‘Pakistan has been made into an internal problem for India’ – Faisal Devji

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Curse of the past Indo-Pak politics continues to be a victim of colonial hangover. Photo: AFP
Curse of the past Indo-Pak politics continues to be a victim of colonial hangover.
Photo: AFP

Another example of Kashmir’s reduction to a purely regional problem for India has been its dissociation from the communal issue and Hindu-Muslim conflict in India more generally.

Even the controversy over Afzal Guru(alleged mastermind behind the 2001 Parliament attack) did not play much role in Indian Muslim politics, though it might have been seen to do so by Hindu nationalists. In fact, there appears to be no relationship between the Kashmir conflict and the issues facing India’s Muslims elsewhere.

As for Pakistan, in some ways it, too, like India, reaches back to imperial precedent. Its army, if not always government, for instance, continues the Muslim League’s colonial policy of trying to set aside the demographic and territorial disparity between Hindus and Muslims by claiming parity in other ways. Historically these included separate electorates, federalism and provincial autonomy, and finally Partition. Today it is nuclear weaponry and its alliances with the US and China that allows Pakistan to set aside the many disparities between the two countries, however limited and temporary these factors might be in countering India’s outsize advantages.

Your book Muslim Zion is an attempt to move Pakistan’s founding debate from national to non-national factors, something that, paradoxically, relates creation of Pakistan to that of Israel. It upsets what you call the narrative clichés on Pakistan.

The large scholarship on the division of India and founding of Pakistan tends to be parochial and repetitive, defined by who was responsible for these events. This judicial way of considering history was characteristic of colonial forms of knowledge, but doesn’t offer us any interesting new angle by which we can think about the past, and therefore our own present as well.

As with any judicial narrative, it is also a scholarship defined by inevitably transient intentions and interests, to the exclusion of large political ideas that have a continuing legacy. By writing Muslim Zion I was interested in leaving behind this narrative in order to explore the making of political thought in the subcontinent more general. I did so by placing the Pakistan Movement in an international, rather than imperial or even regional, context, not least because the Muslim League’s leaders constantly spoke in such terms.

This permitted me to describe Muslim nationalism as New World political form, defined not by history and geography, as with European or Indian nationalisms, but by an idea and its future possibilities. Like America, in other words, or Britain’s “white” dominions, and later fascist, communist and other “ideological” states, Pakistan could only reject the common history and geography that bound it to the rest of India for a purely ideal political form.

This is one reason why it possessed no territorial integrity, having been created in two pieces separated by a thousand miles—just as the United States, too, has no territorial integrity and is in this sense a new kind of “ideological” imperium.

Like Pakistan and its predecessors in the New World and elsewhere, Israel, too, had to make a nation out of nothing, attaching a people to a land whose fluctuating boundaries have still not been determined, though of course Zionism has a much more developed narrative of its historical and geographical foundation. In both cases, however, the aim was to turn an imperial or international minority into a national majority, with religion serving as the idea binding it together.

Indeed Pakistani textbooks themselves draw this comparison, stating that Israel and Pakistan were “ideological” states created in the same moment. But my book is not a comparative history, and I don’t think we should read too much into such similarities. Instead my task was to break away from the existing scholarship and see how we might get a fresh perspective on a rather tired debate, one that in addition had the advantage of taking ideas seriously and seeing how they developed historically. How was it possible for Pakistan to be founded on a series of negations, those of history and geography above all? And how did religion come to play the role of the idea making the nation possible, something that was by no means inevitable? As I understand it, then, Pakistan’s history and even Islamic identity has very little in common with that of other Muslim countries, another reason why Israel might be its closest political relation.

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