IN August, Pakistan will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of its independence. This has understandably spawned a spate of soul searching. It was in abundance at the Karachi Literature Festival. The session titled “Pakistan: a fragile state or resilient nation” focused entirely on the state and didn’t address the issue of resilience at all. The state was held responsible for all the evils that have befallen us.
Unsurprisingly, the speakers concentrated on identifying the villain of the piece that was said to be the ‘state’ — an abstract term. As the discussion proceeded, the state became the “invisible state” and then the “deep state”. The audience clearly understood that these terms referred to the army which has played a central role in determining Pakistan’s destiny.
Whether it is our relationship with India (including our wars with this neighbour), our foreign policy and even our political evolution, the army was said to have been a key factor in all these areas of national life. Nevertheless, it was conceded that the civilian governments, the religious parties and the judiciary also played a role in providing support to the state in pushing Pakistan close to the abyss.
The fact is that all these institutions have played a big part to varying degrees in shaping Pakistan’s history. But the failure to empower the people of Pakistan by providing them quality education and healthcare and opening the doors of opportunity for them rests squarely on civilian governments which have cumulatively held the fort for nearly 36 years now.
Civilian governments have played a role in pushing us towards the abyss.
As the ones wielding the gun, the generals have had an advantage. They have exploited the situation shrewdly. Thus General Ayub Khan could sit as the defence minister in a civilian cabinet. Ziaul Haq could hang Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by effecting a miscarriage of justice.
Ashraf Jehangir Qazi reminded the audience (session on security and foreign policy) of the geostrategic circumstances in which Pakistan was born. To paraphrase, he said it was India’s enmity spawned by the freedom struggle that made Pakistan a security state and empowered the army.
All this makes it necessary to take a dispassionate look at the country’s history. Only thus can we determine if the emergence of the army in the form it did was avoidable.
In August 1947 when Pakistan was born, it was straightaway embroiled in disputes with India on Hyderabad, Junagardh and Kashmir. Territorial contiguity with the last mentioned allowed Pakistan to actually intervene here and thus provide the raison d’être for a strong army. The men in khaki became the need of the hour to help the country survive.
The groundwork for the creation of a strong army and its intervention in politics was laid in 1947 with Pakistan’s first military adventure in Kashmir. Aqil Shah, a political science Fellow at Harvard, wrote in his book The Army and Democracy: “Because the disorganised state of the Pakistan Army ruled out a direct invasion, the Pakistani cabinet decided to exploit a revolt by the Muslim population of Poonch against the Maharaja …. by organising a deniable attack on the Kashmir Valley. For this covert mission, Liaquat [Ali Khan] and his colleagues co-opted Colonel Akbar Khan, the director of weapons and equipment at army headquarters, thereby circumventing the military chain of command. Colonel [Akbar] Khan planned the attack in September 1947…. In Liaquat’s words, ‘The authorities needed a lot of assistance from the Army in the shape of plans, advice, weapons, ammunition, communications and volunteer[s]. They did not ask for it because the whole thing had to be kept secret from the [British] C-in- C and other senior officers.’”
Aqil Shah adds: “Thus the tradition of using non-state actors by the army was laid…. the employment of the Pakistani army in irregular warfare violated military hierarchy and discipline and gave [military] officers…. direct access to the highest decision-making levels of the state.”
Can the civilian governments be absolved of any responsibility in the matter? It was not the case of the military versus the civilians. It was that of the privileged versus the underprivileged. Raza Rabbani, a discussant on the fragile state, touched upon the root cause, but in passing. According to him, the economic power acquired nationwide by the army (so lucidly described by Ayesha Siddiqa in Military Inc) has made it difficult to mobilise support against it.
It was, however, Dr Tariq Rahman, a professor emeritus, who put it most succinctly at a short course organised by the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences. He spoke about the political elite’s strategy of using language as a tool to exclude the underprivileged classes from the realms of socio-economic power. Dr Rahman observed that the privileged classes tacitly become allies of the elites as one gains from the other. This holds true in politics as well.
Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2017