Home Truths: Pakistan Is Far from Being the Country Many of Us Think. Fatima Bhutto Dispels a Few Myths
Bhutto, Fatima, New Statesman (1996)
Everybody seems to be an expert on the Islamic Republic of Pakistan these days. You can't turn left without running into some pundit or pontificating layperson moaning heartily about Pakistan's future, lording it with their imaginary Pakistan PhDs over all and sundry. Baronesses, David Miliband, the fellow who reads the news--they're all Pakistan wonks now.
It used to be that, upon telling someone you hailed from Pakistan, you'd get a benign smile: "Oh, yes, next to India." Yes, next to India, and Iran and China and Afghanistan. Now, the mere mention of Pakistan elicits a knowing wink. "Where's Osama hiding, then? Ha ha ha." We don't know, he doesn't send out a monthly newsletter. Detroit, I would venture.
But just as no one knows anything certain about Islam in today's "I'm an authority because I saw a documentary once" age, there is no country with more mythology surrounding it than my Pakistan. Here are my three favourites:
1. Pakistan was created so fundamentalist Muslims--and no one else--would have a country of their own to call home.
In his address to the constituent assembly of Pakistan on 11 August 1947, three days before the country's independence was to be celebrated, Muhammad Ali Jinnah called for liberty in the new nation. "You are free. You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed--that has nothing to do with the business of the state."
Moral of the story? Religious extremists are made, not born. You can thank General Zia ul-Haq, our pro-Islamist president from 1977-88, and his financial backers Mrs Thatcher and Mr Reagan for that. What you have today is not how it's always been. It is said that the indigenous inhabitants of Sindh, one of the four provinces of Pakistan, were the Dravidians. Then came the Aryans. Then the Arabs. And it was with them--pardon the rush through thousands of years of history--that Islam, and Sufi Islam, came to our lands.
Today, the struggle for the soul of Pakistani Islam is being fought between the qawwalisinging, tolerant Sufis and the puritanical Wahhabi Muslim sect, which has been supported for years with funding from orthodox Sunni Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
Who will win? The Sufis, according to Ayeda Naqvi, who teaches Islamic mysticism. "It was Sufis who came and spread the religious message of love and harmony and beauty. There were no swords ... And you can't separate it from our culture--it's in our music, it's in our folklore, it's in our architecture. We are a Sufi country." And it is worth noting that religious, or Islamist, parties have never prospered on a national level in Pakistan. …