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Client-state compulsions

With all its institutions of legitimate governance trampled beyond recognition, Pakistan today is a country with a murky past and uncertain future, writes Vikram Sood.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2007 04:54 IST

ACT I, Scene 1, Islamabad, March 9: General Musharraf in full army regalia summons the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and dismisses him for being too serious about his job.

Act I, Scene 2: the next day stormtroopers smash the office of a private TV channel for telecasting the truth.

Act II, Scene 1, Manchester, March 21: two suspected terrorists are arrested on their way to their alma mater somewhere in Pakistan.

Act III, Scene 5, Jamaica, March 22: the Pakistani cricket team is held for questioning in the suspected murder of their coach. A wonderful global advertisement of rank bad behaviour.

At school, Brother McCann used to say that one could judge the character of a person from the way he behaved on the playing field. He used to say that you could distinguish between the magnanimous victor and the poor loser and how each would play out his life. One wonders how old McCann would have reacted to the Pakistani behaviour in the West Indies. As with individuals, so with nations.

Pakistan has always reacted thus in any adversity. Each adventure with India has led to immediate retribution at home — a change of government (post-1965), division of the country (1971) or a coup on the last occasion in 1999. This is possibly because Pakistan has never been allowed by its military rulers to be what one would call a ‘normal’ country. Mohammad Ali Jinnah had once boasted that he had won Pakistan with the help of a clerk and a typewriter. Pakistan was conceived by a group of the elite that had never lived in the part of the country that was to be theirs.

The campaign was fought ostensibly on behalf of millions who were ultimately willing to stay behind and on behalf of people who were really not interested in this new entity. Some of them like the Baloch led by the Khan of Kalat or the Pathans led by Badshah Khan were opposed to the idea of a merger with Pakistan.

The problems for Pakistan began right at the beginning when governance was hijacked by the Punjabi feudals and their bureaucracy and then with vehemence and tenacity by the Punjabi army. Over time, Pakistan’s USP became its ability to be a nuisance in the neighbourhood while being a client-state of distant powers. It was this military and economic sustenance from friends that gave Pakistani rulers the false sense of power and influence in the region as the people were misled in a march towards a khaki rainbow of greatness and glory.

From its early days, Pakistani rulers denied their new country’s Indo-Gangetic past and promised its people a glorious Islamic future with its moorings away from ‘Hindu’ India. India had a glorious past but its future in 1947 was uncertain. The Cold War painted India as a Soviet ally and we were sneered at for our ‘Hindoo’ rate of growth. With all its institutions of legitimate governance trampled beyond recognition, Pakistan today is a country with a murky past and uncertain future. India, on the other hand, despite its institutions having been mauled, has orderly changes of government and an assured future. Not for a moment can anyone in India dream that the President or the Prime Minister would summon the Chief Justice and then sack him. Nothing defines the nature of Pakistan or its leaders more than this single episode and the contrast between the two countries.

There are many who believe in the glib phraseology of ‘enlightened moderation’ and that Musharraf will restore democracy in Pakistan. But a General who leads an army that wants to retain total control of the country, where criticism of the army is blasphemy and alternative opinion is unacceptable, can hardly be expected to champion democracy. And then he is in the company of retrograde mullahs unwilling to give equal rights to women and those who pursue other faiths but willing to preach jehad to their young. The General himself stifles dissent at home and forcefully discourages probity while promising freedom to the Kashmiris. Now that is rich. And we negotiate with him, in the hope that this shining beacon of democracy will bring everlasting peace to the subcontinent. That is naive. A man who has been two-timing his principal protectors and benefactors is hardly likely to play fair with ‘enemy’ India.

In the midst or as part of sustained pressure, the US Congress is legislating conditionalities for continued assistance to Pakistan. These do not relate to restoration of democracy but ensure that Pakistan does what is expected of it in protecting American interests in Afghanistan, hunting al-Qaeda and possibly deconstructing Iran. American public adulation of Musharraf is currently matched by private concerns about his reluctance or inability to help, leading to loud speculation about his obsolescence. Yet Pakistan remains America’s eastern flank — a vital piece of real estate — for its West Asia policies and strategies.

A new strategy seems to be evolving in the intensely complicated politics of West Asia where greater reliance is to be placed on friendly Sunni regimes to tackle the growing power of Shia Iran. Seymour Hersh’s latest piece (The Redirection) in the New Yorker provides details of this new policy that plans to widen the Shia-Sunni conflict. Commenting on this, Tom Engelhardt (Tomdispatch.com) fears that al-Qaeda may be used for this to launch an anti-Soviet type Sunni jehad against the Iranians.

There is an interesting twist in the tale here. Away from the prying eyes of the Congress and the world, there have been reports of western Baloch territory being used by the US for forays into Iran, first referred to by Hersh in his report in June 2004. This is part of a multi-pronged targeting of Iran through other groups like the Azeris in Iran’s north and Iranian Kurds.

It seems to be a three-way arrangement. The US special forces continue to get into Iran from western Balochistan. Recently, the Iranians complained about Pakistani activities in Zahedan. The Pakistanis, in anticipation of the day the Americans leave Afghanistan, use the Taliban from their bases in upper Balochistan to act in south and south-eastern Afghanistan while pretending to take action against them.

There are also reports that the Taliban are distancing themselves from al-Qaeda as the latter cannot deliver Afghanistan to them through terrorism, including suicide attacks. Only Pakistan can help with sanctuaries, weapons that include SAM-7s, and money. Finally, al-Qaeda gets redeployed from the Fata region for duty against Shia Iran.

The recent killings of 150 or more militants (including Chechens, Arabs and Uzbeks) in the Fata region could be real or a camouflage for this redeployment. If so, this bizarre but highly explosive game is being played in our neighbourhood.

In the US list of priorities, what happens to Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry is just an unnecessary irritant but nothing must happen to Musharraf. This is a short-term view designed to rescue America’s battered West Asia policy. But over time, it seems that the anti-incumbency factor has begun to affect the Pakistan army. Unless the General reads the writing on the wall and announces that he is no longer running for presidency, allows exiled politicians to return and restores the democratic process, Pakistan will slip further and further away into extremism. Or, just slip away.

Vikram Sood is former Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing