Pakistan At 70: How The Islamic Republic Turned Into A Failed State

Pakistan At 70: How The Islamic Republic Turned Into A Failed State

by Minhaz Merchant - Tuesday, September 5, 2017 07:31 PM IST
Pakistan At 70: How The Islamic Republic  Turned Into A Failed StateA Pakistani man decorates with a portrait country’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, ahead of the country’s Independence Day in Quetta. (BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Pakistan is imploding. The terrorists it bred to bleed India by a thousand cuts are bleeding Pakistan instead.

“Pakistan is pre-programmed to fail.” With those words, my father, an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, left a thin, gangling fellow-student, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in a bad mood.

It was 1950. Bhutto went on to Oxford University to study law before returning to Pakistan. My father, management degree in hand, returned to India to join the family’s manufacturing enterprise.

During his years at Berkeley, Bhutto tried hard to convince other Indian students what a great future his newly-formed country Pakistan had. My father told him why he was wrong: a country founded on theocracy would eventually implode.

Sixty-seven years after that conversation on a northern California campus, those words appear prophetic.

On the 70th anniversary of its founding, Pakistan is in fact imploding. The terrorists it bred to bleed India by a thousand cuts are bleeding Pakistan instead.

Balochistan is in ferment. It is a matter of time before it breaks away from Pakistan. Balochistan was an independent state named Kalat in the British Empire. It was not part of the instruments of accession at Indian Independence and Partition in 1947. In May 1948, the Pakistan Army invaded and annexed it.

The Pakistani daily The Nation published a detailed account on 5 December 2015 of how Pakistan illegally occupied Balochistan, now the centrepiece of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC): “Balochistan accounts for nearly half the land mass of Pakistan and only 3.6 per cent of its total population. The province is immensely rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, copper and gold. Despite these huge deposits of mineral wealth, the area is one of the poorest regions of Pakistan. A vast majority of its population lives in deplorable housing conditions where they don’t have access to electricity or clean drinking water.

“When the Dar-ul-Awam (parliament) of Kalat (Balochistan) met on 21 February 1948, it decided not to accede to Pakistan, but to negotiate a treaty to determine Kalat’s future relations with Pakistan. On 26 March 1948, the Pakistan Army was ordered to move into the Baloch coastal region of Pasni, Jiwani and Turbat. Kalat capitulated on 27 March and it was announced in Karachi that the Khan of Kalat has agreed to merge his state with Pakistan. Jinnah accepted this accession under the gun. It should be noted that the Balochistan Assembly had already rejected any suggestion of forfeiting the independence of Balochistan (Kalat) on any pretext. So even the signature of the Khan of Kalat, taken under the barrel of the gun, was not viable. The Balochistan parliament had rejected the accession. The accession was never mandated by the British Empire either which had given Balochistan independence even before India. The sovereign Baloch state after British withdrawal from India lasted only 227 days. During this time Balochistan had a flag flying in its embassy in Karachi where its ambassador to Pakistan lived.”

Like Balochistan today, Sindh too is in ferment. While lawless Karachi has been partially tamed by the Pakistani Rangers’ concerted action over the past two years, the movement for an independent Sindh remains strong. Running battles between migrant Pashtuns and local activists belonging to the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) continue to rage on Karachi’s debris-laden streets. Further north, the restless tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, governed by Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf, are riven by violence and corruption.

A Pakistani paramilitary soldier stands guard next to posters of slain former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto and her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Larkana. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier stands guard next to posters of slain former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto and her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Larkana. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

It is not the Pakistan founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah had envisioned 70 years ago. Jinnah, like Bhutto, was a reluctant Muslim. A Gujarati Shia Khoja, he ate pork, drank Scotch and married a Parsi. Bhutto married an Iranian and at Berkeley had partied hard. Neither man would have fitted into the fundamentalist Islamic version of today’s Pakistan.

Until the 1960s, my cousins in Karachi and Lahore would triumphantly send me the latest American bestsellers, magazines and electronic gadgets. Pakistan had slid easily from being a British colony to an American colony. American cars sped around the wide avenues of Lahore while India, under Nehruvian socialism, banned most things foreign. America gave India foodgrains under the PL-480 programme while Pakistan’s swaggering generals boasted that their Islamic republic enjoyed a higher per capita income than India, had fought a much larger Indian Army to a draw in 1965 , and with East Pakistan in tow could in future outflank India both militarily and demographically.

The 1970s decisively changed the trajectories of both Pakistan and India. In 1971, Pakistan was split into two. The birth of Bangladesh, with the Indian Army taking over 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war, was the first existential blow. Internally, Pakistan was meanwhile being radicalised. As oil prices spiked in the early 1970s, cash-rich Saudi Arabia began to export its regressive brand of Wahhabism to Islamabad.

In 1974, Bhutto, now Prime Minister, passed one of Pakistan’s most shameful laws declaring Ahmadiyyas heretics. Virtually overnight, the Ahmadiyya community became a non-Muslim minority in theocratic Pakistan. As apostates they could be killed. Many were. Pakistan’s first Nobel laureate Abdus Salam, a theoretical physicist, was disowned. Salam left Pakistan in 1974 to protest the law against Ahmadiyyas. On his death, the Pakistan government removed the word “Muslim” inscribed on his tombstone.

When Bhutto was hanged by Pakistan’s jihadist president General Zia-ul-Haq in 1979, my father wasn’t surprised. He recalled what he’d told Bhutto 27 years earlier at Berkeley: as an Islamic theocracy, Pakistan is doomed.

Until 1979, Pakistan was leased to the West mostly for its strategic real estate. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan that year, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) turned Pakistan into its outsourced jihadi factory to fight the Soviets. When the Soviets retreated 10 years later, they left behind a hardened core of Islamist fighters who could boast of having beaten back the army of one of the world’s two superpowers.

The Soviet Union shortly collapsed but Pakistan was now a full-blown jihadi state. The Islamist terrorists funded and armed by the CIA and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – the two intelligence agencies were and are close – now drifted towards a new theatre of jihad: Kashmir. It was an opportune moment. The rigged Jammu and Kashmir election of 1987 had enraged Kashmiris. Terrorists masquerading as freedom fighters found Kashmir a perfect staging ground. Pakistan was delighted. It sponsored the jihadis and in the violent summers of 1989 and 1990, over three lakh Kashmiri Pandits were driven from their homes into exile in Delhi, Jammu and transit camps elsewhere.

The jihadi seed planted in the 1970s would grow into poison ivy and within decades wrap itself around the Pakistani state.

After the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States in which Saudis and Pakistanis were the principal actors, Pakistan turned from a rentier state to a vassal state. President George W Bush had warned president Pervez Musharraf in a telephone call before launching the “shock and awe” blitzkrieg on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in November 2001 that if Pakistan didn’t cooperate, America would bomb it “into the stone age”.

Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf talks with media representatives at his camp office in Rawalpindi. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf talks with media representatives at his camp office in Rawalpindi. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

Musharraf cooperated. But like every Pakistani general before (and after) him, he ran with the hares and chased with the hounds. The US paid Pakistan an average of $3 billion every year to fight terrorism in Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak). The Pakistani army, a business organisation which controls a third of Pakistan’s gross domestic product, used most of the money to fund its unhinged jihad in India and salted the rest away in foreign bank accounts.

By the 1990s, India’s per capita income had overtaken Pakistan’s. Even as India, under prime minister Narasimha Rao and finance minister Manmohan Singh, liberalised the economy, Pakistan sank deeper into its Islamist swamp. Once you are in quicksand, the harder you try to extricate yourself, the deeper you sink. Swamps don’t easily let go of their victims.

Pakistan is a failed state not just because it is a terrorism hub. It is a failed state because it has failed its citizens across economic and social parameters. In 1950, Pakistan’s per capita income ($643) was higher than India’s ($619). Sixty years later, in 2010, India’s per capita income ($3,372) in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms had overtaken Pakistan’s ($2,494). The gap today has widened further. As Pakistan has turned to violent extremism, its economy has slowed. The Pakistani Army is the principal culprit. It has used terrorism as state policy against India and in the process enriched itself but impoverished Pakistan.

Pakistan society, meanwhile, has splintered into several disparate bits. The army, a giant financial corporation and terrorist organiser, is all-powerful. Nobody defies it. The mullahs have their madrassas and meticulously radicalise impoverished Pakistani youth. Elected politicians are allowed some freedom but everyone knows – as the Dawn leaks showed – who calls the shots.

The Dawn Leaks refers to a story broken by Dawn journalist Cyril Almedia of a confidential meeting on 6 October 2016, shortly after India’s cross-Line of Control (LoC) surgical strike, between Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders. During the meeting, the Nawaz Sharif government warned the army of Pakistan’s likely international isolation if more action wasn’t taken against terror groups operating from Pakistan. The government was subsequently arm-twisted to deny the leaked account of the meeting which it said was “fabricated”. Almedia was put on an exit control list and relations between the army and civilian government plunged before the army reasserted its dominance.

The judiciary and civil society form the saner parts of Pakistan but many judges themselves are now radicalised. Religious murders based on blasphemy (like former Punjab governor Salman Taseer’s) are tolerated by the judiciary. It doesn’t dare prosecute an army officer for corruption in the manner it has prosecuted disgraced former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Civil society is so fragmented and weak that no one in Pakistan pays it much attention anymore. The media tries to be robust but the murders of several journalists over the years by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has made it toothless and fearful.

Pakistanis know they live in a failed state. They escape their reality by seeking refuge in Arab arms, pretending they have Arab or Central Asian ancestry. The truth of course is that most Pakistanis are former Hindus. Their forefathers were converted to Islam over the centuries of the Mughal conquest of South Asia just as the Muslims of India and Bangladesh were.

Like all newcomers to a faith, Pakistan’s Muslims try to ingratiate themselves with the original Muslims (Arabs). It doesn’t matter to most Pakistani Muslims that Arabs call them “Hindu-Muslims” or that terror groups like the Islamic State (IS) use them to clean toilets, regarding them unfit to fight on the front in Syria and Iraq against the US-led forces.

Faced with a terror backlash that has consumed thousands of Pakistani lives, Islamabad has placed all its remaining eggs in China’s basket. With the US ceasing much of its annual aid, Beijing has emerged as a timely saviour. It is though in reality one more step towards the abyss. In the 1960s, Pakistan was a rentier state. In the 1980s, it became a factory for jihadis. In the 2000s, it morphed into America’s duplicitous hired gun. Now it is on the way to becoming China’s economic colony.

The $56-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is touted as Pakistan’s lifeline. There are three pitfalls in this theory: Balochistan, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan. Gwadar Port, where the CPEC begins, lies in insurgency-hit Balochistan. Pakistani army convoys are coming under increasing attack by Baloch freedom fighters. With the CPEC passing through PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan, both sovereign Indian territory, on its way to China’s Xinjiang, the legality of the CPEC is questionable. China is building infrastructure in the CPEC through loans to Pakistan. The debt will make Pakistan a Chinese dependency.

Pakistan’s factory of jihad, aimed at India, has meanwhile reached over-capacity. Surplus production of terrorists inevitably targets the creator. When Pakistanis claim victimhood, saying they are the biggest victims of terrorism, they deliberately ignore the fact that, unlike India, they are the victims of their own made-to-order terrorists.

An activist of the Pakistan Peoples Party holds pictures of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and his father former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Lahore during a rally. (ARIF ALI/AFP/GettyImages)
An activist of the Pakistan Peoples Party holds pictures of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and his father former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Lahore during a rally. (ARIF ALI/AFP/GettyImages)

When my father told Bhutto in 1950 that Pakistan was pre-programmed to fail, he didn’t realise how precipitous that failure would be. Bhutto himself fell victim to Pakistan’s lawless theocracy 29 years later when he was hanged by General Zia in 1979. His daughter Benazir – who created the Taliban that today ravages Afghanistan and has turned the brave Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand line implacably hostile to Pakistan’s Punjabi-led army – fell to an assassin 30 years later.

A nation born by the sword will, in the end, be impaled by it.

Minhaz Merchant is an author and publisher. 

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