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Report on Interaction with Prof. Ishtiaq Ahmed

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  • June 14, 2023

    Prof. Ishtiaq Ahmed, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University, gave a talk at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, on 14 June 2023 and shared his perspective on “Evolving Political Situation in Pakistan and Prospects of India-Pakistan Relations”. The Session was chaired by the Director General, MP-IDSA, Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy. Scholars of the Institute participated.

    Executive Summary

    Professor Ahmed spoke about the historical context of the creation of Pakistan, relations with India and dynamics of the political situation in Pakistan. Given his scholarship and writings on Pakistan, his views provided insights into how civil-society of Pakistan approaches issues concerning India-Pakistan relations.

    The following points emerged during his talk.

    Muhammad Ali Jinnah won the case for Pakistan on the basis of “Two Nation Theory.” The theory that Jinnah raised the bogey of a separate state just to increase his bargaining power vis-à-vis Indian National Congress in securing the interests of Muslims within India does not hold in light of documentary evidences. The demand for Pakistan was not a bargaining chip but Jinnah always wanted to be credited for the creation of Pakistan.

    After the death of Jinnah, a controversy emerged about the kind of state he wanted Pakistan to be. Some said he wanted a modern state, others believed that he was all for an Islamic state, few thought he was in favour of a secular state. Every group has its own reasons to think that way. The confusion prevails because Jinnah may be quoted in any of the three ways.

    There are plenty of evidences to suggest that Jinnah made attempts to bargain out Pakistan’s geostrategic location in lieu of military and financial support from the West. While Pakistan was yet to be a reality, he had already explained to US officials how Pakistan would support America in its efforts to contain Soviet Union’s expansion in South Asia.

    Jinnah very much wanted Pakistan as a separate state but he did not think that relations with India would deteriorate. He had his plans to retain his properties in India. The violence in the wake of partition and largescale migration changed the situation on ground. As he realised that Pakistan would be flooded with a large number of refugees, which would be difficult for it to manage, he delivered his famous 11th August speech in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan where he said that “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or 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.”

    Pakistan has wasted its energy to compete with India and paid a heavy price for its enmity with India. The official narrative in India is that India is an existential threat and enemy number one, which is not based on any objective reality. None of the wars was initiated by India. Right since the beginning, it was the politico-security establishment at the helm which propagated this wrong idea.

    People in Pakistan are not against India and Indian people. In fact, they welcome Indian people with open arms. One can ask Hindus and Sikhs visiting Pakistan to confirm this point. They are treated well by the ordinary Pakistanis. The official narrative between the two countries needs to be changed. It will benefit Pakistan more if it shuns its inimical approach towards India. To a question, whether the Muslims of India were treated as warmly in Pakistan, he said, as a communal state the behaviour of Pakistanis would be naturally warm towards them, but what really needed scrutiny is the attitude of the Pakistani Muslims towards non-Muslims from India.

    Over the years, Pakistan has emerged as a rentier state. It allows its land and institutions to be used by outside powers for economic and military aid. Throughout the Cold war, United States paid the rent and used the Pakistani state the way it wanted. Now in the changed circumstances, Chinese are doing the same. However, Chinese are tough nuts to crack, as far as economic matters are concerned. They very much focus on recovering their money with profit, he said.

    The political situation in present day Pakistan is fragile. There is a division in Pakistan Army, as some insiders are supporting Imran Khan. How deep this division is, nobody knows as of now. It is clear that unlike in the past, Punjab is no longer supporting the Army wholeheartedly. That is a worrying aspect for the Pakistan Army.

    Bilawal Bhutto has his eyes on the security establishment. He is trying hard to get close to the establishment for political purposes. This was the reason he made an unceremonious remark against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has premiership in his mind. The Army may also back him as the current PML-N leadership is not considered reliable.

    In the present circumstances, Imran Khan and his PTI do not seem to be coming back to power again, even if the future does not look certain now. Sharif brothers may have their chance to get hold of power again if they play their cards well. However, it will depend upon what the security establishment will decide in the days to come. Prof. Ishtiaq considered the Army an institution too critical for the survival for Pakistan and held that it still has enough power to shape the future course of politics in the country.

    The talk was followed by comments by the Director General, Ambassador Sujan R.  Chinoy, and other scholars.

    The report was prepared by Dr. Ashish Shukla, Associate Fellow, South Asia Centre, MP-IDSA.