A friend asked me about the current crisis in Pakistan and it got me thinking on the question: Is there something peculiar about the crisis in Pakistan or is it similar to all the other countries in South Asia, with the same problems of inequality, poverty, corruption, elite incompetence, poor governance, institutional decay and post colonial hangovers? I would submit that there is, and this peculiar problem is breaking the camel’s back.
What is it? It is the ideological mindset of the “deep state” and it has brought us to the edge of disaster. This is not a new insight, but I want to put it in terms that are usually avoided in the Pakistani media. Instead of presenting a history of the deep state and its pathologies, I will stand a mile behind the starting line and look far away at a hazy finish line: what I think the shape of a different Pakistan would be.
I think that a Pakistan that has managed to reorient its deep state from its current suicidal course may have some of the following features:
1. The state will accept that historically and culturally, we are “Western India”, not North-Eastern Arabia or some imaginary concoction whose defining feature is that it is kryptonite for anything Indian. Having accepted this, we will discover that far from pulling us back into the Indian state, Indian policymakers will spend their days trying to make sure we don’t come back home to mama and that we stay in our own apartment. We can visit anytime and we can use Mama’s name in some songs, movies, overseas grocery stores and restaurants, but she would much rather we stayed in our own pad.
2. The state will no longer spend every waking moments looking for good jihadis to go blow up India and every sleeping moment dreaming of sticking it to the Brahmans so good they will remember their Naani. In fact, the state will own up to the fact that our Naani is one and the same and both parties could use an occasional day remembering grandma and her glorious cooking. Freed up from the need to shelter every homicidal psychopath in the region, we may find other things to do. And of course, we will no longer have to worry about “good psychopaths” turning into “bad psychopaths” and explosively detonating in our own markets, shrines and mosques.
3. India will become our largest trading partner and we may become their 4th largest trading partner. Multiple scandals involving the disbursement of franchise licenses to TATA and Reliance will keep the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) busy for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, these interactions will generate real jobs, real industry, real money and real Bajaj motorbikes for every farmer. Transit trade to Afghanistan will enrich even more retired army officers than the number who have become millionaires hauling NATO supplies. Students by the thousands will flock across the border in either direction (admittedly, more may go East initially, but we too are an enterprising people and will find ways to correct the balance).
4. Kashmir will remain formally divided, but practically, will become one large pistachio and shawl manufacturing country. Large numbers of ex-servicemen from both countries will find employment in the various security companies that will protect the handicrafts business from extortionist jihadi gangs as they switch from being supported by Pakistani taxpayers to full time kidnap and robbery operations. Sikhs and Pakistani Punjabis will become so chummy in these security agencies, it will be an embarrassment.
5. River water treaties will be a cause of friction, but if we can make them work through 60 years of cold and hot wars, we can make them work through 60 years of cold and warm peace. Still, drastic development in agriculture and water-saving technologies will be needed as global warming wreaks havoc. No longer busy planning the next war, both overstaffed armies may find something to do maintaining order and fixing irrigation ditches.
6. Renewed cultural interaction and absence of GHQ and VHP instigated paranoia will lead to development of all regional languages and cultures in Pakistan. East Punjab will also see a deeper revival of Punjabi literature and arts and Delhi will become a more Punjabi city. Even Urdu may get off its deathbed once a better connection with the heartland in North India is restored. Who knows, Indian and Pakistani Muslims may even revive Islamic learning and turn it away from its current flat-line orientation into something more creative. Cricket will become a South Asian game with Australians occasionally allowed to win a match by the match-fixers. The film industry in India will import even more Punjabis and Pathans to star in “fair and lovely” ads and hundreds of musical geniuses will emerge in Faisalabad and Gojra and take the world by storm.
7. Pakistani political parties will increasingly resemble their Indian counterparts and both sides will exchange know-how about vote-buying and ballot-stuffing. At the upper end of the political scale, think-tanks will gainfully employ bullshitters from both countries without distinction. Since our bullshitters know all about their problems and their bullshitters know all about ours, we can exploit the strengths of both parties. MQM will find much to do in the vast network of sleepy North Indian Muslim communities, where it’s sophisticated and battle-hardened cadres will be a little bit like European adventurers used to be among Native Americans in the nineteenth century, but with the added advantage of being racially and linguistically the same people.
8. Chinese massage parlours will expand from Islamabad to all over India. So will Chinese Qingchi makers and duck egg salesmen. Memons and Marwaris will be given a run for their money by the Cantonese at the upper end of the business spectrum. Sindhi coal will fire up polluting power stations in Gujarat and Indian wind and solar manufacturers will sell their wares in Mekran.
And so on. It can happen. But someone will have to bring the deep state under adult supervision before it does. I am not saying this happy scenario is the most likely scenario, but as we worry about the suicidal zero-sum game that India and Pakistan are playing, I would rather paint the picture of an alternative ideal and say “another world is possible”.