by Omar Ali
This sort of sentence could be heard in tea shops in Pakistan 50 years ago but now that the task is almost complete (OK, not exactly, since the bourgeoisie has had to use the military academy rather than the universities to carry out its great aims, but why quibble over mere details?) the phrase “historic task of the bourgeoisie” is now available to us to be reused in some new context. I propose one here: the historic task of the Pakistani bourgeoisie today is to defang the two-nation theory (TNT). You may complain “how the mighty have fallen”, but I am serious. The military academy being what it is, it has built up the modern Pakistani nation state based on an intellectually limited and dangerously confrontational theory of nationalism. The charter state of the Pakistani bourgeoisie is the Delhi Sultanate, but that conception lacks sufficient connection with either history or geography. Bangladesh opted out of this inadequate theory within 25 years, though its trouble may not be over yet. West Pakistan, now renamed “Pakistan” to obviate the memory of past losses, is now a geographically and economically viable nation state, but the military has failed to update the TNT and in fact, made a rather determined effort to complete the project using “militant proxies” in the 1990s. That project suffered a setback after Western imperialism (aka the military’s old paymasters) announced that free-lance Islamist militias were to be terminated with extreme prejudice. Somewhat to the surprise of the state department, the Pakistani elite seems to have taken its TNT commitment seriously enough to try and retain some militant options even while accepting “aid” to assist in their elimination. But these are temporary setbacks. The ideology in question is not compatible with regional peace or global capitalism and needs to be updated and brought in line with current requirements. This is now the great task of our under-prepared bourgeoisie.
History being nothing if not non-linear, the task will not be carried out in a straight line. Most adjustments will be made unconsciously or on the sly (which is the same thing as far as the outside observer is concerned; who are we to know what is or is not in the heart of man, or woman?). But the end state will be a nation that accepts its current borders and has no international mission beyond the usual buying and selling of onions to India and copper to China. The two-nation theory will remain enshrined in 6th grade textbooks, but will mean no more than “manifest destiny” now means to Americans when they go to Wal-Mart to buy Chinese microwave ovens. In the light of recent “confrontations” with the United States and the rise of apparently Paknationalist leaders like Imran Khan, this may sound like a strange prediction, but fear not; one step forward, two steps back and somehow we are suddenly one step closer to the future, that’s how it goes and why should it go any different in Pakistan?
There is a “Somalia alternative”, but all loose talk of coming anarchy notwithstanding, Pakistan’s rising middle classes are making too much money to be allowed to reach that level of “low carbon footprint” eco-friendly freedom. Civil war and anarchy are not out of the question, but are nowhere as close as casual observation would suggest. Others suggest that the four (or five, or whatever) constituent “sub nationalities” of Pakistan will go their separate ways. But Pakhtoonkhwah, Punjab and Sindh are too closely integrated and mixed-up for that to be a viable alternative. The Balochis are indeed unhappy and may (with good reason) want to go their own way and sell their own copper and gold to the Chinese, but they are too few and the task of successful separation is too big. Some people think the US, known to be somewhat vindictive in defeat, will be “defeated” in Afghanistan and will take revenge by making this happen, but I see no realistic possibility of that either. Breaking up countries is hard to do and is inherently messy. It is going to be hard to even divide Afghanistan into 2 or 3 pieces, it will be almost impossible to do the same with Pakistan.
This then is my prediction: that contrary to all short-term indicators, the resilient and creative Pakistani bourgeoisie will indeed complete this task, though it will do so in messy and somewhat erratic fashion. Many members of the Pakistani bourgeoisie (including the highly Westernized overseas Left) may find this short article either incoherent or insane (or both), but I am willing to take bets. Lunch in Pak Tea House in 2030?