Published in The Financial Express @ The T20 of Naya Pakistan 2.0
When Imran Khan talks of Riyasat e Madina, he is looking westward for a governance model which is more Islamic by nature. It is no secret that Pervez Musharraf styled himself in the Kemal Ataturk mode. The average Pakistani takes great pride in tracing his ancestry to Arab and Turkic roots. Histories of imaginary caliphates and kingdoms based in Arabia, Persia and Turkey and their conquests are recounted to glorify Pakistan.
By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)
My recent article Pakistan: Chaos at the cross roads and what it means for India? in the Financial Express drew a pleasantly surprising response from a senior retired Pakistani Army officer who states ” Mostly based on facts with a tinge of a typical and expected enemy’s wishful spice in analysis…it will be a blessing in disguise if the army role in politics , which I openly opposed in military circles including my meeting with Bajwa , is minimised , if not eliminated…by the way anything like 90% veterans support Khan…As for the future , a lot will depend upon the new Chief who , hopefully , would have learnt good lesson to keep army apolitical…unfortunately in most cases these are the politicians who support , if not drag , such a role as it suits them. I think the new Chief will have to set new direction for the army and sternly follow it…while Imran may not be a great statesman , he sure is a bold leader who has , for the first time ever, challenged the supremacy of the Army…If he comes to power again he would choose a better team , try to correct the basics …when he talks of Riasat e Madina, he is not talking of Shariah laws but equality, human rights and justice… We cannot dig further and will come out of the morass through our traditional resilience and fight back . You know how we reached the semi-finals of T20. Warm regards“. T20 ….hmm. He is painting a picture of Naya Pakistan 2.0.
My response to this viewpoint is through Pakistan’s history told by Pakistanis themselves. From 1947, Pakistan has been immersed in wars and conflicts through internal and external machinations. Its uniformed and civilian governments, corrupt and incompetent in equal measure have ensured that Pakistan is perpetually in a crisis. At this point it is in a sink or swim mode. It can swim to become a Country with an Army or remain sunk. Pakistan must look squarely in the mirror and answer many questions. However I will pose three. Who are the patriots of Pakistan? Who are Pakistan’s enemies and what are the threats they pose? What are the schisms it must overcome? All these are implicit in the response. Unless Pakistan is able to answer these questions to some extent at least, it cannot surface out of the current morass.
Who is the Pakistani Patriot?
The foremost claimant of patriotism is its venerable Army which believes that it is the sole guardian of Pakistan’s integrity, sovereignty and existence as a nation. Every time the Army has taken the nation to war it invoked patriotism in attempt to ward off threats – real and imaginary. This unbridled patriotism has resulted in a military defeat which halved the country and impoverished it through sustained international adventurism. The Army narrative has always been that it is the only institution capable of addressing the complex problems and threats faced by Pakistan. Every military take-over is therefore based on a narrative to oust incompetent and corrupt civilian governments who are ruining the nation. Overall, the military has been counterproductive. It has damaged democracy through coercion and threats. It has not allowed any civilian government to resolve Pakistan’s perennial ethnic, religious, or economic issues but has actually compounded them. It has built a 20 billion USD business empire and skimmed the government to benefit its greedy generals to live lavishly for life. It is not ready to give up on power. The sum total of its patriotism is that it wants to remain an Army with a country.
The latest patriot is Imran Khan. The born again Islamic messiah has been saved by Allah’s divine intervention to rescue Pakistan. There is only one kind of good – his. The rest is evil. He alone can lead it to salvation as per his narratives. He is the product of a ‘hybrid’ experiment gone toxic. This progeny of the establishment, has turned the military playbook on its head. He has put the Army in his cross hairs and is challenging it through the mass appeal and people power he has garnered. It is a different matter that his policies, in or out of power have polarised and widened Pakistan’s fault lines – religious, ethnic , societal and economic to bring the nation to the edge of an abyss. He has painted visions of break-up of Pakistan if the ‘neutrals’ do not stop supporting the ‘imported government’. He has threatened the judiciary and law enforcement agencies of dire consequences and even encouraged that the army’s rank and file should disobey its top leadership. He has even asked families of military personnel to join march. Is he a traitor, seditionist or a patriot?
The third set in competition in the patriotism stakes are the civilian elite and political engineers of Pakistan. These are the eternals who have connived with the Army to remain in power. These include the likes of the current Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif , who is under investigation for serious money-laundering, fraud and corrupt practices. In order to remain in power, he has dubiously entrenched and enlarged the role of military in national affairs. He has passed orders to the effect that all potential candidates for government posts, including civil service officers awaiting promotions, must have their credentials check-marked by the ISI. This list includes Supreme Court judges, top-level civil servants, university professors, and many others. The politicians of Pakistan bear the cross of keeping the Army at the pole position through such acts throughout its history. This has been their past and present and probably the future.
Pakistan’s Enemies and Threats
Who are Pakistan’s enemies and where do its threats emanate from? Ask any Pakistani and he will tell you that Pakistan faces an existential threat from India which is its main enemy. The anonymous officer who responded to me also very explicitly suggests so. However the honour of identification of India as an existential threat , setting Pakistan on a warpath to usurp Jammu and Kashmir and the subordination of all other interests to this imaginary threat goes all the way back to leaders like Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan. They also constantly invoked the Indian threat to centralise their power and push back Bengali demands for greater autonomy and representation. Imran Khan, by conflating his and Pakistan’s current predicament with that of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and Pakistan in 1970 has endorsed this view.
The military had adopted the anti-India sentiment long back to convert it into Pakistan’s core national interest. This kept getting reinforced with each defeat. It led to a spiralling military build-up. It strengthened the Army internally and established an India-centric ideological worldview. Simultaneously, the military view that civilian politicians were incompetent, corrupt and had to be kept subordinated also grew. Despite dictators floundering, civilian rulers were undercut with the belief that it was only the military that was capable of defending the idea of Pakistan. This was propagated through the efficient ISPR , a nationalistic media and enthusiastic international journalists who considered Pakistan as a frontline state. Ultimately this idea was embedded deep into the Pakistani psyche after its self-perpetuated break-up in 1971.
The subsequent military and nuclear build-up, use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy and the Zia doctrine of Islamisation of the Army was based on the realisation that India could not be defeated conventionally. The defeat of USSR in Afghanistan reinforced the idea that state sponsored terrorism combined with a nuclear threat could exact revenge on India and erase the existential threat forever. It also gave Pakistan an economic model to monetise and peddle its frontline status to the highest international bidder. Thus the vicious cycle of proxy wars at international scale through ISI sponsored non-state surrogates began. The military defeat in Kargil and the Twin Towers bombings enlarged the scope of military adventurism to spawn even more terror surrogates. The US engagement in Afghanistan taught the Pakistani Army to run with the hound and hunt with the hare.
All this only reinforced the process of deepening military control in Pakistan and further marginalising civilian aspirations. It came to a pass when any international terrorist incident perpetuated by a non-state actor, could be traced back to military handlers in Pakistan or to the jihadist infrastructure set up by Zia which had long become autarkic. That was when Pakistan attained the status of an International pariah.
In this crucial period, Pakistan’s once strong , economic fundamentals simply evaporated. In response, the military and civilian elite and their intellectuals went headlong into the CPEC to transform Pakistan. The transformation which came about was that individuals were enriched, the Army prospered and Pakistan was paupered. It is on the verge of becoming a vassal to China for life. In this entire process, Pakistan’s coffers are empty and the nation is hocked in a debt trap. If there one area in which there is unanimity of opinion between the military, Imran Khan and all other civil leaders, it is that Pakistan is reduced to being an international beggar. Seen in the correct perspective, the existential threat to Pakistan has always been from within and not from any external source. India might never be Pakistan’s friend. However it was never or ever will be an existential threat to Pakistan.
What are Pakistan’s Schisms
When Imran Khan talks of Riasat e Madina, he is looking westward for a governance model which is more Islamic by nature. It is no secret that Pervez Musharraf styled himself in the Kemal Ataturk mode. The average Pakistani takes great pride in tracing his ancestry to Arab and Turkic roots. Histories of imaginary caliphates and kingdoms based in Arabia, Persia and Turkey and their conquests are recounted to glorify Pakistan. It is understandable that Pakistan wants to be as anti-India as possible with its own identity. However the fact is that everyone in Pakistan knows that his past, present and future is inexorably tied eastwards with the people of the Indian Sub-Continent. Very often these days, many opinion makers compare the state of Pakistan with the state of India and Bangladesh and wistfully remember the times when their country had far better fundamentals than the other two. They also wonder why they cannot progress like India or Bangladesh when they are of the same fundamental stock. This is the elemental schism in Pakistan. You cannot hate a people and hope to progress like them unless you share their beliefs. Pakistan cannot progress like India or Bangladesh while pretending to be Arabic, Persian or Turkic.
Very clearly Pakistan has a lot of soul searching to do than merely think of writings such as this as “a typical and expected enemy’s wishful spice in analysis“. Especially when the enemy is within and in plain sight! The response from across the border was also militarist and to a large extent t20ish in nature. The problem is more complex. Pakistanis endowed with better understanding of their own situation feel that in an adverse external environment dominated by the fall outs of the Covid and Ukraine War and in internal environment of economic penury under the foreboding shadow of climate change, all hopes of recovery depend on political stability. As someone put it “the system is imploding, spectacularly — collapsing under the weight of the multiple distortions created by decades of political engineering, not to mention outright military takeovers”. As someone else put it “we cannot afford to keep the bulk of our national energies focused on checkmating India and liberating Kashmir. This has allowed the security state to dominate our lives. Human development and economic growth have been pushed into the margins. The ISI is a much vaunted and efficient organization. However, it is not trained or equipped to help Pakistan attain prosperity and international competitiveness”. Lastly “the unravelling is ugly, and it could get deadlier still. No one quite seems to know how it will all end”. It appears everyone in Pakistan is busy playing a T20 match while the rest of the world is into a Test match.
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