Pakistan: a failed state?
Pakistan: a failed state?
Pakistan has existed for 74 years. It had not even been conceptualised until the 1930s. The country was founded as a homeland for the Muslims of the Subcontinent. If being a Muslim is so important one would assume that Muslims would get along with each other. However, Pakistan is riven by internecine conflict. The country is seldom far from civil war. It is terrifying to think that a nation that is so disorderly and filled with tens of millions of fanatical Islamists had a nuclear arsenal.
The fighting in Pakistan is between elements of the Taliban and the Pakistani State. ‘Elements’ is the key word in the foregoing. The Taliban is highly fissile and even the factions thereof even fight among themselves. There is also sectarian strife. A majority of Pakistanis are Sunni Muslims – perhaps 80% of the populace. Some of the most extreme Sunnis commit bestial attacks on the Shia Muslim minority who form about 17% of the population. There are tiny, beleaguered minorities of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians.
Warlords and criminal gangs control much of the country. Certain rural areas are the playgrounds of many a daaku chieftain. Dacoity (banditry) has been rife since independence. Drugs barons are particularly prevalent in the Khyber Pukhtunkhwala (formerly the North-West Frontier Province). Much of that province is officially designated as a series of ‘tribal areas’. Hereditary chiefs rule the roost there. The Pakistani Government does not even pretend to control those areas. The Pakistani Government has to negotiate to send its army into the tribal areas. They are a law unto themselves.
In Pakistan drug peddling is punishable by death. But in the tribal areas people can manufacture and deal even heroin without fear of legal consequences. On the edge of Peshawar – one of Pak’s main cities – is a bazaar called Kharkani. In this market heroin is openly sold.
Opium is grown in Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Much of its is smuggled out via Pakistan Proper.
Nothing in this article is anti-Pakistani. Please do not get the notion that Pakistanis are all bad or mostly bad. Personality is more important than nationality. Pakistan has the same range of personality types as everywhere else. There are good, generous, beneficent and morally courageous Pakistanis.
An avaricious and self-serving elite run Pakistan. You may well saw: ‘twas ever thus. It is true that a greedy, egotistical and pernicious clique runs many a country. However, the uppermost stratum of Pakistani is almost unique in its level of defalcation and hypocrisy. The superrich can live louche lifestyles whilst preaching the most antediluvian form of Islam to keep the great unwashed in line. Islamic mores are for hoi pelloi to obey; now pour me another whiskey.
The upper class is grossly hypocritical. Many of them uphold dry legal policies. But they keep bootleggers in business. Despite professing puritanism some of these people will frequent underground nightclubs, speakeasies and shebeens. Further, prostitution is widespread including using the services of rentboys.
Not all upper class Pakistanis are like this. Some of them practise what they preach. A few of them are sincere.
Officials and politicians often peculate from the public exchequer. Transparency international consistently rates Pakistan as one of the most corrupt countries on earth. It is the tens of millions of Pakistanis who live in the most abject penury who pay the price of functionaries’ and politicians’ crimes.
Theoretically the penalty for plundering the national wealth is reclusio perpetua. However, this has never been awarded. The most flagrant embezzlement takes place on a huge scale and the culprits serve nary a day in prison.
Douceurs are needed to accomplish almost anything in the bureaucracy or the judiciary. This is called an ‘adjustment.’
Nepotism is one of Pakistan’s besetting sins. Family is everything. It is EVERYTHING. Therefore, lackadaisical people can be promoted to vital posts and kept there just because of who their relatives are. By contrast able and industrious sorts will never gain preferment if Bob is not their uncle.
Like it or not, Pakistan matters because it has nuclear weapons. That is why this basket case must be taken seriously. In the 1970s when the Pakistani nuclear programme started the Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto said that Pak must attain nukes no matter what the cost: ‘we will eat grass if we have to.’ Many Pakistanis were reduced to beggardom for the sake of nuclear arms but the Bhutto family was not. Sacrifices are for other people to make.
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a shariat state. Its legal system is a bizarre blend of English common law and Islamic religious law. When the two systems collide – as they frequently do – the Islamic religious law prevails. A man was even acquitted of murder in a common law court only to have the verdict overturned in an Islamic court. The Hudood Ordinances issued in the 1980s make Pakistan one of the worst places to be a woman.
There is an Islamic Ideology Council. This has a veto on all legislation.
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is Pakistan’s CIA. ISI is the deep state. It is kingmaker in elections. The ISI is not a disinterested body serving the interests of the common people. The ISI pursues its Islamist agenda and makes a mint on the side. The Taliban was to some extent the ISI’s baby. How the ISI is beaming to see that Taliban about to take over the whole of Afghanistan once again later this year.
The ISI is no doubt licking its lips at the prospect of the Taliban spreading its medieval version of Islam into Central Asia. The frontline states there – Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – are deeply anxious about this eventuality. They will be requesting greater security cooperation from Russia and other interested parties.
They say that he who rides a tiger ends up inside it. You cannot get off the tiger’s back. Pakistani politicians approved of the formation of the Taliban in the 1990s. In the late 1980s they gave their imprimatur to Hizb i Islami, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Lakshair I Taiba, Jaish I Mohammed and other Islamist militant groups fighting against India. A Pakistani politician cannot now advocate closing down such organisation that are harboured on Pakistani soil, fed, trained and funded by Islamabad. To call for their outlawry would be to incite one’s own assassination.
Elections in Pakistani are largely fraudulent. If your opponent is cheating like crazy and getting away with it; you would feel like a mug not to do the same. If you do not cast bogus ballots, have valid ballots thrown out and have ballots wilfully miscounted then you do not have a prayer of winning.
40% of Pakistanis are illiterate. That is particularly high amongst rural women. Among those who can read it is often to a very low level. Many people do not have a chance to go to school precisely because the wealthy are stealing from the public exchequer. The super wealthy have the Helmsley attitude: taxes are for the little people.
Healthcare is similarly underfunded due to pilfering from the budget. The same holds true of almost all areas of spending except one. The military budget is extremely fat. Military officers enjoy prestige and lucre second only to the ISI.
The military-industrial complex needs an enemy. Without a foe then there would be not justificatory argument for so much being spent on defence. That is why the Indian nemesis is the raison d’etre for the martial caste which governs Pakistan. India is Pakistan’s foes. Of India is might be said (to borrow a phrase from Voltaire) – if they did not exist, we would need to invent them. Politicians only rule by leave of the army chief of staff and indeed the ISI. The military has seized power in Pakistan on three occasions and there could well be a fourth.
The country also needs a foe to provide it with some sense of cohesion and mission. Pakistanis fight each other a lot as it is. Were it not for India then they would fight each other all the more. India is the scapegoat for everything that goes wrong.
The officer corps is another self-serving and to come extent self-perpetuating elite. It is one of the only institutions that is not dysfunctional. It commands near universal respect despite its tendency to feather its own nest. Do not imagine that its officers are all poltroons. This is one of the few spheres where nepotism does not seem to have taken too much of a hold.
It is not easy to get into the armed forces. Those who do are looked after for live so long as they keep their noses clean. As the military is the only thing that works it is trusted to deliver non-military services. Veterans work on farms and in factories owned by the military.
The ISI is largely recruited from serving officers of the army, navy and air force. Therefore, there is not too much rivalry between the services.
It is bewildering following the myriad anfractuosities of Pakistani politics. The Muslim League is the party that founded the country. However, it dissolved after independence. The Muslim League was then re-founded. Several parties bear the name Muslim League but it is hard to say that any has the true lineage of the pre-1947 party. The Muslim League of whatever faction tends towards Islamic fundamentalism.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is the other major political party in Pak. It was founded in the late 1960s and it is little more than vehicle for the Bhutto dynasty. Its rhetoric about blending socialism and Islam is just that: rhetoric. Socialism does not mean that this clan wants to give a groat to the malnourished millions. The party is more liberal than the Muslim League. Liberal in Pakistan is a highly relative term. The PPP still says that those who offend Islam must be killed. This is no joke. It actually happens all the time.
The current PPP supremo is Bilal Bhutto. The Oxford educated youth has little appeal for the masses. He might be the last dynast. He is the fourth generation to be in politics and the fourth member of the family to lead the PPP.
Because Islamist ideology has permeated Pakistani society it is impossible for the government to ever take a firm stand against the Islamist militants who attack India or indeed against the Taliban even if it wanted to. Any leader who tried to do so would provoke a coup d’etat.
President Musharaff took action against the Taliban. The Taliban is an umbrella term. It consists of many clans and factions. It is not a monolith. Some are totally opposed to the Pakistani state and want Pathan independence. Other factions are emanations of the Pakistani state. There was a limit to what Musharaff could do. If he was too helpful to NATO he would have been overthrown.
Tehrik i Insaaf (Movement for Justice) is the party of Prime Minister Imran Khan. This party made a breakthrough three years ago.
In Baluchistan there is a separatist movement. The Pakistani Military has contained this only with difficulty.
China has built an economic corridor. Pakistan has fallen for Chinese debt trap diplomacy. Who else would invest in Pak?
The Chinese are backing Pak as a counterweight to India. It is deeply cynical on both sides. Normality in Pakistan is outlawed in China and vice versa. The communist regime in China cruelly oppresses the Uighur ethnic minority. The Uighurs are Muslims to a man. They are blackguarded as Islamist extremists by the butchers of Beijing. But do not expect to read a word of this in the Pakistani press. So much for the Umma. Islamabad believes that its coreligionists must be thrown to the wolves. The mighty dollar is far more sacred than the Islamic faith for the Pakistani ruling class.
The population is pullulating. Economically this is a nation racing to stand still. Because so many children are being born keeping the economy stagnant is like running up an escalator.
The largest city in Pak is Karachi. Karachi is the largest city in the world without a metropolitan railway. Consequently, traffic is horrendous. Its roads are largely carparks as people are snarled in traffic. The air quality is atrocious.
There is easily enough public money to build an underground railway network in Karachi. It has been discussed for over 40 years. But bent politicians and functionaries have trousered the funds. Much of the money is expatriated. No one trusts Pakistanis banks especially not Pakistanis themselves. London is one of the sewers of choice for filthy money from Pakistan. It is the much put upon and exploited masses of Pakistan who pay the price.
India is pulling further and further ahead economically. Pak is being left way, way behind trailing in the dust. But nuclear missiles are its trump card. India really does not want a nuclear exchange. Pakistan having a smaller population and much smaller land area stands to suffer proportionately more. However, some in Pakistan are so fanatical that they would welcome martyrdom. Their delusions might lead them to believe that Allah would bless them with victory. Even though India could inflict more than it suffers the Indians realise that a nuclear exchange would seriously set back their economic growth.
For decades mavens have said that there may well be a complete collapse of the Pakistani state. It could dissolve into something akin to Afghanistan in the early 1990s: bellum omnium contra omnes.
Pakistan will probably not implode. It may well stagger on.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.