THERE is a frightening resemblance between Pakistan and the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), both threatened by militias and bullied by uncouth demagogues. If in Germany Ernst Rohm’s one million Brownshirts frightened even Hitler, in Pakistan terrorist groups have graduated into full-fledged ‘armies’ capable of challenging the military.
Their arsenals are well-stocked — AK47s, grenades, rocket launchers, surface-to-air missiles and a most terrible weapon the Germans couldn’t think of — the suicide bomber. No wonder, they have become a terror, literally and figuratively. Compared to them, the German militias — Nazi, communist, monarchist, republican, the Freikorps and its numerous offshoots — were virtually unarmed. Their weapons were First World War rifles, rods, knives and pistols (in the Beer Hall putsch, Hitler fired a pistol).
Unlike their German counterparts, the robotised cadres of Pakistan’s terrorist organisations are cold-blooded murderers and bomb schools, mosques and shrines without a qualm; their German counterparts confined their violence to breaking up their rivals’ rallies, bashing their skulls and occasionally eliminating political opponents. The fatality toll during the 14 Weimar years was less than 100. In Pakistan, the number of the dead since 2007 has stood between 50,000 and 70,000.
Terrorist groups have graduated into full-fledged ‘armies’.
Those who slaughtered 132 Pakistani children had had crossed the Durand Line from their zone of comfort; Germany’s armed groups were largely on their own, though the Red ‘battalions’ did indeed receive some help from communist Russia, itself in chaos. Also common to both is the constant flow of funds from powerful quarters. Just as Pakistani extremist parties have no dearth of doles from religious entities, some of them masquerading as charities, the Nazi party likewise received ample financial support from industrial tycoons, especially arms manufacturers like the Krupps.
Also, like their German predecessors, Pakistani terror groups get intellectual backing, too — sometimes subtle, sometimes quite openly — from sections of the academia, religious elements and the media. In the Weimar, Hitler’s demagogy moved even the intelligentsia, wounded by the humiliating Treaty of Versailles. Even a scholar-architect like Albert Speer fell under Hitler’s spell, organised party rallies and performed stonishing feats as his armaments minister, but later turned against him and tried to poison him.
We can also see a deep contempt for the existing order in both cases. It was the monarchy which had started the war, or was accused of starting the Great War, by giving carte blanche to Austria for the attack on Serbia; it was left to the republican government to follow the Entente’s diktat. No wonder Nazi propaganda focused blistering attacks on democracy for being responsible for the country’s defeat and the shrinkage of German territory. Thus the idea of destroying the republic was instilled among the German people as a laudable goal.
In Pakistan, we see the same phenomenon in which the existing order is portrayed as maghribi (Western) and un-Islamic, and therefore deserving of destruction by violent means. The totality of this sermonising has affected even ‘normal’ Pakistanis subconsciously as seen in the recklessness with which our non-political mobs vandalise and burn. Everything about Pakistan is considered contemptible and destroyable.
There are, of course, differences. The Weimar republic lasted 14 years; the post-1971 Pakistan has survived 46 turbulent years. Between 1971 and 2017 it hasn’t been all negative. Many setbacks, no doubt, but Pakistan gained an accretion of strength in the form of the nuclear deterrent. Unlike India, which received encouragement and enriched uranium from both Nato and Warsaw Pact countries, Pakistan’s nuclear effort has largely been solo. This has given Pakistanis a tremendous sense of confidence.
The 1973 Constitution has shown a surprising degree of resilience, survived two military interventions and been restored through a democratic process. Finally, Jinnah remains our frame of reference. He is nearer in history, and his personality has continued to inspire four generations of Pakistanis. For those in the Weimar Republic, Frederick the Great (1712-1786) was too distant in history.
Does the mere existence of militias, some of which have declared war on Pakistan, necessarily mean that the present system is ripe for a takeover by a fascist dictatorship? Signs are ominous, but Pakistani democracy has shown survival instinct. Nevertheless, Pakistan must learn from the patience Germany exercised until its partial reunification, and the low-profile foreign policy it followed until the break-up of the Soviet Union. Ultimately, the fortunes of Pakistan’s war on terror are linked to the Afghan conflict, which Islamabad must try to bring to an end at the earliest. Here, much to India’s delight, Trumpism is Pakistan’s problem. This is a subject unto itself.
The writer is Dawn’s Readers’ Editor.
Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2017