Pakistanis’ self-assessment

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It is about time that Pakistanis took stock of their situation, making a dead reckoning. There is common realisation that military captains of this ship have ran it aground: the captain today is defending are not his own; he was left no option. Some sort of a major corrective action is needed for which we all should examine what has gone wrong.

The immediate provocation was the apparent crisis resulting from the emerging signs of Islamabad’s divergence from the Americans over the fate of Taliban regime: Uncle Sam would like to see Northern Alliance, with some help, defeat and replace Taliban. Pakistan has warned of dire consequences if this were to happen. Having agreed to “full cooperation” with the US – the only feasible thing to do – it was a little odd for Pakistani leadership to later disagree with the US knowing that the initiative is not with them and their opposition is unlikely to be decisive. Perhaps it was damage limitation, a sort of political rearguard action.

To be sure, Pakistan’s failures or ineffectiveness characterise all major fields of endeavour. Take Kashmir, the core issue that has determined most policies since virtually the beginning. This preoccupation has cost the country dear. The rise of the military’s influence and power in politics is largely the consequence of Kashmir being called the main national cause. That democracy collapsed is not unrelated to the rise of generals’ prestige. The country has become bankrupt largely because of Kashmir. Pakistan went nuclear chiefly because of it. Pakistan continues to run the risk of being declared a terrorist state; except for the post-September 11 weeks, it has been badly isolated. The list goes on.

And yet Kashmir is still, 53 years on, firmly in Indian control. It can now be asserted that following the thoughtless and rather emotional decision to go nuclear, the old India-Pakistan dispute over J&K State has been frozen dead. If the theory of deterrence works, neither side can take a military initiative in any situation (for fear of the other’s nukes). And if it fails, a war would break out and, on the basis of Pakistan’s oft-repeated doctrine of first strike, a nuclear exchange will ensue. That will render the Kashmir issue irrelevant, beside much else. The outlook for ‘Kashmir becoming Pakistan’ is bleak.

Pakistanis, as a nation-to-be, have been quite unlucky. They have been, over 54 years, unable to evolve a consensus on what kind of state they want to have. Constitution making has been a long and frustrating affair; they are still divided over what kind of a constitution will suit them. Democracy continues to elude. It broke down in the first seven years and 140 million people have not been able to put this humpty dumpty together since. A general is still ruling them and if President George W Bush succeeds in stabilising the presidency of General Pervez Musharraf, as he claims he wants to, then they may have 10 more years of the general, as all US-supported generals lasted 10 years at least.

In consequence Pakistanis have low self-esteem. Long before September 11 this year, carrying the green passport entitled one more to hostile stares, suspicion and some unfriendly discrimination at all airports and sometimes even in flights. During cold war Pakistanis were contemptuously looked down upon as stooges of America. Few sensitive Pakistanis can forget their experiences at international conferences with third world representatives. Pakistanis low self-esteem has many causes, ranging from what they made of the opportunities provided by independence. Pakistan’s instability was a byword – made more conspicuous by India’s stable political system next door. Series of military coups, apart from rending national unity and integrity, did not fail to diminish aware citizens.

At one time, World Bank proclaimed Pakistan to be a ‘model developing country’. Well, one of its dictators celebrated a Decade of Development. Insofar as the number of mills and factories, irrespective of their efficiency and productivity, goes, a fair number have been set up. Some agricultural growth is undeniable, though a lot of it was dependent on subsidised imports of modern inputs and machinery and of course weather. But look at the state of the economy today. The first whiff of real competition saw some 50 percent or more of industrial units shut down. Today, with maximum exports of $9 billion, Pakistan goes on importing up to $12 billion worth of goods and services. It has to service an annual debt burden of $6 to 7 billion plus some hidden expenditures. No wonder, the country has been living on IMF bailouts and looks unable to get out of this rut.

There were scenes of mass jubilation over the ‘achievement’ of exploding six nuclear bombs in reply to India’s five in May ’98. Nuclear weapons now need protection; Musharraf had had to seek protection from the US in its likely campaign against Taliban. What a contrast from the exultations of that year. Instead of being the bedrock of Pakistan’s prowess and security that should deter others, the security of strategic assets has to be requested from outsiders. Strategic assets, indeed! They can do nothing for Pakistan – in Kashmir or in an accidental war. The mere upkeep of these useless toys is sure to be costing a pretty penny. And to what end?

Pakistanis have paid for America’s 1980s Islamic Jehad in Afghanistan through the nose in the shape of heroin and gun culture, over two million refugees who did not go back, a rich crop of armed Jehadi militias and the whole politics having become topsy-turvy with a dangerous symbiosis having developed between the Army and the Jehadis. The religious Right has been given undue influence and prestige by the Army-coordinated Jehad in Kashmir that can still lead the country to be declared a terrorist state.

What can be conceded is that the US did reward Pakistan with the authority to make and break governments in Kabul. Pakistan after experimenting with two Islamic governments finally installed Taliban. Their politics has made Taliban the betes noirs of the whole civilised world. Within Pakistan except for the Rightwing, including a part of secular Right, nobody loves Taliban. Let no one forget that Pakistani people never gave all the religious (Islamic orthodox) parties more than 8 percent of their vote in six general elections. Taliban and the Mullahs were however the darlings of the Generals – for use as instrument of pressure on India to force it to negotiate which had been refusing to do so for 10 years and may yet go on being blind to Kashmiris’ human rights. Pakistan’s prowess is irrelevant to any worthwhile purpose.

The simple and obvious point is that the Taliban experiment has proved to be even more of a grievous mistake. They have put Pakistan itself in jeopardy. If Musharraf had refused cooperation with the US – specifically aimed at Taliban – Pakistan would have been the first objective of the US-led war against terrorism. Even otherwise, it was mighty unwise to have done what Pakistan has been doing since 1973 in Afghanistan. Pakistan is an unstable third world country with a rickety economy. It had no business becoming one of the big boys in the renewed Great Game. An imperial role sites ill on an aid-addicted second rank third world country. If only, Musharraf would get off this hook – telling the truth as it is.

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