The Roots of Pakistan’s Paranoia


Grasping the reasons for the Pakistani tendency for paranoia and violence requires assessing its troubling present in the light of a troubled past… (7)

Besieged by enemies within and without, television’s spin-doctors, impelled by the state’s intelligence agencies, attribute Pakistan’s multi-faceted problems to the machinations of invisible external hands, as opposed to historically verifiable causes of internal decline and decay. Call it paranoia, denial or intellectual paralysis, but If India’s hegemonic designs are not hindering Pakistan at every step, American and Israel are believed to be hatching plots to break up the world’s only Muslim nuclear state. Pakistan’s deeply divided and traumatized people are groping for a magical formula to evade collective responsibility for their failure to gel as a nation (7-8, emphasis added).

A psychologically introverted national mindset resistant to critical self-reflection tends to be suspicious and paranoid. … the idea of history as a study of the past through rigorous investigative methods of critical enquiry has suffered from willful neglect in the interests of promoting new-fangled ideologies defined by regimes pursuing the politics of self-perpetuation. Instead of history, Pakistanis are given emotive lessons in ideology, along with a compendium of selective facts, which instead of opening up minds, parrot the “truths” of hastily constructed national myths … Shorn of a history, people living in myths are just that – a mythical people whose thoughts and actions lack credibility and substance, a frustrated and depressed people (8, emphasis added).

History has been reduced to a jumble of cliches by official hacks expounding the improbable versions of Pakistan’s much-touted Islamic ideology…Forced to imbibe official truths, the vast majority of literate Pakistanis take comfort in ignorance, skepticism and most disconcertingly, in a contagion of belief in conspiracy theories. The self-glorification of an imagined past matched by habits of national denial have assumed crisis proportions today when Pakistan’s existence is under far more serious threat from fellow Muslims than it was in 1947 from rival non-Muslim communities (10, emphasis added).

Without a credible history, a people cannot develop a historical consciousness, much less a national one. By devaluing history for political and ideological reasons, Pakistan has found it difficult to project a national identity that can strike a sympathetic chord with its heterogeneous people. Sixty-three years after independent, Pakistan is trying to define the inner contours of its national identity. The dilemma flows from a stubborn refusal to accept the more awkward truths about the historical circumstances surrounding its birth (11, emphasis added).

Written by Ayesha Jalal (selections by Randeep Purewall)

Selections from Ayesha Jalal’s essay “The Past as Present” in Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State (Rupa & Co., 2011), edited by Maleeha Lodhi, pp. 7-20.

This entry was posted in Art.

2 comments on “The Roots of Pakistan’s Paranoia

  1. Gurcharan Rampuri says:

    I enjoyed all articles. Thanks Fauzia Sahiba!

    Gurcharan Rampuri


  2. Naveed Ausaf says:

    The problem is not fundamentally that Pakistanis have been told lies about why their nation was founded (though that is a part of the problem). The problem really is the systematic radicalisation of the nation by Zia and his regime (and to some extent, even by regimes before his). A false projection of the raison d’etre for the founding of Pakistan was merely one of the tools (and a potent one) used in this program of radicalisation. The factors behind that radicalisation (Afghan mujahideen and the Pakistan state misguided need to bond the notion of their Jihad to Pakistani nation’s very existence) is what greatly compounds the problem of terrorism, violence and intolerance in the country today.

    The second big problem is lack of education. No country with our resources (though there may be a few other examples here and there) fails to provide its children with free primary and secondary education.
    (though it must be noted that even in the commercial provision of education, the state has intervened forcefully and venomously with its program of radicalisation which naturally makes matters worse).

    Thirdly, I would like to point out that there are no awkward truths surrounding the founding of Pakistan. Pakistan was founded not for Islam or to preserve or perpetuate Islam. It was founded for the muslims of the Indian subcontinent, Every time muslims are massacred, en masse, in riots in India and every time their mosques are razed to the ground should only serve to illustrate this point. Moreover, muslims were and continue to be economically and socially backward in India: undereducated and poor compared to many other ethinic/religious groups.

    Of course it was an arbitrary decision whether or not Pakistan should have been founded at all. But nation states are often rather arbitrary. The heterogeneous Yugoslavia was broken up into relatively cohesive nations/countries and they are happier that way (look at Slovenia’s and Croatia’s economic growth over the last two decades and look at the (relative) peace that now prevails in those countries). Even relatively homogeneous Czechoslovakia split into two and no harm done really, or the relatively homogeneous UK where first the Irish seceded and now there is a sizeable minority in Scotland that wants to secede). On the other hand an extremely heterogenous nation like India has managed to evolve and be successful. Nevertheless, what you cannot deny for the, even if arbitrary, decision to found Pakistan, there were good enough reasons.

    The problem is the radicalisation of the people by the state and the mis-projection of the nation’s history and of the reasons for its coming into being, as a tool in this quest.

    The Quaid knew that the mere founding of Pakistan was not enough to achieve the purpose for which Pakistan was founded: to uplift and liberate the muslims of the Indian subscontinent. He would have further gone on to ensure (had he lived longer or, arguably, had Liqauat Ali Khan had not been shot) that in Pakistan:

    ” 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”.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s