What’s wrong with Pakistan?
M. Serajul Islam
April 18, 2012
I read two interesting items in an issue of The Washington Post recently. One was a post-editorial written by a Congressman who has tabled a resolution in Congress advocating the right of self determination for Baluchistan. Another was a commentary on a recent book written by Ahmed Rashid named “Pakistan on the Brink” on the country’s current predicament and its future in the context of its relations with the United States and Afghanistan. Both the pieces reflect on what is wrong with Pakistan at present. Apparently there is a whole deal that is wrong with Pakistan.
Take for example the op-ed of Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. He titled his piece most provocatively as “Why I won’t apologize to Pakistan. “ In the article he explained why he tabled in the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Sub Committee on Oversight and Investigations resolution no 104 for giving Baluchistan the right of self determination. He detailed horrific human rights violations by the Pakistani military against the people of Baluchistan that included “extra judicial killings, kidnappings, disappearances, illegal detentions and tortures”. He wrote that he has championed the right of self determination also in Kashmir and he had to be consistent in Baluchistan. He also detailed instances to show how successive regimes of Pakistan have forcibly subdued the genuine aspirations of Baluchis to be independent since 1947.
The review of Ahmed Rashid’s book by Bruce Reidel is even more damming to the future of Pakistan as an independent country. The book reviews the strength of the terrorists/jihadists in Pakistan where the Al Qaeda is but a small group of a “syndicate” of such terror groups with the Lashkar-e-Taiba that was created by ISI for independence of Kashmir and responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks popularly called the 24/11, the much larger group. The author reveals that these terror groups, though created by direct encouragement of the ISI, have now grown into “Franksteins”. The way the US’s killed Osama Ben Laden and their drone attacks have helped to make the terror groups a power unto themselves that Pakistan’s military is not willing to control and the Government of Zardari too weak to handle. The book’s conclusion is too dangerous for Pakistan and raises serious questions about its future as an independent country.
As I read these two pieces, I remembered a meeting I and a few friends who had with a senior Pakistani bureaucrat in Kabul in September 1972. The bureaucrat was then the Director of the Pakistan Rural Academy in Peshawar where we had spent a couple of weeks during our training at Civil Service Academy, Lahore. We met him while escaping from Pakistan. The Pakistani bureaucrat was a Pathan and very sympathetic to the cause of our liberation. On seeing us, he embraced us enthusiastically and expressed genuine happiness that we had made it to freedom.
He regretted to us that the struggle of his people for freedom would not be easy because of their geographical contiguity to Islamabad from where Pakistan was carrying out its oppression against his province, the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. The senior Pakistani bureaucrat underscored Pakistan’s weakness as a nation. In fact, except Sind, the provinces that now make up Pakistan did not even support the cause for Pakistan till it became a reality in the final couple of years of the British rule due to a number of historical mistakes made by the British colonial Government and the Indian National Congress.
The emergence of Bangladesh in 1971 brought to the surface the fundamental weakness in Pakistan as a nation. Religion was the most important factor that had brought the Muslims of what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh together in the years before 1947 to create an independent country for the Muslims of British India. The only chance that Pakistan had to transform the hopes and aspirations of the Muslims in an independent country created on just the factor of religion was to establish democracy and gel the diverse cultures that came together under the flag of Pakistan into a strong and successful nation. That never happened. Instead, Pakistan turned into a chaotic and un-democratic country where the military-civil bureaucracy emerged to keep the country together by force rather than by consensus of its citizens.
Pakistan became a historical necessity in 1947 because of the major differences that was created between the Hindus and the Muslims as a consequence of the British policy of divide and rule. The visionaries of Pakistan envisaged that in a Hindu dominated India, the Muslims would be at a permanent disadvantage. The emerging Muslim bourgeoisie in British India saw this clearly and created Pakistan to protect their interests. In Pakistan, the Muslims of East Pakistan who had played a dominant role in creating Pakistan found themselves at the receiving end of the Punjabi/Karachi bourgeoisie who used the military to sustain their dominance.
The people of East Pakistan like the Baluchis resented the Punjabi dominance. They tried the democratic path and even won a national election in 1970 to form a government in Islamabad. The military government of Pakistan dominated by the Punjabis rejected their democratic choice and tried to end it by genocide. The attempt failed and Pakistan broke up and Bangladesh was created. Pakistan’s ruling elite in Punjab refused to acknowledge their faults in breaking Pakistan and the genocide in Bangladesh. The military returned to power in Pakistan after a brief interlude of civilian rule under ZA Bhutto. Instead of taking lessons from Bangladesh, the military that should have been made to answer for what they did in Bangladesh was glorified by raising the India phobia at whose lap the reason for breakaway of Pakistan was laid. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s and President George Bush’s war on terror after 9/11 brought the US and Pakistan into a relationship that helped to strengthen the military further and turn it more arrogant.
That US-Pakistan relationship is coming to an end as abruptly as after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Only this time, Pakistan is in a worse predicament, where the US has become totally discredited in Pakistan, with 3 out of 4 Pakistani hating the US, and the US itself no longer seeking the same type of involvement with Pakistan as it did while pursuing the end of Al Qaeda. The move of Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is a clear hint that in US, Pakistan’s importance is ebbing. In a recent Washington Post-ABC poll, the majority of the Republicans have for the first time said that the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting. If Afghanistan becomes less important to the US; so does Pakistan.
The Lashkar-e-Taiba is no threat to the US except in an imaginary way. Yet the US has offered a US$ 10 million for the capture of its chief to please the Indians for LeT master minded and carried out the Mumbai terrorist attacks, India’s 24/11. Clearly, the US is drifting distinctly towards Pakistan’s arch enemy, India with whom it is fast building an important strategic partnership, an axis if you like, against China.
Pakistan’s hour of reckoning for crimes committed against its own people is coming. The only way it can save impending bad news as a nation is to accept responsibility for its past crimes, do what is necessary like offer Bangladesh a belated apology for crimes against humanity it committed in 1971 and make genuine strides towards democracy. The tasks are extremely difficult; so is the task for Pakistan to survive as a nation.
The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan