Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A view of the situation in Pakistan by Subramanyam Sridharan

An old friend from the disreputable forum, Subramanyam Sridharan, who has a great interest in Pakistan, had the following to say about the situation there.

Pakistan finds itself once again at cross-roads and predictably it seems to take the road that will lead to one more fall in the series of falls in its chequered history. One may ask what’s new as Pakistan has been simply lurching from one crisis to a more serious another for all its years of existence? Some fear that this time, the fall could be far too serious to recover from. What is it that this time it makes some so nervous, unlike before ? Their fear is the dramatic and implosive collapse of the State itself. Earlier falls were cushioned and though they hurt, they were not fatal. There are also others who believe that though a fall looks imminent, there is no need to fear the worst and like the cat of nine lives, Pakistan will somehow survive though considerably weakened. For them, the scenario of an exploding Pakistan leaving behind a black hole is still farther away. Let us analyze what is happening inside Pakistan today.

The State of Pakistan has been propped up by four pillars since its birth. These have been the feudalistic elites, the Islamists, the Army, and the Government of the United States (GotUS). Let us see how each one of them is contributing to the downfall of Pakistan and this would determine the extent of the disaster about to befall Pakistan.

Even a secular-at-heart Jinnah used the Islamists whenever he needed and the feudalistic elites have continued this policy. While the Deobandi clerics opposed the secession of Pakistan from India for their own reasons, they jumped into the bandwagon when they saw an opportunity and soon hijacked the State for their own narrow vision. Slowly but steadily they gnawed at the base of the State creating situations that in turn strengthened their hold on the masses and governance. They started with the passage of the Objectives Resolution in 1949 over the furious opposition from a then fairly significant minority community and thus set the stage for theocracy; they then started the anti-Ahmedi riots in 1953 apostasizing that community. The feudalistic elites of Pakistan are also represented in the top echelons of the Pakistan Army and even a mildly religious Field Marshal Ayub Khan had to turn to the Islamists to defeat Fatima Jinnah in 1964. In the 70s, a secular socialist, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto “appeased” the Islamists by declaring Islam as the state religion, ex-communicated the Qadianis, announced Friday as the weekly holiday, changed Red Cross to Red Crescent, ordered closure of all restaurants during the holy month of Ramadan, convened the Heads of States of all Islamic countries in Lahore in 1974 and anointed himself as the foremost leader of the Ummah. It was also the same Z.A. Bhutto who coined the term “Islamic Bomb” for his proposed nuclear arsenal and the brand of socialism that he wanted to implement as “Islamic Socialism”. Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s period is too well known to be recalled, for Islamizing the entire country and future generations including the then only surviving functional institution, the Pakistani Armed Forces. In the aftermath of Gen. Zia’s assassination, when Benazir Bhutto took over, she only more vigorously implemented many of Zia’s policies like the terror in Afghanistan and Kashmir as she once again turned to the Islamists for supplying the cannon fodder for her pet projects. Nawaz Sharif, who followed Benazir, was a protégé of Gen Zia anyway and his desire for a caliphate with himself as a caliph were behind all the support he extended to the mushrooming terrorist organizations. By this time, Pakistan had become the centre of gravity for all Islamic terrorism from Philippines to Bosnia including Indonesia, Myanmar, India (of course), Afghanistan, China, Chechnya, Uzbekistan etc. The continued winking by the US, which had the greatest influence on Pakistani Army and Government, emboldened ISI to target the US itself through its proxy, the Al Qaeda and the rest is history. This preamble to the history of terrorism spawned by Pakistan is to set the context for the current status. Every ruler in Pakistan, including the redoubtable Quaid or the powerful military dictators, had to dance to the tune of the Islamists in the past sixty years. It is unclear if the feudalistic elites of Pakistan truly comprehend the costs of their fraternization with the Islamists.

The callous attitude of the feudal elites allowed the Islamists to gain ground politically and achieve respectability through a political outfit came about in mid-2002 when the newest military dictator, Gen. Musharraf, gave a form to the mullahs and Islamists through the entity of MMA. The ISI enabled MMA to secure majority in NWFP and share power in the Sind and Balochistan. It is no wonder therefore that lawlessness, which used to be confined to FATA, has now totally taken over NWFP and the Islamists have imposed Talibanism in the entire province. Effectively, NWFP is an independent Islamic unit within the somehow-still-federal Pakistan, with the federal government having very little control there. Gen. Musharraf therefore decided to make a virtue out of necessity by entering into deals with the various Islamist terrorist factions there much to the chagrin of those countries which have contributed to the ISAF across the Durand line. This was done to protect the honour and dignity of the Pakistani Army which was beginning to lose men in large numbers in operations there against the Al Qaeda terrorists. The Islamist middle level officers of the army forced Gen.Musharraf to take this line.The emboldened Islamists, who had assiduously prepared the ground over several decades through such fundamentalist organizations as Tableeghi Jamaat and the madrassahs, are now spreading far and wide within Pakistan. The Lal Masjid episode, where AK-47 and stick wielding Taliban men and women abduct the police and generally dictate to a cowering administration in the capital of the Islamic citadel, their forced ban on selling music CDs and videos right in the heart of Pakistan, their fatwa against Nilofer Bakhtiar ultimately resulting in her losing the party position and ministership, the killing of the Punjab woman minister for Social Welfare, Zille Huma Usman recently are pointers to the strength of the Islamist lobby today. The inability of Gen. Musharraf to alter the Hudood and Blasphemy laws, in spite of his promise to the contrary, his failure to alter the curricula followed by the madraasahs and even mainstream schools, and his benign handling of terror chiefs such as Hafeez Saeed, Masood Azhar, Qari Saifullah etc. are proof that the jihadi Islamists have deep roots. Look at the Islamist credentials of somebody like Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the President of PML-Q, on which party’s existence democracy is said to be functioning in Pakistan. He negotiated, on behalf of the State of Pakistan, with the fiery Lal Masjid cleric and ended up doing the kar-seva for the new mosques the Islamists are demanding ! The Pakistani Minister for Religion, Mr. Ijazul Haq, the well known fundamentalist hardliner, openly admitted to having helped the Lal Masjid cleric escape the police who caught him red handed in arms smuggling. It appears that with the elections approaching (however sham they could be, they still need to be held to escape censure from Western allies), Gen. Musharraf is keeping all options open to keep himself in power by pandering more and more to the fundamentalists, especially with the rumblings being heard nowadays among the lotas of PML-Q. Benazir has raised several times, the alarm of creeping Talibanization in the country and even Nawaz Sharif has spoken about this. The Taliban have the same religious outlook as the Wahhabi Saudis and the recent mediation of the Imam-e-Kaaba and the Saudi ambassador in the Lal Masjid issue only portends more Saudi type indoctrination in Pakistan. It is well known how Saudi funding and the understanding between Zia-ul-Haq and King Fahd of KSA led to the spread of wahhabism in Pakistan in the 80s. Thus, Musharraf’s ruse of using the Imam of the Kaaba to handle the Lal Masjid situation may indeed lead to more troubles. It also shows that even a powerful military chief and the President of Pakistan is unable to take on the mullahs. Even a hardline strategic analyst like Ms. Shireen Mazari, who otherwise defends the jihadists eloquently, has been vocal against this menace because Talibanization has even begun to affect the normal day-to-day life of the privileged elite. When both Gen. Musharraf as well as the Opposition leaders talk about the certainty of Talibanization if they respectively do not come to power, it proves that Pakistan will be more and more Talibanized whatever the outcome of the elections. The current political situation is terribly chaotic. The leading opposition parties, PPP of Ms. Bhutto and PML of Nawaz Sharif are unable to forge a strong alliance for historic reasons. The conglomeration of various parties that constitute the ARD had never been able to project unity. Pres. Musharraf has cleverly driven a wedge in opposition unity by winding up a few corruption charges against Ms. Bhutto. The opposition unity is therefore fractious. The only two real contenders to the gaddi at this stage are Gen. Musharraf and Ms. Bhutto. While the General has by his actions (or is it inactions ?) ever since assuming power has clearly favoured the jihadist Islamists, Ms. Bhutto, in her earlier two avatars as Prime Minister acted similarly. She has also shown the propensity to talk more sensibly while out of power and do the very opposite while in power. For his part, Nawaz Sharif is an overt Islamist having wanted to introduce ordinance for establishing a caliphate in 1998. Gen. Musharraf has recently warned of Talibanization of Lahore and Karachi. The oft-repeated cliché that democracy will root-out terrorism in Pakistan is therefore misplaced because most of the society, including their top leaders, there believes in fundamentalist extremism. The fundamentalists are therefore certain to become more powerful irrespective of the ensuing elections. The coming election will therefore irreversibly establish the supremacy of the Islamists.

The second pillar that seemingly supports the State is the Army. Many have started saying that the Army is a parasite on the economy of Pakistan and the Generals are having a gala time in the Praetorian state. The recent book “Military Inc” by Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa dissects the military-business nexus that has paid enormous dividends down the decades to the men in khakhi (lest I be termed a male chauvinist, I hasten to add there are few women in positions of power who can enjoy similar fruits). The President general Musharraf has showered on them such positions as Vice Chancellors, CEOs, Ambassadors, Administrators etc to buy their support and also dangle the carrot to those in Army’s top echelons today. However, what is rotten is that the Army has been on an irreversible path of fundamentalism for quite a number of years now. Of course, nothing more can be expected of an army whose motto includes jihad. People like Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, Mirza Aslam Beg, Javid Nasser, Hameed Gul have played a leading role in the Islamization process. In the assassination attempts against Gen. Musharraf, dozens of middle level officers from the Army and Air Force were implicated and many have since been executed. As recently as Sep. 2006, several young PAF officers were arrested for planning to kill Gen. Musharraf using rockets. While the middle level officers have an Islamist’s grouse, the top level officers have another, against the CJP in particular for his suo motu actions. They want to make a horrible example of the CJP so that others would not question their actions in future. The current crisis involving the CJP is therefore, one between the Army and intelligence agencies on the one hand and the CJP on the other. This view is strengthened by the PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain terming it explicitly so and also by the presence of the intelligence chiefs at the President’s Camp office where the CJP was summoned and asked to resign by the President who himself was in full military regalia. The recent Corps Commanders’ meeting which requested strict action to be taken against those who spoke ill of the Army (and used pretty strong language at that) lends further credence to the involvement of the Army in the judicial crisis because the CJP is supposed to have been critical of both the Army and the intel agencies. The service chiefs have also supported Gen. Musharraf in the latest National Security Council meeting. In effect, the Army has given an ultimatum to Gen. Musharraf to act or else and the General will, in all likelihood, resort to strong measures (especially with the support of the US as detailed below) and this is certainly going to lead to a lot of violence in the charged and deeply divided atmosphere of today. With the ‘holy cow’ Army coming under increasing influence of the jihadist Islamists on the one hand, and critical scrutiny from the minority intelligentsia, their behaviour could be irrational in future. In any case, they want to further tighten their grip on the country.

The role of the GotUS, the fourth pillar, has been, as usual, dubious. Following rules of statecraft which demand that country’s interests be placed above anything else, GotUS has been a consistent supporter of the Pakistani Army rulers and Gen. Musharraf is no exception even at this late stage. Recently, Nicholas Burns lent strong support to Gen. Musharraf even as the latter was saying that he could use ‘extra-constitutional methods to retain power’ but expected the General only to do more for the US. This kind of blind support from the Ayub days onwards has been the standard refrain of the GotUS, leading to the frustration of the more democratic aspirants of power. The close linkages established between the top levels of the two armies have always permeated the political corridors of the Foggy Bottom. Gen. Musharraf will therefore be emboldened to act irrationally invoking the ‘doctrine of national necessity and interests’. His depiction of “deluge after Musharraf” has the Foggy Bottom worried and the GotUS may not really rock the Musharraf boat during its lame duck period.

So, while Musharraf might yet win a third term (remember he has taken oath twice so far in a perfidious act to continue in power), and while there could be a lot of uncertainty regarding elections, one thing is for sure. A nuclear-armed, Islamic Jihadi terrorism sponsoring Pakistan is rapidly sliding into more chaos and is losing control of itself irretrievably.


At 2:40 AM, Anonymous Kautilya said...

A fine summarisation by Sridharan.
But, there is nothing here that, a regular Pakistan watcher doesn't know or understand.
The gazillion dollar question remains - what shoud we [GOTUS or GOI] do about Mush/Pakistan?

At 2:46 AM, Anonymous kautilya said...

"lest I be termed a male chauvinist, I hasten to add there are few women in positions of power who can enjoy similar fruits"

You are so right, Sridharan.
A good example is - Naseem Zehra

p.s. great blog, Maverick

At 8:08 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hello Kautilya,

I personally like SSridhar's trend analysis and while it appears that there is nothing new in it for the regular Pakistan watchers, I think his implied point is that no group in Pakistan can now exercise any kind of political options without a direct engagement with the Islamists.

I can't speak for a government, but to me this is important.

Whoever runs Pakistan will have to engage the Islamists in a dialog, and I for one find it difficult to assume that anyone will be able to direct that dialog in any way.

Ofcourse from that perspective, the choice of Musharraf or beyond Musharraf seems irrelevant.


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