How to eliminate foreign meddling in Pakistan

If there’s one thing that is virtually agreed upon across our politically divided nation it is that there is too much foreign meddling in Pakistan. Where people tend to disagree is on the details. Is the problem America’s war on terror? Or is it Wahhabi madrassas funded from the Gulf? Or is it secret Hindu-Zionist agents who landed in space ships? Whatever foreign group you think is behind all the nation’s ills, you the solution is always the same – kick them out! The question that is asked less often, though, is why all these foreigners supposedly want in. Actually, this could be the question that reveals the answer.

The most common reply you hear is that foreigners are meddling in Pakistan as part of a war against Muslims. Honestly, this doesn’t make any sense. Where is the war against Muslims in Indonesia? Or the war against Muslims in Malaysia, or Bangladesh, or any of the other Muslim countries where foreigners are not deeply involved in the country’s politics? What about Egypt where the religious parties are taking control through democratic elections and the Western countries that are supposedly at war against Muslims are actually supporting them? Maybe we’re looking at things backwards.

All sorts of allegations have been made against the present and past governments accusing officials of going to foreign powers and requesting help in internal political conflicts. Mansoor Ijaz’s infamous memo was supposedly a request for the Americans to help stave off a coup being plotted by the ISI (this is Mansoor Ijaz’s claim, not mine). The PM was accused of phoning the British High Commissioner for help, a charge both he and the British strongly deny. Before that, the Sharifs had gone to the Americans to request help averting a coup. Now it seems that even Musharraf has a memo of his own.

Last week it was reported that influential royals from the Middle East were working behind the scenes to defuse tensions between the military and civilians. The Saudis, of course, have famously claimed to be “participants” in Pakistan’s internal affairs and have even allegedly sought to overthrow the government in the past.

Actually, going to foreign powers and seeking help was not started by civilian officials, but the military. As a young independent nation, our military leaders sought an alliance with America to level the balance of power with India. Before we had a nuclear deterrence, we had an American deterrence.

Gen. Zia-ul-Haq perfected this practice by convincing the Americans that he was their top ally in their war against communism. Generals have understood from the beginning that not only would such alliances with foreign powers provide them the latest in weapons and military technologies and strategies, but would also help keep them in power. The Americans for decades were willing to support military regimes if they pledged to keep out communists. By the time Gen Musharraf staged his own coup and usurped power, he knew to change ‘communist’ to ‘Islamist’, but his script remained virtually the same.

This is why civilians started going to foreign powers asking for help. They knew that the foreign powers had been the patrons of the military regimes because the generals had convinced them that military regimes were necessary to protect the foreigners’ own interests at that time, and that they would transition to democracy once the threat had passed. Only the threat never passed. So the civilians started going to the foreign governments to tell them that they were being conned.

So, how do we get foreigners to stop meddling in Pakistan’s politics? The answer seems pretty clear. The first step is to get the military to stop meddling in politics. If the military stops meddling in politics and acts within the bounds of its constitutional role, then the civilians will not feel compelled to go to foreign powers to ask for help against coups. Once the military is not involved in politics, decisions about policy will be made by elected officials as per the constitution. And if the elected officials are allowing foreigners to dictate policy, then we vote them out of office – an option we don’t have with the military. In other words, the only way to end foreign meddling is through strengthening democracy.

Decades of rule by military regimes and weak civilian regimes where the military dictated policies from behind the scenes are what created the mess of foreign meddling in our internal affairs. It’s time to try something new. If you really want change in Pakistan, support democracy.

Why you should think twice before embracing Zaid Hamid

Pakistan’s current conditions are far from encouraging, as the government struggles to combat extremism and continues to fall short of addressing the needs of the common man. Citizens can even be forgiven for embracing revolutionary doctrine in hopes of changing the fortunes of the nation. However, when hyper-nationalism aligns itself with ignorance of history, we are led to an ideology that is flawed, distorted but most importantly tried and tested.  Zaid Hamid has persistently advocated for the dissolution of the elected government in favor of a caretaker government selected by the Supreme Court with the military’s backing.

A brief analysis of our nation’s history shows Zaid Hamid’s philosophy to be far from revolutionary. General Ayub Khan held the same values when he (along with Iskander Mirza in 1958) dismissed the elected government, dissolved the constitution (with the blessing of the corrupt judiciary) and established the infamous “basic democracies” system. This political structure’s shining moments included a vicious election campaign against Fatimah Jinnah and the eventual disintegration of East Pakistan.  Zaid Hamid’s caretaker government in all likelihood would only prolong military rule, reduce political participation amongst the people and corrupt a judiciary that is currently redeeming itself from its past sins.

Zaid Hamid also wants the Supreme Court to handpick “Good Muslims” that would satisfy Article 62/63 of the Constitution. The judicial system did address this proposal in the Punjab Disturbances Report of 1954:

“The sublime faith called Islam will live even if our leaders are not there to enforce it. It lives in the individual, in his soul and outlook, in all his relations with God and men, from the cradle to the grave, and our politicians should understand that if Divine commands cannot make or keep a man a Musalman, their statutes will not.”- Justice Munir

The judiciary refrained from endorsing a theory of a Nation-State that catered around subjective Islamic morals and standards. It is no coincidence that a military ruler was responsible for invoking such subjective morals into the constitution. The judiciary and the military cannot work synonymously over stretched periods of time, as General Musharraf’s demise in 2008 showed. The military has been unable to select a lawmaking branch that has satisfied the people’s needs over a stretched period of time (Basic Democracies and the Majlis-e-Shoora).

Zaid Hamid desperately seeks the creation of a political structure that established itself long before any organic political order developed in Pakistan. Allowing such an order to establish itself yet again would eliminate any lingering hope of sustained democracy in Pakistan.

What Pakistan can learn from Afridi’s observation of “Indian rivalry”

Shahid Afridi and Mahendra DhoniPakistanis are still healing from the loss against India on Wednesday, but what has perhaps caught most people off guard is Pakistan cricket team’s captain Shahid Afridi’s recent statements in regards to the match . At the post-match ceremony after the loss against India, Shahid Afridi congratulated the Indian crowd and the nation for their fifth consecutive victory over Pakistan in the World Cup format. Furthermore, when he came back to Pakistan, Afridi expressed dismay over the fact that both the public and the media were so obsessed over the “Indian rivalry,” when in fact both nations shared similar cultural traits. Many in the public have unfortunately misplaced Afridi’s statement, with some going as far as accusing him of being unpatriotic. However, careful examination of history shows that Afridi’s observations are not ill founded.

Pakistan’s difficulty of maintaining a civil relationship with India finds its origins right after its creation in August 1947. The rapid transition of becoming an independent state was met with much hostility from the Indian National Congress, with some predicting an early demise of the nation. Furthermore, partition left Pakistan with a highly inferior economy due to India inheriting most of the cotton and jute mills. Perhaps the most damaging factor for Pakistan was the fact that it had to create a new central government, whereas India had inherited the British parliamentary system.

Pakistan was engaged in a war over Kashmir only six months after its independence. This changed Pakistan’s political ideology forever, as it spent 70% of its expenditure towards military defense in its first year after independance. Insecurity, Kashmir and a weaker military led to policies that were focused more towards strengthening the military, thus political institutes and provincial understanding immensely suffered. Non-elected Generals and bureaucrats (retired and serving) ruled Pakistan till 1971.  Ayub Khan in 1959 did propose for a “Joint Defense” Program with India that could have strengthened ties between both nations. However, Indians simply did not trust the Pakistani military due to the 1948 debable, and thus the proposal never materialized. Ayub Khan never looked back, as 1965’s “Operation Gibraltar” focused on regaining Kashmiri territory. This strategic plan was a failure, as it left East Pakistan exposed, and with it further division within the nation. By 1970, the ripples of non-elected military Generals left Pakistan in a state of confusion, as provincial politics decayed. Anti-Indianism only grew stronger in the 1970’s with the instilled notion that India was “solely” responsible for the creation of Bangladesh.

Even though Pakistan continuously witnessed the decay of politics through military rule,  the late 80’s and 90’s showed that with democracy came a shift in attitude towards Indian relations. Both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have represented the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, yet both displayed similar progressive stances towards healing relations with India. Benazir Bhutto, after getting elected in 1988, urged for normalization of relations with India, along with the decrease in the support for the proxy war against India in disputed Kashmir.

Nawaz Sharif similarly in his second term (February 17th, 1997-October 12th, 1999) emphasized on normalization of relations with India (via trade). It was during this term that then Indian Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee made the famous visit to Lahore’s sacred sites, along with the bus ride from Lahore back to India, which was seen as a goodwill gesture towards Nawaz Sharif’s diplomatic efforts. However, both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto would meet their demise due to their Progressive stance towards India. Benazir Bhutto was removed by the military for being too soft and lenient towards India, as well as allegedly revealing secrets about Pakistan’s uranium program to the United States. Nawaz Sharif similarly was met with contempt from the army when Indian Prime Minister Atul Vajpayee came to visit Lahore.

General Musharraf refused to greet Vajpayee at a ceremony held for the Indian Prime Minister. All hopes of reconciliation deteriorated with the chaotic mismanagement of civil-military relations with the infamous “Kargil” operation. A few years later oddly enough, Musharraf(as the military head of state) was actively communicating with Vajpayee at the Agra Summit. Musharraf also tried to initiate dialogue with India on Kashmir and alleged Jihadist infiltration, however all efforts deteriorated after he got a dose of his own medicine as he was forced to resign from office in 2008.

The ever-changing forms of political rule along with the military’s emphasis on defensive expenditures have largely been responsible for the lack of a consistent relationship with India. Infact, conservative estimates show that for a significant period of the Siachin conflict, the Pakistani army spent more than half a million dollars a day trying to match Indian firepower. In spite of the alliances with the United States and the mind-boggling defensives expenditures, the military has not gained any significant territory for Pakistan. Most unfortunate though has been the dissolution of political institutions within the nation. Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto were destined to not be able to succeed due to the military interference in the political sphere.

It was heartening to see Pakistan cricket team’s captain exclaim puzzlement as to how we have come to a stage that the nation only thinks of enmity when India is mentioned. Both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were able to raise questions in regards to how Pakistan should see its relationship with India. One can only hope that sustained civil leadership (without interruption from the military) brings forth these questions once again on the political platform. As a nation, we have been robbed of sustained political rule over the past 64 years, and this has led to a fragmented depiction of our neighbors. Let the future make us seek more deliberation and fewer judgments.