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MJ Akbar on the state of Pakistan
Leading Indian journalist MJ Akbar discusses the state of Pakistan with Newsline's Jim Middleton.

It is not so long ago that Washington was warning that such were the challenges confronting Pakistan that its very existence was at risk. Given Pakistan's place at the centre of the battle against Islamist extremism, this is a matter of great significance. However, it is not a view shared by many analysts across the border in India.

In his latest book, 'Tinderbox', eminent Indian journalist, MJ Akbar, argues that Pakistan may be fragile, however, it is resilient.
JIM MIDDLETON: At the time of partition it was predicted that Pakistan had a better chance of becoming a functioning democracy while there was every chance that India could descend into sectarian violence. Why did it turn out so differently, do you think?

MJ AKBAR: It was said, yes of course it was said, and it was said all too often. That is because the world didn't understand the nations that were being born. And it is curious that the secular world, the liberal world, should have misunderstood the nature of the two nations.

Indians and Pakistanis are the same people. The big question is why we have moved in such different trajectories. The answer, at least one I offer in my book, is that India was a modern idea. What is a modern idea? It was a liberal idea; it was a democratic idea; it was a secular idea. These are the things and the values that have shaped the modern world. And Pakistan, actually, became sort of an extension of a medieval idea, that you could create a nation in the name of religion.

And what is shocking is not that other theocracies may or may not have welcomed Pakistan, but that other democracies tended to see religion as the basis of nationalism. There is no instance in the history, even of Muslims, of religion being the basis of nationalism.

JIM MIDDLETON: For all the theocratic impulses behind the establishment of Pakistan, was there a point where it could have become a fully fledged democracy or did the generals simply get too much power too early on?

MJ AKBAR: Maybe in the 50s Pakistan could have gone. The person who actually moved the resolution for the constitution of Pakistan, a Bengali, Shaheed Suhrawardy, warned his own country, he was actually prime minister at the time, or law minister, warned his own country against the dangers of what they were stepping into. So there was an elite class which was aware of what might happen. There's no point saying that only Al Huq, the most famous of the Islamic, quote, unquote, generals, is responsible for what Pakistan is today.

No, no, no. The DNA of Pakistan, this thing began to creep into the DNA of Pakistan even during previous generals. And you could see it one of the things two major areas. One is in the legislation, for example, on gender law and it is regressive approach. Number two, the education and how slowly the impact of a theocratic mind begins to warp children into believing that really the world consists of only one community and the rest of humanity is somehow second rate, if not barbaric.

We in India have, we have innumerable faults, all of them reported happily by the media. But at least democracy gives you the corrective elements by which you can change for faults, correct them, find new dimensions, and eventually find your tryst with destiny.

JIM MIDDLETON: Washington has said more than once that the challenges facing Pakistan are so great that its very existence is at risk. You, on the other hand, have a sense it is more durable than that. Why, despite all the challenges, do you think its durability does guarantee its future?

MJ AKBAR: Because I think Washington has got this one wrong. It is not Pakistan which will collapse. I've called it a jelly state. A jelly state is one which is quivering, unlike butter, it won't melt and disappear. But because it has nuclear arms and because it has a fundamentalist core, it will be a toxic jelly state for the region and toxic for its own people.

And I think there's great awareness among middle class Pakistan, among the aspiring urban Pakistan of the dangers there.

But I think Washington doesn't quite understand that there is a difference between the polity and the nation. The danger that emerges from Pakistan is the danger from its political evolution, not from its status as a nation state. And therefore, I have argued, even including with my friends, I've said Pakistan, in Pakistan, what Pakistan needs is not another general election. What it needs is another constituent assembly in which it can remove a term like Islamic from its constitution and call itself a secular democracy.

JIM MIDDLETON: Just how important is what's happening now in Afghanistan to the future of Pakistan? It's clear that Islamabad is very worried about the current negotiations between the United States and the Taliban. Why should Islamabad be worried?

MJ AKBAR: I don't think they're worried at all, you know. Sometimes you mustn't take the pretence of governments to be the truth of the reality. I think Pakistan is looking forward to a Taliban government because it thinks, as in the past, that it will be the biggest and most important player in Afghanistan.

But I don't think Islamabad is afraid of what it should be afraid of; that the last time around Pakistan was influencing the Taliban. This time Taliban might be in control of Islamabad. And that will change the fundamental nature, not because the Taliban has changed but because Pakistan has changed.

JIM MIDDLETON: Is that simply a redistribution of power that the Taliban are more powerful and Pakistan is much weaker? Why the change in the dynamics?

MJ AKBAR: Because of the ideology. What is happened in Pakistan is that in the 50s, 60s and 70s when people got fed up with the civilians because of their mismanagement, they welcomed the army. Then when the army messed it up they welcomed and made heroes of civilians. Then when the civilians again messed it up there was relief when the army came. By now they are fed up with both the army autocracy and civilian corruption.

And in this vacuum, this is the danger, in this vacuum an idea that has not been tested, the idea of Islamism, the idea of theocratic faith with all its romantic connotations, which are quite understandable, that there is a golden age, how do we return to that golden age. We can only return to the golden age by going back to the laws of the golden age. All these ideas become very tempting to a disillusioned people, to a heartbroken people, whose faith in both the institutions of democracy as well in the institution of army led autocracy has collapsed.

JIM MIDDLETON: One final subject, it would seem that, given the dire state that Pakistan finds itself in at the moment, that peace with India is more important to Islamabad than even it is to New Dehli. Why is it that there's so much resistance in Pakistan to anything approaching a settlement of this appallingly long running conflict?

MJ AKBAR: Because the rational impulse, which you so well describe, is always contradicted by the irrational compulsion. Right?

You know one of the most interesting aspects of this conflict between India and Pakistan is that Pakistan opted for war with India. You know that it invaded - within six weeks of being born, it was the first decision made by Pakistan to go to war with India.

If you have a minute for to examine the past, you know, in 1947, this is something our audiences here will understand, we did not get quite freedom in 1947. We got dominion status. We only became free in 1950, India. And Pakistan's dominion status only ended in 1956 and they've adopted a constitution. My purpose of saying this is that Britain had a legitimate place in the discussions on the shape and on the map. I mean, it certainly a place on the table. Which is one of the reasons why India, quite uniquely, chose a British, the last viceroy, as its first governor-general - Lord Mountbatten

And in the papers between - which are now have been preserved, the Mountbatten papers they're called in shorthand terms - Nehru writes to Mountbatten that, 'yes, I know the question has not been sorted out in the transfer of power. Therefore, I think we should discuss it next spring, because there's so much to do. There's refugees, there's killing, God knows everything that could go wrong has gone wrong in the process of the transfer of power.' And despite all of this, despite the fact that its treasury was barely - didn't have a penny, despite the fact that the nation was unstable, as it had to be in the early days, Pakistan chose war. There was a ceasefire in '48, and I often tell this to it my Pakistan friend, I say that in 65 years 6.5 inches of land hasn't changed hands. Another 65 years it still won't change hands.

There is a solution, however, to the Kashmir problem in historical terms. After six, seven decades, de facto becomes de jure. So freeze it at where it is. Shake hands and let's go and find a future.

JIM MIDDLETON: Do you think that will ever happen?

MJ AKBAR: I don't know about your lifetime. Not likely in mine.

JIM MIDDLETON: MJ Akbar, thank you very much indeed.

MJ AKBAR: Thank you so much.
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