The paradox of a doubly unachieved state
Babar Ayaz talks to Christophe Jaffrelot author of The Paradox of Pakistan — Instability and Resilience
Scores of books have been written on Pakistan underlining the instable nature of this state. Political analysts predicted in the early 1950s that the country would break as East and West Pakistan would not be able to live together. The prediction was proven right within 24 years. Tracing the roots of dictatorship in Pakistan, Hasan Gardezi and Jamil Rashid published a compilation of papers by leading Pakistani intellectuals in 1983 and titled it: “Pakistan — an instable state.” Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, most popular leader after Mohammed Ali Jinnah predicted from the gallows: “If I am assassinated, there will be deluge.” Leftist leader Tariq Ali wrote ‘Can Pakistan survive?” Ahmed Rashid predicted ‘Descent into chaos.’ Christine Fair’s ‘Fighting to the end’ was the critique of the Pakistan Army’s policies and their destablising influence on the politics of Pakistan. Prominent journalist Khaled Ahmed wrote in 2002 that Pakistan is a failing state. US think tank Fund for Peace ranked Pakistan 10th on the list of failing states. My book ‘What’s wrong with Pakistan?’ explores the major cause of instability of this trust-deficit country.
Christophe Jeffrelot’s ‘The paradox of Pakistan – instability and resilience’ is the most recent addition to the literature on Pakistan’s politics. The French scholar’s contribution is in league with Anatol Lievene book ‘Pakistan: A hard country.’ Both are popular among the Pakistani middle and upper classes because Anatol and Christophe have also dwelt on the factors of Pakistan’s resilience despite overwhelming destabilising factors.
In the words of Christophe the book “has sought to key to this instability in the history and sociology of Pakistan, and the movement leading to its foundation.” He has dealt with four types of tensions which are sources of instability of Pakistan: between the project for a unitary nationstate and provinces with the strong ethnic identity; between an authoritarian political culture and democratic forces; between competing conceptions of Islam. That there there is an ongoing tussle for democracy, for more autonomy for the provinces, and against Islamic extremism shows the strength of the factors of resilience in Pakistan.
In an informal discussion with me recently on the sidelines of Islamabad Literature Festival Christophe Jeffrelot was of the opinion that “Pakistan has been characterised by scholars, among other things, as an ‘ideological state’ (like Israel) because of the political reinterpration of Islam by its founding fathers – including Jinnah; a ‘garrison-state’ because of the key role of the military; and as a ‘quasi-failed state’ because of the rise of radical Islamic movements. “But”, he added that “Pakistan’s trajectory may be best captured by another, encompassing feature not contradictory with the qualifications mentioned above and that is its ability to navigate at the interface of domestic and external dynamics – which makes it a client-state and pivotal-state.
He is of the view that in Pakistan’s geographic size, its almost 200 million population, and its nuclear status has been fully exploited by the country to maximise its resources.
Asked why it relies so much on leveraging its strategic position, Christophe observed that “the root cause of this extraversion lays in the Pakistani feeling of vulnerability that crystallised vis-à-vis India as early as 1947 – a sentiment that was reinforced by the then hostile attitude of Afghanistan. Subjected to encirclement, Pakistan looked immediately for external support. The US was the first country Pakistan turned to, but it also made overtures to China and Middle Eastern countries, especially when Washington distanced itself from Islamabad.”
“This policy,” Jaffrelot explained, “was primarily associated with the army, whose quest for foreign, sophisticated military equipment knows no limit, and civilian politicians rally around the same strategy, and not necessarily for security reasons only.” “The political economy rationale of the army’s extraversion cannot be ignored either, since the Pakistani military does not pay taxes and has developed business activities. The Pakistani army, therefore, enjoys a much better lifestyle than the rest of society,” he observed.
“Civilians and military officers also converged,” he maintained, “in the use of (sometimes foreign) Mujahideen in the waging of jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir – the favourite tactic of the army over the last three decades. Z.A. Bhutto supported Hekmatyar and Rabbani against the Kabul regime as early as the 1970s. This strategy gained momentum under Zia during the war against the Soviets. But Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto supported the army’s policy to back the Taliban. And neither Benazir nor Nawaz Sharif had objections towards the support of foreign Mujahideen in Kashmir.”
He believes that almost every action of Pakistan can be interpreted as being motivated by fear of India. The fear of India, says has been reinforced by the Afghan attitude. As a result, Christophe makes an interesting point that Pakistan was doubly unachieved — with Kashmir partly under the control of India and its western frontier still unofficial.
On Pakistan and the US relations, he is clear are that of a patron and its client-state relations.To support his contention Christophe pointed out that Pakistani leaders turned first to the US for support. “Jinnah tried primarily to “sell” his country’s strategic location. In September 1947 Jinnah declared: “The safety of the North West Frontier is of world concern and not merely an internal matter for Pakistan alone.” The US concurred when the Cold War unleashed itself in Korea. The US recognised Pakistan as one of their regional brokers in charge of containing communism in Asia.
These developments, he maintained, may suggest that Pakistan is, in fact, a kind of rentier state. But the countries which are usually described that way owe this quality to their natural resources (typically, oil and/or gas). In the case of Pakistan, he added the rent comes from the strategic location of the country – it is a frontline state facing global threats like communism or Islamic terrorism. The difference does not end here. Rentier states are usually more passive than Pakistan.
Christophe explained during the discussion that a clientelistic relationship is often unstable. Based on mutual interests more than on cultural or ideological affinities.It is subject to constant renegotiations. Today, he says Pakistan is keen to renegotiate the terms of its relations to the US for several reasons. Islamabad and Washington do not share a common enemy any more in Afghanistan, the US-India rapprochement has transformed the old regional equation, and the Obama administration is seen as damaging the country’s sovereignty. In fact, he added that Pakistan would very much like to pivot to other patrons – including China and Saudi Arabia, as it did partly in the past.
The Saudi influence over Pakistan, he pointed out “is not only geopolitical and financial. It is also cultural and religious. First, the Saudis have been in a position to fund a large number of dini madaris (Islamic seminaries) n Pakistan in the context of Zia’s Islamisation policy and, more importantly, during the anti-Soviet Jihad which gave the Saudis a great opportunity to expand. Second, five million Pakistani migrants send billions dollars of remittances from the Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia included. These migrants bring back to their country a different version of Islam – and sometimes prejudices against Shias.”
“Washington,” he thinks, “will probably remain a key partner by default for the Pakistani establishment, as long as the US will be prepared to help Islamabad. The Obama administration will probably reduce its support to Pakistan because of the financial crunch and less troops to supply in Afghanistan. But the US will probably continue to be an important player in Pakistan and be in a position to watch the Islamist and nuclear activities in the countries.”
Discussing the democracy project of Pakistan, Christophe said that the limits of democratisation stem from a web of complex factors, including the political culture of the civilians. Since the country’s inception, Jinnah, its founding father, a product of the viceregal system, favored the construction of a centralized state over a parliamentary system. The Punjabi bureaucrats and the military were not supported centralised system. “However the 18th amendment, he admitted, “has given the provincial governments’ greater power than what it had in the 1988-99 period.” Many such developments, he feels are sources of resilience of Pakistan.