Pakistani Politicians Need to Close Ranks – Ayesha Jalal

Dr Ayesha Jalal is the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University. Her book ‘The Sole Spokesman’ was groundbreaking in its challenge of the assumption that the Pakistan which was created was the Pakistan Jinnah fought for.
Recently, Dr Jalal talked to Samier Saeed, who interviewed her on behalf of Pakistan Link, to solicit her views on current issues. With all the commentary being offered regarding the state of Pakistan today, it’s important to listen to what experts and historians like Dr Jalal have to say.

Q: Do you think that a democratic Pakistan, assuming such an ideal is achievable, is compatible with US interests?
A: It depends on how you define US interests. While it is true that the US has been closest to Pakistan whenever it has been under direct military rule, there is no reason to believe that Washington cannot live with democracy in Pakistan. The problem has been that the US has lacked a long-term  policy vis-à-vis Pakistan and depended far too much on one institution at the grave expense of the democracy it claims to be promoting in the Muslim world. But Pakistani politicians too will have to change their ways. They need to close ranks and build viable institutions so that countries like the US feel confident about working with them rather than authoritarian military regimes.

Q: Do you trust the PPP to stand up to extremist elements and introduce progressive legislation, such as more laws supporting women's rights?
A: I don’t think there is any option but to take the PPP at its word and trust its resolve to combat extremism and introduce progressive legislation. Its ability to do so will depend on how the PPP negotiates its way through the politics of coalition governments at the center and the provinces. This in turn will determine whether the PDA government can tackle the problems posed by the long-standing structural imbalances between elected and non-elected institutions (i.e. the military and the bureaucracy).

Q: Has democracy been brought to Pakistan, or does the new coalition need to prove that it has broken with the Pakistani tradition of not tolerating any dissent/opposition before that claim can be made?
A:  Democracy is a process and the initial step has been taken by the holding of elections which, however flawed, have thrown up a divided mandate that has been accepted by the main political parties.
The early signs in favor of accommodation of differences and reconciliation are very positive. But breaking with a past where adversarial politics held the ground will take a lot of time and a great deal of maturity on the part of the PPP and the PML-N leadership as well as the ANP and the MQM.

Q: In another interview, you stated that it was important for Pakistan to frame a new constitution. What would you like to see introduced into a new constitution?
A: I think there is some misunderstanding here. I do not recall having said that a ‘new’ constitution was needed. What Pakistan needs is to get rid of the contradictions that have been created with the barrage of ad hoc amendments to the 1973 Constitution which even in its pristine form was honored more in the breach that in the observance.

Q: Do you think the Pakistani Americans have a role in the future of Pakistan?
A: All Pakistanis, wherever they may live, have a stake in the future stability and progress of Pakistan and must contribute in any way that they can.

Q: What inspires in you the most hope for Pakistan…and what inspires in you the most despair?
Jalal: I have been heartened by the spirit shown by Pakistani lawyers and the enthusiastic response this has generated among a cross section of society, especially the younger generation in Pakistan. There is much more questioning of the status quo than ever before and in this the media has been playing an important role. The sense of ownership among Pakistanis today is much stronger than ever.
What gives me cause for despair are the continuing infirmities of the educational system. With the exception of a few private schools and universities, the majority of Pakistanis are not  receiving the quality of education they so desperately need, and also deserve, in order to take on the enormous challenges facing their country in an increasingly competitive global context.

Q: On your faculty page on Tufts's website, it says that two of your current research projects include something simply titled "Jinnah" and another project called A Short History of Pakistan. How are these projects progressing? Is there anything particular which excites you?
A: My new book Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia has just been published by Harvard University Press. I am working on several projects at present. One of these is a short book on Mr. Jinnah which is a political study of his entire career.  I am also writing A Short History of Pakistan for Cambridge University Press which is very demanding since I have a strict word limit. In addition I am the general editor of the Oxford Companion of Pakistani History. All of these are directed at a general audience and while I am deeply committed to them  I tend to get excited about projects that are intellectually more challenging and require sustained primary research. There are some projects that I am currently thinking about and I suspect it will not be long before I start working on another monograph.
(Ayesha Jalal is Professor of History at Tufts University. Between 1998-2003 she was a MacArthur Fellow. She obtained her BA,majoring in History and Political Science, from Wellesley College, USA,and her doctorate in history from the University of Cambridge. Dr Jalal has been Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge (1980-84), Leverhulme Fellow at the Center of South Asian Studies, Cambridge (1984-87), Fellow of theWoodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC (1985-86)and Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies(1988-90). She has taught at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Tufts University, Columbia University and Harvard University. Her publications include The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demandfor Pakistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1985 and 1994);TheState of Martial Rule: the Origins of Pakistan's Political Economy of Defence (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1990) and Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia: a Comparative and Historical Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1995). She has also co-edited Nationalism, Democracy and Development: State and Politics in India (Delhi:Oxford University Press, 1997) and co-authored Modern South Asia:History, Culture and Political Economy (Routledge 1998) with SugataBose which has been published by Oxford University Press in India and by Sang-e-Meel in Pakistan. Her lmost recent book is Self and Sovereignty: the Muslim Individual and the Community of Islam in South Asia since c.1850 (Routledge, 2000; Oxford University Press and Sang-e-Meel, 2001).

 


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