Pakistan’s progress

Nine months ago, on June 9 2008, I wrote but did not publish the op-ed article below “Pakistan’s progress” intended for an Indian newspaper.   When the Mumbai massacres took place, I was rather glad I had not come to do so  because its cheer and optimism contrasted too starkly with the vileness and viciousness of the massacres.  Instead I turned to the legal, moral and political implications of the massacres, and several articles are to be found here on Kasab, competing jurisdictions in international law in prosecuting the crimes, and application of the Law of the Sea Treaty (which both countries have ratified) to jointly try and hang the masterminds at sea in international waters.  Pakistan’s initial criminal investigation into the massacres received praise here, and I can only trust that both the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan will remain forensically focussed on that case of mass-murder and other heinous  crimes until its appropriate conclusion.

Meanwhile, recent political events in Pakistan have made the article below relevant again; when it was written Pervez Musharraf had still not departed from office but the more abstract constitutional question raised in the article had to do with the relative powers of the Head of State and Head of Government in the new Pakistan.  With the peaceful restoration of the Chief Justice to his high office, I am glad to say that the question I raised  but did not publish nine months ago, namely, “A rare constitutional consensus might be developing – can it last long enough?”, seems to be headed at present to being answered in the affirmative.

Subroto Roy, Kolkata, India
March 18 2009

Pakistan’s progress: A rare constitutional consensus might be developing – can it last long enough?  Subroto Roy, dated June 9 2008

The dynamic evolution of politics in Pakistan should be judged not against Indian politics (rotten or exemplary as our politics can be at different times) but against its own initial conditions.   It is an unimaginable luxury that Pakistanis in recent months have been discussing such sweet constitutional questions as how to restore judges unseated by soldiers having entered the Supreme Court, what to do with judges who took an oath despite such an abomination, how to maintain diplomatic relations between the PPP and PML(N),  and most important of all, whether the military with its nuclear assets should report to the PM or President – in other words, is the Head of Government or Head of State the Chief Executive?   It is a luxury too that Pervez Musharraf has become almost a distraction in Pakistani politics, that he himself indicates he may be running out of dramatic lines and may be getting ready to exit his country’s political stage, that the Pakistan Army is shocked by its realisation of its loss of prestige in society, that the Ex-Servicemen’s Society thinks Musharraf deserves punishment for having caused such a state of affairs.  Dr Ayesha Siddiqa has pointed out that every Pakistani military strongman has been eventually removed, and has been removed not by democratic forces alone but by intra-military pressure.

It is likely we are at present witnessing such a critical moment, and it is naturally fraught with danger for any civilian prime minister and parliament because any intra-military conflict can descend into mutiny or worse.  Pakistan Army officers have been deeply divided for years over Islamicisation already — onto which is now compounded the issue of loyalty to Musharraf (mostly paid for in American dollars) versus the urge to remove him in the best future interests of the military.  Musharraf himself, with his usual braggadocio, has been claiming fealty to constitutional principles as well; so at least there is agreement on all sides that matters should proceed in an orderly and dignified manner and not by nefarious means.

The relevant comparison of the present situation is with the recent past.  Let us look back just a few years, say to the autumn of 2005 when the initial post 9/11 Western backlash against Pakistan had been renewed after the London Underground bombings.  On 1 September 2005, during the scheduled Islamabad visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary, the PAF launched massive month-long war-games against an assumed Indian enemy.  It involved “the entire fleet, including US-made F-16s, French Mirage fighter aircraft and Chinese-built jets” and “using all assets” in an exercise “closest to war you can get in peacetime”; from the Hindu Kush to the Arabian Sea “8,200 operational sorties” would be flown, Shaukat Aziz witnessing the start, Musharraf the finish.  Hardly had this orgy of militarism concluded when northern Pakistan and parts of J&K were hit by the devastating earthquake; Musharraf visited quake-hit areas still dressed in battle gear down to his para wings.

Pakistanis of all classes were appalled at the ineptitude of their government in face of the earthquake and it was inevitable the military would be held responsible.  What had been the opportunity cost in fungible resources of those “8,200 operational sorties”?  The military’s extremely expensive “assets” were designed for war with India and had bankrupted the country but ordinary people had been left utterly helpless in a natural calamity.  Future historians of Pakistan may well see the 2005 earthquake as a critical turning point in their political development just as the 12 November 1970 cyclone was in the history of Bangladesh.

A modern war between Pakistan and India, even a non-nuclear one, would be like a hundred earthquakes.  Indians have not been so jingoistic as to contemplate such an exchange of destruction but less than a decade ago Gohar Ayub Khan, as Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, was boasting how India would surrender within a few hours in the next war – which was presumably a threat to unleash missiles, even non-nuclear ones, as a first resort against Indian cities and civilian populations.  That such abominable Pakistan-India tension has today come to vanish might have been indicated during the recent IPL cricket final when Kamran Akmal jumped onto Yusuf Pathan or crashed into Mohammad Kaif as commercially driven team-mates led by an Australian captain and associated with what used to be Hindu Rajputana.  So much for the “Two Nations Theory” in the 21st Century.  Maulana Azad seems to have been proven right and MA Jinnah proven wrong after all.

The Pakistani state had become an oppressive war-machine solely guided by anti-Indian paranoia even while ordinary Pakistanis, through modern communications and technology, knew fully well India and Indians were not nearly as bad as the Pakistan Government was making them out to be.  From an official Pakistani point of view, a nuclear bomb (even a purchased and assembled one) was needed out of fear India intended to destroy what remained of West Pakistan – a theory that could arise only from the delusion that Bangladesh had been caused by Indian intrigues.  The Pakistan Army has been reluctant for more than a generation to face up to the reality of its behaviour in East Pakistan and the consequences that resulted; it has been far easier to blame India instead.

Yet Pakistan’s national hero, AQ Khan himself, born in Bhopal and extremely bitter at modern India as many former Indian nationals tend to be, has now said “Never! Never!” will there be an exchange of destruction in nuclear warfare between India and Pakistan.  It may be a wise Indian diplomatic move to invite Dr Khan, stricken with cancer as he is said to be, to make a quiet private visit to his place of birth if he wished to (perhaps followed by a courtesy luncheon at BARC on the way home).

Of course Indians cannot forget the destruction that has been wrought in this country in recent years by our old Bogeyman, the ISI.  Yet it is a fair bet that not only do we not comprehend the workings of that particular bureaucracy, nor do Pakistanis themselves,   indeed the ISI itself may not comprehend itself in the sense that different ISI sections have been and may remain at cross-purposes or conflict with each other as has become apparent in the ongoing official attempts to suppress the new “Taliban”.  Proper civilian control of the ISI is part of the same process as the proper civilian control of the Pakistan military as a whole, and what we are witnessing is nothing less than the first serious constitutional attempt in Pakistan’s history for that to take place.  The whole subcontinent is hopeful and watching Pakistan’s transition.  In the meantime, a milestone was certainly reached on 25 May when Pakistan’s young and brilliant sufi rock band *Junoon* performed in beautiful Srinagar to the delight of thousands of Kashmiris.   The “United Jehad Council” and Syed Ali Shah Geelani had denounced them; in reply the band’s lead guitarist Salman Ahmed had the courage to say: “I want them to join us in the musical *jehad* for peace and ring the bells of harmony.”  For peace to break out will of course require India’s participation and willingness as well.

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