The burden of being Pakistan

Our northwestern neighbour is on the boil with violent mobs going on the rampage in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Islamabad

There is an unreported civil war raging in Pakistan. The country is on the boil as never before, except when its eastern wing rebelled and seceded in 1971. Several weeks ago, there were huge processions in the Sindh towns, with a few Indian flags too being waved. Recently, violent crowds were on the rampage in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. This agitation has already killed 100-odd people, including at least four policemen; others were injured and some abducted. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s regime has blocked social media access across the country, reflecting the state of affairs. These protests are ostensibly because of the French Government’s stand that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, published in 2013, are an inalienable part of the freedom of press.

The rioting in Pakistan is being orchestrated by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik-e-Pakistan Ya Rasool Allah (TLPYRA). One of the new extremist outfits, also called the TLP, it is a Barelvi party founded in 2015 by a virulent cleric, Khadim Rizvi. It is an extremist Sunni organisation advocating hatred of all others, including Shias. Khadim passed away in November 2020 but his 26-year old son, Saad Rizvi, now leads the agitation. The TLP also contested elections; it got 22 lakh votes in the 2018 polls.

The rioting has made most French citizens leave Pakistan. Whether Islamabad’s misrule is approaching its climax, is not India’s business. What is our business though, is the apprehension of desperate common folk crossing over into Rajasthan. We are familiar with infiltration from Pakistan’s former eastern wing and have not been able to do much about the millions illegally settled in India. Do we wish to risk another episode, this time from the western wing? The area beyond Jaisalmer in Rajasthan is not fenced, while other portions have barbed wire fencing.

What should worry Pakistan is that within five years of being born, the TLP has gained immense ground and now confronts the State head on. Some observers say this is leading to a situation worse than in even neighbouring Afghanistan. Pakistan’s internal order is far from stable. Imran is clearly reluctant to act against the TLP, symptomatic of the fault lines in a nuclear weapon State. It appears that the TLP is either powerfully backed or is actually popular.

Regardless of the current agitation, Pakistan’s economics have been steadily eroding. Take a micro aspect; President Ayub Khan had in the 1960s apprehended that the country would run out of beef unless consumption was restrained. So, he declared Fridays as meatless days. Over time, American aid to Pakistan rose to $4 billion. This US largesse might have helped import essentials other than military purchases. Life in Pakistan went along merrily, but eventually this aid declined and ended, forcing it to turn to China. The Chinese alternative is proving exorbitant in terms of interest payments as well as the likely dilution of sovereignty. Pakistan has never had the habit of paying taxes. Any revenue from those who paid was welcomed by the State.

The Pakistan Army is exorbitantly expensive due to its commercial ventures. Senior officers are not only soldiers but also run profitable enterprises. Since the advent to power of General Zia-ul-Haq, many institutions in Pakistan, particularly the military, underwent radicalisation. The armed forces, like their Indian counterparts, inherited a fine tradition from the British but have now become part-soldiers and part-Islamists. Many countries mix religion and Government, but mixing religion with the Army is fraught with disaster.

None of this should come as a surprise. Qaid-e-Azam MA Jinnah was an excellent advocate and a political debater, but knew no governance. In any case, he was dying with tuberculosis when Pakistan came into being. His successor Liaquat Ali Khan was a zamindar, not a nation-builder, and was assassinated before long. It was political musical chairs thereafter, with no Prime Minister lasting for long. General Ayub Khan seized power, a decisive proof of governance failure.

Ayub was replaced by General Yahya Khan who presided over the secession of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as the PM played for himself and not for Pakistan. He tricked and murdered his way to electoral victory. Zia-ul-Haq overthrew his Government and hanged him to become the President. Zia Islamised Pakistan, but did nothing beyond. Pakistan has had three Constitutions, all of which begin by stating that the country’s sovereignty belongs to Allah the Merciful, something even Saudi Arabia’s Constitution does not do.

Pakistan has had three long phases of direct military rule. General Musharraf, on the morrow of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York, switched from Islam to America. He had no choice. By then Pakistan was already a mess and nothing could be done to reform or reorganise it. Pakistan, by its very nature, is an artificial State, created by a brilliant lawyer who knew nothing of history, politics and governance. All he was obsessed with was his place in the hall of history.

(The writer is a well-known columnist and an author. The views expressed are personal.)

Source: The Pioneer