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From Ideational Origins to a Military State

Raja Menon

By Stephen P. Cohen
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 382, Rs. 495.00


An Indian’s review of a book on The Idea of Pakistan must start by being suspect because most educated Indians believe that the demand for a separate Pakistan was unjustified to begin with. The Pakistanis, while struggling to discover what the idea really was behind Pakistan, often stressed India’s uncertain future and that it was a temporary British construct in which the only clearly discernible nation were the Muslims. Cohen’s book is a timely one in which he has even been bold enough to attempt to precis write the history of medieval India, modern India from 1947 to 1971 and 1972 to the present day, giving the background to the people’s movements that might have supported the idea of Pakistan. It is necessary for any reader to take a stand on the acceptability of the separate nation theory in 1947 before going much further into the book, because if the theory is false, then the idea of Pakistan is doomed from the beginning. For this reason Cohen introduces the parameters of state failure in the Introduction itself, so that readers have benchmarks to judge the success of the Pakistani state making attempts. Readers will have to be wary of differentiating between state making and nation building, and the best example of this confusion is probably Jinnah himself who in his personal life acquired none of the separateness of a different national, while fully comprehending the benefits of a state in which the Muslims would be a majority.   Pakistan began badly, losing Jinnah to illness and Liaquat Ali Khan to an assassin, even before the constitution was written. That it took nine years for Pakistan to write its constitution is intriguing, for there must have been a long and bitter struggle between the secularists and the early fundamentalists with victory going to the former. None of Pakistan’s subsequent aberrations can be ascribed to an inadequate constitution. Of the five or six attempts to make drastic changes, all but one were intended to strengthen the President and the Governor and weaken the elected representatives. The exception was the notorious attempt to hound the progressive Ahmediya community. Every military government sought acceptance of military rule by the Judiciary, dominated in the early stages by the Mohajirs who invented the incredible ‘doctrine of necessity’ – that which is illegal becomes legal if it is necessary. Who could probably write an equally exciting history of ...

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