In the public imagination, FATA and Balochistan are two distinct problems with a common solution: both call for a military action against certain groups who’ve taken up arms against the state.
Give it a little agency sponsored spin and you can easily present it as ‘certain groups’ who’ve taken up arms against Pakistan.
This conflation of ‘state’ and ‘Pakistan’ takes place on a daily basis. All those who agree with the state, in effect, agree with Pakistan. Those who disagree, regardless of the merits of their arguments are ostracised, or in certain cases, branded as traitors. This presentation of conflict in such easy, digestible terms is an art form perfected by the Pakistani state. As a result of this version of rationalisation, the reaction to a dichotomous portrayal is fairly black-and-white as well.
In the case of Balochistan, part of the public believes it’s India + Willing Conspirators (the dark side) vs Pakistan (the eternal good). The slightly more introspective, but equally ignorant, believe it’s a straight up war between pre-modern tribalism and progressive modernity. In both cases, the Pakistan Army and its ancillary forces represent Luke Skywalker.
In the case of FATA, part of the public, (roughly the same part) believe it’s India + Willing Conspirators vs Pakistan. The slightly more introspective, yet shortsighted, believe it’s an ideological battle between pre-modern fanaticism and modern moderation. No prizes for guessing who plays Luke Skywalker in this conflict as well.
In the public eye, however, the two problems, apart from sharing a spot on the ‘things that plague Pakistan’ list, are seen as distinct from each other. What we’re left with as a result, is one large narrative, i.e., enemy vs Pakistan, and beyond that, smaller, but equally polarised narratives spread across the country.
If I was slightly more cynical, I’d probably be admiring the efforts of our deep state, (i.e., the agencies, the army, and their minions) in ensuring that the reality of violence and conflict in Pakistan is obfuscated, dumbed down and presented in the most convenient of fashions. Their greatest success, albeit completely by accident, has not been in peddling the conspiracy theory – Pakistan versus the World narrative, but more so in how introspective, critical members of our population have increasingly begun to buy into a dichotomous understanding of conflict in Balochistan, but more so of the war against extremism.
Sadly enough, the fact that’s missed out by most is that the real roots of conflict lie within the very edifice of the Pakistani state.
At a recent seminar discussing various aspects of Pakistan’s National Security Apparatus, Dr Ayesha Siddiqa and Aasim Sajjad both remarked how the project of cantonment-ising the country was going ahead with rapid speed. Even more interesting than this observation was that in 1861, the governor of what was then the Indian North West had remarked that the colonial state would benefit greatly from having a permanent cantonment and military presence in this part of the sub-continent. Like so many other colonial hangovers, it seems that the logic behind constructing a modern state apparatus in these parts has not been revised after independence.
Religious extremism and ethno-separatism are, no doubt, qualitatively and theoretically two very different phenomenons. But the particular manifestations of these problems found in Pakistan are both connected at the root to the way that power is structured and exercised in the country.
Balochistan, for example, has suffered years upon years at the high-handedness of a state that prides centralisation of authority over everything else. Every dictator, and nearly every political government, (present one excluded), has attempted to concentrate power and resources at the federal level, leaving provinces and districts with nothing more than small kitties for patronage dispensation. Beyond material wealth, the construction of a cultural policy, reliant on an abstract, near-metaphysical notion of Pakistani identity has furthered feelings of injustice. Very simply put, the two-pronged cultural plus material exploitation of a certain ethnicity has given rise to the Balochistan conflict.
Along the same lines, the roots of religious violence and bigotry are connected to the strategic imperatives of the security state, and contrary to what some may believe, are still very much intact. If the threat of Indian hegemony is what drove the cultivation of a culture of public morality as well as these religious groups, then there is little proof to suggest that a revision in thought has taken place at the policy-making level. The state continues to stock up on nuclear toys and military gadgets, continues to differentiate between loyal assets, and irritating assets, and continues to stoke a rabid media into a permanent sovereignty induced trip.
What we see now is the overt manifestation of a state that was created and strengthened on the principle of security and hastily constructed difference. What we see now is not a conflict between Pakistan and its enemies, but rather a conflict between the imperatives of securitised state and an increasingly fragmented society.
Originally published in Pakistan Today on 31/03/2011