Friday, August 17, 2007

Theocracy in military green

We can learn an ulearned lesson from Pakistan. It shows a glowing image of the effect of military take over on political governments. We're sharing this thought provoking article with our readers from Hardnews August edition:
Pakistan is not destined to be a dictatorship. South Asia has a big stake in a Pakistan that is politically and religiously moderate, pluralist, inclusive and committed to subordinating its military to civilian control

By: Praful Bidwai Delhi

The cataclysmic events at Lal Masjid in Islamabad, which led to its storming, have delivered a seismic shock to Pakistan. Whether or not the mosque's takeover by radical jehadi elements was inspired by Al-Qaeda's plans to open a 'new front' in Pakistan, as some reports allege, its consequences have proved nearly as dramatic as the September 2001 bombings in highlighting the menace that militant Wahhabi Islam represents in different parts of the world, including Muslim-majority countries.

What does Lal Masjid signify? Is it yet another crisis, albeit grave, in a long series of processes that spell Pakistan's disintegration? Or can it be turned, especially, after the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry, into an opportunity to radically restructure Pakistani society and put it on the road to moderation?

Many Indian 'analysts', especially, military hawks, are chortling with glee at Pakistan's predicament — Islamabad, which fervently promoted jehad, is hoist with its own petard! They dismiss all concerns about Pakistan's stability or integrity by asserting that these can be related to India only by reducing India's interests to 'parity' with a country one-eighth its size! Some argue that India cannot, and should not make peace with Pakistan's military. Rather, it should watch impassively, as Pakistan hurtles towards instability, political vacuum, guerrilla warfare and civil war.

Sober reflections suggest otherwise. Lal Masjid was admittedly the culmination of several anomalies and crises in Pakistan, including a crisis of governance and a crisis of political authority, besides Islam's long-term doctrinal corruption and its Wahh-abi reinterpretation. But it's also a crossroad. From here, Pakistan can either race towards State failure, or it can recover, democratise and 'normalise' itself.

Independent Pakistan's 60 years has been a story of many failures and very modest achievements. Pakistan was born in intense rivalry with India, struggled to define itself through religion, and never had a chance to stabilise itself as a constitutional democracy with crystallised parties and institutions — before it suffered the first shock of military rule amidst a crisis of civilian governance.

Pakistan's leaders allowed their country to be sucked into cold war rivalry at the cost of erosion of its national sovereignty, and by sustaining hostility towards its major neighbours. This increased the internal weight of an already overbearing military.

Absence of land reform and other measures to weaken the social stranglehold of the feudal classes meant that the infrastructure for civilian democracy remained weak, but the military bureaucratic complex flourished. Bereft of a State ideology with a universal, secular, modernist appeal, Pakistan's rulers sought legitimacy for themselves through religion, specifically, Islam, which they differentiated from its popular/folk versions and Sufi influences. But the appeal to religion could not save Pakistan from dismemberment and the emergence of an independent Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh crisis thoroughly exposed the myopia and anti-democratic character of the westernised Pakistan elite, and put a question-mark over the viability of the two-nation theory. Meanwhile, Pakistan's regional imbalances remained skewed, with Punjab dominating the nation and claiming a disproportionate share of its resources.

By the late 1970s, Pakistan's evolution seemed to be firmly determined by three contradictions. These include — tension between Islam as an official religion, and the requirements of a modern State in a culturally diverse society, fundamental imbalances between military and civilian authority; and regional mal-distribution of power, leading to ethnic discontent. In the absence of democracy for a prolonged period, Pakistan has only coped with ethnic and social discontent with the utmost awkwardness, and often with great violence.

Economically, Pakistan was endowed with higher resources per capita than India but failed to develop a strategy for using them optimally for development. In social and educational terms, Pakistan remains a laggard, with a United Nations Human Development Index rank of 134, among 177 countries in 2006 (India is 126th).

Following the Bangladesh war, the Pakistani State got increasingly militarised and pursued (like India) nuclear weapons development, which invited sanctions from the US. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan of 1979 marked a turning point. Covert US and Saudi operations to arm the Islamist radical mujahedeen against the 'communist enemy' turned General Zia-ul Haq's Pakistan into America's frontline ally, strengthened its military, and increased the weight of religion in society and politics. The mujahedeen, precursors to the Taliban, overran Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. Pakistan's rulers directed some of the militant Islamists under their influence towards Indian Kashmir after an insurrection broke out there in 1989. Pakistan's sponsorship of jehadi Islam, a part of the West's Cold War strategic hangover, was crucial to the birth and spread of Al-Qaeda.

After 9/11, General Pervez Musharraf promised to rein in jehadi extremists and put Pakistan on the road to moderation. But he has so far failed to decisively sever the quarter-century-old link between the State and jehadi militants, and finally end Zia's disgraceful legacy.

If Musharraf now wants to turn Lal Masjid into an opportunity, he must grasp the nettle by boldly opening up the political process. This means holding genuinely free and fair elections monitored by international observers, with the participation of all parties. Moreover, it means, beginning the dismantlement of the institutional structures through which the State-jehadi nexus was built, including the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

It's only on this basis that Pakistan's next democratic government can systematically grapple with the three contradictions mentioned above. The three feed upon one another. The importance of religion in politics cannot be reduced unless the State acquires independent popular legitimacy. The military's power cannot be curbed unless its ethnic and regional composition is changed. In recent years, the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan, which border Afghanistan, have become radicalised along Wahhabi lines — not least because of a collapse of education, and generally, State structures.

A genuine reform agenda must seek to address these issues. If Musharraf has an enlightened vision for Pakistan, and seriously believes in moderation, he must embrace this agenda with enthusiasm, and help begin Pakistan's structural transformation. This won't be easy, certainly, not for a general who wields power by virtue of heading the army.

As Ayesha Siddiqa shows in her remarkable just-published study, Military Inc (Pluto Press, London), the army is deeply embedded in Pakistan's economic and industrial power-structures. It is the biggest landowner. It runs a vast predatory network through countless enterprises like the Army Welfare Trust, the Fauji Foundation and the Frontier Works Organisation. It has an entrenched interest in maintaining these structures, and profiting from them. Curbing and taming the military-business-complex will be a Herculean task.

So, Musharraf will have to launch something akin to Pope John Paul XXIII's Second Vatican Council of the 1960s — a quiet revolution in the catholic church to make it relevant to the contemporary reality of a world divided along ideological lines, which judges faith not just by a theological, but a social yardstick.

The general may never rise to this giant task. But it's not ruled out that Pakistan's intelligentsia, civil society, and the more enlightened among its political leaders will address it. The popular wave welcoming Justice Choudhary 's reinstatement, and generally, democratisation, has proved far stronger than imagined. If there is one force in Pakistan which can persuade the army to return to the barracks, it's probably this.

All South Asians have a big stake in a Pakistan that is politically and religiously moderate, pluralist, inclusive, and committed to subordinating its military to civilian control, and which puts the past 60 years' legacy behind itself. Pakistan is not destined to be a dictatorship, nor a Wahhabi-salafist society blinded by religious dogma. Pakistan's Islam, like all South Asian Islam, is marked by Sufi influences and diversity. It is amenable to moderation and modernism, and can accept peaceful co-existence between different religions, and between them, and non-religious traditions. The army is far less powerful than what it appears. Its credibility has taken a big blow after the July 20 court verdict.

The Pakistani people's will can, and should prevail, for the good of us all.

The writer is a senior journalist

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