Speaking at the 3rdLiterary Festival in Karachi on 11th and 12th of this month Anatol Lieven, the author of the much acclaimed book ‘Pakistan a Hard Country’ said a country that can still have such a successful event “cannot be called a failed state.” Instant applause from the packed hall of Pakistanis yearning for reassurance was a booster for the writer.
His book has received mostly favourable reviews in Pakistan. Many who have read these reviews and a few who have read his book like the positive tone of the book about Pakistan because the Western writers who have written on Pakistan have been highly critical about the country. Starting from the eighties when Hasan Gardezi and Jamil Rashid edited a remarkable collections of articles under the title of ‘Pakistan the Roots of Dictatorship’ and Tariq Ali raising an alarming question ‘Can Pakistan survive? The Death of a State’, many doubts have been expressed by journalists and political writers about the survival of Pakistan. In this backdrop when Anatol’s book came it was a breath of fresh air for the English speaking elite.
But what most people did not notice is Anatol’s parting remark of immense importance: “It should be clear from the book that Pakistan, though a deeply troubled state, is also a tough one, and that barring catastrophic decisions in Washington, New Delhi – and of course Islamabad – it is likely to survive as a country.” Now these caveats, perhaps, have not been giving due weightage by the people who are taking solace in the title of the book.
I wanted to draw his attention to this conclusion at the session where he was grilled hard by Ayesha Siddiqa about his soft approach towards the military, but didn’t get the chance. I wanted to draw his attention to the above conclusion of the book and ask what if Pakistani establishment continues its stupid India-centric policies; and does not stop dreaming to have a government of its choice in Kabul; and Washington and New Delhi support the secessionist movement of Baluchistan to punish us; will Pakistan still prove to be a hard country?
While the US-Iran tension is increasing, the Congress representatives have started taking an interest in the Balochistan secession movement; on the other hand Pakistan’s interest is to stand with its neighbour particularly when it badly needs the gas injection from Iran. In this situation will US, which is known for taking ‘catastrophic decisions’, not overtly and more so covertly support an independent Balochistan to surround Iran and break this ‘hard country’? The Baloch and Sindhi nationalists are already openly telling the Americans that they can be their true allies in the region as they are averse to Talibanisation unlike the Taliban-friendly establishment in Rawalpindi.
Anatol is a journalist-academician, he has flagged all the positive and negatives of Pakistan and warned the ‘neo-conservatives’ of the US not to try to control the Pakistani ‘behaviour.’ That’s what makes him a favourite of Pakistanis. His journalist self is reporting and interpreting in his book what he saw and heard. He has not taken an academician approach to analyse Pakistan society with social, political and economic perspective. So the book should be judged on that plain.
Ayesha Siddiqa, who is a strong critic of Pakistan army, asked Anatol why he praised Pakistan’s military as more ‘efficient’ and ‘honest.’ Anatol explained that he has talked about ‘relative military efficiency.’ In his chapter on ‘The Military’ he says: “As this chapter will bring out though, this relative military efficiency is only possible because the military has far more resources than civilian institutions.” Further down he observed: “Civilian governments themselves have often asked the military to step into aspects of governments, because of its efficiency and honesty.” Most of the chapter is based on the interviews of the military officials and this is where Pakistani analysts who suffer the military sense of superiority over the ‘bloody civilians’ are critical about Anatol’s book.
Anatol is right when he says that he qualified his praise of the military ‘efficiency’ with an adjective ‘relative’ and has underlined that this was only possible because military has far more resources than civilian institutions. However as the military dominance in Pakistan is a sensitive subject for those who support democracy the subject needed more elaborate explanation as to how military dominance in Pakistan has retarded the growth of other institutions. While having more resources may be one factor for efficiency, there are a number of other factors also at work even in most advanced democracies — for instance the strong military discipline where no questions can be asked once decision is made by the high command versus a democratic organisation. At the face of it the Dubai and Chinese governments are more efficient relatively when compared to US and Indian democracies, although one is ruled by a Sheikh and the other by a disciplined communist party. Another aspect that has to be kept in mind is that Pakistan military is not that efficient as it appears from the outside and through the prism of the serving and retired military officials. Their wasteful use of resources and not so enviable management skills are hidden and need a closer look as done by Ayesha Siddiqa in her ‘Military Inc’.
The case of honesty is also weak. As said in some of the interviews used by Anatol that corruption seeps in the military where they come into contact with the civilians, now this means that they are honest as long as they don’t have a chance to be corrupt. The same rule applies to the civilian officials and the politicians. Corruption is in-built in the free-market economic system and in the communist systems also. In Pakistan the most talked about corruption is that of politicians, mostly inspired by the intelligence agencies, disgruntled civil bureaucrats and middle class media moralists. Corruption cannot be condoned but no country has been able to completely do away with it. Every military government has used the corruption bogey to dislodge the political governments in Pakistan.
One of the most serious cases of corruption that has been pushed under the carpet of history, is the one related to the sale of arms to the so-called Mujahideen groups by the Zia regime officials. Most local and foreign journalists who covered the eighties insurgencies in Afghanistan were of the view that almost 70% arms which were given to the Afghan insurgents were sold by them in Pakistan. Even if this claim is considered exaggerated, according to most conservative estimates if it is accepted that 33% arms were sold to the people in Pakistan, arms worth one billion dollars proliferated in this country. This changed the whole dynamics of Pakistani society and introduced wanton violence. Isn’t this a bigger wrong done by the military establishment? The resources spent on financing the Jihadi groups is a clear proof of inefficient policy making and financing these organisation without any audit leads to corruption.
And lastly it has to be kept in mind that the ‘efficient’ and ‘honest’ military has not been intellectually honest, something that harms the country more than monetary corruption. They are also not a monolithic force as it was seen when General Zia was killed in 1988. The signs of cracks were visible before he was killed.
At another session at the Literary Festival an insightful narrative was given by Ahmed Rashid and Khaled Ahmed which flagged the existential threats to the country from the existing so-called national security policy of our establishment. On the same day the evidence of this narrative was witnessed at the ‘Difa-e-Pakistan’ rally at Bagh-e-Jinnah in Karachi, another example of the ‘efficient’ crafting of an alliance of banned and extremist religious parties.