Essentialising Pakistan

There was that time when Hegel pronounced that India had “no history”; it “is a repeat of the same old majestic ruin,” he wrote.

Instructively, not until his full-blooded engagement with India towards 1857 was Marx to demur with the Hegelian hypothesis.  That he was to work his way towards enunciating what he called “the Asiatic mode of production” as an explanation for the seemingly eternal stasis of India remains evidence of his historical anxiety always to make sense of the seemingly incomprehensible.

Since the emergence of India and Pakistan as sovereign nation-states, most “indigenous” historians have strenuously questioned both the Hegelian stipulation and the full validity of the “Asiatic mode of production” thesis.

Especially those who subscribe to a dialectical materialist perspective of time, space, and human agency, it must seem an absurdity, ab initio, to suggest that any human subject, concept, group/community, or nation is ever in a state of coma.

It is ofcourse the case that the pace of historical transformation observes differing momentums from agent to agent, community to community, nation to nation; so that in some instances the “sameness” seems to make invisible the dynamic, and in others the dynamic overwhelmes the “givens” frenetically.


I have taken the liberty to thus preface my point about Pakistan inorder to underscore an irony that informs much lazy comment post the Benazir martyrdom.

Many among those who have over the years hotly, and justly, contested the western metropolitan project of “essentialising” India (Edward Said called the politics of that project “Orientalism”) think nothing of proferring the complacent view that nothing ever changes in/about Pakistan.  “Repeat of the same majestic ruin,” as it were!

Such Indian comment from “experts” and upwardly-mobile beneficiaries of India’s “development” alike barely conceals a smirk.

There is indeed truth to the overview that since the murder of the first Pakistani Pime Ministerin 1953, interested forces have sought in every conceivable way to keep in place a stranglehold that has been hard to breach.  This ideological and material conglomerate has comprised the AMA—America/Mullah/Army—in a peculiar marriage between the feudal, the theological, and infusions of the technologically comprador. 

Yet, it would be a serious misreading of the dynamics of Pakistani history to think that the Benazir murder is a mere repeat of that first murder of Liaqat Ali Khan.  Or that the Benazir persona in 2007 embodied merely an unvaryingly familiar personal mind-set and collective history.

It would be readily understood that, for example, Gandhi before and after the event in South Africa were two different historical agents; and then again Gandhi before and after the Champaran Satyagraha.

Yet it is not, for some reason, equally understood that Jinnah before and after 1937 were also two different agents, and two different kinds of muslim.  Or that Jinnah of the moment of the call to  direct action and of the first speech to the newly independent Pakistan Assembly were starkly different historical personae.

And from thereon, that Benazir at oxford, and the Benazir of 1988 and then again of 1993 require to be seen as an evolving persona, and a carrier if you like of an accreting history that has now come to roost with her martyrdom. 

That accreting history warrants the view that the murder of Benazir should not be looked at merely as a sudden Foucauldian “rupture” but an apotheosis.  An apotheosis that connotes the relegation of forms of control even at the very moment that these seem gruesomely ascendant. 

The Benazir of 2007 carried with her a sentience born of intervening contestations internally in Pakistan and of Pakistan’s rapidly changing dynamics in relation to outer worlds, both friendly and hostile, that has inevitably burst into a not-to-be-stemmed tidal wave. 

Her martyrdom   has given expression to critiques and aspirations that have been long in the making, rendering the emperor rather pitifully without clothes.  At some earlier marker in Pakistan’s history, this may not have been so.

In that context it is crucial to understand that large and largely influential segments of Pakistani society have been freed in a conclusive way from the anxieties of an identity politics whose burden has sat heavy on Pakistan’s “nationalist” psyche.


I venture to say that this freeing is powered now by a momentum that promises a decisive redefining in Pakistan of “community” and “nation,” as well as of reformulating the character of the state in the years to come.  And this for the reason that those unique formative features within sub-continental Islam that have thus far remained relegated in the Pakistani nation-state—always vastly different from Arabic origins—are once again finding a self-confident voice.  It is that inherited voice that ultimately bears within it the clout to defeat impositions under which the Pakistani national identity has tended to wither and distort.

When the Benazir of 2007, risking her life, spoke insistently of democracy as the answer to Pakistan’s ills, she wasn’t, to my mind, speaking merely of a new form of political organization.  There was an urgency and extension to her articulation that suggested everytime that what she had in mind was a cultural and psychological transformation of far-reaching dimensions.

Even as she knew she would more likely than not pay for that articulation with her life, it was clear that she also knew that the time for it had come, and that, losing her life, she might succeed in ways that may no more be refused. And is it not obvious that the turn of event since her death points that way?

A three-way catharsis seems underway in Pakistan: reliving the Bangladesh experience, vast numbers across in Pakistan are obliged to recognize that the theocratic basis of nationhood bears within itself the seeds of disintegration, as the hands that feed it inevitably become its food; secondly, the glorified honeymoon with the army as the most secure arbiter of national stature and security seems equally in tatters; and, thirdly, influential elites who may for one reason or the other have remained silent over the years on the value of that special relationship, even if one of abject dependence, with the United States, acknowledge, again however privately, that the Nehruvian decision to keep a safe distance from that post-war imperialist power and to build the infrastructure of the new India by painful but autonomous inches may indeed have demonstrated the truth of the story of the tortoise getting better of the hare.


This is not to say that entrenched interests will not continue to battle hard; and yet, they are now having to fight that battle not only against an intractable multitude of contradictions within internal and external structures of power but, most frustratingly, against a wholly new Pakistani citizenry whose disenchantment with the hitherto seems comprehensive and complete, and whose willingness to give battle in return equally dour.  What turns and twists that battle might take in the months to come remains a matter of concern.  As also the price that a successful conclusion of that battle may entail.

Most significantly, a new modern elite in Pakistan seems today ready and willing  for a partnership with India, transcending the ghosts of partition.  It may not be an exaggeration to say that just that one fact bids fair to cause a sea-change not just in the affairs of India and Pakistan but of the wider world as well.  How imaginatively and caringly a newly aspiring India engages with that paradigm shift will, no doubt, be as seminal to the future of the subcontinent and the world as Pakistan’s own transformations.

And in that context, India’s success or failure in conducting the affairs of all organs of the state along the basic constitutional principle of secularism must be considered of fatal consequence. As well as the refusal of Indians across the board to give in to the forces of communal fascism.

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