By A. K. Verma
Following President Zardari’s recent visit to India on pilgrimage the mood for resuming the dialogue with Pakistan is building up. It is therefore the right time to reassess all such factors in Pakistan which will determine what can be the ultimate result of a fresh beginning.
The earlier historical narrative of the land that became Pakistan was jettisoned by its leadership to give the nation an ideological and artificial underpinning. The new identity does not reverberate with one wave length in the psyche of its diverse people. A sovereign state was indeed created by devaluing history but past cultural and political heritage has not allowed a single point Muslim nationalism to emerge and bind the people. Orchestration of India as an abiding threat to survival has not succeeded in neutralizing the inner contradictions generated by freshly woven but flawed historical perspectives or by use of Islam as cementing glue.
The state sponsored a jihad industry of which active ingredients were Saudi money; Wahabi indoctrinated madrassas and the toxic desire to use it as a strategic weapon, both in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Its unforeseen consequences were a deepening sectarian divide, fraternal bloodshed and the byproduct of religious extremism turning against the state itself.
The idea of India as a perpetual enemy resulted in the state being developed as a security state and Islam being exploited to promote pseudo- nationalism. The stark reality went unrecognized and remained buried in the modern day Pakistan that the cultural history of the sub-continent had, through centuries before 1947, bound it to an inter-connected past, pulsating more in harmony than disharmony, Unless the existence of that ethos finds acceptance through a reappraisal of history, vested interests that came to life after 1947 will continue to exploit the artificially created discords and self serving agendas.
A reality deficit of staggering proportions now stands generated in Pakistan which while promoting a culture of militarism and religious bigotry, erodes the foundation on which democracy can be built up and made to thrive. The road to a possible self destruction can only be averted by radically reorienting education at all levels (particularly that teaches to treat India as an enemy state), altering the military credo and fostering resolutely institutions of democracy which will value rule of law, protect judicial independence, allow free play to expressions of thought, word and conscience, and work for economic justice to all sections of society.
Pseudo doctrines dressed in religious garb have led the nation adrift, dividing it and producing mounting tensions. Although the nation has been put at risk the inherent and inborn strengths of the people remain intact and viable. In much of Pakistan, the society is bound together by kinship, patterns of a rural feudal ethos and threads of Sufi Brelvi Islam. There is much diversity to be found by yardsticks of language, ethnicity and local customs but people have stood together also through the thick and thin of ages and continue to live together, displaying large doses of tolerance even as governance fails and rulers respond negatively to the welfare needs at the grass roots.
It is a moot question how long such abject neglect can be acceptable to a society undergoing social, political and economic transformation, thanks to globalization, internet revolution and increased connectivity. A new demographic bulge expresses itself with its impatience towards the status-quo. The elite of the new and growing middle class has not been afraid of demonstrating its assertiveness. The lawyers’ agitation forcing a rethink on the eviction of the senior judges from office and leading to the reinstitution of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan is a testament to this new awareness. In fact their movement had some early precursors in the form of student agitations that had driven out dictators Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan from office and had given a tough time to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto during his president ship of Pakistan. A greater effective role is bound to be their destiny in national politics sooner than later. The currently entrenched political elites of feudal and economic czars will have to give way to them as democracy strikes deeper roots, just as what is happening in India.
The obstacles the rising middle class including the lower rural middle class will encounter in their upward mobility are, however, formidable. A poisonous environment prevails in Pakistan due to a witches’ brew of long military domination, absence of democratic consensus, insolvency and ideological anarchy. These characteristics have existed for most of the life of the nation and there is no easy formula to purge them out. The situation is compounded for the worse on account of the role played by foreign players. Security is the issue most flogged to retain status-quo, over ride democratic governance, skew economic prudence, ignore social imperatives and prevent growth of normal friendly relations with neighbours. A high degree of social discontent results that metamorphoses in provincial tensions, ethnic and language discords and religious rivalries, accentuating narrower identities. Pursuit of mindless security is, thus, burdening Pakistan with ever larger problems.
There is reason to believe that the Army brass that has invariably held all the cards on security close to their chest is carefully monitoring the unfolding scenarios in the country. They know that they can not trifle, unlike earlier, with the middle class who feels more empowered after the 2008 general elections that paved the way for the exit of President Pervaiz Musharraf the same year, and with the resurgent judiciary which recently convicted Prime Minister Gillani of contempt of court. It is possible that this wait and watch posture may continue till the general elections of 2013. If the election results reveal a continuity of the current transformative process and a joining of forces by all the major political parties, particularly the PPP, PML(N) and ANP, the forbearance of the armed forces could extend indefinitely. An active, fearless and articulate media has successfully midwifed the process to which professional groups and civil society have contributed in no small way. It could be said that a stronger nation is in the making even as governance remains deficient and partisan, forcing a degree of restraint on the part of the Army
In the past, the Armed Forces in Pakistan have been a law unto themselves, exercising the largest political clout, and acquiring a corporate identity. They have had no hesitation in subordinating national interests to their own. Their grabbing of disproportionate chunk of national budget year after year leaving very little for sustainable human development is evidence of their self engrossment.
But certain developments concerning the armed forces may be compelling its leadership to take a more realistic view of its role and opportunities.The British tradition of a secular outlook is still embraced by the senior generals but the intake into the officer ranks during Zia-ul-Huq years was more conservative and insular and less liberal because of his partiality towards religion. The upcoming generals in the near future are liable to display parochial attitudes Furthermore, the direct recruitment to the lowest officer category is now taking place from an expanded middle class which is facing increasing exposure to conservative tides of religion. Army campaigns in the FATA areas against the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan had not gone on well with such sections of the Army, resulting in murmurs against the senior leadership. The catchment areas for recruitment to the Pakistani soldiery in Southern Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are also the catchment areas for recruitment of cadres by the militant groups of Punjab. This leads to fears that the new recruits to Pakistan Army could be sharing the ideology of their cousins joining the militants… If the state is threatened more intrinsically by militant driven forces in the future, an exigency which can not be completely ruled out, if one is to go by happenings in the Arab world, sentiments can greatly influence which way the internal ideological balance within the Army will tend to tilt. On this score the Army has already had some disquieting experience during the course of its operations in FATA in 2005-6 against Pak Talibans and other militants.
It is also to be remembered that the Army and the ISI have fostered and closely worked with many militant groups in Kashmir and Afghanistan, leading to growth of a committed and diehard following of such groups within these organisations. Their loyalty to their own parent organisations is no longer absolute.
The discourses on state and religion have run parallel to each other throughout the existence of Pakistan. They have alternated between discord and harmony with neither establishing supremacy over the other but with the former using the latter often to secure legitimacy. But in the process the latter has been acquiring greater and greater salience in the affairs of the state. The high point was reached during the Afghan wars of recent times when Jihad became the official state policy. Success in Jihad against the Soviets created the illusion that the same strategy would bring victory in Kashmir also.
Use of religion by the state enabled religious parties and clerics to dabble in politics and exercise influence far above their numbers. A coalition of these parties was also able to form provincial governments in Peshawar and Quetta and had representatives elected to the national assembly but the parties have not proved powerful enough to deflect the vast majority of general populace away from their traditional allegiance to Brelvi Sufi Islam to the more puritan Deobandi version despite Saudi, Salafi and Wahabi support. Their following can be estimated from their showing in general elections where they hardly muster more than 11% of the popular votes.
One can infer that those favouring imposition of Sharia in Pakistan would be around these numbers only. Radical Islam would not therefore have much chance in over whelming the nation even as it leads to sectarianism in certain pockets. Radical Islam combined with the Jihadi spirit has metamorphosed into terrorism against the State when its coercive machinery is seen as cooperating with US or crushing ethnic nationalism in FATA but its reach, strength and power is unable to shake the foundations of the State. The army therefore, takes minimal action against terrorism and its perpetrators, preferring not to queer the pitch. Civil Society movements like the Lawyers’ agitations during Musharraf era and also against Zardari for upholding the sanctity of judicial offices also seem to suggest that the secular principle is not entirely dead in Pakistan.
Yet, Pakistan will not remain unaffected if Islamic revolutions sweep its neighbourhood and the Arab world. A far reaching geopolitical consequence will be high profile antagonism between the Sunnis and Shias everywhere in the Islamic world. Ayatullah Khomeini’s advent to power in 1979 in Iran was the first real Islamic revolution of recent times. Its influence was deeply felt in Pakistan in the shape of heightened sectarianism. The Iranian revolution had facilitated the activities of Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Fiqh-i-Zafaria (Movement for the implementation of Shiite religious Law) which were stoutly countered by Sunni extremist groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Laskhar-e-Jhangvi. The latter want the Shias declared non Muslims. This sentiment had found a favourable echo with Talibans in Afghanistan. Such Sunni groups are Saudi surrogates.
An unprecedented rise in sectarianism would be on the cards if the war between Sunnis and Shias escalates elsewhere. The Pakistani state will have a difficult time in controlling it as its intelligence apparatus is heavily allied with the Sunni militant groups. This close alliance and the deep seated strategic desire to see Talibans rise again in Afghanistan is responsible for the enduring Pakistani support to the Haqqani networks in North Waziristan and Taliban’s Emir-ul-Momeen Omar’s Quetta Shura. If and when Talibans re-emerge in a commanding position in Afghanistan, they will turn out to be a destabilizing factor for the sectarian upheaval in Pakistan. Its hapless civil society will likely become a bigger victim of the sectarian fissures than it is today. The militant groups which are already a part and parcel of the Pakistani social fabric will then assume much bigger profiles. With such developments, enlightened moderation, Musharraf’s dream once, has no chance.
Even as the civil society in Pakistan by and large abhors fundamentalism and Jihad, the current drift towards greater conservatism and elimination of Brelvi Sufi influence will go on as indeed has been happening in the past decades due to official patronage. The Pakistani Islam today is way away from fanaticism, but, it is also true that it harbours more fanatics today than ever before.
India remains perpetually on the cross wires of the Pakistani military machine, The sense of hostility against India in Pakistan is a product of the Muslim antagonism towards the Hindu philosophy and culture, existing for centuries, It is, therefore, a mistake to attribute the constant stand off between the two countries as arising out of events after partition. Disproportionate strength and size, economy and demography of India create immoderate fears about survivability in Pakistan and add extra dimensions to the existential mistrust. Those who postulate that such primordial paranoia can be cured through dialogue are really living in a world of self created delusion.
There were indeed a few occasions in the past for a break through. During Rajiv Gandhi’s prime minister ship a military line of disengagement along the Saltoro range and a reduction in the overall strength of troops had actually been mutually agreed. During Musharraf’s president ship barring the issue of sovereignty to be exercised over J&K, broad informal agreements had been worked out on maintaining territorial status quo in J&K, soft borders, and cross border membership of some civilian institutions but eventually all such ideas were shot down from the Pakistani side because of military pressure It looks as if the Pakistani military, bureaucratic and political elites are afraid of peace with India.
No other conclusion is possible. The list of contentious issues between the two countries has been expanded now to include water, India’s presence in Afghanistan and India’s alleged support to the Baluchi freedom fighters and Pakistani Talibans in the border lands across the Durand Line.
Pakistan is continually increasing its nuclear pile even though it is a universally acceptable nuclear doctrine that nuclear weapons have a role only for deterrence. Their opposition to the Fissile Material Control Treaty is born out of their anxiety to ensure that their nuclear bomb making does not get blocked.
The strength of the Pakistani Armed Forces can not therefore be reduced. Their credo of Iman (faith), Taqwa (piety) and Jihad fi Sabih Allah (Jihad for the sake of Allah) can not be changed to a more moderate slogan. They will continue to seek inspiration from the doctrines of Islam. They will effectively remain the most powerful political influence paddling group in Pakistan. They will always have the last word on the nature of governance in Pakistan and on crucial policies… They may shy away from open interference for now but, in the final analysis, it will always be their will that is done in Pakistan. It will be Pakistan’s fate to linger on as a crisis state, as the needs of strategic national security as assessed by the military structure will continue to be held paramount over everything else.
The dialogue ritual can be held only with the Pakistani diplomats and the civil authority who have no control over the military and who are usually ignored by the last. How can it produce any result of substance? Can one ever hope that Pakistan can move against Hafiz Mohd. Saeed and the Haqqani network? They are counted as assets of the Pakistani security architecture and hence are invaluable part of the national security infrastructure.
And yet it is advisable to keep the ritual alive to keep a line of communication open.
(A. K. Verma is a retired Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.)