Central & South Asia

Pakistan: Time for Reform in the Garrison State

Hanud-Yahud-Nasara conspiracy news, Pakistan news, International news analysis, News on India and South Asia, International political news, Pakistan terrorism news, Pervez Musharraf news, Taliban news, Pakistan economy news, China-Pakistan relations news

© thad

March 01, 2017 08:57 EDT

It is now entirely up to Pakistan’s leaders to opt out of ideological politics and choose enlightened pragmatism. 

In December 2008, I met General Pervez Musharraf at the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) house in Rawalpindi. The meeting was arranged by a mutual friend, retired Colonel Aslam Cheema. Musharraf had only recently stepped down as president of Pakistan. We had a very pleasant conversation for about an hour. The bottom line in his review of the situation was that as long as the Pakistan military was strong, the existence and integrity of Pakistan were assured.

Some would question this thesis keeping in mind what happened in the former East Pakistan in 1971, when it broke away after a bitter and bloody civil war. Musharraf was probably thinking of the Pakistan that survived in the western wing, where the real strength of the Pakistan military has always resided.

It is, however, doubtful if the strong military imperative must necessarily translate into a culture of militarization of state and society. However, that is exactly what has happened. Since at least the 1980s, radical political Islam has been at the forefront of Pakistan’s external and internal politics.

A visitor to Pakistan cannot but notice that Islamist rhetoric has profoundly affected society creating a mindset that is violence prone. Terrorism is salient and wrecks lives continually in contemporary Pakistan. Government offices and buildings with armed guards posted all-round are a common sight. However, such measures are not confined to government offices. In early March 2011, I visited Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad and found security guards armed with automatic firearms posted at luxury hotels, private firms and businesses. Similar scenes can be seen in the Indian capital, New Delhi, but the security arrangements are subdued and there is no official patronage of a culture of militarization.

In Pakistan, a feeling that the country is a “fortress of Islam” has been cultivated as part of national identity. Why? This question becomes all the more intriguing and perplexing when the census suggests that, at least since 1971, Muslims constitute a solid and overwhelming majority of at least 96%. Such compact majority—if ideological rhetoric about Muslim nationalism and the Islamic umma is to be believed—should have ensured cultural and religious cohesiveness, social peace and solidarity. That, however, is not the case. Who then poses the existentialist threat to Pakistan?

Fortress of Islam

Looking around for possible candidates that could harbor nefarious intentions and designs on Pakistan, one must first discount some typical bogeys. For example, one does not find a communist insurgency in Pakistan comparable to the Naxalite movement in present-day India. Nor is there a separatist movement comparable to the Spanish ETA or the militant factions of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that in the past were able to strike targets on a recurring basis all over Spain or the United Kingdom, respectively. There is a bleeding insurgency going on in Balochistan at present, but the Baloch guerrillas have kept their ambit of activities confined to their province thus far.

In psycho-ideological terms, however, the Pakistani nation has been fed since the early 21st century on propaganda that a grand conspiracy hatched by Hanud-Yahud-Nasara (Hindus, Jews and Christians) exists. In a nutshell, the argument is that since Pakistan is the only Muslim nation that possesses nuclear weapons, it is on the hitlist of all those forces hell-bent on reducing Muslims to subjugation and slavery, and thus subverting the triumph of Islam in all nooks and corners of the world. Such an idea is most tempting to anyone believing in the eternal conflict between Dar-ul-Islam and Dar-ul-Harb.

Indeed, conspiracies against Pakistan may exist, but they can also be self-fulfilling prophecies. What cannot be denied, however, is that most, if not all, acts of violence and terrorism that spill blood in Pakistan are homegrown. Homegrown terrorism, in turn, comprises different factions and groups with anti-minority, anti-women and patently sectarian and sub-sectarian agendas.

Since at least December 2003, when an assassination attempt on General Musharraf was made, Pakistani officials and government installations and buildings, including those of the armed forces, have been targets of vicious terrorist attacks by homegrown extremist organizations on grounds that by joining the Bush administration’s so-called “War on Terror,” the Pakistani rulers have betrayed global jihad.

Homegrown terrorists cannot possibly target all of society without some help and assistance from rogue elements within the security and military forces, serving and retired. Therefore, defeating the real or imaginary conspiracy against Pakistan requires that homegrown terrorist cells and networks are uprooted and destroyed. In a renewed spate of suicide bombing missions ordered by disgruntled breakaway sections of the Taliban in the beginning of 2017, such as the Jamiyat ul Ahrar, targets have been hit in the megacity of Lahore as well as on a large gathering of devotees at a Sufi shrine in interior Sindh province.

Hawkish media channels have been accusing India as the mastermind of the recent attacks. However, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has emphasized the need for both India and Pakistan to not promote terrorism in each other’s territories, stressing the need for both countries to promote trade and better understanding.

Permanent Friends, Permanent Enemies

It is possible that if Pakistan can successfully deal with terrorism at home and learn to behave responsibility in the regional and international domains, the perceived international detractors of the country can be persuaded to change their attitude toward it. After all, Pakistan is a nuclear power and it is never going to be easy to treat it unfairly, if it is willing to adhere to the rules of the game that apply under international law in regard to relations between states.

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On the other hand, constant violation of internationally-accepted rules by a state is a sure recipe for conspiracies being plotted against it by those who feel threatened by it. It is, of course, not as simple as that, but more or less this is how states behave in the international arena. There are very few permanent friends and permanent enemies in the international system of states.

Pakistan’s geostrategic location has, in the past, been appreciated narrowly in military and security terms both by the Pakistani power elite and the major powers and superpowers. However, one can change the focus to economics, which is more lucrative than a focus on conflict and violence.

These days, the 21st century is being celebrated as the Asian Century. Actually, the Asian Century had begun to gestate as early as the 1960s and, ironically, Pakistan was one of Asia’s earliest economic powerhouses. In the first half of the 1960s, Pakistan’s economy performed so well that it won admirers in several Southeast Asian countries that studied its industrial planning and later became engines of economic growth.

But the Asian Century started out not in Southeast Asia, but in East Asia. Japan was ravaged and annihilated during World War II, but rose from the ashes to become the paragon power-horse of industrial and economic development in the early 1960s. From the 1970s onward, several Southeast Asian countries emulated Japan and embarked upon a transformation that earned them the title of Asian Tigers. The People’s Republic of China followed suit in the 1980s, and it is now the second largest economy in the world. India jumped onto the bandwagon of economic development in the 1990s and has been performing impressively since.

It seems that the movement of economic growth and development in Asia is following a western direction, and now it may be Pakistan’s turn to benefit from it. Pakistan’s geographical location ideally qualifies it to partake in the new opportunities that are emerging. Nations have to seize their moments in history and the moment seems to be now.

The recent announcement of the Sino-Pakistan deal, which would result in Chinese investment in Pakistan worth a staggering $46 billion, can be the route through which this western movement of economic growth and expansion can take place, instead of along the Attari-Wagah border with India, east of Lahore.

Or rather Pakistan can doubly benefit from using both routes to enhance trade, economic growth and employment. The Chinese leadership has made it crystal clear to Pakistan that it wants the country to weed out all terrorist outfits and create a climate and environment which is conducive to investment.

The Chinese have also made it clear that they do not preclude better economic ties between Pakistan and India. In fact, they have recommended the normalization of relations between the two South Asian giants.

Additionally, Pakistan’s cultural and religious links with West and Central Asia can proved to be enviable assets. Pakistan’s professionals as well as semi-skilled and unskilled workers can be interesting for many markets. Admittedly, the situation in Afghanistan is currently volatile and the Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry is a considerable hurdle to the normalization of politics in the Persian Gulf. However, Central Asian economies have tremendous synergies with Pakistan’s. The country has a unique opportunity to focus on economics and lift the living standards of its people.

It is now entirely up to Pakistan’s leaders to opt out of ideological politics and choose enlightened pragmatism.

*[This is an updated preface to Ishtiaq Ahmed’s Pakistan: The Garrison State—Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011) published by Oxford University Press that you can buy here.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: thad

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