Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Book Event - Berkeley

A Book Reading and More at Berkeley
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.

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 "The main reason the book is valuable is because it has unpublished material," he said.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 in Pakistan.

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 Pakistan Link.

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 levels.

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.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent reportage.

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