A state that appears weak emboldens chaos. There are signs that both United States and India have shown interest in creating ethnic bloodshed inside Pakistan in case of a war over Mumbai. A political failure at the top is putting Pakistan and the lives of Pakistanis at risk. The possibility of an Indo-American war of aggression against Pakistan is still there. But a weak Pakistan from the inside is a bigger threat. Time for the Pakistani military to join upright civilians from outside the political elite to rescue the state through major internal changes. The homeland before all else.
By Ahmed Quraishi
Monday, 5 January 2008.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—It was a coincidence. But a telling one for Pakistan.
As India ratcheted up threats of war, three major internal flare-ups ominously coincided with a looming foreign military aggression: a mysterious attempt to spark ethnic riots in Karachi, unexpected statements from some Balochistan politicians hinting at rebellion against the state if their demands were not met, and renaming of NWFP without changing the constitution. Curiously, the last move came on the day the nation unofficially mourned the secession of East Pakistan in 1971. Ethnic frictions – largely the result of political failures than anything else – are common to all of them.
Each one of these incidents had the potential of creating domestic rift when Pakistan faced external threat. The timing, however, was no coincidence. A state that appears weak emboldens chaos. The government and the military managed to control the situation. But it is evident that Pakistan is delaying decision on a difficult task: a major reformation of a weak state structure incapable of handling challenges in the twenty-first century.
The urgency of this task stems from signs that foreign powers are using our weaknesses to blackmail the country and extract concessions. In case of war, these weaknesses will be exploited to the fullest.
India’s invasion of East Pakistan in 1971 was the first successful attempt at using ethnicity to divide Pakistan. Some non-state actors in India continue to use this useful idea, relying on the continuing inability of Pakistani politicians to foster a strong sense of Pakistani nationalism. The 1980s and ‘90s saw concerted effort by Indian intelligence agencies to separately engage Pakistani Punjabis and Sindhis and others through cultural organizations based in third countries. The purpose was to encourage separate identities. This effort has moved now to include Pakistani Pashtuns and Balochis. The Americans in 2007 and early 2008 massively promoted ideas for a future division of Pakistan into weak, ethnocentric states. And it is no coincidence that Washington during this period privately courted Pakistani politicians from ethno-separatist leaning parties, some of whom were invited to U.S. for consultations away from media glare.
There is a link between the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and the sudden rise – since 2005 and onwards – of ethno-separatist chatter in Pakistan. The U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and its larger plans for the region do no bode well for Pakistan. Faced by a divided NATO and rising Russia and China, Washington needs Indian military help if it wants to keep Afghanistan under occupation. Pakistan is a little more than a nuisance in this scheme of things. If India is to be brought into Afghanistan, a weaker and localized Pakistan better suits U.S. interests. Denuclearizing Pakistan and ending its alliance with China are also not possible without weakening the Pakistani military.
The U.S. used drone attacks to soften Iraq throughout 1990s. The same strategy is being used against Pakistan. Regular U.S. military violations of Pakistani territory have become the norm. In Iraq, while the drone attacks continued, U.S. courted Iraqi ethnic and religious minority groups and spent time cultivating loyalties. The process of preparing the Iraqi state for an eventual collapse took exactly a decade. The Iraqi leadership bears responsibility for not reading the signs.
A similar leadership failure in Pakistan must be stopped at all costs. A reorganization of the Pakistani state has become imperative. And such a huge task cannot be put to vote because an ailing system will rather perpetuate itself than change. The Pakistani state needs to be transformed from an amalgamation of ethnicities to an amalgamation of administrative units where Pakistani identity reins supreme and ethno-religious loopholes firmly sealed.
To strengthen democracy, the political monopoly of feudal politicians will have to give way to a more representative system. Ethnocentric politics will have to be curbed; parties will have to become democratic. Reform will mean a strong federal government with streamlined bureaucracy, and powers transferred to a series of administrative provinces with local parliaments and directly elected governors. In short, the state will have to help Pakistanis gradually de-politicize and refocus energy toward building better living standards and lifestyles.
These ambitious reforms can only come through a joint intervention by Pakistani civilians and military and might require a temporary period of controlled government. The current political class does not have the will or incentive to bring change.
To borrow from history, Pakistani tribes are strong but divided. They’re in need of a strong leader. The road ahead is one of consolidation. The alternative is death and destruction of the type that some of our so-called allies have brought to Iraq, Afghanistan, our tribal belt, and now Gaza.