By Zia Mian
22 August, 2007
Pakistan is 60 years old. For
over 40 years of its life, it has been ruled directly or indirectly
by its army. Each cycle of military rule has left the country in desperate
The rule of General Pervez
Musharraf, who seized power in 1999, has been no different. Beset on
all sides, he now seeks, with American help, to ride out the storm and
stay in power.
Down this path lies even
Origins of Failure
have failed it from the beginning. At independence, its founding father,
Mohammad Ali Jinnah, adopted the British colonial title and powers of
governor-general. He died within a year, leaving no clear vision of
the country’s identity or future, no broad-based, cohesive, national
political party or movement to guide it, no tradition of democracy.
Pakistan fell into the hands of a civil service and army that knew only
There were four governor-generals
and seven prime ministers in the first 10 years, rising and falling
through palace intrigues, but all powerless in the end. Pakistan could
not even create a constitution. Then, in 1958, came the first military
coup. General Ayub Khan told the country the army had no choice. There
was, he said, “total administrative, economic, political and moral
chaos” brought about “by self-seekers, who in the garb of
political leaders, have ravaged the country.”
General Ayub Khan ruled for
a decade. His two goals were strengthening the army and modernizing
of the society and economy. The General negotiated a close military
alliance with the United States, which was looking for Cold War clients
around the world. American dollars, weapons, advisors, and ideas poured
into Pakistan. The result was the 1965 war with India, wrenching social
change, and grievous inequality. By the end of his rule, it was said
that 22 families controlled two-thirds of Pakistani industry and an
even larger share of its banking and insurance sector.
Eventually, the people rose
in revolt. The demands for representation were greatest in East Pakistan,
home to the majority of Pakistan’s people. Elections were held
and a nationalist party from the East emerged victorious, but the army
and its political allies were mostly from West Pakistan and would have
none of it. The army went to war against its own people. There were
appalling massacres. In 1971, with help from India, East Pakistan broke
free and became Bangladesh.
The army relinquished power
in the West. But the new civilian leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, lacked
a democratic temperament, and treated opposition as threat. He nationalized
large sectors of the economy, further strengthening already unaccountable
bureaucrats, doled out government jobs to his followers, established
Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, and refined the practice of
buying public support by appeasing the mullahs.
In 1977, the army took back
control, and executed Bhutto. The new ruler, General Zia ul Haq, sought
to Islamize Pakistan. He introduced religious laws, courts, and taxes,
supported radical Islamist madrassas (seminaries) and political parties,
and altered school textbooks to promote a conservative Islamic nationalism.
Work on the bomb proceeded apace.
The United States turned
a blind eye to both the dictatorship and the bomb. It poured billions
of dollars into Pakistan to buy support for a war against the Soviet
Union in Afghanistan. The Pakistan army trained and armed Islamic militants
from around the world, with American money, and sent them across the
border to fight godless communism. The jihad was born.
General Zia died in a mysterious
plane crash in 1988, and the Soviet Union admitted defeat and left Afghanistan.
Elections were held, only to have the army become the power behind the
throne. America re-discovered that Pakistan was building the bomb, and
imposed sanctions. It was too late.
The new crop of leaders,
including Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, descended into corruption
and intrigue, each seeking the army’s help to take office. There
were nine prime ministers in 10 years. Some actively courted the mullahs,
none tried to undo the Islamic order created by General Zia. A generation
was abandoned to intolerance, violence, and radical Islam.
The army demanded the lion’s
share of national resources. The politicians paid up, even though the
economy crumbled and one-third of Pakistanis fell below the poverty
line. The army continued to dominate foreign policy. It helped create,
train, arm, and lead the Taliban to power in Afghanistan. The goal was
to create a client regime and secure Pakistan’s western borders.
The people of Afghanistan paid a terrible price.
A similar strategy was tried
in Kashmir. Pakistan organized and armed Islamist fighters and sent
them to battle. Kashmiris, who have struggled for decades for the right
to decide their own future free from Indian rule, found themselves trapped
between the violence unleashed by Indian armed forces and Pakistan-backed
Amid the chaos, in 1998,
India and then Pakistan tested nuclear weapons and a year later went
to war. Both sides hurled nuclear threats. Pakistan’s elected
politicians went along, claiming credit at every opportunity.
The Musharraf Era
There were few protests when
the army, led by General Pervez Musharraf, seized power in 1999. “The
armed forces have no intention to stay in charge longer than is absolutely
necessary to pave the way for true democracy to flourish,” he
promised. Instead, he rigged elections and made a deal with Islamist
political parties willing to support him as president.
After the September 11 attacks,
the United States dropped its opposition to General Musharraf. It needed
Pakistan’s support for another American war. Money poured in (over
$10 billion so far), and demands for a return to democracy disappeared.
After the U.S. invasion of
Afghanistan in 2001, many Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters fled across
the border to Pakistan’s tribal areas where they have reconstituted
themselves. Under U.S. pressure, the Pakistan army has tried to go into
the tribal border areas to show they are tackling the Taliban and al-Qaeda
there. They have met resistance. Also, there are many in the army who
do not want to fight what they see as an American war. The army has
resorted to missile attacks from aircraft, helicopter gun ships, and
artillery. As civilian casualties have grown, local people have turned
against the army, and some have joined the militants.
The al-Qaeda and Taliban
influence has started to spread from the remote border areas to larger
towns and even major cities in the two border provinces. These militants
have made common cause with local Islamist groups, who find recruits
in Pakistan’s countless madrassas and its many Islamic political
parties. Militants have attacked soldiers, policemen, local officials,
ordinary people, and national leaders, including Musharraf. Suicide
bombings have claimed hundreds of lives across the country.
Islamist fighters have taken
over whole villages. Emulating the Taliban, they repress women, close
girls’ schools, attack DVD and music shops, destroy TVs, and demand
men grow beards and go to the mosque. The movement has spread even to
the capital. For six months, Islamist students and fighters occupied
a mosque in Islamabad and set up their own court. The government sat
by until forced to act by national and international pressure. The bloody
storming of the mosque served only to fuel the militancy and enrage
Sectarian violence has accompanied
the rise of the militant Islamists. Armed Sunni groups, some linked
to major political parties, have attacked Shias and religious minorities
with abandon. Hundreds have died. Even though the groups are banned,
they operate with impunity, their leaders appearing in public.
The Islamists are not the
only armed resistance to the state. There is an insurgency in Pakistan’s
largest province, Baluchistan, fuelled by demands for greater autonomy
and control over their natural resources. It is a longstanding grievance.
The Pakistani army crushed the latest in a series of four insurgencies.
Baluch groups have obstructed and attacked gas facilities, gas and oil
pipelines, electricity transmission towers, and train tracks. They have
also targeted foreign companies seeking to explore new gas fields in
the province and working on other development projects there. They have
also called protests and strikes.
The Democratic Challenge
The army’s effort to
confront Islamists and Baluch insurgents has created its own crisis.
Over the past few years, the government has taken into custody hundreds
of people and, after they “disappeared,” denied ever having
arrested them. Their families found an ally in the chief justice of
Pakistan’s Supreme Court. He has demanded that the government
produce the missing people in court. General Musharraf responded by
firing the chief justice. Musharraf’s greater fear is that an
activist court would block his effort to continue in power as president.
There was a national movement
for the reinstatement of the chief justice. Judges resigned, lawyers
went on strike, and police attacked demonstrations by lawyers outside
the Supreme Court. Across the country, large crowds gathered to hear
and support the chief justice. The Supreme Court declared that the chief
justice must be reinstated. Musharraf had to concede defeat.
The Court is now hearing
the cases of the missing people. The government has produced some and
dragged its feet on others. The chief justice has threatened to jail
a senior law enforcement official and summon the chiefs of Pakistan’s
armed forces if the government will not produce the people in court.
As elections loom, and Musharraf seeks to retain power, the Court has
already begun to hear appeals on voter registration.
Some hope that restoring
a semblance of democracy could turn the tide against the Islamists and
reduce the nuclear danger. Musharraf, with U.S. help, is trying to cobble
together a deal to stay in power. He is considering dumping his Islamist
allies in exchange for support from Benazir Bhutto, who would be cleared
of the corruption charges that she fled and allowed to return from exile.
It will not be enough.
In the Musharraf years, the
army has consolidated its power in new ways. Generals rule provinces,
run government ministries, administer universities, and manage national
companies. The army’s business interests now span banking and
insurance, cement and fertilizer, electricity and sugar, corn and corn
flakes. They will not give this up without a fight.
For the army, the outside
world appears threatening too. As India’s economy grows and it
increases military spending in leaps and bounds, Pakistan’s army
looks for ways to keep up. With the United States cultivating a new
strategic relationship with India, the army fears losing its oldest
ally. It worries how it will sustain its nuclear, missile and conventional
weapons arms race with India. The army must extract yet more from Pakistan’s
economy. A civilian government rule will not be allowed to challenge
Military rule and puppet
politicians have brought Pakistan to its present dreadful state. Rather
than keeping Musharraf in power, the world must demand that Pakistan’s
army yield control over government and economy once and for all. Only
a freely elected and representative government that can actually make
decisions can pursue economic development as if people mattered, confront
the Islamists, and make peace with India.
Zia Mian is a physicist with the Program on Science
and Global Security at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International
Affairs at Princeton University and a columnist for Foreign Policy In
Focus (online at www.fpif.org). An earlier version of this piece appeared
in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Copyright © 2007, Institute for Policy Studies.
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