“Yes, Pakistan may be a failed state, so what?” said Naveed. “I don’t care if my country is a failed state or not but I do care who is behind its failures. They’re the ones I blame for failing my country.”

It’s been more than a year since I last saw my friend. He went back to his country soon after completing his Masters degree in Business Administration. When leaving for home, his mood was an eerie mixture of optimism and caution. “I’m confident that things will finally change in my country,” he said before boarding the flight. I remember his confident words but can’t forget the empty smile on his face. Now, it seems, it requires more than confident words and smiles to live in a country where optimism and pessimism are flip sides of the same coin.

“Pakistan is a country where failure is rewarded. We like to live in a state of denial.  We often believe that we have never been wrong or can be wrong. In the process we make many excuses to justify our actions.”

Lamentable History

“Moign, to understand my ‘lecture,’ as you put it, you have to understand the history of the country,” Naveed said jokingly. It seemed that he was once again enjoying the argumentative chats that we used to have in our free time while living together in student accommodation. Nothing seems to have changed since then.

Pakistan has a long history of foreign interference before there was any kind of lawlessness, unemployment, corruption, civil mismanagement, or army intervention in the country. Soon after its birth in 1947 as a result of blood strewn partition carried out by the imperial British, the infant state had to pick a master that would act as a caretaker of the country’s policies and safeguard its interests. The masters at that time were the USSR and the USA. The country’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan embraced the latter. And the results of this ’embrace’, as promised, were magical.

During the 1950s and 60s, the new Pakistani master taught its new satellite state to be wary of two things – communism and grass-root democracy. As a result, the rulers of Pakistan always kept the two ‘viruses’ in check. Thousands of workers suspected of communist sympathies were put behind the bars and a general election was ruled out in favor of a ‘sustained democracy’ that was ‘compatible with country’s Islamic and social values’. Both the approaches had a devastating affect on the country’s democratic identity and politico-economic activities.

Washington, the ‘torch-bearer of democracy’ and ‘leader of the free world’, never raised an eyebrow when a military coup in 1958 overthrew the civilian administration in then Pakistani capital city of Karachi. Instead, new accords of friendship and military partnership were signed that gave the Americans access to the USSR backyard for the first time. The US military soon stationed U2 bombers in the country to keep an eye on Soviet activities in Central Asia. The shooting down of one of its U2 in Soviet skies on 1 May 1960 by USSR surface-to-air missiles was one glaring example of Pakistani soil being used by the US for military gains.

“This was the first time we pleased our masters and had bit of a misadventure,” a bitter Naveed remarked.

Obsession of the Society

“Islam, it seems to me, is a blanket term that defines our ambitions and justifies each and every deed performed in our political and social life. From politicians to common man, everyone has his or her own idea of Islam and chart their plans accordingly,” a rather sarcastic Naveed commented.

I wonder how wrong the country’s history can prove him. Pakistan was created in the name of Islam with the founding leaders promising no room for ethnic partisanship and discrimination. But that’s not what really happened. The country witnessed its first bout of instability in 1952 when Bengali was stripped of its national language status despite the fact that it was spoken by more than half of the country’s population. The imposition of Urdu as the sole national language was seen as an imperial move that triggered riots across the eastern half of the newborn state. This was the first time the seeds of ethnic divide were sown in the newly cultivated field of Pakistan.

“Pakistani army fought the Indian army in 1965 when its covert military operations in Indian-controlled Jammu & Kashmir backfired and New Delhi invaded our country to teach a lesson. For the first time we raised the flag of Jihad against an occupying power and the then (military) rulers drummed up massive support – all in the name of Islam,” Naveed explained while referring to his course textbooks. He added that this is the official textbook version of Pakistani history and not necessarily his.

“From this time on, we have never looked back on the idea of our army as the vanguard of Islam and we, as a nation, as the righteous people.”

Heads and Tails

“The situation got more interesting in 1970 after the first ever free and fair general elections for a parliament were held in both wings of Pakistan–East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (now Pakistan),” Naveed described while explaining the Bengali separatist movement of 1971.

The majority Bengali ethnic group complained of being sidelined by the minority Punjabis that dominated the civil service and the military. They also accused West Pakistan of usurping the resources of East Pakistan and exploiting them. Statistically, they weren’t wrong as exporting jute produced in East Pakistan generated most of the Pakistan’s revenues. Yet East Pakistanis suffered under grinding poverty.

“I think that was the first time we said: ‘Heads or tails, both flips of the coin are ours, hence we win the toss,'” he said while referring to an Urdu proverb that has a similar connotation.

A military operation was waged against Awami League, the party that was demanding more autonomy for the Bengali-dominated East Pakistan and a fair distribution of resources between both the entities of Pakistani federation. Though winning a clear majority in 1970 elections, Awami League’s leader Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman was denied the transfer of power and was instead arrested and tried for treason.

Disgruntled East Pakistanis took up arms against the powerful Punjabi-dominated Pakistani Army. A bloody civil war broke out in the eastern wing of Pakistan that saw the army, along with its pro-Islamic paramilitary groups, attempting to crush the separatist movement. Bengali separatists, thanks to the active support from India, soon weakened the grip of Pakistani army on the eastern territory. The nine-month long bloody movement witnessed countless massacres of innocent people and wanton destruction of property and infrastructure. The people’s power superseded the military might and Pakistani army surrendered to Bengali insurgents and their principal backers – the Indian army.