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Aberrations as the norm

There wasn’t any real need for more evidence, but recent events underline again how increasingly divergent the political trajectories of India and Pakistan are.

india Updated: Sep 21, 2009 22:24 IST

There wasn’t any real need for more evidence, but recent events underline again how increasingly divergent the political trajectories of India and Pakistan are. Indians could never conceive of a situation where, say, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam would feel the need to leave tell-all letters about his activities with relatives as an insurance against being imprisoned or, worse, by his own government. Indians also could never imagine a situation where a former military chief and ex-president would threaten to spill State secrets to force New Delhi to end his overseas exile. Yet this was the fate of the ‘father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb,’ A.Q. Khan, and is the present situation of President Pervez Musharraf.

These are only symptoms of a deeper malaise. Because of its obsession with maintaining parity with a much larger India, Pakistan has repeatedly allowed its internal structure to be tampered — and remodelled — by forces broadly indifferent to its development as a democratic society. These have included repeatedly exchanging Pakistan’s foreign policy for arms and money from the United States and China; providing a home to militant Sunni ideologues in the belief that they would overrun Kashmir; and making the Pakistani State sponsors of a nuclear mafia to achieve strategic parity with India. All countries do a bit of dirty on the side. For most, such acts are infrequent and sensible ones try to take corrective measures. Only in Pakistan are such aberrations the norm. And only in Pakistan is so much of the wrong stuff ultimately at the behest of others — whether Washington, Riyadh or Mohammad Hafiz Saeed.

What A.Q. Khan’s “insurance” letters against his own government reveal is how the lack of a stable political culture means that even those inside the establishment cannot be certain what their country will to do to them. This explains the short-term mindset common to all Pakistani leaders. Fully expecting their moment in the sun to end prematurely in exile or worse, their only interest while in power is to accumulate money or win support from foreign governments or Islamicist groups. The final result is a nation whose polity and society are not merely dysfunctional, but whose rules and leaders change with seasons.