Friday Book Club: What Makes a Pakistani?

While politicians, diplomats and business leaders are negotiating trade deals that would grant open access to American markets, a lucrative new industry of writing books about Pakistan for Western audiences is starting to take hold. Two of these recent books were the subject of reviews this week, and provide an interesting starting point for a discussion of Pakistan ideology both for what each book said…or didn’t say…about the subject.

In today’s Friday Times, Raza Rumi reviews a new book, ‘Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India’ that explores the way the reliance on religion to define Pakistani identity has wreaked havoc with the nation’s foreign policy decisions.
Explaining Pakistan's Foreign Policy

The overall emphasis of the book is to highlight how Pakistan’s exclusive ‘ideological’ identity as opposed to a multi-ethnic nation-state cognisant of its past inhibits the formulation of a realistic foreign policy. This is a view, which many in Pakistan would empathise with especially the political parties. The book also documents the nuances and shades of policy options articulated by various political and religious groups.

This book suggests that the establishment’s attempt to use Islam as a “substitute for nationalism” has resulted in not only external wars such as Kargil, but internal wars to define who qualifies as “Muslim enough” to be Pakistani. In his review, Raza Rumi mentions the 1949 Objectives Resolution, but we can easily connect the dots between this and the way Yahya Khan characterised Bengalis as crypto-Hindus, 1974 law declaring Ahmedis as non-Muslims and present day attacks by anti-Shia groups like SSP and LeJ.

A similar observation was made by Ayesha Siddiqa in her review of a new book edited by Maleha Lodhi, ‘Pakistan: Beyond the “Crisis State”‘. According to Siddiqa, “The basic thesis of the volume is that there are many things which are not right about the country but that in itself does not qualify it as a failed or failing state”. This is true, of course, and it is important to recognise the progress that Pakistan is making as well as the challenges that remain. But Ms Siddiqa in her review worries that Lodhi’s volume serves as something of an unproductive whitewash, and in ignoring underlying issues surrounding ideology, Lodhi’s book fails to address the critical issue of ideology.

Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis StatePakistan’s fundamental problem is that the state defines citizenship on the basis of a citizen’s putative relationship with religion and the central establishment. This leaves out millions of non-Muslims or members of minority ethnic communities from a sense of representation. Those that choose to protest their rights like the East Pakistanis or Baluch are then brutally butchered in the name of national security. This volume chooses to focus on religion related violence. This category of violence cannot be stopped because the problem of the religiosity of the state becomes compounded with another issue of a powerful military bureaucracy, an institution which tends to use all measures including religion and violence to gain its military-strategic objectives. According to Zahid Hussain, some of the militant groups were connected with the military due to the role they played in the possible resolution of the Kashmir issue or in helping GHQ Rawalpindi deal with India.

Could it be that the bizarre handling of questions military, ideology and national identity were by design? After all, Maleeha Lodhi was appointed Ambassador to the USA following Gen Musharraf’s 1999 coup, and was awarded Hilal-e-Imtiaz by Gen Musharraf in 2002. According to Siddiqa, “Maleeha Lodhi’s edited volume is one of the few books that Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Public Relations’ head Maj. General Athar Abbas recommends to his visitors”.

Have you read any of these books? If so, what are your thoughts? Are there other new books on Pakistan that you like? Please share in the comments!

Dictatorship vs. Democracy

From Huffington Post, the following article by Aparna Pande provides an excellent examination of competing political perspectives. We have often made the argument that debates should focus on reason, and the following piece gives some important historical context to the struggle between the preference for rational thinking which can be quite messy and the preference for order which is tidier. The author is a Research Fellow at The Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.

Aparna PandeWhile discussing the current Middle East situation in a recent interview, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf asserted that “good dictatorship is better than bad democracy.” Mr Musharraf’s quote is reminiscent of the traditional Asharite/Al Ghazzali view that “a bad ruler is preferable to anarchy.”

During the early centuries of Islam there were two broad views on political theory and philosophy — the Asharite and the Mu’tazilite. The Mu’tazilites, influenced by Greek philosophy and thought, emphasized reason and rational thinking (ijtihad), whereas the Asharites were more traditional and asserted imitation (taqlid). With the need for complete control desired by monarchs it was the Asharites who eventually won the debate and gained political blessing. The main reason was that every political system needs legitimacy and the Asharite view of taqlid was more likely to approve of the existing system than the Mu’tazilite view of reason and questioning.

While these views and names are rarely mentioned today, their basic conflict still remains. Across the Greater Middle East, this view has been prevalent for decades that autocracy or dictatorship is preferable to the anarchy or chaos associated with democracy. The Saudi dynasty’s legitimacy derives from an alliance with the Wahhabi clergy where the latter have consistently overlooked the personal indiscretions of the ruling family on grounds of avoiding anarchy. Al Ghazzali, a prominent Islamic theologian of the 12th century, often stated the need to avoid fitna (strife) and anarchy.

All of Pakistan’s military rulers, from General Ayub through Yahya and Zia till Musharraf, have held similar views on the need for order and avoidance of anarchy under democracy. General Ayub Khan (1958-69) believed that the people of the subcontinent were not suited either by temperament or by experience to the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. General Ayub also believed that democracy was best suited to cold climates and not to the tropical climate of Pakistan. That the same conditions prevailed in India did not seem like an anachronism to the general. General Ayub attempted to impose his form of autocratic rule under a system of ‘Basic Democracy’ which excluded political parties and instead installed an indirectly elected presidential system. Ayub’s failure in the end lay in his inability to gain legitimacy and the prevalence and popularity of local political parties despite attempts to get rid of the latter.

General Zia ul Haq (1977-88) sought legitimacy in religion, for him Pakistan had been created in the name of Islam and the reason for the 1971 break up as well as any problems to date had been because his predecessors had moved away from Islam. The Islamization of Pakistani society, education, politics and law struck deep roots under Zia’s era. Zia was fearful of democracy because it would show the strength of parties like his nemesis Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Zia repeatedly asserted that it was his rule that had prevented anarchy, corruption and further break up of Pakistan by its eternal enemy India, helped by Soviet Union, Israel and other allies.

General Musharraf believed that he was the messiah who saved Pakistan from the corrupt, inefficient and constantly bickering rule of politicians. Thus he ended anarchy and brought efficient rule under a dictatorship. Musharraf’s policy of ‘Enlightened Moderation’ was very similar to Ayub’s ‘Basic Democracy’ — an attempt to build legitimacy outside of the political system. Musharraf’s views have not changed, as evident from his memoirs and speeches given after he resigned as President in 2008. He still believes he is the messiah who will save Pakistan from its chaotic democracy. Musharraf’s recent statements are reminiscent of his predecessors not just in his condescending views of democracy but also in his worldview. Just recently in an interview Musharraf stated that Pakistan is faced with an existential threat — not from the Taliban and jihadi groups who are eating up Pakistan internally — but from the eternal enemy, India.

The view that the Pakistanis masses are illiterate and do not know what is right for them and given the choice would choose inefficient, corrupt and self-serving politicians is a view held deeply by the military-civilian establishment. From this it follows that the military and technocratic elite are by education and temperament best suited to guide and lead Pakistan and protect it from its external and internal enemies. The Pakistani army strongly believes it is the guardian of Pakistan’s territorial and ideological frontiers.

The notion that “good dictatorship is better than bad democracy” arises from the need to have order and predictability. However, for any multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual country like Pakistan, any attempt to impose one view will have long-term repercussions. As discussed in my book, Aparna Pande Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India, Pakistan’s founding fathers constructed an ideological identity for the country, which subsumed and denied the religio-ethno-linguistic differences. The various internal challenges facing Pakistan today are a blowback of this basic challenge of identity.

While order and conformity suit the people in power, they rarely ever benefit the masses. The irony of Musharraf’s statement seems to be lost on him — the only way Musharraf can return to power is if he contests elections under democracy!

President Obama to General Kayani: Can You Hear Me Now?

The following article appeared in Huffington Post on 21 October 2010. The author Aparna Pande is a research fellow at the Hudson Institute.

The third round of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue is being held this week in Washington, D.C., in the backdrop of domestic political crises, economic woes, terrorist attacks and rumors about an ever-impending coup in Pakistan. In this context President Obama’s unannounced meeting with the Pakistani delegation emphasizing American support for the present civilian government and democracy might be a game-changer.

Rumors have been rife in Islamabad that the present government is so weak, chaotic and ineffective that the military will take over. Such stories have been around for the last two years. Pakistan’s establishment clearly does not like President Asif Ali Zardari, and the elected government is particularly gaffe prone, which feeds the rumor mill, already churning thanks to an essentially anti-Zardari media. The frequency of coup scares is matched only by explanations of why a coup is unlikely. It seems that the Pakistani military and its civilian supporters allow the rumors to flourish in order to put pressure on an iron-willed and stubborn Zardari, while the objective conditions prevent a coup — for now.

Given Pakistan’s history, a military coup is the constant fear of every civilian regime. Ever since Zardari and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) took office two years ago, fears of military takeover have surfaced each time the country has faced a crisis situation — especially one that involves civil-military disagreement. This happened in 2008 when the still-new civilian administration tried to wrest control of the Inter-Services Intelligence from the army. The tussle with the judiciary over the reinstatement of Chief Justice Chaudhry in March 2009 led to reports of potential government collapse. The buzz of a potential coup was also there during the intense and fractious debates and uproar in the National Assembly over the Kerry-Lugar bill of 2009, but little materialized.

There’s no doubt that the civilian government is weak — every civilian government in Pakistan over the last 63 years has been, not least because the military-technocratic establishment has rarely allowed these governments to build themselves or to push the envelope on key policies. But it is also true that the PPP-led government has not been able to get its act together. The administration shows its inexperience in governance.

The present civilian government resembles some of the weak coalition governments in India during the 1990s, which were led by politicians with limited governance experience. The Zardari government also lacks a serious communication strategy. While it is constantly being spun against, it is rarely able to put forth its own views. The Pakistani media often buys into the military’s whisper campaigns while the political parties hostile to the PPP have much stronger media management. Add to that Zardari’s personal battles with some leading media figures, and his ability to get away with anything without a media flare up is next to none.

We do, however, need to bear a few things in mind. President Zardari derives strength from the fact that he has the support of his party (as co-chairman of the PPP), and the more he is threatened — by the media or by rivals — the stronger he becomes within the party, which views itself as a party of martyrs. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is a Zardari loyalist. Even though he is de facto ruler (after implementation of the 18th Amendment to Pakistan’s constitution took away executive authority from the office of president), there is little chance that he will drop his support for Zardari, as Mr. Gilani has very little support independent of the president.

Circumstances are such that there is little likelihood of a direct military takeover — a “hard” coup — for the time being. And General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief of Army Staff, is not the kind of general who would instigate a coup. The army is still smarting from the impact of the Musharraf era, and all rungs of the army are keenly aware of the growing resentment among the people about the army’s privileges. As of now the army would prefer to have a weak and ineffective civilian government in power that takes all the blame with the army as puppet-master holding all the strings.

Even former army chief and dictator Pervez Musharraf, in a recent interview, spoke out against coups. According to Musharraf, while it is customary in Pakistan during times of “turmoil” to “look to the army,” he believes that “the times of military coups in Pakistan are over. The latest political developments have shown that the Supreme Court has set a bar on itself not to validate a military takeover.” In earlier times, whether under Ayub or Zia, the Supreme Court normally justified coups under the doctrine of necessity.

General Kayani is also interested in rebuilding and professionalizing Pakistan’s army. Over the last three years Kayani has brought about quiet changes within his organization. He has replaced the majority of Corps Commanders who had been appointed by his predecessor, General Musharraf, with his own men. Kayani’s bête noire, Gen. Tariq Majeed, Chief of Joint Staff, was recently retired and replaced with a general more amenable to Kayani.

Cleaning up the intelligence services has also taken place too slowly over the last two years. Kayani now fully controls intelligence operations, and though the army did not allow the civilian government to wrest control of the intelligence services, ISI, Kayani has introduced changes himself. The political wings of both the ISI and the military intelligence, MI, have been closed. General Pasha, head of ISI, also appears to have played a key role in these developments.

The second largest party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), is mainly a Punjab-based party with very little support in the other three provinces in the country. While Nawaz Sharif has a higher popularity rating than Zardari, there is a low probability of the army replacing Zardari with Sharif. After all, it was Sharif who had tried to curb the power of the army, which instigated the 1999 coup by Pervez Musharraf. A popular Sharif with a Punjabi power base would threaten the military’s domination of Pakistani decision-making far more than an unpopular Zardari.

Rumors have also focused on the possibility of a “soft” coup through the judiciary. President Zardari and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court do not see eye to eye, and the latter’s attempts to revive the Swiss cases and deprive the president of constitutional immunity are seen as reflecting Justice Chaudhry’s animosity towards Zardari. While there is very little chance of Zardari losing his immunity, he appears to have planned for that possibility. If forced to resign, the constitution provides that he be replaced by the Chairman of the Senate, Farooq Naek. A Zardari loyalist, Naek served as the president’s personal lawyer when Zardari faced criminal charges from 1997 to 2007.

The final possibility often floated is for Chaudhry and Zardari to both step down. However, though this action would likely bring Chaudhry’s career to an end, and it would only boost Zardari’s image and popularity as a martyr both amongst his party and the public.

Terrorism continues to threaten Pakistan, the economy is still weak and the growth rate is currently at 2.5 to 3 percent, barely equal to population growth. The floods that hit Pakistan last month have devastated one-fifth of its landmass, displaced around 20 million and killed more than 1,600 people. Never in Pakistan’s history has the army ever taken over in a situation like this. The military would much rather let the civilian government take the rap for problems that defy solution instead of taking over power and letting the civilians become martyrs.

In addition to internal factors, all political players in Pakistan have looked to see what the American government’s attitude would be towards a soft or hard coup in Pakistan. The main reason for this is that America has been Pakistan’s major benefactor — mainly in economic and military arenas — since 1954. While in earlier times the American administrations have been seen as more interested in stability than democracy, the current administration has made it clear in the last two years that it values democracy and civilian supremacy in Pakistan. President Obama decision to drop by unannounced to the Roosevelt Room where the Pakistani delegation was in talks with its American counterparts reflects this policy. Addressing a group that included Foreign Minister S.M. Qureshi as well as army chief Ashfaq Kayani, President Obama stated his government’s commitment and support to Pakistani democracy. Further, the President also extended an invitation for President Zardari to visit Washington and announced his own trip to Pakistan in 2011.

For now it seems that the domestic situation in Pakistan is going to continue as before — a weak civilian government attempting to deal with serious threats amid widespread disaffection. The government is going to keep limping along, trying to restore its presence in flood-affected areas, rebuild the economy and face the daily challenges in the National Assembly, all the while fighting extremists. As of now, Pakistan has few alternatives.