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Chronically Under Siege

Satyabrata Pal

By T.V.Paul
Random House and Oxford University Press, USA, Delhi, India, 2014, pp. 272, price not stated.


Three classes of people trample all over Pakistan, the military dictators and terrorists it spawns with such remarkable fecundity, and the foreign commentators who write books of a terrifying banality that purport to explain why it does so. These are usually sniggering sermons that hold it up to the rest of the world as a cautionary tale, schadenfreude masquerading as scholarship. T.V. Paul’s The Warrior State is the latest hatchling of this sorry clutch. Paul’s thesis is that Pakistan has been warped and its growth stunted because it placed ‘hyper-realpolitik’ above all other considerations, turning itself into a state that prepared, sterilely, only for war. ‘Since the very inception of the state in 1947’, he writes, ‘the Pakistani elite has held on to an ideologically oriented hyper-realpolitik worldview, as though chronically under siege.’ That is not exactly the discovery of the Higgs boson, but if there is nothing new in the charge, neither is it false. It’s a truth recalled and a point made many times before, simply because that is so obviously the case,and it’s hard to fathom why another book was needed for an umpteenth j’accuse. It is almost as if those who write these books on Pakistan fear the contagion of an evil, against which the incantation of a mantra or a novena earns the believer protection and merit.  However, in the same paragraph in which Paul makes this statement, he also asserts that ‘In addition, an Islamic religious and ideological framework served as the core of the country’s nationhood and identity.’ That is a farrago of fantasy and prolepsis. Pakistan was conceived as a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims, as Israel was as a homeland for the world’s Jews, and those who went there were Muslims, but it did not follow that a religious framework then formed its identity, any more than in Israel, which was run for its first three decades by governments that were socialist in orientation. For the best part of its first two decades, Governments in Pakistan paid lip-service to Islam, but religion was very much a matter of private belief, and Islamic ideology did not influence governance.  Islam was commandeered into the service of the nation only in extremis in the 1965 war Ayub Khan foolishly set off,after India launched a counter-attack he had not expected, and for which he had therefore ...

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