As Pakistan completes 60 years of existence, it is passing through a critical phase. The state's writ does not run over almost half its territory. Most people consider themselves as Sindhis, Baloch, Pakhtoons, Mohajirs and Punjabis first rather than as Pakistanis. Pakistan as a nation is kept together artificially by the only institution that functions - the army.
However, it was not always the case when Pakistan came into being in 1947. It was a much stronger nation vis-a-vis India, which most Western scholars of that era believed would crumble under the weight of its own inner contradictions. However, Pakistan suffered from two major flaws right from the beginning-firstly the leadership of the Muslim League came from the provinces that remained part of India and hence the party had no mass support in the region that became Pakistan.
Despite belated attempts by the judiciary to assert its independence, the fact is that for most part of Pakistan's existence the courts have been dysfunctional and came out with the bizarre 'Doctrine of Necessity' to justify military coups. Pakistan's greatest tragedy has been that barring the armed forces or army to be specific, no other credible institution has emerged. The judiciary, legislature and bureaucracy-all have crumbled during Pakistan's six decades' journey.
Secondly, the early death of Mohammed Ali Jinnah eliminated the only credible leader who could draw support across Pakistan. And when Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in October 1951, whatever little semblance of leadership remained disappeared.
Not that Jinnah and Liaqat were without flaws. Jinnah had centralised power in his hands and was the Governor General, the party chief and a cabinet minister simultaneously. Liaquat was guilty of not expediting the process of constitution making. But still they were leaders whose appeal was not confined to a part of Pakistan or any particular group.
Pakistan experimented with half a dozen constitutions within the first 25 years of its existence. Frequent coups and military rules ensured that neither the constitution nor the other institutions of governance were allowed to evolve.
The first decade was crucial to shaping Pakistan's destiny and was marked by drift and chaos. Seven different prime ministers and eight different cabinets took oaths of office during this tumultuous period, resulting in the ascendancy of bureaucracy in the decision making, with the tacit support of the army.
When Ayub Khan took over the administration after the first military coup in 1958, the public, fed up with anarchy, supported him. In the initial years of the regime there was all-round improvement in the administration as well as economy. It was the time visitors from China and South Korea toured Pakistan to study its phenomenal success. But like any authoritarian regime, Ayub's rule had long-term adverse impact on Pakistan.
Suppression of people's democratic aspirations under a military regime and attempts to amalgamate ethnic identities by the creation of one unit impacted the Pakistani nation adversely. The 1965 war, often considered the high point of Pakistani nationalism, was the turning point as far as nationalism in the two South Asian countries was concerned.
From then on India consolidated as a nation but Pakistani nationalism began to wither. Bengali nationalism got a fillip during the 1965 war, when they were led to believe that their defence lay in West Pakistan. The reaction to 'one unit' created a strong sense of nationalism in Balochistan.
Ayub could not last the aftermath of 1965, when his own foreign minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, rebelled and convinced the masses that the gains of the battlefield had been frittered away at the negotiating table in Tashkent. However, Ayub's belief in the superiority of the military leadership resulted in General Yahya Khan succeeding him rather than any other civilian dispensation.
Yahya undid the 'one unit' and was sincere about return to democracy. He conducted the first and possibly the only credible elections under a military regime in Pakistan. But long years of military rule had irreparably damaged the Pakistani nation. Yahya allowed himself to be hoodwinked by Bhutto, and the result was Pakistan's break up and creation of Bangladesh.
The creation of Bangladesh removed whatever semblance of religious pluralism existed in Pakistan; and the absence of pluralism created fissures within Islam, which was supposed to bind Pakistan together. Bhutto, who succeeded Yahya Khan, moved Ahmediyas beyond the pale of Islam.
The fissures between various sects and schools within the same sect were accentuated under the Zia ul Haq regime, which brought religion on the centre stage of state policy.
Bhutto gave Pakistan its first workable constitution but his authoritarian streak led to the dismissal of opposition-led provincial governments, resulting in a violent uprising in Balochistan. Despite being the favourite to win the 1977 elections, Bhutto rigged them. Subsequent anti-government protests followed by government repression brought military once again on the centre stage.
Zia's era was the darkest in Pakistan's history. His Islamization drive, suppression of press and involvement in the Afghan conflict eroded the state structure considerably. Islamic militancy and sectarianism were the by-products of his policies, which finally led to the creation of Taliban.
Subsequent civilian interlude was not really a return to civilian rule. The army was not only looking from the sidelines, but decision making in certain key areas of state policy were kept beyond the ambit of civilian leadership. Marring this period was bickering between the two main political parties, led by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
The period also saw the disenchantment of Mohajirs (the refugees from India) who were in the forefront of the Pakistan movement, leading to long bouts of violence in Karachi. The Pakistani economy slid and its foreign debt rose. An economic collapse of Pakistan looked likely.
Economic consolidation required a cut in bourgeoning military expenditure, which the army would not allow. In 1999, when Nawaz Sharif tried to break free from the army, the army decided to move in and remove the civilian fa'ade. Like in all previous occasions, the military rule led to initial economic recovery, but it had long-term adverse impact on Pakistan.
Sub-nationalism emerged as a serious threat to the Pakistani state. Islamic fundamentalists challenge the writ of the government across the length and breadth of Pakistan. Islamabad's frequent flip-flops on the foreign policy front and frequent incursions by American armed forces within Pakistani territory have compromised its sovereignty in the eyes of its citizens.
(The author is a Research Fellow at New Delhi's Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis.)