Pakistan and principle of Hegelian ‘contradiction’

Feroz Khan’s exclusive and provocative post for PTH which argues that “a country that was created in conflict, bred on the idea of conflict and sustained on the logic of conflict, it has to exist in a state of conflict”- comments and feedback vital

I had meant to write an article for Pakistan Tea House in response to a request by Raza Rumi, but there seemed to be nothing left to write. There are fragments of other articles, few scattered paragraphs here and there, but there was simply no commitment on my part to see them to a finish. Friends kept asking me to write and offered ideas, but the first blush of an effort always seemed to fade with a glass of wine and some old blues guitar growling in the background. What seemed to be captivating me, these days, was a flirtation with insanity not because insanity of the absurd surrounded me but because sometimes, insanity is the only option left that makes sense out of the incomprehensible.

I have, recently, crossed the threshold to the other side of the forty and looking back, there is a sense which makes me really appreciative of the words of Emil Verhoven, written after the end of the First World, in which he bemoaned the man he used to be before the war. The imagery of that war is etched into my mind not only in terms of its passions as expressed in its poetry but also in the thousands of books written about it trying to explain how it could all happen, so innocently, and yet end with such terrifying results. War and the study of war has been hobby of mine receding into the early childhood memories and in the process, I have grown to hate war, as I have studied it and understood it, and to detest everything which war stands for and yet, I know that as tool of a political violence, it would be naïve to wish for an end to war.

The purpose of this article is not the study of war and nor is it an ode to the insanity of the First World War, but it is an attempt to understand the process in which the unthinkable comes possible. The First World War was a war that could have been avoided but what is so fascinating about studying that war is to understand reasons; the sequence of events and decisions which made that war possible and these decisions were taken, by individual nations, in Europe in the best interests of preventing a general European war and yet, they were responsible for a war that shredded the believe in the infallibility of reason and logic. There is an eerie parallel between the outbreak of the First World War and what Oswald Spengler termed as the decline and fall of morality in Europe after the war as they pertain to the future that is confronting Pakistan in the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Ladin. After the war had ended, Siegfried Sasson, who had served in the trenches, would write a poem called Menin Gate about the Battle of Somme and he would describe the monument to the British war dead, of that battle, as “a sepulcher of crime”.   It is not easy and neither is it possible to imagine, for those unfamiliar with the horrors of the First World War, the scale of the crime, which was perpetuated at the Somme and to which the monument was dedicated. The full sense of the obscenity, which comes from commemorating a crime, can only be felt by those who have suffered the crime itself and have memories to remember the manner in which it was implemented. It is that memory, which recalls the suffering and the slow unremitting death of promises and suffocation of hope, which gives voice to a rage when it sees how those sacrifices have been turned into excrement by those who have never suffered but shamelessly glorify the sacrifices of the others to prop up their own sense of a false bravado.

Pakistan, after the death of Osama bin Ladin, has become such a sepulcher of crime. The events of May 1, 2011 removed any pretense that might have existed which sought to offer a sense of nobility to actions of Pakistan. There is no nobility in murder and Pakistan has become the symbol of a sepulcher of crime in international relations, because by its actions, commissioned over decades by consistent policies of hate, intolerance and prejudice, it glorified and preached violence as a form of its national policy and worshipped death at the altar of a misguided sense of national honor. No country’s sense of national honor is worth the price of forsaking its national soul and in extolling such a sentiment; Pakistan paved the path which would lead it towards a road of self-destruction with the certainty of a self-fulfilling prophecy. This road was travelled with eyes wide open and therefore, it is disingenuous to make the arguments that it was part of some grand conspiracy that we find ourselves in our present dilemma and we, as a nation, were poor victims of fate. The irony is that the decisions, which brought Pakistan to the edge of an abyss, were made in the best interests of Pakistan and they were made in the name of Islam; an idea which Pakistan claimed as its own sense of identity. Pakistan by infusing religion into politics and creating a political religion, infused the immorality of politics into religion and in the process, not only corrupted the religion of Islam itself but also made sure that the mixture of religion and politics created the major principle contradiction of Pakistan as a nation-state.

Within this contradiction, another contradiction was created when the armed forces of Pakistan, principally its army, lapped up the idea of Islam as a balm to its own sense of identity and in adopting Islam, created a narrative of events which was completely alien to its existence. The reason why Pakistan finds itself in its present well of hopelessness is because Pakistan is a classic study in terms of the ideals of a Hegelian contradiction. What Hegel meant by a “principle contradiction”, was that history is created as a clash of great ideas and these ideas, though they appear to be in conflict with one another, they are on a closer reflection mutually reinforcing ideas existing in a close symbiotic relationship. Principle contradiction, in Hegelian terms and in Marxian terminology, also refers to the practice when one idea opposes another idea and it is this sense of opposition, which gives a meaning to the idea itself and if this notion of an opposition, between the ideas, was removed; the ideas would cease to exist as entities because it is the perception of a conflict which gives credence and meaning to their existence and without a conflict inherent between ideas, the ideology of the conflict, itself, would be meaningless. The principle contradiction of Pakistan was, and is, the idea of religion and politics. Pakistan cannot be a secular state, because to be a secular state would imply removing religion from politics and once religion is removed from Pakistani politics, the state would lose all its sense of sovereign legitimacy.

Sovereign legitimacy is not based on religion but in the social contract that exists between a people and the state; between the governors and the governed. In the case of Pakistan, religion is the legitimacy that rationalizes the existence of Pakistan as a state, but religion used in the pursuit of state’s interests in Pakistan has created the conditions that have effectively destroyed its sense of sovereignty. Pakistan, in order, to cement its credentials as custodian of Islamic virtues, compromised on the idea of its sovereignty in order to further burnish its Islamic credentials but in doing so, it sowed the seeds of its own doom as a nation-state.

The principle contradiction, as an idea, then suggests that Pakistan cannot be a secular state without destroying its identity as an Islamic state and it cannot exist as an Islamic state without destroying itself a nation-state. The only choice that is available to Pakistan then is to exist as a compromise between the opposing ideals of a theocracy and secularism and the only way in which Pakistan can maintain a semblance of a nation-state would be to continually perpetuate this conflict, between secular and theocratic ideals, and without this conflict, Pakistan would cease to exist as a nation-state. Therefore, the viability of Pakistan as a nation-state suggests that it cannot opt for either a purely theocratic or a secular form of governance but it has to exist as hybrid of the two and this, in turn suggests, that due to the conflicting and opposing nature of this idea, Pakistan will never experience any stability or continuity in its national affairs, with all the attendant consequences for progress, social development and stability and will always exist as a nation lurching from one crisis to another without any hopes of ending this cycle.

The other contradiction, within this contradiction, is the role of the Pakistani armed forces in the politics of Pakistan. The armed forces are not supposed to play an active role in the politics of a modern nation-state and are supposed to be subservient to an elected civilian government. In the case of Pakistan, this idea is opposed tooth and nail by the armed forces and they have traditionally played a dominant role in Pakistan and have never been subordinate to the commands of an elected government. The reason behind this is another contradiction, which exists within the armed forces themselves as an institution and this has to do with the legacy of the Pakistani armed forces. Pakistani armed forces traces its history and its martial legacy to the British Empire and its armed forces and in that sense, the parent organization of the Pakistani armed forces, notably its army is the British Indian army, but the Pakistani army, as a sub-argument to the narrative of Pakistan being an antithesis to India, created a mythology of it being a descendent of the Arab martial traditions. It adopted the Arab martial tradition to cleave a sense of separation between itself and the Indian army, but in doing so, it overlooked the fact that that has nothing in common with the Arab military tradition and that its history, its experiences and its martial-military culture is rooted in the traditions of an Indian military culture that goes back five thousand years.  It is for this reason, why the Pakistani military’s nomenclature is so studded with an Arabic influence and its weapons, regimental mottos and fighting creed seeks inspiration from an Arabic tradition.

To further strengthen its sense of antithesis to India, the army in Pakistan was a willing convert to the idea of Islam as a countervailing argument to India and it adopted Islam as a sign of its own militarized resistance to India and it openly, actively and whole heartedly supported the policies of turning Pakistan into a fortress of Islam. The idea of the militarization of the Pakistani society in the name of Islam appealed to the Pakistani military because it not only established its identity as the defender of Pakistan’s geographical and ideological frontiers, but it also gave it an insight to the policies of the state and to craft those policies in a manner, which would ensure its own institutional longevity in Pakistan. Therefore, it then becomes another principle contradiction of the Pakistani state. The armed forces of Pakistan have established their identity in Islam and if this identity is removed, then the truth emerges that Pakistani armed forces, principally its army, has more in common with its arch-enemy India than it does with any Arab country’s military. Pakistani military cannot afford this realization to become a fact, because it would ruin its own sense of legitimacy, which it has adroitly created, and from which it justifies its place of importance in Pakistani politics, by being the very embodiment of a Pakistani national opposition to India. This idea would devalue the role, importance and functionality of the Pakistani armed forces and its dominance of the national politics, which it has traditionally used to fashion policies that are antagonistic towards India and are designed to maintain a permanent state of war with India in order to guarantee its own dominant existence in the discourse of Pakistani politics.

This is a principle contradiction, because if the military admits to it; that it is using religion as a weapon of war to make sure its own existence is not jeopardized, it would be basically heralding its own demise in Pakistani politics. On the other hand, if it continues with the idea of using Islam as a weapon of war, it would be supporting policies that would be self-defeating, as the events in Pakistan are proving, and which will end in the military’s own emasculation as an institution in Pakistani politics. In this way, the only two choices which the Pakistani military is left with in this situation are the two choices it cannot make and is therefore, destined to self-destruct and in process make sure that Pakistan self-destructs too.

Thus, Pakistan is a classical principle contradiction, because it exists as an idea itself that is in conflict with itself and if this conflict were to end, Pakistan as a state and its institutions, would find themselves without any reason or rhyme to justify its own existence. For a country that was created in conflict, bred on the idea of conflict and sustained on the logic of conflict, it has to exist in a state of conflict because without a state of conflict within it and in seeking one with its neighbors, Pakistan cannot exist. It cannot exist without a conflict but if it pursues conflict as a means of state survival, it will only hasten its own end by the follies of its own policies and by the designs of others, who will have no patience to suffer its policies supporting a perpetual state of war. Pakistan cannot save itself without getting rid of its contradictions, but it cannot get rid of its many contradictions, because they have over the years interwoven themselves into a delicate lace of fragility, and therefore removing one contradiction at a time will not solve the problem unless all removed simultaneously.

So, the question is how to destroy a country in order to recreate it and save it without destroying it in the first place because if it is not destroyed as it exists presently, it will destroy itself and damage others in the process and that is a scenario that no one wishes and yet, there is nothing one can do avoid it!

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