Monday, 21 April 2014

Review of Tinderbox by MJ Akbar

Tinderbox – The Past and Future of Pakistan
by M J Akbar

Anyone who has watched Attenborough's Gandhi, knows the metaphor of India being a beautiful women with lustrous eyes: one eye Hindu, one eye Muslim. How a country where two faiths had lived intertwined for over a millennium could degenerate into the violence of partition is one of the real mysteries of India.

In Tinderbox Akbar analyses the ‘DNA’ of Pakistan, going back to the defeat of the Mughal Empire by the British and the impact of defeat and conquest on Muslim elites in the North of the Subcontinent.

Akbar shows how one aspect of that reaction is embodied in the Muslim league’s leader Jinnah. Jinnah was a pretty careless Muslim. He enjoyed a drink; could not quote the Koran, and invited Mountbatten to lunch during Ramadan. His model was Attaturk. He believed in a secular republic whose majority were Muslims and saw the Muslim faith and Urdu language as indispensable but vulnerable markers of community, which required their own state apparatus to survive.

Jinnah is often called the father of Pakistan. Akbar then focuses on Maulana Maududi, whom he calls the Godfather of Pakistan. Maududi, who died in 1979 was a Wahabi influenced religious scholar with a vitriolic hatred of the West and all its works. Maududi’s theological worldview could get traction in certain sections of the Muslim population both because of a historical (albeit contentious) memory of defeat and humiliation at the hands of the British Raj and the ongoing injustice and fitful economic progress of Pakistan.

Add bad politics and self-seeking politicians and, according to Akbar, you have the potential for a ‘toxic jelly state’ – one that neither collapses nor stabilizes and where there is a real chance that nuclear weapons could end up being controlled by people who believe suicide is a pathway to paradise.

That last proposition seems somewhat alarmist. What Akbar does not do is analyse in any detail the political numbers or the current allegiances of key military and judicial figures. When given a chance, the Pakistani people have consistently rejected Islamist political parties. The army has moved to crush the Taliban in the Swat Valley. A doomsday scenario is a long way off. What would have been useful, and what Akbar – an Indian Muslim and evidently no great fan of Pakistan – does not provide, is an analysis of how a more positive future, one where the tendency embodied in Jinnah prevails, might come about.

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