What does Pakistan think of its history?

Country studies of Pakistan

Internationally, Pakistan stands for permanent crisis. The adversities that the country is grappling with are notorious: They range from poverty to war and terrorism, and they do not stop with oppression, corruption and fanaticism. In the last six years alone, extremists have killed an estimated 40,000 people there.Pakistan is considered the most likely site of a new nuclear war and is just as notorious for its chronically poor economic situation as for its unstable political structure - which is why most analysts refer to Pakistan as a country on the brink. Not so Katja Mielke and Conrad Schetter:

"If Pakistan were a country on the brink, it would have slid down the abyss long ago. But the past has shown that all of these crises are successfully circumvented."

"The idea of ​​a country on the brink, the debate about states in disintegration, is a debate that we must slowly say goodbye to and we Europeans have to get off our high horse to believe that there is only one form of statehood, and we finally understand that all over the world there are societies that have different ideas about statehood and how they live together. "

In their "Introduction to the History, Politics and Culture of Pakistan", Mielke and Schetter do not paint a rosy picture of the state, which was founded in 1947 as a nation of Muslims in South Asia and has since then repeatedly experienced wars and crises. But the authors forego the hysteria and bias that characterize many recent publications on the country. Your guide is the question of Pakistan's identity:

"What makes Pakistan special? What - apart from the enthusiasm for cricket and Bollywood - holds the numerous ethnic groups and religious communities together? Are the inhabitants mainly Pakistani or rather Punjabis, Baluch, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Mohajir or Kashmiris? There are In Pakistan itself there is no consensus-based vision of what the country wants to be: 66 years after the founding of Pakistan, the answer to the question 'what does Pakistan stand for?' - Pakistan ka matlab kya hay? - as controversial as it has been since the breakaway from India. "

Mielke and Schetter present Pakistan in a comprehensive and well-informed manner in five chapters. They describe the natural and cultural area of ​​the country on the Indus, and begin to portray its history long before it was founded as a nation-state. The authors describe how Pakistani foreign and domestic policy intertwine - always shaped and hindered by the fixation on the archenemy India, and they also analyze Pakistan's part in the broken relationship with the USA. The chapters on the population as well as on politics and culture in particular demonstrate the knowledge of the country of the authors who have worked together for a long time at the Center for Development Research in Bonn.

"We have (...) tried to shift the view a little bit from the political-international level to the social level and hope that this book creates added value compared to other publications."

The authors succeeded in doing this convincingly. However, in view of the many problems that you describe, one may not really share your optimism about the future of Pakistan, which you expressly formulate in the foreword. They aptly describe the devastating consequences of the unresolved ideological conflict that stems from the founding myth of the Islamic Republic:

"The interpretation of the state of Muslims as an Islamic federation with a strongly centralized policy, which soon became prevalent after the state was founded, should lead to far-reaching problems in the following. Pakistan's arch hostility to India and the associated cultivation of religious extremism and extensive intolerance towards minorities are only the most obvious Effects. The fact that rapprochement with India, which would be politically and economically sensible and to the advantage of Pakistan, is so difficult today is due to the extremist attitude of the religious parties. "

Today, religious conformity threatens not only the diversity of Islam, but also social pluralism and individual development opportunities; the military repeatedly provokes conflicts and does not shy away from promoting extremism in order to remain irreplaceable - as in Kashmir, the eternal bone of contention with India. Economic and political self-service of the elites have long since undermined the instruments of democracy; Civil society institutions - unions, foundations, aid organizations - are part of clientelist networks instead of acting as a corrective for society as a whole.

Mielke and Schetter's knowledgeable accounts reveal identity crises that may not tear Pakistan and its citizens into the abyss, but neither do they open the way to a prosperous and peaceful society. This book about Pakistan closes a gap in German-speaking countries. It would be a shame if it didn't reach the broad audience it deserves because of the often wooden scientific style. In this country, the nuclear power Pakistan is usually only seen as an accompanying factor in the Afghanistan conflict, since the NATO decision to withdraw, interest in the region has decreased significantly. You can find out why both are a mistake when reading this regional study.

Katja Mielke / Conrad Schetter: Pakistan. Land of extremes.
C.H. Beck Verlag, 256 pages, 14.95 euros
ISBN: 978-3-406-65295-0
Review: Sabina Matthay