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THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
THE IDEA OF PAKISTAN
Moderator: STEPHEN P. COHEN
Panelists: AKBAR AHMED, MARVIN WEINBAUM
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
[TRANSCRIPT PRODUCED FROM A TAPE RECORDING]
THIS IS AN UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT.
PROCEEDINGSMR. COHEN: [In progress] --a couple of months ago, when the book would actually be published. But because of my travel, Strobe's travel, and then the news that Jehangir Karamat would be coming, we wanted to have the official launch at about the same time that Karamat was here. And while he couldn't join us for this launch, he has read the book and says some nice things about it. He is also acknowledged in the book.
What I thought we'd do today is simply give you a taste of the book.
What I think is very interesting is one of the questions that was asked here--what happens to the U.S.-Pakistan relationship after we either catch Osama or after, you know, Afghanistan is no longer so critical. And I do discuss that in the book. There is a long discussion of that.
Let me say that the book is not written for today. It's written for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. It's written five or six or seven years out. I'm academic by nature and by training, so I wanted to go deep into the past to see what the future tells us, what we might learn about the future. So if you're interested in not simply Pakistan yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but a deeper understanding of Pakistan, I do recommend the book to you--even though I wrote it.
I can say honestly that it does contain everything I know about Pakistan-right and wrong; I don't confess to infallibility--but also, I think, what a lot of friends and acquaintances and other scholars know about Pakistan. What I thought I'd do today is, really, share the platform with two of them, two people I've always turned to for an understanding of Pakistan.
First is Professor Marvin Weinbaum, who's a long-standing colleague of mine both at the University of Illinois and now in Washington. And secondly, Akbar Ahmed, who is of course a distinguished professor at American University and a man whose career is magnificent--a movie producer, a government official, an author, a scholar, a diplomat--anything else, Akbar, you've been doing recently?--and really now, I think, the leader in the world of dialogues between Muslims and non-Muslims. There's certainly a series of remarkable conversations he's had with Daniel Pearl's father, which is, I think, an historic event in its own right.
So let me--the way we've just divided this up--and we won't take very long. We just wanted to bring the book up to date, I think, for those of you who have read it and might want to know what our second thoughts are, especially in terms of what's happened in Pakistan more recently. And I think Ambassador Karamat's remarks bring us up to date on that.
Pakistan--Akbar; and also the State of Pakistan--Marvin. Because the book is conceived as a dual biography, a dual history. One was the history of the idea of Pakistan, how it evolved from the 1930s onward, really; and the second is a biography of the State of Pakistan, how Pakistan as a state entity evolved after its formation in 1947.
about your book. I know you have so many friends in South Asia and so many of them here, so many distinguished people, you could have asked any of them.
four years old, put in a train with my family, and we took a long, slow journey from Delhi to Karachi, along with several million people. There was a lot of killing that summer, about 2 million people it was estimated; about 15 million people displaced;
Muslims escaping from India to Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan to India.
We were just following the idea of Pakistan. This extraordinary man, Quaid i Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had become a kind of Moses figure to the Muslims, and we were just following him. It was almost a blind belief in Mr. Jinnah. So the notion of Pakistan, the idea of Pakistan, became very central to my own thinking. And I'm grateful to my friend Steve Cohen for having focused on precisely this issue.
The identity of Pakistan remains problematic--what is the identity of Pakistan. Wali Khan was asked this, and Wali Khan said I've been a Pashtun for several thousand years, a Muslim for over a thousand years, and a Pakistani only for 50 years-this was some years back. And of course this annoyed a lot of Pakistanis. But it pointed to a certain truth in Pakistan, that there is overlapping identity--ethnicity, religion, and nationalism.
Pakistan, my work on Mr. Jinnah, I asked Pakistanis who are your three greatest heroes over the last thousand years--very generally. And they would talk of [inaudible], --Zeb [?], and Mr. Jinnah. And when I asked my Indian friends for their three greatest villains in history, they would select the same three figures. So we are talking of history itself being debated, ideas of Pakistan always under debate.
that Indians and Pakistanis have of the world is none other than our author this evening, Stephen Cohen. A man who can write on the Indian army and then the Pakistan army; a man who can have a gathering like this in Washington, in Delhi, and Islamabad is truly a unique man who is straddling so many different cultures and so many different traditions. And at this time in world history, when after September 11th Pakistan becomes a key ally in the war on terror of the United States of America, Steve's powers of interpretation, his knowledge, his commitment, and above all, his compassion become absolutely crucial. And I personally am grateful that he's here at this moment in time playing this critical role.
asked questions about Islam and its compatibility with democracy, about the tolerant, compassionate nature of Islam, that we need to really point the people asking these questions to the story of Muslims in South Asia, with a focus on Pakistan. Because it is the movement led by Mr. Jinnah, a man who represents democracy, human rights, women's rights, a man who balances Islam and modernity, this man--and above all, as you know, Steve, a great fan of Abraham Lincoln, so there is a link straight in the founding of Pakistan with the United States of America--who represents democracy.
And thus we are able to answer the question, Is Islam compatible with democracy? Yes, it is compatible. And the answer is Mr. Jinnah. Here is the Pakistan story telling us that the idea of Pakistan is rooted in the vision of democracy.
to the history of Pakistan, the great saints and scholars of Pakistan, or that region that we call Pakistan. [inaudible] in Lahore, [inaudible] in Ajmer, [inaudible] in Delhi. These people had a philosophy of life, and that philosophy rested in the saying, the motto, "Sul e kol" [ph] or "Peace with all." Here again, Islam in South Asia is bringing something, I believe, which can contribute to the discussion around Islam in the United States today, when there is so much questioning around the nature of Islam itself.
Steve's book. Firstly, he establishes in this remarkable work--and this really is a lifetime's work; it's the cumulative work of a scholar of great, great talent--that Pakistan is a key player. He's established this in the book. It is a key player because of its geopolitical situation, its population, and its vision of itself. Pakistanis come to this world, to the table with an idea of themselves, and therefore an idea of Pakistan becomes very important. Because that idea can then either create, as Steve says, a nation which is part problem, part solution, a nuclear armed monster. He's not into black and white assessments. He's pointing out the nuances and the shades of gray. So he is pointing out that here is a major player, a major ally of the United States of America, and it is a key ally in the war on terror.
cannot be something that's tied up with the finding of Osama bin Laden or something tied up to the elections here. This has to be a long-term relationship or the consequences will be felt both over there and for us over here.
America of Pakistan is matched by the ignorance of America in Pakistan, that there are no centers of American studies in Pakistan. And I think this is something that can very easily be corrected. Because we need to set this in the overall context of the figures here in the United States of America, where Americans polled, roughly 80 percent admitted to knowing very little about Islam and to being hostile to Islam. Now, this figure is probably matched in Pakistan and in the Muslim world generally, maybe even higher.
Lack of knowledge and hostility. So a dangerous time for civilizations who really know so little about each other. And I'm not talking about the elite represented here, but I'm talking about the peoples who know little about each other and are often hostile to each other.
about each other. There can be no better step than to pick up this book, read it, understand it. Because it really has been written by a guru at the height of his powers, which is a remarkable phenomenon for someone like me, on campus, to say this, but this really is a scholar at the height of his powers and writing brilliantly and with great lucidity.
United States of America needs to help Pakistan realize its own idea of itself, the idea of Pakistan. And the point I made about ethnicity, about religion, and nationalism balancing, this is important to keep in mind. Because every time there is tribalism running rampant or sectarianism running rampant--as it is happening, you have people being killed in mosques, people being shot in mosques--forget Christians and Jews and Danny Pearl being killed in Karachi; I'm talking about Muslims killing Muslims--this threatens the fabric and the idea of Pakistan itself. Similarly, tribalism. And you have a situation in Baluchistan or Waziristan that, again, undermines and challenges the idea of Pakistan.
Dickens in assessing Pakistan today, Pakistan State, that these are the best of times, that these are the worst of times. Either, of course, is an exaggeration. But they do point out the sharp differences of opinion on where the State of Pakistan stands today and where it may be headed.
integrity as we've known him, Steve and I, for a number of years. You've heard here a promising view, a positive view of Pakistan--I think an honest presentation, certainly.
And if you had the opportunity, as some of us did, to hear President Musharraf a couple of weeks ago, you would have heard a remarkable extemporaneous presentation on how all is well with Pakistan economically, socially, and politically--and the latter with special regard to democracy. And, too, he was upbeat about India.
a partial view of Pakistan but, by ignoring some of the realities and slighting these realities--these political, social, and economic deficits--is to threaten in fact what has been accomplished. And I think what is so important about Steve's book is that it is balanced. It does not hesitate to criticize where criticism is due, but of course, I believe, does so in a very constructive way.
side of the ledger, since you've heard that these are the best of times, I think that what's transpired over the last five years, since the removal of the Nawaz Sharif government, strikes me most of all for the opportunities that have been missed or are yet to be realized. After all, Pakistan is not just another developing country. The stakes here are enormous, not just for Pakistan itself, not just for the region, but for the United States.
Pakistan's vulnerability to political instability here, I think, is rather critical. And I must say that if there are some priorities that have not been gotten in the right way, I'm afraid to say the United States must bear some of the responsibility for this. Perhaps a moment more on this later.
certainly promised, to begin to lay out a new political framework for the country, to begin to change what had been, what has been for so long a corrosive political culture.
But I'm afraid to say that instead of setting out a new set of rules, that he has fashioned his--the state, if you will, in familiar fashion on retaining and strengthening his own personal powers and those of the military, and in doing so, too often has employed some of the discredited, manipulative tactics that we've associated with the 1990s; while it was hoped, I think, by good democrats and others in Pakistan and elsewhere, that gradually the military's role would be reduced in favor of their playing the role as guaranteers of a democratic system, rather than as rulers of a system; that too much as been spent on protecting the prerogatives at the expense of authenticating democratic institutions.
chapter on the military--which is, naturally, one of Steve's strengths--I think really gives one a very good understanding of the place of the military in the Pakistani State. I must comment in this regard, though, on something more immediate here--which is not in Steve's book but will be, I'm sure, in the second education--and that is the opportunity to further a democratic system here by the president's keeping his pledge to remove his uniform. I submit that his authority would be enhanced, not weakened, by doing so.