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The Death of Pakistan?

NEW DELHI – This is a tipping point for Pakistan. Will it survive the current maelstrom of challenges – exemplified by the recent assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer of Punjab by one of his bodyguards, an Islamic zealot – or will it capsize? For the world, Pakistan’s fate is an urgent, perhaps even an existential, question. After all, Pakistan is a nuclear-armed, terrorist-spawning regional power.

The roots of Pakistan’s instability run deep. Following World Wars I and II, the European powers and the United States sat around distant tables and fabricated frontiers, giving birth to Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia – and thus to most of the of the Middle East’s current ills. The region’s new map was based on the assumption that the fundamentals of “Muslim Asia” could be transformed by introducing the Western nation-state system. Instead, what formed was a region of entities that have largely failed to cohere as nations.

In 1947, the Indian sub-continent, too, was vivisected in much the same way, with a religion-based entity carved out of it: Pakistan. Of course, it is pointless at this stage to re-examine that tragic folly. The consequences of partition, however, remain: Pakistan has not yet been able to evolve an administratively credible government. Indeed, if Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, had been right that Muslims are a separate nation, Bangladesh would not have broken away from it, and the country’s relations with its neighbor Afghanistan would be free of intrigue and violence.

This brings us to the heart of the matter: the question of Islam and statehood. In his book Islam and the Destiny of Man, Gai Eaton put the matter with elegant precision: “Islamic society is theocentric…not theocratic.” This is an important distinction, for it calls into question the “validity of (the) concept of (an) Islamic state as distinct from a Muslim state.” The first, Eaton writes, is an “ideological proposition” that has “never materialized in Muslim history because no Muslim state has even been theocratic.”