discusses the present state of Pakistan and what likely future(s) it might have, but also amply examines American policy options. This chapter is widely considered the best appraisal of the issue and the challenges it poses to both countries.

According to the author, Pakistan is run by a "moderate oligarchy" called the "Establishment, comprising of the senior ranks of the military, the civil service, key members of the judiciary, and other elites." This group believes that India has to be countered, nuclear weapons have secured Pakistan, Kashmir is the unfinished part of the partition plan, and large-scale social reforms are unacceptable, vocal Muslim nationalism is desirable but Islamism is not; Washington should not be trusted but should be taken maximum advantage of.

Perhaps the best of this book is the chapter on Pakistan's demographic future. Pakistan's population is growing by 2.9 per cent annually, which is the highest in the world. According to Steve Cohen, if this trend continues, by 2015, Pakistan's population will be 219 million, 225 million by 2025 and 295 million by 2050(p.232). This high population growth rate, coupled with massive urbanisation and large youth bulge, can result in political exploitation of Pakistanis who will find no economic opportunity in their country.

The author has also criticised the local government plan of the Pakistani government. According to him this plan deliberately seeks to weaken provincial power. Its real purpose is to create a class of notables who owe their position to the army headquarters.

The author also points out that in the last two decades, Pakistan's economy has declined considerably, resulting in a governmental policy of ignoring issues such as health, education and other social services as these, according to Steve Cohen, directly compete with the military/defence budget of the country. He also points out that the reason for the increase in the Fauji Foundation's assets from 2.06 billion to 9.8 billion rupees in 2005 is not that it was profitable but owing to the fact that the foundation received government subsidies and preferential contracts.

The author also believes that the Pakistan Army is largely responsible for the current state of Pakistan yet he says that the politician's "must learn the limits of their own freedom but then must learn to expand these limits. The army, on the other hand, will have to understand the limits of its capacity to govern. The army may be strong enough to prevent state failure but is not imaginative enough to transform it.

Steve Cohen also suggests that Pakistan should study and follow the Bangladesh model where the army has been sent home and the political parties have agreed to hold elections under a caretaker government.

The author, very understandably, suggests that normalisation with India is of vital importance for Pakistan. Regarding the measures the Musharraf government has taken so far, he is of the view that flawed national priorities, especially the religiously denominated and India-centric concept of security, are a serious constraint on Pakistan's ability to resolve the challenges it faces, even if Musharraf's intentions and capabilities are sincere and serious, about which scepticism remains.

In the chapter "Pakistan's Future," Stephen Cohen has given different scenarios which, today's Pakistan might end up with in future. These scenarios range from the continuation of the present civil-military arrangements to "soft authoritarianism. However, according to his understanding the present arrangement will continue in the foreseeable future. Eventually, according to him, Islamic parties will strengthen, though Islamic revolution is ruled out.

The final chapter, which is the most important, is about the American policy objectives and options. This is a very important chapter as it discusses the issues and challenges posed by the post 9/11 international and regional order.

Mr. Jinnah, according to Dr. Cohen was a brilliant political strategist and speaker. He considers him Pakistan's Tom Paine and George Washington (p.28). However, he doubts the popular belief that Indian Muslims were for Pakistan: What percentage of Indian Muslims favoured an independent Pakistan is still unclear, he claims. (p.29)

He is wrong when he says that "Iqbal turned the idea of a separate homeland for India's Muslims into a mass movement," or that it was Iqbal who "credibly argued that (Muslim) community desired and needed a separate state in which it could establish a South Asian counterpart of the great Islamic empires of Persia and Arabia."

His statement "Jinnah's divisive rhetoric and acceptance of extralegal procedures (p.42) is surprising. He fails to mention even one extralegal procedure adopted by Jinnah. Criticising the August 11, 1947 speech and other such speeches of Jinnah, he says that "A few speeches could not erase four decades of emphasis on the differences between Hindus and Muslim." This is also historically not true. It is a historically proven fact that Jinnah was a firm believer in one India and that he gave up the demand for separate electorates and accepted single electorate. One can find nothing in his statements until 1940 about separation though a number of Muslim leaders started issues statements demanding partition or rearrangement of certain areas to safeguard Muslim interests since 1930. All he wanted was the safety of the Indian Muslims in United India. This is a very legitimate demand. This is exactly why he, on 16 June 1946, rejected the mission's offer of a sovereign Pakistan carved out of the Muslim-majority provinces in the north-west and the Muslim-majority districts of partitioned Punjab and Bengal and accepted the alternative plan for a three tier federal constitutional arrangement covering the whole of India (Ayesha Jalal, Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia). The Official documents about partition published by the British government and a number of letters from Jinnah to the viceroy of India further support this argument as pointed by eminent historian K.K.Aziz.

Surprisingly, he fails to mention the events which led to the creation of Pakistan. The author also states that congress compared Pakistan to Israel in the sense that both identified their "members by religion and professed tolerance for religious minorities within the borders of the new state and where they differ is that Israel opens its doors to all co-religionists while Pakistan restricts entry of Muslims from India and even Bangladesh." Another difference which is mostly ignored is that Jews were brought in and settled in what is now called Israel; Pakistan was created by a negotiated agreement between all the parties concerned.The author accepts the fact that many Indian leaders were all too eager to ensure that the new state would have a short life (p. 39).

There are few oversights in the book as well like Dur-ul-Uloom Haqqania is in NWFP and not in Balochistan (p.182). It is Special Service Group (SSG) of the Pakistan Army and not the Special Security Group and it was very much there in the 1965 and 1971 wars, therefore it is wrong to say that the SSG saw battle first in Baluchistan (p.220). The only Baloch prime minister of Pakistan was Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali (p.227). Bulkah Sher Mazari, who was the caretaker prime minister, though is ethnically Baluch but his family since last so many years has settled in Dera Ghazi Khan (Punjab). He was not owned by the Balochis as one of their own and was always considered from Punjab.

President Musharraf served two terms in the SSG, first as a Captain and was mostly based at Cherat (SSG HQ) and then as a major, this time at the Attock Fort. And there is no university in Pakistan named after A. Q Khan (p.80) perhaps few private colleges. Without providing any source the author claims that at the National Institute of Pakistan Studies of the Quaid-e-Azam University, eighteen of thirty graduate students had counterfeit degrees. (p. 244). He has also invented/ used interesting acronyms and phrases like "TINA" (There is no Alternative) and the "the inevitable S.S. Prizada".

However, despite such flaws here and there, "The Idea of Pakistan" is a valuable addition on the subject. The style is different, gripping and sober. The work merits the attention of specialists as well as a common reader. The reviewer has no doubt that very few works on Pakistan will match the brilliance of the analysis presented in this book. A must read for all those who are interested in Pakistan and South Asia.