Pakistan’s crisis is 74 years old

ByHindustan Times
Aug 23, 2023 03:55 PM IST

This article is authored by Tara Kartha, distinguished fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

It’s a strange thing to see at any time, even in Pakistan. A president of a country uses social media to deny that he signed on to legislation severe corrosive of fundamental rights, creating a constitutional crisis. Even more unusual, its parliament had signed some 108 bills into law, including those giving substantially more powers to the Pakistan Army, just before it was dissolved on August 10. And even as Prime Minister (PM) Modi was addressing cheering crowds in Delhi on Independence ay, in Pakistan an army chief, did the honours a day earlier. It’s a rare ‘democracy’ country that doesn’t have an elected representative presiding. A flood of abuse on social media castigated the Chief even as the country’s leading thinkers seemed deeply saddened with their country’s trajectory. But this is the result of decisions made over years, that set the seal on what is now a dangerously unstable state, faced with perennial debt, and loss of sovereignty.

Pakistan crisis(Fondazione CESV)
Pakistan crisis(Fondazione CESV)

Consider some statistics. Following independence, it took three governor generals, four PMs, two constituent assemblies (1947-1954 & 1955-1956), and nine years of protracted constitution making process to produce the first constitution of Pakistan in 1956. It was rejected on the final day of its adoption (February 29,1956) by all Hindu minority parties and the largest Muslim political party, which was the Awami League from the then East Pakistan. Political instability led to imposition of the first martial law on October 7,1958 by General Ayub Khan, who enacted the 1962 constitution to the country through an executive order. The current constitution, enacted by the third constituent assembly in 1973, was twice suspended by military coups, with military regimes amending it in ways that fundamentally changed its Islamic and federal character. One such was the grant of power to the president to dissolve the lower house of the federal legislature. That proved to be the death – sometimes literally – of many a PM. In other words, by the time Pakistan got a ‘stable’ constitution, India had already been functioning as a noisy and no doubt unruly democracy for three decades.

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Arising from this, Pakistan, constitutionally a parliamentary democracy, has had a total of 29 PMs since 1947.On 18 occasions, they have been removed on different pretexts, including corruption charges, direct military coups and forced resignations. There were two assassinations, and one hanging. Pakistan has been under direct military rule for some 33 years of its 74 years of independence, and under a so called ‘hybrid’ thereafter after. As Imran Khan was driven out, the ‘hybrid’ is only nominal. The caretaker PM Anwarul Haq Kakar is a complete establishment man. Don’t just blame the khakis however. Politicians connived at destabilising their opponents using every institution available. Imran Khan was no exception, using the National Accountability Bureau to the maximum. The fact that not a single PM has completed his or her term, is not just a technicality. That means that continuity of policy is sacrificed, as well as building of democratic institutions, however flawed. Indian politics is as noisy as it gets. But governments have a continuity of policy, backed by a bureaucracy that knows its files. In Pakistan, a once highly competent bureaucracy suffered due to politicisation and abandonment of merit based criteria.

Pakistan first went to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1958, but did not draw the funds. It went back in 1965 and hasn’t looked back since, with the Bhutto government forced to go the Bank at least three times, and each incoming government seems to have run to the Bank, with promises of reforms and monetary tightening. However, up till the mid 1970’s, Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was much better than India’s, with the latter struggling with a GDP of 3.3 % to Pakistan’s 7.1 % (1973). But after two wars with India, Pakistan’s total external debt began to rise, sky rocketing after about 2005 onwards, - with this particularly apparent in terms of debt to GDP ratio. After that period comes the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (2015) and there’s no looking back. The Shaukat Aziz government, followed by the Yousef Raza Gillani leadership all had to return to the IMF. It’s not that democratic governments didn’t try. Sharif’s first tenure saw the opening up of the economy – a key requirement of the bank, but this was not pursued by the next government, unlike India where PM Manmohan’s Singh’s reforms were carried on by the new Vajpayee government. Musharraf went on with a series of important reforms which ran out of steam as he began his confrontation with the judiciary. A former Governor of the State Bank points out that lack of ownership of reforms was a key issue, and since governments were short term, so were the measures adopted, shying away from harsh measures for political survival. The Shabaz Sharif government went out announcing a 35% hike in pay, and a 15 per cent in Government pensions, despite a totally unsustainable debt of some 5.6 trillion Pakistani rupees India too was under threat of sovereign default in 1991. It took PM Narasimha Rao and his finance minister Manmohan Singh to institute harsh measures like rupee devaluation and a fundamentally new industrial policy. That’s accountability. Today India is the 13th largest quota holder in the IMF with shareholdings of 2.75%.

Not so long ago, Imran Khan was furiously declaiming before his public that Pakistan was being arm twisted by the United States (US) for its support to Russia ( following his disastrous visit to Moscow) but India did as it pleased. He was right. But then one can hardly expect a ‘independent’ foreign policy when the economy is desperate for a bail out from an international Bank, where Washington holds the largest shares. Pakistan fell into the US’s arms with a Mutual Defence Agreement in 1954, followed by the South East Asian Treaty Organisation, and later the Central Treaty organization. Following this, aid to Pakistan rose from a paltry $68 mn to $377 million less than a decade later. That naturally came with strings. As Pakistan ‘normalised’ relations with China under foreign minister Bhutto, the US held off its meetings for aid, and cancellation of President Ayub Khan’s visit a few days before. Aid was resumed after Bhutto resigned. Meanwhile India steered clear of much of these with Non-Alignment Movement, though it took American food aid ( PL-480) ending this as the US tried to arm twist it by stopping it during a famine, objecting to Delhi’s criticism on Vietnam . On December 29, 1971, AP Shinde, minister of state for agriculture announced cancellation of all grain imports from the US even before the existing PL-480 agreement had expired. That followed a bumper rabi crop, even as the US ‘'tilt' to Pakistan became evident. Yahya Khan was diplomatically agile in using the ‘China card’, but that nurtured dependency. US economic aid rose to $2.5bn rising steeply after the Soviets invaded.

Pakistan managed to skip nimbly and profitably between the US and China for years, but the relationship with China proceeded largely along the same lines. Pakistan took its first ‘interest free’ loan in 1964 ,and later some $200 mn in loans were deferred – a practice that was to continue - and new loans provided after the 1965 war. This was like providing opium to an addict, and in sum Islamabad ended up being in debt to both. In one respect, however, Pakistan gained. With the military leaders at the helm, its defence industrial base grew with China providing assistance to set up the Heavy Mechanical Complex at Taxila, the basics of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, with the Pakistan Ordnance Factory taking on Sweden, France and other countries in its rapid expansion. Indian defence industry however remained on a lower priority for elected governments that was targeting growth for its voters.

As Pakistan teeters on the edge, its president at odds with the parliament, and the economy sliding ever downwards, its tempting to focus on the undoubtedly bizarre actions of the present Army chief, with the large scale arrests, and the complete erosion of even a pretence of democracy. But the rot has been setting in for years, aided and abetted by decision makers at all levels, political and non-political, as well as self-interest of major powers like the US and China. But at the heart of all this, is one single issue, which is that Pakistan has not been able to resign itself to the fact that living in peace with India might actually be good for its health. Hostility to India has determined its national trajectory, leading to the growth of a security state rather than a secure one.

This article is authored by Tara Kartha, distinguished fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

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