A Book Reading and More
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The University of California
at Berkeley is known worldwide for its scholarly pursuits,
especially in the realm of international politics. And the
topic of Pakistan, including the political discourse there,
is no stranger to this campus either. This writer has covered
a number of events pertaining to South Asia here, the last
major one being the speech delivered by Pakistani-British
writer and radical Tariq Ali.
to R :Tariq Rahman,Hasan Abbas,Ahmad Faruqui and Zulfiqar
Plus with the inclusion (finally) of the Quaid-i-Azam Chair
of Pakistan Studies at this university recently and its
occupancy by Professor Tariq Rahman, the subject of Pakistan
was bound to get more attention. And to get things warmed
up a book reading arranged by Pakistan Weekly Forum in cooperation
with the Center for South Asia Studies (CSAS) on Friday,
January 28, 2005 at the School of Journalism building here
certainly kicked things off for our community at Cal (as
this campus is known). Two books were heralded at this forum.
The first titled "Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan"
(Ashgate Publishing 2003) written by Dr. Ahmad Faruqui deals
in depth about the concerns of Pakistan's security establishment
and why its perceptions need to be re-evaluated for the
country to make progress. The second book by Hassan Abbas
titled "Pakistan's Drift Into Extremism: Allah, The Army
And America's War on Terror" deals with the rise of extremism
in Pakistan, its connections with the security establishment
there and the impact made by fluctuating US-Pakistan relations.
Both authors were very much present at this event and the
panel was completed by Dr. Tariq Rahman who presided over
the forum. Aiding the discussion was Zulfiqar Ahmad of the
Eqbal Ahmad Foundation and Senior Associate with the Nautilus
Institute of Security and Sustainable Development. After
Mark Elson of the CSAS bid everyone a brief welcome the
program immediately got off to an interesting start as Professor
Tariq Rahman introduced the three other speakers and then
offered his own views on the two books.
On "Pakistan's Drift into
Extremism" he had a great deal to say. "The main reason
the book is valuable is because it has unpublished material,"
he said. But he asked as to how Pakistan's drift into extremism
was possible especially since it had a majority Barelvi
sect which was liberal enough to acknowledge the Sufi saints?
Another problem he had was the book's separation of religious
alims (scholars) and the mullah. "The problem is that the
alim also comes from the same system," he added. He believed
that the ulema in Pakistan were in their own way keeping
up with modern life.
"There has been no fatwa against studying English," he said,
although there has been one against Western dress and co-educational
schools. On the issue of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan he said that
Sir Syed had been excommunicated because of his tafseer
(which by the way is banned in Pakistan) and even he had
not included it in the Aligarh Muslim University's philosophy.
On the second book "Rethinking the National Security of
Pakistan" Dr, Rahman remarked, "I don't understand it as
well." But he added that we could all agree that such a
rethink was extremely necessary. "Pakistan is still not
out of trouble," he said. He added that the chapter in the
book dealing with the political economics of militarism
was quite valuable as were the chapters on India and China,
along with the Kashmir conflict. He said that the author
makes a convincing case for the reduction of military expenditure
Dr. Rahman concluded his remarks with a quote from a Robert
Frost poem on roads less traveled. Zulfiqar Ahmad next spoke
on Ahmad Faruqui's book. He had just returned from Pakistan
two days ago and was troubled by a number of recent issues,
especially the brewing problem in Baluchistan. Finding agreement
with the book he said that the problems in Pakistan "come
from a particular definition of security." He shared the
joke still going around in Pakistan that "Every country
has an army. But in Pakistan, the army has a country." He
went into the six elements that should constitute security
described in the book. "Security walas (there) ignore these
set of priorities," he said. "The army is unlikely to sit
down and chop its legs off," he added. He also spoke briefly
on the weaknesses of inherited institutions.
"I have not seen such a book (as Rethinking the National
Security of Pakistan) by a Pakistani," he concluded. Hassan
Abbas started off by praising the weather of California.
One can guess that he did not miss the snow that he had
left behind in Boston. He thanked Dr. Tariq Rahman for his
comments and included him along with Dr. Ayesha Jalal in
Pakistan as two legends of independent thought. Hassan has
been a staff officer during the Benazir Bhutto government,
held a position with the Police and has also served in the
Musharraf administration. "The way the elite (in Pakistan)
interpret things is completely different from the books,"
he said. He added that he knew that three A's that rule
Pakistan (Allah, Army and America) but he wanted to reach
his own conclusion. "Army people think that they are the
only patriotic people in Pakistan," he said. He also blamed
the short sightedness of American policy during the 1980's
and 90's and the ISI for Pakistan's current predicament.
"Such blunders have made the Jihadis a force," he said.
He compared quotations from Quaid-i-Azam M. A. Jinnah with
those of the leader of Lashkar, Hafiz Saeed and offered
his views on the differences. He also took the opportunity
of being very critical of the army role in Pakistani politics.
"The Jihadi has not come out of the blue," he said. He was
also quite candid in explaining the American role in the
creation of this problem. He explained his concern on the
latest (what he called) "paradigm shift" in voters in the
NWFP and Baluchistan where voters for the first time gave
religious parties a substantial role in the government.
Reaching to the conclusion that "vibrant Pakistan is absolutely
capable of being a democracy," Hassan Abbas pointed out
that the United States should not think that its relationship
with a progressive and moderate Pakistan is dependent on
one man (General Pervez Musharraf). Ahmad Faruqui is no
stranger to us since he is a columnist for the Daily Times
(Lahore, Pakistan) and a featured opinion writer in the
He is certainly a prolific writer, but after viewing his
presentation here, one can certainly add that he is a seasoned
presenter who could also become an asset to any corporate
marketing team. Dr. Faruqui started off by explaining M.
A. Jinnah's enlightened vision for Pakistan, one which did
not sanctify military rule in the country 57 years later.
He asked the "name a country which…." question and basically
stressed the need to curtail the political role of the military
in Pakistan. He said that fear of the Indian military may
have been legitimate at the beginning but that same fear
is not valid today. With more than 50% spent on defense
today, things are not going well. "Pakistan is today's Prussia,"
he projected. Other points including the "Two-Nation Theory"
and why India has never had a coup were also discussed.
He said that Pakistan's current security approach is uni-dimensional
and is "strategically myopic."
Faruqui came armed with a great deal of data on current
Pakistani military strength, its huge expenditure and its
curtailment of dissent in the country's body politics, leading
to a crumbling of other institutions. He said that the country
needed a multi-dimensional approach to its national security
(the main point in his book) but that is hampered by the
fact that the West regards the military in Pakistan as the
only viable alternative that it can deal with. He also threw
in the "Peace with India is a mirage" because talks are
not going well and that the arms race in South Asia is continuing
while the misery index of ordinary people has reached dismal
Faruqui suggested that democracy should be restored, defense
expenditure should become more open and transparent and
the size of the armed forces (and its expenditures) should
be halved so that the funds saved could be used more wisely
elsewhere. Dr. Tariq Rahman ended the discussion with his
own views saying that "pressure groups" to bring change
could become a possibility. A short Q/A session concluded
the event. Hassan Abbas stressed a "people-to-people contact"
widening effort between Pakistanis and Indians. To offer
some concluding remarks about this event is somewhat difficult.
But here they are: In a more perfect world, the observations
and suggestions of the speakers would be more valid (none
of them was really too far off the mark). But unfortunate
as it is, Pakistan keeps falling into the role of a "frontline
state" to defend America's interest which distract a democracy
seeking society. The last "frontline war" against Soviet
Communist expansion under General Zia lasted a decade or
so in Pakistan. This latest war on terror under General
Musharraf is still just over three years old. And unfortunately
there seems to be no end in sight to this one.