Pakistan's Existential Crisis

To understand Pakistan's current malaise we need to understand the fundamental existential crisis that has dogged the country's policy makers since its inception.

In essence, the creation of Pakistan meant that West Pakistan ' which had a smaller industrial base, a less educated population, and a smaller class of skilled politicians ' was left saddled with the entire burden of defending the North West Frontier. It also had a disproportionately large share of the British Indian Army. However, the British military model was a ruinously expensive one.

Kipling, in his poem "Frontier Arithmetic" made this point very well.

The British, of course, having the entire resources of the Sub continent, could afford to pursue a forward policy to protect the settled areas from the war like tribes. Pakistan, however, did not have the resources to do so.

Suppose the Pakistani military had launched operations against any frontier tribe that threatened the peace. The tribe then retreats into Afghan territory where it either absorbs or is absorbed by another tribe. The process continues until a super-tribe is created which then defeats the Pakistani army. Thus a forward policy has its limits. A defensive policy involves taxing the settled areas to protect them from marauders. However taxes will drive the marginal peasant into social banditry. This leads to population movements and again ultimately a super-tribe is created which over-runs the Imperial army.

In response to this sort of, unconscious, thinking, Jinnah offered the Frontier tribes virtual autonomy- beginning a long tradition of avoiding pressing problems to face imaginary threats.

It was also felt that democratic elections- as a way of creating a legitimate, popularly accepted, tax funded Army for the new country- was not a viable option. Why? Well, West Pakistan needed the East Wing's foreign exchange earnings to maintain its bloated British style Army. If elections had been held, the more sophisticated Bengali political class would have ruled the roost- greatly to the resentment of the Punjabis and Pakhtoons who combined a sense of racial superiority with the, perhaps well founded, belief that the Bengalis would do them down when it came to making speeches and forging political alliances. Another reason why Pakistan could not take the logical step of using the political process to create legitimacy for a taxation system that would give the Army the resources it needed was because after the assassination of Liaqat- the last Pakistani politician with 'National' standing- by the Afghans, no great hopes could be pinned on the creation of a new, specifically political class, ab ovo.

The Pakistan Army refused to give up its spendthrift British ways- indeed, its officers outdid their former masters- and thus could not find a economically viable strategy to simultaneously police its own Frontier as well as counter an Afghan threat. In this context, a Jihadist pledge to conquer Kashmir was essential window dressing.

During the 50's, the Army and the Civil Service, faced with a resource crunch, reached a modus vivendi whereby East Pakistan's foreign exchange was put at the disposal of the West wing while opportunism in Foreign Policy ' especially the American alliance ' and pragmatism in domestic Economic policy grew the Economy at a respectable rate while securing quite good military equipment at a bargain price.

The question the Indians might ask is why, given the use of tribal irregulars in the 1948 invasion of Kashmir, the Pakistan Army did not adopt a strategy of training and arming war like tribes to create a force multiplier. The answer has to do with the refusal of irregulars to toe the line, to take orders, and their determination to follow their own interests. Thus the Pak invasion scared off the Muslims of the valley because of the atrocities committed by the irregulars. This pattern was repeated in 1965 when the Valley refused to rise up to support the Pak military incursion. This was not for lack of agents in the valley or because the Pakistanis hadn't spent money lavishly. The fact is both tribal fighters as well as religiously motivated insurgents want the Pak army to destroy itself against the enemy- any enemy- while they sit on the sidelines waiting to pick up the pieces. In other words, since the Pak army is the successor to the British Army, it too is the enemy.

Thus in the 1950's and 1960's- armed by the Americans ' the Pak Army, eschewed asymmetric warfare and relied on growing the economy and bleeding the Bengalis so as to win popularity and, ultimately, a victory over India wit zero monetary cost to the West Wing.

That strategy failed.

Ayub Khan's gamble, in 1965, failed to secure him the title of 'Ghazi' and a status like unto Ataturk, because of the failure of the promised Kashmiri insurgency as well as the tactical failure to train up a Bengali militia capable of putting pressure on the Siligui gap thus splitting the Indian infantry..
Meanwhile, improved education, social mobility, and standards of living fuelled the demand for representative democracy even in the West Wing- though if the demonstrators had any sense they would have seen this meant equality for, if not domination by, Bengalis.

A bizarre situation arose where Bhutto ' a clever aristocrat, co-opted by the Army ' became the hero of the students simply because of some anti-Indian bluster at the U.N.

Precisely because Bhutto was the Army's creature, precisely because Bhutto had no experience of how democratic politicians actually operate, Bhutto formed the determination to become an absolute ruler. His determination to turn the country topsy turvy brought him the adoration of many from marginal backgrounds and has contributed to his cultus to this day.

In his quest of absolute power, Bhutto was part of the cabal who tricked Yahya Khan ' Ayub's alcoholic successor ' into holding elections and then imprisoning Sheikh Mujib, the Bengali leader, when he won a majority. Bhutto wanted the Army and Bengalis to cancel each other out of the equation giving him time to consolidate his power in the West Wing. No doubt, Bhutto thought the firm friendship of China and the U.S, whom Pakistan had brought together, would prevent India intervening. In other words, Bhutto thought he would win kudos by brokering an agreement between the Army and the chastened Bengalis in his own good time.

However the Indians, aware of their strategic weakness in the East in the face of a China-Pak alliance, had taken steps under the leadership of the 'Kao-boys'- intelligence professionals untainted by political connections- and put an end to that threat once and for all. Of course, India being a democratic country, there was a revulsion of feeling against Kao and never again would India leave things in the hands of professionals.

The lesson the Pak officer corps learned from the Bangladesh war was that they had no choice but to emulate the Indians in this respect and forge links with the Afghan Islamists fleeing to Pakistan at that time. Why? Well, the loss of Bangladesh meant that the Afghan claim to Pakhtoonistan and even Baluchistan had suddenly become viable.

Bhutto's appointment of a middle class professional soldier, Zia, was meant to indicate the Army's new subordinate status. The result was the opposite. Zia was trusted by other generals precisely because he was middle class- he hadn't schemed his way to the top. Under the triumvirate that emerged, army officers felt they could rise by showing tactical brilliance rather than by sycophancy or family connections. At this time the Pak army abandoned once and for all the notion that it could endear itself to the people by delivering infrastructure based growth. It also accepted an Islamist 'Mard-e-Momin' philosophy for not just 'josh' sessions for N.C.Os and enlisted men, but also for a new class of T.E. Lawrence like officers who would go off and live with and train irregulars for the coming Afghan confrontation. This strategy paid off. Pak sponsored opposition to the Afghan regime created a situation where extreme 'Khalqi' communists lost patience and staged a coup. They planned a Pol Pot style eradication campaign of Mullahs, Landlords and so on. The Soviets became alarmed. They went in to Afghanistan to rein back the Khalqis and give the moderate Parchamis a chance. But the geriatric, brain dead, Soviet leadership still thought they were living in the era of Kissinger and realpolitik. They did not appreciate the sea-change in Western thinking that had been inaugurated by Brzezenski- who, among other things, looked to topple the Soviet Empire from within by creating a green Islamic belt around its soft Central Asian underbelly.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the salvation of the Pakistan Army. Furthermore, it turned the I.S.I program of working with terrorists into a highly profitable industry. Suddenly, the wealth accumulated by certain Army officers and their networks became a compelling reason to stay in the game irrespective of a rapidly changing strategic picture.

Pakistan's anti-Americanism dates from this time. Their chosen prot'g'- Hekmatyar- was a drug dealer who feared the F.B.I. Thus he was anti-American. Pakistan had every reason to cultivate this strain in Islamist thinking as it prevented the two sides from cutting them out as the middle-man.

In the long run this was a disastrous strategy because it meant that the West cut of all funds after the Soviets left- creating a situation where the flow of power was reversed and Pakistan became a terrorist sponsored narco-state rather than a free agent.

Indeed, the curious gamesmanship of the Pakistani- whereby the desire for tactical brilliance is carried to the point of strategic suicide- became heavily entrenched during the 80's. It could be argued, of course, that the creation of Pakistan, itself, was Jinnah's tactical brilliance driving him relentlessly forward to the worst possible outcome for Indian Muslims. However, if Pakistan had developed a political class comparable to that of India, any such short-run over-reaching could have been set right in succeeding years.

The Pakistani military never had and never will have political savvy. It destroys even those instruments it creates specifically to work with. Thus the Army brings forward Bhutto and then hangs him. It brings forward Nawaz Sharif- and then locks him up and throws him out. It brings back Benazir- on U.S prompting- but then goes ahead and kills her- at least that was her own stated view after the first assassination attempt on her- there is a pattern here that is unmistakable.

The question that now arises is will this pattern extend to the Frankenstein's monsters of terrorism the Pak army has created? We know, in response to U.S pressure, Pakistan has from time to time even put pressure on Al Qaeeda- not of course on the top man or on any Saudis- still, it seems a favorable sign. Surely, the Paks can do the same to some of the originally anti-Indian outfits which are now globalized in agenda?

The answer, I think, must be no. Already on discussion programs on Pakistani channels the view is expressed that any attempt to do so will lead to the partition of the country. It is believed that America's aim- more even than India's- is to divide the country into cantons- perhaps not states but autonomous regions.

This may be possible in Iraq- because foreign troops are present there- but, how could it work in Pakistan? You can't expect the Pakistan Army- which has a history of always putting its own appetite for money and technology at the top of the Nation's agenda- to destroy not just its own export market but also its domestic base!

But what else is there in Pakistan? The function of democratic politics in Pakistan is to defend the Army when it is vulnerable. It is set up to fail in every other respect so that, when the opportunity arises, the Army can rescue the Nation from those who had rescued it.

In these circumstances, is there any way forward? Can the P.P.P and the Sharif brothers and the various other burgeoning parties in Pakistan create a viable political life for the country? No, because Pakistan won't pay taxes for their Army. Why should they? It doesn't defend them against anything. But if the politicians can't pay off the Army, who will? The U.S.? No, they are miffed because Musharraf didn't spend all the money they gave him just on guns only. He fraudulently spent a lot of it on creating an artificial prosperity in the cities, and amongst the educated class, from which he himself springs.

In any case, the U.S simply isn't in the business of nation-building.

Can the Indians belatedly say to the Pakistanis- 'we're sorry we left you with the entire burden of defending the North West frontier. Here, have some cash.' No. Because the current mess is Pakistan's own fault. There were all sorts of solutions to Pakistan's problems that could have been implemented without straining its budget. Pakistan simply chose to avoid real problems by confronting imaginary threats.

What then is the solution?

Disengagement, withdrawal, choking off supplies of cash, the inexorable working through of economic meltdown, technological sanctions- what the world needs to do is stop pouring oil on troubled waters- it isn't water, it's fire- and just turn its back and go away for fifteen or twenty years.
Failing that, we could play 'let's pretend' for the next eighteen months- that's how long it will take for Obama to do a complete volte face on this issue- while getting on with the one measure that assures our salvation- viz. beefing up our police and security forces, depoliticizing them, and putting professionals in charge of operational follow through.

Yeah, like that's going to happen!  


More by :  Vivek Iyer

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