Narratives

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

You cannot exclude the religious factor in Pakistan, whatever you dub the republic and to whatever you ascribe the founding urge. And it can be asserted with equal validity that the secession of East Pakistan and proclamation of Bangladesh demolished the two-nation theory commonly claimed to be the rationale of Pakistan’s creation. Or that the RSS and Modi’s Hindutva confirms it. The communal Hindu-Muslim power struggle is a continuity in the subcontinent’s historical chronicle around which narratives fabricate –- some spontaneous and incremental; others conscious and didactic. They are often supplementary and reactive.

Currently Pakistan is, or is depicted as, a country in need and search of a ‘positive’ narrative.  The projections are almost entirely conceived as counter-narratives to those assumed to circulate underwriting the undeniably evident religious bigotry and coercive zeal responsible for much violence and venom in our social midst.

When formulating hopefully therapeutic ‘alternate’ narratives, counter narrators often ignore or omit another ugly and possibly less congenial reality: The motivational hate and anger in Pakistan is not solely the child of ‘Islamism’ with inbuilt wellsprings of aggressive conversion to a ‘Muslim’s’ customised point of view. There are strong contributory factors from outside the religious brand: The reactive element in citizens to national historical memory; and an ongoing direct experience of western cultural and political bullying, coercion and intrusion. Baldly put, these misgivings centre around power bids perceived as operative in overt and covert moves of that over familiar sole superpower America and its scattered satellite regimes. To pick out but some of these strands:

There is the base of Pakistan’s unreservedly US-aligned position in the now obsolete contexts of Nehru’s and Soekarno’s NAM and the later evolvement of the Indo-Soviet pact. A cluster of doubts about Foreign Aid past and present, experienced as a double-edged sword if not a gift-horse; as well as pervasive rejection of the secular and democratic western hemisphere’s schizophrenia about developing/emerging nations’ safeguarding human rights, and global leaders’ ignoring and fabricating; exaggerating and downplaying issues like Kashmir and Palestine within that rubric. That grouse is linked to America’s  crippling use of sanctions for leverage in the Middle East and Iran that is more often neo-con in its intent than moral. Then, there is Pakistan’s friendship with China and India’s conflict with it. The western political endorsement is usually against Muslim independents.

And affecting and overlapping many other alleged provocations and irritants that go to make up narratives about the US and alleged terrorist sanctuaries in the AfPak-Ind regions, is Pakistan’s troubled border relationship with Afghanistan; its assistance of American policy in the context of the Soviet presence; the American volte-face in terms of commitments to and visions for Afghanistan in a post-Soviet world and its reformulated expectations and demands that Pakistan should meet: or else. . .

There are further refractions from the redistributed nuclear strengths and vulnerabilities in the post 9/11 world of global terror. And to all of those prisms must be added the misleadingly termed ‘soft’ influential and repercussive power of global media and the disquieting inter-connectivity of market forces and dual nationalities and a competitive consumerist culture. Western style liberalism can appear as misdirected and hostile as Islamist Fundamentalism.

The Pakistani audience in the Pakistan theatre has its own rainbow of perceptions of the motivation of ‘characters’ in the abounding or germinating constructs around secular-democratic liberal values and Muslim-jihadism VS the apparently benign yet essentially imported narratives of a packaged for digestion and safely non-specific Sufism.

Against this cluttered perspective, many Pakistanis go on to assert America itself is in denial of the fact it is reprising the defunct USSR’s militarised political quest for a sympathetic regime in Afghanistan that demands the elimination of unamenable native elements. The same ‘logic’ underpins a conviction that America prefers to see Pakistan pressured –- by means both fair and foul –- into placing its soldiers’ boots on grounds of America’s delineation so that the sole superpower escapes domestic backlash from any reprise of the body-bags from the  Vietnam war. Martially minded Pakistanis disrespect a country whose wars are remote and virtual and where bloodshed is transfused –- aid-based as it were. And others note that Napalm in Vietnam is unmentioned but mustard gas used by Saddam or other anti the western-alliance elements oft cited.

Forget all that: If the west can view militants, saboteurs, as well as their facilitation and funding capriciously, through rotating lenses of vicious insurgency and noble resistance, it ought logically to tolerate the same tendency in others or at least give up asserting definitive monopoly of moral high ground.

Moreover: Doesn’t President Trump’s contemptuous language for other countries and their accepted/chosen leaders embody the arrogance and menace of former imperialists? And their scorn for ‘native’ cultures? Don’t ‘they’ want to curb emerging challenges from Asian tigers? It might be a post Christian world, but the crusade for hegemony persists: Muslim dogma is the only surviving challenge ideologically and so must be ridiculed and the faith turned upon itself.

This kind of defensive bias and countercharging uses rhetoric and ‘boxes’ thinking in modes that the global media employs all the time in tarring and feathering its own victims and formulating its own comment and hypotheses.

And having pointed that out, it is time to face the fact that Pakistan does indeed commit a multitude of political sins against itself and its own ‘wellness’. In this context narratives –- eastern or western — become irrelevant as a cause, or even symptom. They are failed attempts at camouflage.