The liberal and left factions in Pakistan also reprogrammed themselves after the end of the Cold War. Under Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistan People’s Party, once left-leaning, anti-imperialist, sought legitimacy in Washington and quickly embraced its neoliberal program to open the economy to Western capital. If the formerly liberal and left leaning forces completed this metamorphosis with little difficulty, this is not entirely surprising. Even when they proclaimed socialist ideals or employed anti-imperialist rhetoric, the thinking of the politically dominant classes in much of the Islamicate had been shaped by an Orientalist narrative. After the Western powers had destroyed or marginalized the traditional learned classes – judges and jurisprudents trained in Shariah, theologians, physicians, engineers, architects and artists – this created space for the emergence of new intellectual classes that were beholden to their colonial masters.
More often than not, they were secular and nationalist in their politics, and, following their Orientalist mentors, they blamed Islam for their backwardness; as a result, even when they paid lip service to Islam, they were determined to exclude it from their political discourse. In keeping with their colonialist thinking, they affected Western styles and mannerisms but did little to acquire the institutions, sciences and technology that were the motors of Western power and prosperity. It is no exaggeration to assert that these new elites – despite their nationalist rhetoric – felt closer to their colonial masters they had replaced than to the people they claimed to lead.
In Pakistan, different factions of the ruling elites – who variously claim to be ‘nationalists,’ ‘liberals’ or ‘leftists’ – strenuously lobby the Americans or the British to gain power or to keep it. They outbid each other in sacrificing vital national interests; they never tire of proclaiming that the nation’s economic salvation depends on attracting foreign investment; they have backed unconditionally America’s so-called war on terrorism; they oppose the Afghans’ right to free their country of foreign occupiers; they cheered when General Musharraf used Pakistan’s military to fight Pakistanis who aided the Afghans; they privately assure the Americans that – despite their public stance – they stand firmly behind the deadly drone strikes against ‘targets’ inside Pakistan. Disregarding Pakistan’s Islamic sensibilities, a tiny minority of ‘secularists’ in Pakistan want to impose Western sexual mores on Pakistan; they have campaigned to abrogate the nation’s laws against blasphemy, not prevent its abuse or mitigate its penalties; they refuse to defend the rights of Muslim minorities in Western countries; they support America’s demands to shut down the madrasas in Pakistan but have long supported a colonial system of education for the elites that uses syllabi and exams designed in Cambridge.
“Today our English-language schools produce ‘Desi Americans’ – young kids who, though they have never been out of Pakistan, have not only perfected the American twang but all the mannerisms (including the tilt of the baseball cap) just by watching Hollywood films.” In imitation, poorer children too are deserting the state-run Urdu schools to attend poorly staffed English medium schools run out of apartments but carrying exotic labels. Some are named after Catholic saints, in a tawdry attempt to bask in the prestige of Christian missionary schools. Others carry more hilarious names. One school, less inclined to borrow the halo of Catholic saints, calls itself, Oxford and Cambridge Islamic English-Medium School.