A reality deficit of staggering proportions now stands generated in Pakistan which, even while promoting a culture of militarism and religious bigotry, erodes the foundation on which democracy can be built up and made to thrive. The road to a possible self-destruction can only be averted by radically reorienting education at all levels (particularly that which advocates the treatment of India as an enemy state), altering the military credo and fostering resolutely institutions of democracy which will value rule of law, protect judicial independence, allow free play to expressions of thought, word and conscience and work for economic justice to all sections of society.
Following President Zardari’s recent visit to India on pilgrimage the mood for resuming the dialogue with Pakistan is building up. It is therefore the right time to reassess all such factors in Pakistan which will determine the ultimate result of a fresh beginning.
The idea of India as a perpetual enemy resulted in Pakistan being developed as a security state.
The earlier historical narrative of the land that became Pakistan was jettisoned by its leadership to give the nation an ideological and artificial underpinning. The new identity does not reverberate with one wavelength in the psyche of its diverse people. A sovereign state was indeed created by devaluing history but past cultural and political heritage has not allowed a single-point Muslim nationalism to emerge and bind its people. Orchestration of India as an abiding threat to survival has not succeeded in neutralising the inner contradictions generated by freshly woven but flawed historical perspectives or by the use of Islam as cementing glue.
The state sponsored a jihad industry of which active ingredients were Saudi money, Wahabi-indoctrinated madrassas and the toxic desire to use it as a strategic weapon, both in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Its unforeseen consequences were a deepening sectarian divide, fraternal bloodshed and the byproduct of religious extremism turning against the state itself.
The idea of India as a perpetual enemy resulted in Pakistan being developed as a security state and Islam being exploited to promote pseudo-nationalism. The stark reality went unrecognised and remained buried in the modern day Pakistan that the cultural history of the sub-continent had, through centuries before 1947, bound it to an inter-connected past, pulsating more in harmony than disharmony. Unless the existence of that ethos finds acceptance through a reappraisal of history vested interests that came to life after 1947 will continue to exploit the artificially created discord and self-serving agendas.
Pseudo doctrines dressed in religious garb have led the nation adrift.
A reality deficit of staggering proportions now stands generated in Pakistan which even while promoting a culture of militarism and religious bigotry erodes the foundation on which democracy can be built up and made to thrive. The road to a possible self-destruction can only be averted by radically reorienting education at all levels (particularly that which advocates the treatment of India as an enemy state), altering the military credo and fostering resolutely institutions of democracy which will value rule of law, protect judicial independence, allow free play to expressions of thought, word and conscience and work for economic justice to all sections of society.
Pseudo doctrines dressed in religious garb have led the nation adrift dividing it and producing mounting tensions. Although the nation has been put at risk, the inherent and inborn strength of the people remain intact and viable. In much of Pakistan, the society is bound together by kinship, patterns of a rural feudal ethos and threads of Sufi Brelvi Islam. There is much diversity to be found by yardsticks of language, ethnicity and local customs but people have stood together also through thick and thin down the ages and continue to live together, displaying large doses of tolerance even as governance fails and rulers respond negatively to the welfare needs at the grassroots.
It is a moot question how long such abject neglect can be acceptable to a society undergoing social, political and economic transformation, thanks to globalisation, internet revolution and increased connectivity. A new demographic bulge expresses itself with its impatience towards the status quo. The elite of the new and growing middle class has not been afraid of demonstrating its assertiveness. The lawyers’ agitation forcing a rethink on the eviction of the senior judges from office and leading to the reinstitution of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan is a testament to this new awareness. In fact their movement had some early precursors in the form of student agitations that had driven out dictators Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan from office and had created difficulties for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto during his term of office as the President of Pakistan. A greater effective role is bound to be their destiny in national politics sooner than later. The currently entrenched political elites of feudal and economic czars will have to give way to them as democracy strikes deeper roots, just as what is happening in India.
The obstacles the rising class including the lower rural middle class will encounter in their upward mobility are, however, formidable. A poisonous environment prevails in Pakistan due to a witches’ brew of long military domination, absence of democratic consensus, insolvency and ideological anarchy. These characteristics have existed for most of the nation’s existence and there is no easy formula to root them out. The situation is made worse on account of the role played by foreign players. Security is the issue most flogged to retain status quo, override democratic governance, skew economic prudence, ignore social imperatives and prevent growth of normal friendly relations with neighbours. The result is a high degree of social discontent that metamorphoses in provincial tensions, ethnic and language discords and religious rivalries, accentuating narrower identities. Pursuit of mindless security is thus burdening Pakistan with ever larger problems.
The elite of the new and growing middle class has not been afraid of demonstrating its assertiveness.
There is reason to believe that the Army top brass who have invariably held all the cards on security close to their chests are carefully monitoring the unfolding scenarios in the country. They know that they cannot trifle, unlike earlier, with the middle class who feels more empowered after the 2008 general elections that paved the way for the exit of President Pervaiz Musharraf the same year, and with the resurgent judiciary that recently convicted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of contempt of court. It is possible that this wait-and-watch posture may continue till the general elections of 2013. If the election results reveal a continuity of the current transformative process and a joining of forces by all the major political parties, particularly the PPP, PML (N) and ANP, the forbearance of the armed forces could extend indefinitely. An active, fearless and articulate media has successfully mid-wifed the process to which professional groups and civil society have contributed in no small way. It could be said that a stronger nation is in the making even as governance remains deficient and partisan, forcing a degree of restraint on the part of the Army.
In the past, the Armed Forces in Pakistan have been a law unto themselves, exercising the largest political clout, and acquiring a corporate identity. They have had no hesitation in subordinating national interests to their own. Their grabbing of a disproportionate chunk of the national budget year after year leaving very little for sustainable human development is evidence of their self engrossment.
But certain developments concerning the armed forces may be compelling its leadership to take a more realistic view of its role and opportunities. The British tradition of a secular outlook is still embraced by the senior generals but the intake into the officer cadre during President Zia-ul-Huq’s years was more conservative and insular and less liberal because of his partiality towards religion. The upcoming generals in the near future are liable to display parochial attitudes Furthermore the direct recruitment to the lowest officer category is now taking place from an expanded middle class which is facing increasing exposure to conservative tides of religion. Army campaigns in the FATA areas against the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan had not gone on well with such sections of the Army, resulting in murmurs against the senior leadership.
The catchment areas for recruitment to the Pakistani Army in Southern Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are also the catchment areas for recruitment of cadres by the militant groups of Punjab. This leads to fears that the new recruits to Pakistan Army could be sharing the ideology of their cousins joining the militants. If the state is threatened more intrinsically by militancy-driven forces in the future, an exigency that cannot be completely ruled out. If one is to go by happenings in the Arab world, sentiments can greatly influence which way the internal ideological balance within the Army will tend to tilt. On this score the Army has already had some disquieting experience during the course of its operations in FATA in 2005 – 2006 against Pakistani Taliban and other militants.