A ‘concept note' on Pakistan for any decent seminar in any national capital today, including Islamabad, would probably run like this:
The turning point of state formation in Pakistan was General Zia-ul-Haq's perestroika of key institutions and political processes in accordance with Islamic values. No matter Zia's motives, ‘Islamisation' since rendered Islam into a divisive force and created political space for the rise of religious groups, including the violent ones, some of which morphed into dangerous terror machines that destabilise Pakistan — and the region — and threaten international security. The rising tide of ‘anti-Americanism' and the deepening economic crisis radicalised the youth and spawned a large number of extremist groups, while the state's abdication of its responsibility to strike a balance between human capital and physical capital has been capitalised by the Islamists. In the absence of secular ideologies, Islam became the vehicle for political mobilisation.
The result is plain to see — a growing contestation for the state (and civil society) where the Islamists are wresting the initiative to mobilise the masses. In sum, if Zia's ‘Islamisation' aimed at creating hegemony for the state over society was, arguably, a legitimisation process, the opposite has been achieved. Not only is the state not the only patron of Islamic ideology — a plethora of ‘non-state actors' appeared over the decades — but it is in some retreat and consequently the face of Pakistan's political culture itself is radically changing.
A dangerous point is approaching, a point of no return, with Zia's holy warriors situated in the developing civil society and the democratic regimes either not daring or not bothered about challenging them, and at times even hobnobbing with them for reasons of political expediency. There is no inkling how these cascading tides of religious extremism can be rolled back. Actually, the radical groups seem to be seeking even greater legitimacy by stepping into the neglected areas of social life — education, health care, welfare functions, etc. This, in turn, casts the state in even poorer light.
However, paradoxically, Islam is also proving to be insufficient as a force that can hold Pakistan together, as current developments in Baluchistan, the tribal areas in the northwestern region, and in the metropolis of Karachi would show. All this increasingly raises the question of Pakistan's very survivability as a state. The tragedy of Pakistan is that even in the face of this existential challenge, it is the military establishment that continues to define national interest, and that interest is overwhelmingly defined in terms of confrontation with India, exclusion of civilian government from decision-making on core areas of foreign and security policies, and gaining ‘strategic depth' in Afghanistan. The above draft ‘concept note' may seem hackneyed. On any given day, Pakistani newspapers, magazines, and television channels dwell on it, trying to fine-tune, update or sharpen it in idiom and content. The really interesting thing about Pakistan: Terrorism Ground Zero is that its authors, Rohan Gunaratna and Khuram Iqbal, have presented a contrary narrative through the looking glass of the Pakistani establishment. They admit that Pakistan faces a “grave, unprecedented crisis likely to last for years” but then, Pakistan is not to be blamed for it. Look at India. “India has the largest number of indigenous terror organisations in the world”. India, too, has used terror as an instrument of state policy, hasn't it? So, why single out Pakistan? Good question. Someone should answer it. But Gunaratna and Iqbal have done a great disservice to the Pakistan-related discourse by whitewashing the grotesque graffitis, which even intelligent Pakistanis are willing to see. What is shocking is that they could write 17 pages profiling Lashkar-e-Taiba and insert one small sentence somewhere as an after-thought: “It is alleged that the Pakistani military has provided training for the group.” Period. Could it be that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence commissioned this book?
The book reminds you that there could be powerful forces within the Pakistani state that are even today unable or unwilling to comprehend that we are way past the ‘blame game'. It doesn't help to blame the whole world and pretend that all that is going horribly wrong with Pakistan is because of what Americans have done in Iraq and Afghanistan, or what Indians have done in Kashmir, or Ayodhya. Creating myths about terror machines is dangerous enterprise. And it is lethal when the enterprise carries the name of a professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. I took the easy course, finally, by reading the book as a compilation by Gunaratna's esteemed co-author Khuram Iqbal, who is apparently the head of research at the Pak Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad.