“Keepers of Order”: Military, Islam, and Muslim Identity in East and West Pakistan

Sunday, January 9, 2011: 11:00 AM
Room 305 (Hynes Convention Center)
Yasmin Saikia , Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
For most of Pakistan’s existence as a nation-state, the military has played the most dominant role.  By cultivating an image of bravado and sacrifice, the Pakistan military claims a messianic role and architects of Pakistan’s Muslim identity.   Challenging the role of the political and civil actors trying to shape Pakistan’s identity, the military led government embarked on the task of making “good” Muslim subjects beginning from the 1950s.
Exploring the declassified papers of the Ayub Khan period (1956-1969) along with oral interviews with some of the principal military actors, in this paper I map the multiple sites and forms of Muslim crafted by the military leadership.  I begin with Ayub Khan’s Islamizing project that was inaugurated on the contested ground of rewriting history for correcting people’s “memories.” Alongside, Ayub Khan undertook a modernist development program under the banner of Basic Democracy to make Pakistan an Islamic and modernist state.  What was the reception to the military’s Islamizing project?  Contrary to the military’s expectation, the history writing project and the new economic policies produced negative outcomes and the gaps within the body-politic heightened leading to the rise of the Bengali separatist movement.  Ultimately, Pakistan was dismembered in 1971 as a result of it.  The Pakistan Army’s construction of itself as men of power and the keepers of an Islamic order failed. 
In conclusion, I shift the study from “memos” and “orders” forcing an Islamic identity on the subject population to focus on oral narratives of ex-soldiers to show the layering of different histories, memories and notions of being Muslim that fall outside of the dominant tropes but are part of the historical imagination of being Muslim that are simultaneously multiple as well as unique.
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