Lunch with Author Ayesha Siddiqa

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

In Pakistan an important challenge has arisen before the Musharraf Government–from on the one hand the bourgeois democratic parties and, on the other, the strong religious right, an inheritance of the Zia ul-Haque’’s regime of the 80s and America’s version of the Great Game against the “Russian Empire’s” thrust into the Hindu Kush.

An Iraq-like emergency (car and suicide bombers) has brought the crisis to an urgency by the military’s attack upon the Red Mosque in center of the capital city itself. The militant mosque’s students were planted in the middle of the seat of Government to protect Zia’s undemocratic rule. In revenge for the high profile attack on the mosque, Islamist groups, whose ideology arose in the Northwest Provinces and Balochistan, have almost brought the nation to civil war.

Ayesha Siddiqa was recently forced to leave her native Pakistan for writing a book on Rawalpindi, Military Inc., that has gained quite a bit of attention there and abroad. The Pakistani Armed Forces are not only a Defense Force, but also a Corporate Entity –even making the breakfast cereal–within the country. I was told in Madison that there are more Ph.D.s in the Army than in the universities. Ms. Siddiqa is definitely one of the best female thinkers in the Islamic Republic, and perhaps one of the leading thinkers on her homeland worldwide.

“I wish to be more confident of [Pakistan]…” Unfortunately, our relationship with India has been too negative, but we have to engage with our neighbor more with the thought that “We are an independent entity.” We both are obsessed with each other–positively and negatively. Neither India nor Pakistan will disappear, and, alas, we shall continue to be a threat to one another. Pakistan and India should possess their own visions of themselves — independent of the other.

Ms. Siddiqa inquired rhetorically: “Where do we wish to go in the next fifty years?” True, Islam should be factored into any future Constitution, but she argues “[theocratic] politics and the State should be separate.”

Regrettably, unlike its neighbor India–especially in the Marxist dominated states of West Bengal and (formerly) Kerala there–the ancient feudal structure within Pakistani society still predominates. This has ensured the rule of the oligarchy. Pakistan is a nation where the ancient elites govern the countryside, and, thus, exert considerable sway over the Center as well. The non-elite classes do not have much political control over their future, and this may be a cause for radicalization in the country.

If the Musharraf Government falls, it will be hard to say how America’s “War on Terrorism” will continue with its chief regional ally gone–who or what will take its place. The States have made threats recently because they believe the General has not done enough. This is something that should be of concern to all Muslims. To attack the country from the North or the South to rid the terrain of Al Qaeda would prove disastrous. Rawalpindi has been concerned over such a betrayal–and especially over the safety of its nuclear arsenal.

Ayesha Siddiqa’s book on the Corporate Pakistani Army is Military Inc. published by Pluto Press, and distributed in the States by the University of Michigan Press. It can, also, be downloaded from the Internet, too.


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