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A praetorian Pakistan: What the future holds

Published : May 4, 2018, 12:56 am IST
Updated : May 4, 2018, 6:36 am IST

Reimagining Pakistan makes a strong call on Pakistan to end its march to folly.

Pakistani policemen outside the Abbottabad building where Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces in May 2011.
 Pakistani policemen outside the Abbottabad building where Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces in May 2011.

In one of the most definitive books written on what ails Pakistan, the author and former diplomat Husain Haqqani surprises you with the searing clarity with which he lays out the challenges that confront his nation and how they may be resolved.

In this impressively researched book, Reimagining Pakistan, Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State, the former advisor to three Pakistan Prime Ministers, writes of how a warm and hospitable people have paid the price for its leaders’ “magnificent mistakes”, described across the world today as “dangerous” and “unstable”, a “terrorist incubator”, and the “land of the intolerant.”  

He talks of an all-pervasive “military backed uber-patriotism”, which is measured by how shrill the “patriot’s” defence of India-bashing and using terrorism to seeking Kashmir’s accession, is. He charts its military-led national discourse and Pakistan’s obsession with enemies, both imagined and real, and how every Pakistani politician from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif and now Imran Khan, hewed their views close to the military as an easy route to power.

Haqqani calls out Pakistan for its duplicity in aiding US troops in Afghanistan while allowing Taliban leaders to regroup covertly on its soil, 16 years after 9/11. Pakistan, he writes, will always be seen in the “global imagination” as having been chosen by terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden as his safe haven, and how Islamabad acting as “arsonist and firefighter” in Afghanistan has lost America’s trust.

But it is his focus on the genesis of Pakistan’s praetorian tendencies within the Army and its intelligence and counter-intelligence wings that make for a compelling narrative. Quoting from Stephen Cohen’s 1984 study The Pakistan Army, he writes of Pakistan Army’s rise to pre-eminence in the Pakistani state: “There are many Armies that guard their nation’s borders, there are those that are concerned with protecting their own position in society, and then there are those that defend a cause or an idea. The Pakistan Army does all three.”

Seen as a country that is prone to military coups and now the “non-coup coup” where yet another elected civilian Prime Minister has been disqualified from office for the third time, the country’s most famous dissident emphasises, however, how his country is “simply far too important in geo-strategic terms to be ignored.”

Reimagining Pakistan makes a strong call on Pakistan to end its march to folly, reassess its core beliefs about a religion-based polity. But it is his contention, that it’s time to re-examine the obsession, the notion of permanent conflict with neighbouring India, the one overarching theme through the book that will strike home in this country where Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s well-intentioned but naive Pakistan outreach to his counterpart Nawaz Sharif was spectacularly scuppered by Pakistan’s deep state. Haqqani’s central premise of a Pakistan, fuelled by “political paranoia” and dominated by a “penchant for victimhood” these last 70 years, is that it needs to shed its fears of domination by “Hindu India” which has already led to “four full-fledged wars, one alleged genocide, loss of half the country’s land area in conflict, secession, several proxy or civil wars, four direct military coups, multiple constitutions, long periods without constitutional rule…numerous political assassinations, unremitting terrorism…”


What is at the heart of Pakistan’s dysfunctional state?

At the heart of Pakistan’s dysfunction lies its evolution as an ideological elitist state. This ideology fostered over the last 70 years has had two major consequences. First, it opened the door for endless debates and schisms around Islam that prevent discussion of more pressing and practical governance issues.

Second, it conflated an Islamic Pakistani nationalism with anti-Indianism, putting Pakistan in a foreign and national security policy straitjacket. While most matter-of-fact considerations point to the need for normalising Pakistan’s relations with India, its state ideology and national narrative impede normalisation.

Pakistan needs a new basis for its nationalism that is based on reality rather than engineered narratives of history and aspiration. Currently, ideological reasons dictate that Pakistan remain implacably hostile to India, maintain an expensive military, and support Jihadi terrorist organisations. But the cost of these policies has debilitating effects like failing to invest in education that develops critical thinking, being less globally connected, and losing the economic benefits of being a friendly destination for tourists or investors.

Does the view that India dominated by a revanchist BJP wanting to divide Pakistan further or re-integrate Pakistan into a pre-Partition Hindustan, as propagated by power centres like the military and those holding extremist ideologies, continue to influence Pakistani public opinion? What role can India play in changing these perceptions? What will it take for the Pakistan Army to shed this false premise? And recalibrate one of the two pillars of its state — the anti-Indianism that colours formulation of policy?

The India-Pakistan relationship has become a victim of two parallel and contending nationalisms. Under the military’s influence, Pakistani nationalism has evolved as anti-Indianism. Indian nationalism, on the other hand, insists on describing Pakistani identity as inherently communal and constantly reiterates the need to dispute the two- nation theory. By definition this puts Pakistan down and on the defensive instead of making it feel respected and self-confident.

When Pakistanis rally around their flag, they are forced to defend the two-nation theory if it is under attack from Indians even when they would rather embrace a functional, as opposed to ideological, nationalism. Indians might better succeed in weakening the anti-India aspect of Pakistani nationalism by repeating more often Vajpayee’s unequivocal acceptance of Pakistan, recorded at the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore. The task of debating the irrelevance of the two-nation theory in the 21st century should be left to Pakistanis, who cannot ignore harsh facts forever.

In recent years, the rise of “Hindu nationalism” in India is cited in Pakistan as evidence of implacable hostility between Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. But it is important to note that the notions in Pakistan of Hindu–Muslim relations being eternally strained and Pakistan being under a permanent threat from India predate the political rise of Hindutva during the 1990s. Pakistan’s leaders were speaking of Pakistan and Islam being in danger even during the decades immediately after Partition when leaders of the Hindutva movement saw India’s government appeasing the country’s Muslim minority. Statements and assertions by post-Independence Indian leaders, such as Jawaharlal Nehru, that India had accepted Pakistan in “good faith” had little impact.

In recent years, India and Pakistan are increasingly resembling each other in rage, resentment and public displays of religion. At the time of Partition, all sides committed acts of violence but at least India’s mainstream leaders stood up to declare that the people of the subcontinent are members of one family. Even as Pakistan got engulfed in debates about an “Islamic’ Constitution and Islamisation of laws, India’s Constitution expressly declared the country as a secular state. That is less and less the case now. Things have gradually changed in India, to the detriment of the argument within Pakistan for a pluralist Pakistan

India and Pakistan may have centuries of shared history but the contending nationalisms, passionately taught in schools and also cultivated through Jihadism and Hindutva extremism for 70 years have eroded the commonalities between the two people. Moreover, both countries have given priority to ideology over pragmatism in their relations. The majority of the subcontinent’s current population –94 per cent of Indians, 95.5 per cent of Pakistanis — were born after Independence in 1947. Yet, the anger and rhetoric of Partition forms part of transmitted memories while reconciliatory statements do not.

In Pakistan’s case, treating India just as a neighbouring state has proved difficult because of India’s centrality to Pakistan’s identity as a separate nation. At least part of the explanation for why this has not happened lies in the unwillingness of personally secular, civil and military leaders to change Pakistan’s collective view of its largest neighbour. An Army officer, for instance, might understand that the clerics’ demands for segregation of the sexes or an interest-free economy are incompatible with the needs of a modern society. But he cannot overcome the inculcated prejudice about “Muslim Pakistan” being threatened by “Hindu India” and by ethnic identities within the country.

Pakistani officers consider the most regressive clerics patriotic because, after all, they would never make common cause with Pakistan’s external enemies — the Indians and whoever else Pakistani intelligence might know or imagine as conspiring against the country at any given moment. Liberal and secular thinkers, on the other hand, are permanently suspect. If they speak up for any ethnic group, they must want Pakistan’s disintegration; if they ask for a secular state, they could be asking for eliminating Pakistan’s identity and a virtual reincorporation into India; and if they question the Army’s political role or its budget, they must be in league with “the enemy”.

Present-day Pakistan is caught between a political class that lives up to the military’s description as rank opportunists, and a judiciary that is now seen as playing the military’s game? How do you see this panning out?    

After four military coups, several constitutional changes, and military-sponsored reconfigurations of political parties, the Pakistani military insists on persisting with its efforts to re-engineer the country’s politics. The objective, as in the past, seems to be to change the country’s political landscape by removing undesirable politicians and advancing the careers of civilians considered more pliable by military generals and Intelligence colonels.

The real question is: why do Pakistan’s senior military and Intelligence officers consider it their right to intervene in politics, publicly or privately, even though it violates their constitutional oath as military officers? Adhering to the Constitution and fulfilling the oath to stay out of politics is difficult for an Army trained to think of itself as Pakistan’s saviour. The generals and colonels who meddle in politics convince themselves that they are only protecting Pakistan from “treasonous politicians” by breaking their solemn oath. The military officers alone are judges of treason, a charge that is frequently made but has never been brought or proved in court against any Pakistani public figure since Independence.

That they won’t succeed in their political engineering just as their predecessors, is beyond the grasp of simple, patriotic soldiers. Until Pakistan’s soldiers understand that the flaws of politics and politicians can only be remedied by better politics and politicians, they will continue to make and break political parties and alliances. The new parties and alliances will go the way of similar engineered political entities of the past. The list is long and getting longer. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s politics are not getting any better.

To what extent do you believe 2018 polls will be manipulated ?

Just as the military has perfected the art of non-coup coup it has also learned that in the day of social media it is difficult to manipulate or openly rig elections. Hence the way to influence elections is to prevent certain politicians from running elections, bring out old cases of corruption against politicians you can manipulate, and convince politicians to leave political parties and join new ones. This has already started to happen, especially in Punjab.

After 70 years as a nation, as Pakistan, why is there any worry at all about the nation continuing to survive as a “united Pakistan.”  

Since Independence, the state of Pakistan has persisted with maintaining the threat perception about Hindus, now represented by India, wanting to eliminate or subjugate the Muslims. Thus, ideology and grievance rather than the pragmatic interests of a territorial state and its citizens have often determined Pakistan’s direction over the years. Fear of a much larger and more resourceful neighbour is not exclusive to Pakistan, nor is the existence of specific disputes. What sets Pakistan apart is the belief that India has not accepted Pakistan’s existence as a nation or state and is constantly conspiring to invalidate its creation. This insecurity has been nourished throughout Pakistan’s history, beginning with the country’s founders, making it the cornerstone of Pakistani nationalism.

Pakistan’s attitude towards the perceived Indian threat has changed little in 70 years. Pakistani officials’ avowed fear of a decidedly more Hindu sentiment espoused by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2017 differs little from the vehement derision that Nehru’s overtures in 1948 received. In 2016, Army chief General Raheel Sharif echoed the sentiment expressed by Bhutto in 1971. He declared, as many have done throughout Pakistan’s history, that Pakistanis “understood the conspiracies” against their country and would fight them for as long as it takes.

The alternative view, that Pakistani leaders cultivated the fear of an existential threat as a means of bringing their diverse peoples together, has been suppressed within Pakistan. The concept of an “existential threat” helps in by-passing the complex issues of national identity and formulating a distinct culture.

At Independence the new country did not have a history or identity as Pakistan, beyond what had been created amid the political struggle of the last few years of British Raj. It was home to several distinct ethnic groups, speaking different languages, some of whom (like Sindhis, Baloch and Pashtuns) had known self-rule before the advent of the British. Pakistan could have recognised its diversity and evolved as a multi-ethnic, multi-language federation with political and cultural autonomy for its constituting units. Instead, its leaders chose to base Pakistani identity on a national ideology.

Pakistan has paid scant attention to ethnicity- and language- based nationalism in other countries to understand why suppression of language or culture and efforts at forced integration are doomed to fail. Pakistanis have constantly forgotten that offers of autonomy and recognition of language and cultural separateness is often a better option than imposing greater centralisation by force.

The fear that foreign countries, especially neighbors like India and Afghanistan, are encircling Pakistan through the “pincer movement” and aim to use Pashtun and Baluch irredentism to break up Pakistan, led to Pakistan’s policy of interference in Afghanistan (support of mujahideen, Afghan Taliban and other groups). Instead of stabilising Pakistan, the policy has ended up weakening it further but there is an inability to move away from this self-defeating policy.

A rising China plays a major role in propping up Pakistan on the world stage. You have written of the possibility of  India and Pakistan opening up its borders for cross border trade that will benefit both peoples. Is this possible given that  Pakistan is trading one mentor, US ,for another in Beijing?

Economic considerations have always been deemed secondary in Pakistan’s policy priorities, important only to the extent of finding resources for greater goals such as securing Kashmir, facing the “Indian threat” or reviving Islam’s lost glory.

The discord between India and Pakistan also holds back the entire South Asian region, home to around 1.7 billion people living in eight countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The combined GDP (at nominal rates) of these countries stands at $2.9 trillion and it is the least integrated region in the world. Intra-regional trade comprises only 5 per cent of total trade of South Asia’s eight countries. Instead of resenting India, Pakistan could stake a claim to its own share of prosperity. The two-way trade between India and China stands at $72 billion even though the two countries are often considered rivals. The volume of India-Pakistan trade is a measly $2 billion.

Instead of tapping the potential of trade with India, Pakistan refuses to open it because of its “ideological rivalry” and the unsettled dispute over J&K. This deprives Pakistan of a large market and encourages smuggling of Indian products or their import through third countries, which only makes it more expensive. The government loses customs revenue in the process. Currently, Pakistan’s optimism about its future revolves around China’s strategic interest in the country manifested in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a more than $44 billion package of projects aimed at modernising Pakistan’s infrastructure and improving connectivity with China as well as the rest of Asia through China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR.)

For China, CPEC is part of its global plan to deploy the excess capacity of its huge infrastructure companies as well as to absorb some of its surpluses, but for Pakistan it presents an opportunity for economic growth and infrastructure expansion. Ironically, CPEC is seen by Pakistanis not purely in economic terms but as a security guarantee of China’s commitment to their country. Once again, the historic pattern of insecurity seem to be at work.

The difference of perception over ultimate goals notwithstanding, CPEC does offer an economic way forward to Pakistan just as the flow of U.S. and other Western assistance did in the country’s early history. However, over the long term, CPEC would be advantageous only if the economic activity it generates helps service the debt generated by the projects and also pays for the profits of Chinese companies that would go out of the country.

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