Monday, August 13, 2007

Reflecting on Pak History

As part of a commemorative series of articles marking 60 years on from Partition, BBC provides a short objective summary of where we went wrong.

It is now up to us - the civil society of Pakistan - to start rectifying the damage that has been wrought upon us for these past six decades. It will not be an easy task, but at least we have finally been given a chance to do something about it.

We have to be realists and accept that it will not be an easy task.

(Your Blogger would like to optimistically add: Once we get rid of the Military interference in our body politic, the next logical step would be to ask all our doomsayers and other pessimists to kindly shut up!)

Pakistan's circular history
By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News

The story of Pakistan is one of remorseless tug and pull between the civilian and military rulers on the one hand, and the liberal and religious forces on the other.

In the process, the country has failed to become either a democracy, a theocracy or a permanent military dictatorship.

The chief casualties have been the rule of law, the state institutions and the process of national integration, with grave consequences for the civil society.

The eastern wing - now Bangladesh - that housed a majority of the country's population, seceded after a civil war in 1971.

The situation in the rest of the country is just as grim.

The "Talebanisation" of the north-western region is one manifestation of the prevalent disorder; an unending separatist campaign by nationalists in the south-western Balochistan province is another.

Meanwhile, sectarian and ethnic tensions have kept the two largest provinces - namely Punjab, which is the bread-basket of the country, and Sindh, which is its trading and industrial mainstay - perennially instable.

How and why did all this come about?

Hybrid system

The country was born in 1947 with a clean slate and a potential to follow in one of two directions.

It could opt for democracy. It had inherited democratic institutions and experience from the colonial rule, and was itself the creation of a democratic process involving national elections, parliamentary resolutions and a referendum.

Or it could become an Islamic emirate. The Pakistan movement was based on the theory that the Muslims of India were a nation and had a right to separate statehood.

They were granted separate electorate by the British rulers, and used Islamic identity as their main election slogan in 1937 and 1946.

But instead of making a clear choice, the early leaders tried to mix the two, and inadvertently sparked a series of political, legal and religious debacles that define today's Pakistan.

In political terms, democracy has been the first casualty of this hybrid system.

Its foundations were shaken by two controversial decisions made by the country's founder and first Governor-General, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

He dismissed the Congress-led government of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) by decree, and instead of ordering fresh elections, appointed a Muslim League leader as the chief minister with the mandate to whip up parliamentary support for himself.

Secondly, he declared to a large Bengali speaking audience in Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan, that Urdu would be the only state language.


The first action created a precedent for Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad, a former bureaucrat, to dismiss the country's first civilian government in 1953.

Since then, the governor-generals, presidents and army chiefs have dismissed as many as ten civilian governments that together ruled the country for 27 years. The remaining 33 years have seen direct military rule.

Mr Jinnah's second action alienated the Bengali population of the eastern wing, and set a precedent for the West Pakistani rulers to neutralise the numerical superiority of East Pakistan through legal entrapments and outright disenfranchisement.

After the secession of East Pakistan in 1971, the military rulers have repeatedly vitiated the federal and parliamentary character of the 1973 Constitution, thereby alienating the three smaller provinces of the remaining country.

Legal safeguards against tyranny fell by the wayside in 1954 when the Supreme Court justified the governor-general's dismissal of the government and the parliament by invoking the controversial 'theory of necessity'.

The theory has endured, and nearly every dismissal of a civilian government and every military takeover have been upheld by the higher judiciary, undermining democratic traditions.

On their part, the military rulers have co-opted both surrogate politicians and religious extremists as instruments of political strategy and national security policy.

The political recruits have provided a civilian façade to military governments, while religious - and sometimes ethnic - extremists have tended to distract and destabilise governments run by secular political forces.

Aid to dictators

Last, but not least, the Americans have tended to use their crucial financial and military support selectively against democratic governments.

The pattern is unmistakably clear.

The first large-scale American food and military aid started to pour into Pakistan in late 1953, months after the dismissal of its first civilian government.

It continued for a decade as Pakistan under a military regime joined various US-sponsored defence pacts against the Soviet Union.

The US started having problems with Pakistan when an elected government came to power in 1972, but poured billions of dollars into the country when another military regime took over in 1977 and agreed to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Similarly, while the elected governments that followed during 1988-99 had to live with a decade of US sanctions, the military regime of Gen Musharraf, that ousted the last civilian government in 1999, remains a 'well supplied' ally in the US' 'war on terror'.

There are, however, indications that the Americans may finally be getting fed up with Gen Musharraf, just as they got fed up with General Ayub Khan when he started to warm up to the Soviet Union after the 1965 war with India, or of General Zia-ul Haq when the Soviets decided to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 1987.

There is also a gathering political storm on the horizon, in keeping with the cyclical pattern of the country's political weather.

As elections approach, exiled leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, both former prime ministers, threaten to return to the country with the express aim of effecting a regime change.

But Gen Musharraf, like his predecessors, is fighting to keep his military office and his special powers under the constitution to dismiss governments and parliaments.

Thus, the story of Pakistan continues to be one of despotic regimes using religious extremists and external support to keep the secular democratic forces at bay; and when these forces do assert themselves, to tie them down in legal constraints that are designed to ensure their failure.

It is the story of a society that has been going round in circles for the last 60 years.


Hira said...

we know whr we went wrong...its just nobody bothers doing anything about it.. ...infact its getting worse.. ...

Onlooker said...


Be positive!

After 60 years we have finally got a free press that took on all the viciousness the agencies could hand out; the same applies to our judiciary.

In my book both Benazir, Nawaz Sharif or whoever is next will be held accountable like never before. I don't think they are even aware of what is going to hit them.

Importantly there has been a sea change in the public perception of how things ought to be. The lawyers and the liberal civil society have become galvanized for once.

It is time we all joined/supported them.

Anonymous said...

Onlooker: I absolutely agree with you. It is do or die now for Pakistan and civil society and the new media are feeling empowered to do something about the situation.

This is the time for all of us to stand with them in whatever capacity we can.

HAPPY 14th August to all of us...there is finally a glimmer of hope. MAHI

Anonymous said...

An op-ed by Roedad Khan today that is well worth reading. MAHI

August Tuesday, 14, 2007

The Nation


On the ropes

On August 14, 1947, I was a free man, proud citizen of a free, independent, and sovereign country which I could call my own, a country I could live for and die for. I was young-twenty four to be precise- full of joie de vive, idealism, hope and ambition. To quote Wordsworth: ‘bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. But to be young was very heaven.’ On that day, we dreamed of a shining city on the hill and the distant bright stars. It was a day that should never have ended. For it was like a dream come true, and carried with it a sense of pride, of excitement, of satisfaction, and of jubilation that it is doubtful whether any other can ever come up to it. On that day, over a century and a half of British rule came to an end. The Union Jack was lowered for the last time. I saw the sun set on the British Empire in the sub-continent. I witnessed its dissolution and the emergence of two independent sovereign countries.
Today, Pakistan is a shadow of what it used to be. What is there to celebrate? We lost half the country in a totally unnecessary and easily avoidable civil war. Today, the Federation is united only by a ‘Rope of Sand’. 60 years after independence Pakistan is under army rule for the fourth time and at war with itself. It has a disjointed, dysfunctional, lopsided, hybrid, artificial, political system - a non-sovereign rubber stamp parliament, a weak and ineffective Prime Minister, appointed by a powerful president in military uniform. As we look back at all the squandered decades, it is sad to think that for Pakistan it has been a period of unrelieved decline and the dream has turned sour.
Poverty has deepened. While life at the top gets cushier, millions of educated unemployed, the flower of our nation, and those at the bottom of the social ladder, are fleeing the country and desperately trying to escape to the false paradises of the Middle East and the West. The rich are getting richer, while the poor are getting more and more impoverished. The middle classes seem defeated. There was a time when they were the key to prosperity and national stability. Now they appear submissive in the face of a drastic drop in the quality of their life. All these years, the people organised their lives in terms of a better future for themselves and their children. But with the passage of time, the future has quite literally shrunk and the present has stretched out.
Eight years of army rule have reduced us collectively to a plantation of slaves. Our entire political system has been pulled into a black hole. Public criticism of those ruling Pakistan has become widespread. The army, once held in high esteem, is now being seen in a different light. Army rule has eroded people’s faith in themselves as citizens of a sovereign, independent, democratic country. The result is the mess we are in. The country appears to be adrift, lacking confidence about its future. Never before has public confidence in the country’s future sunk so low.
October 12, 1999 will go down in our history as another sad milestone on the downward path. This is the darkest era in the history of Pakistan since 1971. The independence of Pakistan is a myth. Pakistan is no longer a free country. It is no longer a democratic country. American military personnel cross and re-cross our border without let and or hindrance. They violate our air space with impunity, kill innocent men, women and children in Waziristan and Bajaur. To please the Americans, the government has deployed over 80,000 troops in the rugged tribal area and is fighting a proxy war against its own people. It has handed over more than 700 so-called Al-Qaeda militants to the United States as its contribution to the American war on terrorism. More than 500 soldiers, the flower of our army, have died fighting Wazir and Mahsud tribesmen. For what?
The nation has been forced against its will to accept a totalitarian democracy. The Pakistan Mr Jinnah founded is gone. It disappeared the day Generals used the army as an instrument for grabbing political power. On that day, the lights went out. Pakistan slid into darkness. The eight long years the regime has remained in power will go down in history as “the nightmare years”. The nightmare is not over yet.
One thing is clear. If Pakistan is to survive, army must be placed outside the turbulent arena of political conflict. The secession of East Pakistan made it abundantly clear that the Federation cannot survive except as a democratic state based on the principle of sovereignty of the people and supremacy of civilian rule. People are getting fed up with military rulers. The people of Pakistan have crossed the psychological barrier and overcome fear. They will resist if General Musharraf tries to perpetuate his rule through rigged elections or extra-constitutional measures. Now that members of the Bar, civil society and political activists have taken to the streets in defence of our core institutions, things will change. The statusquo will shift, dictatorship will crumble, and people will once again believe in the power of the powerless. The long nightmare will be over. It will be morning once again in Pakistan.
With the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary, people have suddenly woken up as if from a deep slumber, and are demanding end to military rule and return to authentic, unadulterated democracy. Democracy, which all these years was in limbo, stalled, waiting for a strong breeze to carry it forward, is once again on the march in Pakistan. Islamabad had never witnessed such electrifying, intoxicating scenes Thousands of protestors - members of Bar in black coats and black ties, political party activists, members of civil society, all marching up and down the Constitution Avenue, flags flying and drums beating, is unprecedented in the history of Islamabad. This is not a sign of Pakistan’s decline or threatening doom. It is a sign of Pakistan’s vitality. It is evidence of a new beginning.
General Musharraf has painted himself into a corner. While he no longer has many true believers, he still has plenty of enablers in key positions - people who understand the folly of his actions, but refuse to do anything to stop him. It is not too late for General Musharraf to spare the country the trauma and himself the disgrace of another confrontation with the Supreme Court. There is a simple way out: he should announce that he will not contest the presidential election, seek forgiveness and depart.

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