Christophe Jaffrelot is a Senior Research Fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, Visiting Professor at the King's India Institute (London) and Global Scholar at Princeton University. In this exclusive interview with The Hindu’s Vaiju Naravane he discusses his new book to be published in India under the title The Pakistan Paradox.

In what sense is your book, published in France this week by Fayard under the title Le Syndrome Pakistanais, an essay or a pamphlet, and what is the thesis or the central point of the book?

The book argues that Pakistan is facing three contradictions since 1947 — and even, sometimes, since its very project emerged during the Raj.

Primarily, there is the tension between a unitary notion of the Muslim nation state that is Pakistan and the diversity of the country in ethno-linguistic terms. This tension was there before Partition and it has remained after Partition with at least three provinces that never reconciled themselves fully with the Pakistani project: Bengal — Bengalis went in 1971, and the Baluchistan, which has been repeatedly on the warpath vis-à-vis the centre, and the Pashtuns, who have a very peculiar trajectory. There's been a demand for Pashtunistan, even a kind of irredentism with the Afghan Pashtuns for years, but the Pashtun trajectory has been more complicated since sections of the Pashtun elite — especially among the military — have rallied around the Pakistani project.

In contrast, Sindhi nationalism has been defused for political reasons: with the rise to power of Z.A. Bhutto (and then Benazir), Sindhis have seen that they could reach the top echelon of the state — somewhat like the Punjabis before them. There was no need to be separatist anymore.

There is one last group epitomising the tension between the Pakistani project and the resilience of ethno-linguistic centrifugal forces, and that is the Mohajirs. The founding-fathers of this project came from their ranks - and now they are fighting against it, up to a point. They want a very distinct territory and identity to be recognised, with Karachi as their stronghold - but they are not separatist. The Mohajirs, the originators of Pakistan, wanted it in order to retain their power and privilege. They could not accept the numerical superiority of the Hindus and demanded a separate electorate and then a separate state. They got their separate state but then, ironically, the Mohajirs remained in a minority - they were only 7 per cent of the Pakistani population in 1947.

One cannot say that the Mohajirs are separatists. They prefer to play with the mainstream parties, allying themselves with whosoever is in office — either the PPP or the PML(N).

The second symptom of the Pakistani Syndrome?

The second symptom is much more well-known and that is the tension between democracy and authoritarianism — the ten or eleven year syndrome with civilian governments overturned by army coups. What I try to show here is that we should go beyond this oscillation to make two points. The first one is that even when democrats are in office, there is no democracy. Firstly because the army is so overwhelmingly present that they continue to shape the country’s policies vis-à-vis Afghanistan, Kashmir, etc and secondly, because many of the civilians elected to power have no democratic culture. They are in the mould of Jinnah who was more viceregal — parliamentary democracy was not his cup of tea, he preferred the presidential system as did Bhutto who was not a democrat either (as evident from the way he rigged the 1977 elections). And Nawaz Sharif has not been a democrat either when he had a clear majority in 1997-99. He showed, then, that he was not for the freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary.

Besides, military rulers and party leaders are both part of the same establishment. Nawaz Sharif, for instance, has been the creature of Zia. The military rulers picked him up and made him Chief Minister of Punjab in 1985, to begin with. So there is a real symbiosis between these two milieux. Of course there are true democrats in the country — people who have gone to jail for their beliefs, but most of the mainstream politicians have to do something with the military establishment and vice versa. The sons and daughters of many military top brass are joining politics. The sons of Zia and Ayub Khan have become ministers. Because there is such a civilo-military nexus, the questions arises: who is the opposition? That is why I focus on the judiciary this time, because for the last five years or so ever since, Iftikar Chaudhury took over as Chief Justice, the judiciary has emerged as a real counter power. And the Chief Justice attacked both — the military and civilian rulers — Aslam Beg, Pervez Musharraf and Asif Zardari.

What is the third contradiction you observe?

That issue concerns Islam, the conception of Islam. Even before Partition there were two conceptions of Islam among the promoteurs of Pakistan. The Muslim League of the early 20 century defined Islam as Muslimhood — a cultural marker — more than as a religion. It represented a community that felt a Hindu threat but it had no theocratic approach. On the other hand, the Ulema who had been trained in Deoband — or elsewhere — who took part in the Khilafat movement offered an alternative vision of Islam that was transnational and theocratic because they wanted a regime in which the ulemas would have a very important role to play — as the guardians of morality, as judges. This is what they asked for after Pakistan was created. And the fundamentalists of the Jamaat e Islam joined hands with them then.

For ten years or so in the beginning of Pakistan there was some hope that the secular project would prevail. In 1953, for instance, the Jama’at’s anti-Ahmadiya movement was repressed. At a time when Nehru was arresting RSS leaders for fanning communal hatred, Pakistan was doing much the same. Ayub Khan, a modernist followed the same pattern.

The turning point came in 1969, when the other vision of Islam started to enter the public sphere with Yahya Khan. Then came Bhutto who bowed to the islamists’ pressures for domestic and geopolitical reasons. He wanted to torpedo the Pashtunistan project of Daud, the new master of Afghanistan, by supporting Islamists such as Masood, Rabbani, Hekmatiyar, Haqqani. He asked that these people be trained by the ISI.

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