Pakistan's Future: Does it have one?

Is Pakistan's sickness terminal? To determine this one needs to diagnose. And what does a diagnosis reveal? Consider, first, the Pakistan army. For all practical purposes it has ruled for over half a century citizens who have never experienced genuine democracy. During this period, it acquired enormous vested interest in the wealth and business of Pakistan. It is reluctant to endanger its holdings by parting with the political clout it wields. An artificially created crisis over Kashmir helped perpetuate its grip over the country. That is why it patronized terrorist insurgents. Now, due to certain events, the terrorists have turned against the army. The army, under siege, has opened a window of opportunity for Pakistan's transition to democracy. It is just possible that a good section of the army will recognize the writing on the wall and retreat in favor of Pakistan's civil society. But there does remain a silent section in it that patronized terrorism in the past, and continues to support it even now. 

Secondly, there is Pakistan's civil society. Despite the alloyed nature of democracy in Pakistan, a substantial section of Pakistan's middle class has flowered to provide leadership to civil society. The politicians, lawyers and journalists of Pakistan possess both, competence and integrity. This civil society, through the courts and media, has been battling the army by opposing President Musharraf who still represents the face of the army. It is primarily this confrontation that led to the present constitutional crisis culminating in the imposition of the Emergency. 

Thirdly, there are the fundamentalists who believe in Islamic orthodoxy and provide a rich recruiting ground to Al Qaida for spreading terrorism. These fundamentalists study in madrassas and sympathize with the calls for jihad made by terrorist leaders and by the clerics patronized by them. The fundamentalists are against any kind of modernism. They identify America as the source of pollution in their culture and religion. The life style and current aspirations of the fundamentalists, concentrated mostly in NWFP, are markedly different from those of civil society in Punjab and Sind. This can create a serious kind of separatism that could lead eventually to balkanization. 

Fourthly, there are the terrorists. They have stepped up operations against the Pakistan army ever since Musharraf turned against the Lal Mosque clerics. The terrorists comprise followers of Al Qaida, Lashkar-e-Toiba and other groups that are united in service of a common cause. To widen their base among the fundamentalists they play on anti-US sentiments by capitalizing on each blunder by the Bush administration and by the Pakistan government. The terrorists are spread across Pakistan's tribal belt and in Afghanistan. They comprise Pashtuns recruited by the Taliban, and foreign mercenaries commanded by Al Qaida. 

It was within these complex conditions that Musharraf, directed by western powers, was expected to eliminate terrorism and turn Pakistan into a full-fledged democracy. The US brokered an arrangement between Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto and the army successor to Musharraf, General Kiyani. That arrangement collapsed when Pakistan's judiciary veered around to debar Musharraf constitutionally from continuing as President. So Musharraf imposed the Emergency and justified it by pointing to the threat of terrorism. Terrorism poses a genuine threat to Pakistan. But, as events indicated subsequently, it was by no means the real reason that impelled Musharraf to clamp Emergency. Emergency was imposed obviously to forestall an adverse court decision that would have destroyed the legitimacy of his presidential post.

One had expected Musharraf to display some strategic sense. Instead, he behaved like a suicide bomber inviting his own political death and the death of democracy in Pakistan. He ordered arrest of hundreds of civilians who had no links to terrorism. He made thereby a bad situation incalculably worse. He had the opportunity to unite civil society for fighting an effective war against terrorism. He could have done this by inviting all the political parties of Pakistan to join a national-consensus government that would oversee the army's war against terrorism. Instead, he isolated himself by opening two hostile fronts. 

Now there remains just one slender hope of retrieving the situation. US threats to cut aid have compelled Pakistan to announce elections, as scheduled, in January. According to a newspaper report datelined Pakistan, Benazir was contemplating overtures to Nawaz Sharif as well as participation by other parties in a national-consensus government. Apparently this emerged during her dialogue with Musharraf to revive the collapsed agreement. If these sentiments do survive Pakistan could conceivably surmount the threat of terrorism, and emerge from this crisis with its unity intact. 

Even so, the challenges facing it are daunting. To defuse the crisis the government would have to lure the fundamentalists away from the terrorists. Among terrorists, it would have to lure the home-grown Taliban away from Al Qaida, which is committed to global terrorism. For success this would require a peace formula devised jointly by the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is difficult to conceive of any arrangement ensuring durable peace without providing self-rule and non-interference in the daily lives of the Pashtun community spread across Pakistan and Afghanistan. And one can conceive of only one arrangement that does not alter present international borders: an arrangement that involves formation in South Asia of an EU style union. 

India can take the initiative to facilitate such a formation. India for its own security has a huge stake in a stable and democratic Pakistan. The problem of ethnic communities divided by international borders bequeathed by imperialism applies as much to Kashmir as to the Federally Administered Territorial Area (FATA) in Pakistan. An Indian gesture on Kashmir and an initiative to broker agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan would perhaps be more acceptable than intervention by the US or UK. The threat of terrorism affects India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The enemy against all three nations is united. Cannot the governments of these nations unite to fight the enemy? 

The tide of history renders change inevitable. If governments do not anticipate change, events take over and lead. Events taking over to lead can result in painful confusion and turmoil. The artificially contrived international borders in South Asia defy norms of nationhood. But they are a reality. Equally, the cultural nationalism of South Asia is a reality. Only a South Asian Union on the lines of EU can give expression to this reality without disturbing international borders. One day the nations of South Asia will have to coalesce. Diplomacy might very gainfully be employed for this. It is the destiny of South Asia, the tide of its history.


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

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