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Pakistan has never had it so bad

Saturday November 13, 2010 12:39:00 PM, Amulya Ganguli, IANS

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Pakistan is evidently passing through the worst period of its 63-year-old history. Although democracy never struck roots in the country, it at least had a semblance of stability earlier. Although this was a surface phenomenon since the long spells of military rule bred fundamentalist elements, which remained underground till it was time to strike, as at present, the superficial calm allowed Pakistan to pretend that all was well.

Its close ties with the US throughout the Cold War and during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan also gave Pakistan a feeling of invulnerability vis-à-vis India, its bete noire and prime military target. The arms, dollars and warm words which the US invested in Pakistan because of its strategic location - as Washington still does - made it believe that it would always have an edge over India, whose democracy was mocked by America as a "functioning anarchy".

The hope in Islamabad, and perhaps also in Beijing, was that as India gasped for breath with its manifold problems - casteism, communalism, unrest in Kashmir and the northeast, Maoism, corruption, demands for new and more autonomous states - Pakistan's "stable" quasi-military regime would emerge as the dominant force in the subcontinent.

Now, all those expectations have gone up in smoke. Pakistan has only itself to blame for the collapse of its dreams. Its first mistake was to believe that it could defeat India militarily because of the self-propagated myth, which was heard mostly during the 1965 conflict, that each Muslim soldier was equal to 10 Hindus. Hence the wars of 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and the Kargil incursion of 1999.

When the wars resulted only in the toppling of Pakistan's own military dictators - Ayub Khan in 1965, Yahya Khan in 1971 - it made the second mistake of waging a proxy war in Kashmir. But its third blunder was the most fatal one since it turned to using terrorism as a weapon of war.

The recourse to terror is related not only to Pakistan's own history but also to the disaffection which had afflicted Muslim youth in general because of the American dominance over Saudi Arabia, Egypt and, of course, Pakistan itself. Had any of these countries been genuinely democratic, the frustration and anger of the young men and women might have been defused through open debate.

As George W. Bush noted, no Indian Muslim had joined the Al Qaeda because Indian democracy gave them a voice and a stake in the system. Since this was out of the question in the mullah-dominated societies in Pakistan and its neighbours in the west, large sections of indigent youth fell prey to the poisonous propaganda of the bigoted clerics. The excessive emphasis on religion given by dictators such as Zia-ul-Haq in order to turn them away from the secular Western world of "infidels" also made youth susceptible to medieval ideas like jehad.

Now Pakistan is trapped in a cul-de-sac. It might have been able to extricate itself if democracy was given a chance. But its army and intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), will not allow it. The years of military rule and the absence of popular civilian leaders had convinced the army that only it could save Pakistan from the evil designs of India. The army's fears may have become even greater because of India's economic buoyancy and the admiration which it evokes in the outside world for its multicultural democracy.

Benazir Bhutto's assassination snuffed out the last chance of peace. Only a charismatic leader like her could have restored democracy in Pakistan and followed a policy of reconciliation with India, for she had shed her shrill, opportunistic "azadi, azadi, azadi" rhetoric of the past. It was precisely for these reasons that she was killed. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, initially showed an inclination to follow in her footsteps where a betterment of relations with India was concerned.

After 26/11, he expressed a willingness to send the ISI chief to India to allay the latter's fears of Pakistan's official involvement. Earlier, he had ruled out the preemptive use of nuclear weapons against India and even said that India did not pose a threat. However, as American commentator Selig Harrison has written in The Los Angeles Times, Zardari suspected that the Mumbai attacks were instigated by Islamic hardliners to wreck his peace campaign. Harrison also says that since then, the army has generally succeeded in silencing him.

Only a civilian leadership in Pakistan could have brought peace because it would have had a somewhat wider vision than the army's. The military, however, not only has an obsessive hate towards India but does not seem to realise, or care, that encouraging terrorism is like trying to set fire to a neighbour's house when it can spread to one's own.

The danger for India now is that the Pakistan Army will think that it has already lost the latest round, thereby making it even more desperate. For a start, the American support for India's inclusion as a permanent member of the UN Security Council is the biggest blow which Pakistan has suffered, for it irrevocably does away with the hyphenation with India which made it claim an equal status with its larger neighbour.

The nuclear deal was another blow, but Pakistan was hoping to partly nullify it with a similar arrangement with China. But the Security Council issue must have had a devastating impact on its morale.

What is more, US President Barack Obama's announcement that not only will America remain committed to Afghanistan in the foreseeable future but will also welcome India playing a role in building roads, schools and hospitals. This Indo-US presence across the Durand Line means the Pakistan Army's hope of using Afghanistan as a place of strategic retreat has been dashed.

There is every possibility, therefore, of, first, Pakistan's state and non-state "actors" indulging in more acts of terror in India and in the West. There have already been intelligence warnings of Mumbai-style attacks in Western cities. Secondly, Pakistan is bound to move even closer to its only remaining "all weather" friend, China. But how far China will welcome it in the present stormy conditions is open to question.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst.

He can be reached at




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