Pakistanis have seen it all, what next?

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad once remarked that India is a country, while Pakistan is an experiment. Narendra Modi’s determination to enforce the ideology of Hindutva on one of the world’s most diverse and complex nations quickly transformed India from a normal country into an experiment too.  As for Pakistan, an experiment it has been from birth, indeed a series of experiments, each one of them a worse fiasco than the preceding one.

(Published in Daily Times, 20 February 2020)

Over seventy years after independence – and many saviours and experiments later –  Pakistan is at the moment struggling to stay in the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and not be blacklisted, like Iran and North Korea. International leaders, scholars and commentators keep asking “what went wrong with Pakistan” and debating whether it is a failing state or a failed state.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad once remarked that India is a country, while Pakistan is an experiment. An experiment, indeed, it has been. But before I get into that, a word or two about India.

India was a normal country, with a constitution written within a couple of years of independence and in force ever since. Only once was the constitution suspended, in June 1975, when Indira Gandhi lost her mind after an Allahabad High Court verdict against her and declared a State of Emergency. But she lost the next elections in March 1977.

With some twists and turns and a few wars fought, one disastrously (with China), others successfully (against Pakistan), India was developing slowly but steadily. By the first decade of this century, it had grown into a stable democratic and secular state, with a high standing in the comity of nations. It held the promise of developing from a south Asian to an Asian power and an economic powerhouse.

Then came Narendra Modi and BJP. Their determination to enforce the ideology of Hindutva on one of the world’s most diverse and complex nations quickly transformed India from a normal country into an experiment too, and a very dangerous one at that.

Hindutva is alarming because it joins religious fanaticism with hyper nationalism, both of which are independently capable of wreaking havoc on any country.

As for Pakistan, an experiment it has been from birth, indeed a series of experiments, each one of them a worse fiasco than the preceding one. This country’s first decade was consumed in wrangling over issues of federalism, particularly provincial electoral weightage and autonomy, as well as the role of Islam in the state structure.

Soon after a broad agreement was reached, resulting in the adoption of a constitution in March 1956, General Mohammad Ayub Khan burst in. In tandem with President Iskander Mirza (whom he threw out in three weeks), he cast the constitution to the dustbin, declaring that politicians were pest and that he was the savior who knew best.

Promoting himself to Field Marshall, Ayub Khan devised a system of “Basic Democracy”, in which 80,000 Basic Democrats would elect a powerful President, to wit, himself. His experiment in “guided democracy” was enshrined in the constitution of 1962.

A hare-brained scheme, it floundered under the weight of rising public discontent throughout the country, but especially in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The ill-advised 1965 war with India revealed and exacerbated many fault lines within the country. Four years later, Ayub resigned in disgrace, another general stepped in and things got from bad to worse.

The catastrophic defeat to India in the 1971 war, and the resulting secession of East Pakistan, brought Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the self-proclaimed Quaid-e-Awam. Pakistan got a new constitution in 1973.

Bhutto began with the promise of Islamic Socialism but, faced with the challenge of Islamist parties, he proclaimed Musawat-e-Muhammadi, understood as Islamic egalitarianism. That did not save his government.

General Zia Ul Haque, who overthrew Bhutto and sent him to the gallows, promised Islamisation of the Islamic Republic. Nizam-e-Mustafa (“System of the Prophet Muhammad”) became his catchword, supported by the Islamist parties who had coined the term.

Zia Ul Haque put the constitution on the chopping board in the name of Islamisation. His experiment blew up in thin air, when his plane exploded in the sky in 1988. While the wreckage of Zia’s plane was cleaned up within hours, fragments of his experiment in Islamisation still haunt the country.

Then came this and that, followed by more of this and that. In just about ten years (1988-1999), Pakistan had four elected governments, all dishonorably dismissed, and three interim, caretaker administrations, which managed things rather carelessly.

These were years of high drama and byzantine intrigues, of back-stabbing, vote-buying and vote-selling, all controlled and manipulated by The Establishment, sometimes remotely, sometimes not so remotely.

All came to a head in 1999, when the prime minister, who boasted about his “heavy mandate” from the people (a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly) sacked his army chief, only to be sacked and imprisoned himself within hours by the sacked army chief.

Pakistan now had a new savior, General Pervez Musharraf.  A commando by profession and inclination, he liked dogs, despised politicians and promised “enlightened moderation”.  Call him “Ayub Khan the Second” if you will.

With him at the helm, two times elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif first went to jail and then into exile in Saudi Arabia. Another two times elected prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, choosing discretion over valour, divided her time between Dubai and London.

Musharraf spoke of “enlightened moderation”, but scattered mainstream and relatively secular politicians, hobnobbing instead with Islamist parties and fringe entities.

Politicians had the better of Musharraf, though, just as they had of Ayub Khan. Amid much turmoil, Musharraf’s arrogance was busted and he bowed out in 2008. Soon it would be his turn to face prosecution. The commando chose instead to flee into exile in Dubai under the pretext of visiting his ailing mother.

With him gone and a rapprochement of sorts between the two major political parties and their leaders, Pakistan seemed on the way to becoming a normal country. Power was transferred peacefully in 2013 for the first time from one party to another as a result of elections.

The next (third) consecutive election within the stipulated time frame had held out the hope that Pakistan’s position as a normal democratic country would be further strengthened.

Instead, as the elections approached, the government became the target of sniping and shelling by powers that be. The most popular political leader of the country, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was thrown into jail and his associates persecuted.  Elections were held in 2018 in conditions that were far from free and fair.

It was time for a new saviour, Imran Khan, under the banner of fighting corruption and “tabdeeli” (change). He promised to transform a struggling and experimental “Islamic Republic” into a “New Madina”. This is understood to mean a society where social welfare, equality before the law and justice would prevail. All indications are that this is no more than another pie in the sky, yet another experiment bound to fail.

One wishes that Pakistan was just a normal country, with free and fair elections, an independent and competent judiciary and an unfettered press, rather than a laboratory of experiments for charlatans and careerists, commandos and captains.

by Razi Azmi

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10 Responses to Pakistanis have seen it all, what next?

  1. Khalid Pathan says:

    Very well written. The only exception are the politicians that you have a soft corner for, the Shareefs and Bhuttos. Nawaz Shareef, an extremely corrupt, cunning and vindictive person, who came on the slogan of JAG PUNJABI JAG, not only looted the country right and left but also corrupted the entire bureaucracy by promoting and appointing such persons to positions of authority who would collude with him in siphoning off the treasury of Pakistan into overseas enterprises. The other civilian government of Bhutto’s and Zardari’s is an open loot in collusion with those who matter. The experiment is failing with little hope to succeed because of the religiosity and the hypocrisy that Gen Zia left in this country in the name of Islam.

    • Razi Azmi says:

      I confess to having a “soft corner” for the democratic process which, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, with all its weaknesses and shortcomings, is the best system of government available. Woe to me if I overlook or condone the corruption of our politicians. And, by the way, in a country where corruption is the rule, rather than the exception, right from the top to the bottom and from one end to the other, it is a bit of an over-simplification to focus on just a couple of people, and only politicians, and only when they become inconvenient or persona non grata for other reasons.

  2. Nasr says:

    As you mentioned above, looks to me Pakistan is a failed state?
    If failed state is who is behind this? And to put in Blacklist? Molvi? Army?India,USA? Or Arabs??

    • Razi Azmi says:

      Surely we can’t blame just any one of them. I am glad you did not mention Jews and Israel, but surprised that you mention Arabs. And there may be other actors or factors you have not mentioned.

  3. Jehanzeb says:

    The series of experiments had been conducted for the sake of it. No lessons were learnt. Mistakes repeated ad nauseam.

    Most experiments failed even before they could start. Wrong premises led to wrong conclusions.

    By the looks of it, the present experiment appears to be the most monumental of all. Untested elements have been thrown in with highly reactive matters with little catalyst for a real change. While a lot of heat is getting discharged, the solution seems to remain rather under-cooked and sterile.

  4. Pradeep Kalra says:

    A spot on presentation of Pakistan’s checkered history. All the experiments have failed. Now experiments are being conducted in India in the name of Religion and Development which will lead to social unrest and harm India’s image as the largest Democracy. The leaders are power hungry and selfish, and people come last on their agenda. It was enlightening to go through the well researched article.

  5. Noman Sattar says:

    A good and insightful analysis of the political process, and democratic (un)development. One thing missing is why the present govt seems to be failing in meeting its commitments, and people’s expectations. If the Sharif and Zardari models of democracy and development failed, Imran Khan model, at this time, seems to be failing as well.

    • Razi Azmi says:

      You want me to make in-depth analysis within an editorial limitation of 1200 words, while being extremely economical yourself, when there is no limit on you. I would welcome you to expand on some of the points you have raised.

  6. Sayed Chowdhury says:

    Thank you for a well-crafted health bulletin of congenitally and gravely ill Pakistan. You gave a good commentary on how Pakistan has moved from one saviour to the next over the decades (or in other words how the saviours took turns to save ‘Pakistan’). You also raised a valid question – What’s next?

    What’s the point doing a symptomatic examination of the congenital and chronic ailments of ‘Pakistan’ without going to the roots – how the anachronistic political embryo of ‘Pakistan’ was conceived and delivered by Jinnah, Liaquat and their cohorts. Without exposing Jinnah and his cohorts, who actually laid the foundation of what happened in ‘Pakistan” during their rule and after them, your readers simply will grope in the dark. If 1,200 words limit for your op-eds is what stops you from going deep, please write one or two separate op-eds on Pakistan’s “great leaders”!

    How many people in Pakistan today are aware that Jinnah was a control freak when it came to governance in the new nation. I will cite just two examples – as Governor General he held cabinet portfolios with him and he, rather than the prime minister, also presided over cabinet meetings! For his part, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan had confiscated the properties of Chaudhry Rahmat Ali (the man who had coined the name ‘PakStan’ or Pakistan) and expelled him from Pakistan when he came back from UK to live there, simply because he was critical of the Jinnah-Liaquat regime.

    What Jinnah-Liaquat did to disenfranchise the majority Bengalees in Pakistan is another betrayal of colossal proportion by them. What the proponents of Pakistan sowed is what has ripened and being harvested.

    Dr Azmi, through all this, do you see any possibility in the horizon that the boundaries of the subcontinent are likely to be redrawn (acknowledging that this has already happened partly, once in 1971 and again in 2019 in Kashmir)?

    And don’t be upset and emotive with the malignant hindutva growth in India! It’s a matter of time this will be chemeotherapied and removed! (Didn’t Hitler look invincible for a period?) Potentially, the future of the subcontinent lies in a complete redrawing of the boundaries under a radically re-configured political structure. However, it’s gestation can be a bit long, and labour a bit painful!!

    • Razi Azmi says:

      I think the future of the subcontinent lies very simply in a very simple formula: genuinely democratic governments in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, with freedom of movement for people and goods as in Europe. If that sounds too idealistic, at a minimum we need freedom of movement among the SAARC member states of South Asia as now exists in the ASEAN member states of Southeast Asia. At the moment, the India-Pakistan border is rock-hard, the hardest on earth, second only to the border between North and South Korea.

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