Pakistan Ka Matlab Kiya

My new piece is up at The Review (National), State of Decay:

Twenty years of military dictatorships, under Ayub Khan and Zia ul Haq, cemented the rule of the few over the many. Their policies led to the emergence of specific grievances by sub-nationalist groups in Baluchistan and Sindh. In the decade of Pervez Musharraf’s rule, these tensions grew dramatically, and pushed the state into a greater alienation from its own citizens.

Musharraf’s dictatorial regime sought to polish over any internal incoherence with a unified foreign front aimed primarily at operating militarily in Afghanistan, NWFP and Baluchistan. The influx of cash, some $6 billion, into the coffers of the military propelled the army to new-found heights as the country’s largest landlord, largest employer and largest business. But maintaining this new oligarchy came at a steep price for Pakistan.

Do let me know your thoughts.

*Naim Sahib corrects me that Bengal wasn’t part of Iqbal’s 1930 vision. My apologies. I have been reading too much Rahmat Ali lately.

13 Replies to “Pakistan Ka Matlab Kiya”

  1. Accha, I was looking for this piece today to share with one of my students, and the link is broken. Can you send me the pdf, or better still, create a sidebar of pdfs for some of the Homistan pieces you’ve written in various places? :-)

  2. The influx of cash, some $6 billion, into the coffers of the military propelled the army to new-found heights as the country’s largest landlord, largest employer and largest business. But maintaining this new oligarchy came at a steep price for Pakistan.

    Well it seems like president of Pakistan agrees with you, while the Pakistani chief of Army Staff is on a rare tour of Russia.

    Stop dancing with dictators, Zardari tells US

    “The president quoted Benazir Bhutto as saying that ‘truth, justice and the forces of history are on our side’ and added: ‘Today, we shall see if America and Europe are on our side as well.’”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/21/AR2009062101793.html

  3. Sepoy: I totally agree with you that it was zia-ul- huq who intervened in other legacies like Shi’ite, thats why he introduced these tali-b-elm ‘talibans’ in pakistan. now they have destroyed the peace of our country and no one is safe from them.
    Now it is time that we stand united and support our army men who are sacrificing their lives to eliminate this menace.

  4. Qalandar: Zia was explicitly Sunni because the Iranian Revolution was explicitly Shi’a. He created and promoted Sunni groups to battle the Shi’a “menace”.
    Mahmud: I did have material on Fatima Jinnah, the MRD campaign and the Lawyers Movement. Space. I am not sure I buy the “agency” argument quite as you put it – Pakistani leaders being, well Pakistani as well but I take your point. If you read my archives, you will see my commitment to tell a people’s story.
    Yes Man: I apologize for the sartorial slight at the TALIBOTHRA.
    Thanks to all above for your comments. I hope to continue churning out these little historically informed op-eds. The feedback is incredibly useful.

  5. +1 for the analysis, -2 for the use of “ragged”. What makes them ragged? Are they dirty? Are they disheveled? Likewise, the media keeps using the same adjective “ragtag”. I dont understand why. Are they not organized? They are taking over large swaths of 2 neighboring nation states, hard to describe them as not organized.

  6. You made an incredibly important distinction between a ‘phantom’ threat by the Taliban and the actual threat by local based militant groups with legitimate grievances.

    However, this is a product of a deeper issue; the poverty of political discourse in the country. Without “Talbothra”, a simplistic caricature of a complex situation, the state believes that it would have difficulty holding together. It is like ‘Pakistan ka matlab kiya? La illaha ill-allah’: a complex question with a simple answer that is as unifying as it is divisive.

    This way of dealing with Pakistan’s insurgencies killed the important debate that was going on in the country prior to the current offensive. I see the deal in Swat with Sufi Mohammed as an attempt by the government to reframe the issue. Instead of making the insurgency an issue of terrorism (irrational people you can’t negotiate with) they tried to turn it into one of local grievances (which can be solved through devolution of authority). When that failed, the government and its supporters turned to simplistic ethnic agitation: What do you do with Talbothra? you bomb the hell out of it. If you are not in favour of brutal military action you are a terrorist. It creates a dialectic which will lead to a dangerous conclusion.

    My main issue with the article (though I admit it is much bigger than the article could answer) is that it removed agency from the Pakistani public. The history you used is a very top down ‘look at the mess our leaders left us’, but it fails to incorporate the important times in which Pakistani’s voted, protested, and took an active part in taking charge of their fate. Student protests in 1969, the 1970 election, the protests over the judiciary. To leave Pakistani’s themselves out of the story is a bit unfair. I’m not going to minimize the cost of poor leadership in Pakistan, but to encourage change we need to rewrite our history to give some agency and focus on the few times in our history that Pakistanis stood up.

  7. I think this is an excellent and balanced piece. I would probably have preferred more “prescription” towards the end, but perhaps that wasn’t the function of the piece. I thought you were able to achieve a lot as far as the historical background is concerned in such a short piece — I was especially impressed by the contextualization of Zulfiqar Bhutto’s “Islamization” project, and the suggestion that Zia “deepened” the trend, rather than breaking with an (imagined secular) one.

    One question: you write that under Zia the state was “explicitly” Sunni and pro-Salafist. I agree that he reconfigured the state along these lines in a de facto sense, but how did he do so “explicit[ly]”? [That isn’t a rhetorical question: my experience of Zia’s Pakistan was limited to summer vacations as a kid in Karachi, and there hasn’t been much non-specialist study of a “Sunnification” — as opposed to “Islamization” — project, so I’m not very familiar with this area.]

  8. Sorry, but this should have been in the first comment: Your article is really good, since the decayed state is the PRIMARY problem, not the Jihadis who are taking advantage of its decayed state and attacking it.
    But you seem to underestimate the terrible mayhem the jihadis are capable of producing. I think that is a mistake. Do not underestimate the Jihadi’s ambitions or their ability to create mayhem. As I wrote above, I dont think they will win this war, but its still a real war and the state will have to reform AND fight a war at the same time if it is to survive.

  9. I wrote this on my blog this morning. Its focused more on what needs to happen now and I can probably criticize it myself for assuming that the current state is the best option we have, but anyway, I look forward to learned comments here…
    As expected, the Jihadis are on the job and the security agencies are not able to match them. But in the end, the jihadis will still loose because they are their own worst enemies. The various delusions of the educated Pakistani elite are harmless fluff compared to the illusions of the jihadis. They will over-reach, they will alienate potential allies, and they will invite a reaction. Even where the objective reality is in favor of rebellion (incompetent corrupt elite, massive ideological confusion, deteriorating economy, clueless leadership) the rebels will take positions that most sane people will not be able to support. That is maybe the only silver lining in this mess.
    > > The civilian aspects of the state have been systematically undermined by its own army for decades. The end result is that the civilian agencies are almost worthless. They will have to be revived in double quick time, starting at the top. Unfortunately, a situation that would have been a challenge for Napoleon is being tackled by people of the caliber of Zardari, Gilani and Rahman Malik. Either Zardari or Gilani have to get a brain transplant or someone else has to step up and take the lead role. Already, there is talk of martial law. That could have been an acceptable stopgap measure in many countries, but given the past performance of the army in these matters, it does not look like a viable alternative for Pakistan. What can be done? The idea that Gilani will suddenly transform into Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto does not seem possible. A national govt headed by someone else? Who? Comments welcome.
    > > The army has to get over its pathological obsession with hiding its past jihadi connections. They know who these people are. They are the ONLY people who know where the bodies are buried. If they dont want the jihadis to take over their housing colonies, its past time for them to make a clean break with the past and really go all out against the jihadis. That means not just the military operations in NWFP, but even MORE important, they have to invite their old friends in for a chat and start asking some questions. After all, the suicide bombers do not drop from the sky. In every case, they joined some jihadi tanzeem at some point. They use the contacts and safe houses of other islamists. ALL islamists are not terrorists (most are not, at least not against Pakistan) but all these terrorists live and work around other islamists. Even if we accept that some are now being used by foreign intelligence agencies, the fact remains that the final common pathway is to find a JIHADI and have him explode. Infidels are not doing the exploding. Colonel Imam and company should be asked to show up at corps headquarters and hand over lists of all the jihadists they know. The army has to track them down. Find out which ones are fully under control and which ones have suddenly disappeared. ..and then they have to start looking for the ones who have disappeared. This is not rocket science, its police work. Unfortunately, the police was kept away from all these people by “agency” spooks for the last 20 years. Now the agency spooks have to decide which side they are on…
    > > The foreign hand business has to be used judiciously. To the extent that there really IS a foreign hand, it should be revealed in a transparent manner. But to use this device as a convenient way to pass the buck is not tolerable anymore.
    > > Leaders of public opinion, media and intelligentsia, have to be asked to step up and make their loyalties clear. Taliban apologists need to be exposed and marginalized.
    > > The people of Pakistan as a whole are neither as dumb nor as deluded as its ruling elite. They will rally around the state because it is still the only viable state they have. Balochis have to be brought into the national mainstream, which again means the army has to eat some crow and admit mistakes and make apologies. Mohajirs are not that far out from the mainstream anyway. The MQM may be many things (including being a semi-independent mafia) but it is fairly rational and can be made to cooperate with the state. Sindhis and Punjabis are not going anywhere. Their stake in Pakistan is too big and too intertwined with everyone else. Even the Pakhtoons are not really going to ask for a separate country. Their survival too is bound up with the survival of Pakistan. They host most of the jihadis, but they are certainly not ALL jihadi. They will likely suffer the most from this war, and some day they can ask the army why they were sacrificed in the interest of “strategic depth” and other nonsense, but for now, this is where they are and a lot of them are going to fight and die on the side of the Pakistani state. The state has to make sure they dont suffer more at the hands of the state than they will at the hands of the taliban..
    > > Officers and functionaries who are “pakistani by day and taliban by night” have to be picked out and removed. Otherwise they will sabotage the war effort and sink the ship.

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