Escaping India: An Explanation of Pakistan's Middle East Orientation
Pande, Aparna, Melbourne Journal of Politics
Pakistan is an integral part of South Asia in geographic, cultural, linguistic and historic terms but its rulers have emphasized the country's relations with the Middle East since independence in 1947. The desire to simultaneously find national cohesion and a significant role on the world stage has shaped Pakistan's history as that of a state in search of a national identity. This article analyzes Pakistan's foreign policy, right from its origins, in order to explain this key feature of its external relations. The emphasis on ideology led to a foreign policy that rested on Islam and Islamic unity as its principal drivers. Just as Islamic ideology was to be a substitute for nationalism and the basis for a distinct Pakistani personality, Pakistan's foreign policy highlighted closer ties with Muslim Middle Eastern nations at the expense of normal relations with India.
Keywords: South Asia, Pakistan, Islam, Foreign Policy, India, Ideology, Nationalism, Middle East, United States.
After the creation of Pakistan the feeling of brotherhood and sympathy with the cause of the Arab world became all the more crystallized and found an unambiguous expression in the country's foreign policy which is in fact a carry over policy pursued by Muslims of the subcontinent during the last one century.--Zafar Mansoor, 'Pakistan's contribution to Arabs cause,' Dawn, August 14, 1959 (1)
Pakistan is an integral part of South Asia in geographic, cultural, linguistic and historic terms, but its rulers have emphasized the country's relations with the Middle East since independence in 1947. It seems that Pakistan has been making a conscious effort to redefine or escape its shared heritage with India, out of which it was carved at the end of the British Raj. Closer identification with the Middle East is part of that strategic decision that is aimed at consolidating a unique Pakistani identity. Each one of Pakistan's principal ethnic and language groups overlaps with neighbouring countries, leaving the Islamic religion as the only readily available unifying factor. Pakistan, some scholars argue, has 'nationalism without a nation' (2) because of the difficulties that have emerged in defining Pakistani nationalism and nationhood.
Nationalism refers to the attitude that the members of a nation have about their national identity. (3) Ernst Gellner describes nationalism as 'a political principle which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent.' (4) In the case of Pakistan, divergent ethnic and cultural characteristics vie with the identity provided by the political unit. The solution offered over the years has been to emphasize the shared Islamic religion over other attributes of national distinctiveness. In the sphere of foreign policy, the religious dimension has resulted in accentuating affinity with the Islamic Middle East. Pakistan's conscious attempts to redefine its locus have resulted in some ironies: India's name is derived from the river Indus, which now flows primarily through Pakistan. Most of Pakistan's pre-partition history is the same as that of India. The term Pakistan is an acronym patterned on place names used in Central Asia, (5) names that were brought to India by rulers of Central Asian origin. They are not Arabic in origin. Pakistanis do not speak any of the major languages identified with the Middle East-Arabic, Persian and Turkish--and their cuisine and costumes, too, have greater similarity with South Asian food and clothing. With the exception of the Islamic religion, Pakistan has less in common with the Arab Middle East than it does with India and the rest of South Asia.
Pakistan's relatively short history provides evidence for the constructivist argument that states have constructed collective identities and that these identities define their behaviour in the international system. (6) The identity leaders choose or try to create for a nation impacts both domestic politics and foreign policy. In Pakistan's case, the conscious decision to construct an ideology-based national identity was couched in what can be described as a realist foreign policy based on securing the new-born Pakistani state against an existential threat from India, out of which it had been carved. Assertions by leaders of independent India to the effect that Pakistan's creation amounted to 'the vivisection of mother India' (7) were seen as a security challenge of gigantic proportions. Constructing a Pakistani identity was considered as much a matter of national survival, lest the country be reabsorbed into India, as one of national construction.
The term identity is referred to in this paper as an umbrella term used in social sciences to refer to an individual's comprehension of other as a discrete or separate entity. According to the Social Identity Theory developed by Henri Tajfel and J.C. Turner, humans classify themselves and others into different social categories like gender, organizational membership, and religious affiliation, among others. The aim of this classification is twofold--one, to provide a means to define others and second, to define oneself. (8) Identity is important in defining nationhood because, as constructivist author Benedict Anderson points out, nations are:
imagined political communities ... imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.... it is a community because regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each the nation is always conceived as a deep horizontal comradeship. (9)
Soon after partition, Pakistani leaders faced the question of defining a Pakistani national identity distinct from that of India. Pakistan's various provinces had ethnic or linguistic distinctiveness, which provided a basis for ethnic- or language-based nationalism, while their shared historical experience and heritage linked them to India as well. Pakistan had to be different from India if partition was to be justified and that raised the question of Pakistani identity. Pakistan's first military ruler General Ayub Khan, who ruled from 1958-1969, and as army commander-in-chief played a crucial role in the country's formative years, explained the problem when he wrote:
Till the advent of Pakistan none of us was in fact a Pakistani.... prior to 1947 our nationalism was based more on an idea than on any territorial definition ... ideologically we were Muslims, territorially we happened to be Indians, and parochially we were a conglomeration of at least eleven smaller, provincial loyalties ... (10)
Echoing the sentiment of the country's founding fathers, Khan defined Pakistan's 'ultimate aim' as striving to become a 'sound, solid and cohesive nation,' one able to play its 'destined role in world history.' (11) The desire to simultaneously find national cohesion and a significant role on the world stage has shaped Pakistan's history as that of a state in search of a national identity. The key question in political discourse about Pakistan has been whether Pakistan is a 'land for Muslims' or a 'nation of Muslims moving towards its destiny as an Islamic state.' (12)
Pakistan's first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, defined Pakistani nationalism in terms of an ideology, most likely borrowing the concept from European philosophers who used the word to denote ideas that functioned to 'maintain the existing social order.' (13) The notion of ideology as a label for 'scientific ideas and human ideals' had started in 1801 with French philosopher Destutt de Tracy; Marx and Engels had given it a sociological meaning in The German Ideology and Karl Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia (1929) made distinctions between 'particular and total conceptions of ideology.' (14) Liaquat Ali Khan stressed that Pakistan was an ideological state and wondered, while advocating Pan-Islamic unity, 'Why cannot the Muslim peoples get together to protect themselves and show to the world that they have an ideology and a way of life which ensures peace and harmony in the world?' (15) Ayub Khan went further and explained both the need for a national ideology and its definition in Pakistan's case. 'Man as an animal is moved by basic instincts for preservation of life and continuance of race but as a being conscious of his power of thinking he has the power to control and modify his instincts. His greatest yearning is for an ideology for which he should be able to lay down his life,' (16) he wrote. Ayub Khan argued that:
the more noble and eternal an ideology, the better the individual and the people professing it. Their lives will be much richer, more creative and they will have an enormous power of cohesion and resistance. Such a society can conceivably be bent but never broken. Such an ideology with us is obviously that of Islam. It was on that basis that we fought for and got Pakistan, but having got it, we failed to order our lives in accordance with it ... The time has now come when we must ... define this ideology in simple but modern terms and put it to the people, so that they can use it as a code of guidance. (17)
A national ideology, based on and derived from Islam, would serve as an answer to questions of national identity and would define Pakistani nationalism.
Ideological Foreign Policy
Having decided to define Pakistan as a state guided by an inadequately defined Islamic ideology, Pakistan's early leaders sought global friends, allies and partners for their new country. The emphasis on ideology led to a foreign policy that rested on Islam and …
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Publication information: Article title: Escaping India: An Explanation of Pakistan's Middle East Orientation. Contributors: Pande, Aparna - Author. Journal title: Melbourne Journal of Politics. Volume: 32. Publication date: Annual 2007. Page number: 66+. © 1998 Department of Political Science, University of Melbourne. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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