SEVENTEEN ways that Pakistan is rent by conflicting interests

Pakistan is fundamentally conflicted in the sense that the country, as constituted, is torn by contradictory forces. We can identify those contrary forces in different ways, but I here note seventeen ways that the country is pulled in contrary directions. Some of those contradictions are derivative of others. I present this list here provisionally, for correction, and advice. Probably I will dicker with this text over time, to get it more clear and convincing. I will welcome comment and advice.

Fundamental contradiction #1: Pakistan seeks to be an Islamic democracy.

The country was founded to be a democratic regime for Muslims. From the beginning there were many unresolved issues about how democratic ideals would blend with Islamic ideals, for democratic process implies a system of government established by the consent of the governed whereas Islam implies a system of social relations based on revelation. From the beginning Pakistanis argued that these two traditions of social practice are not contrary but so far the country has failed to resolve how they should be blended in practice.

Fundamental contradiction #2: Despite an appearance of democratic rule, those in power are a land-holding elite who exercise control in their own interest.

This is the way Stephen Cohen put it: “The feudals stay on in power, close to the Establishment. … they are wary of the United States and schemes for ‘local self government’ … The power and survival skills of this aristocracy are evident [in that] no Pakistan government has ever imposed an agricultural tax. [They resist] .. social change and reform, let alone education and economic development….[and they have] unmatched political resources.” [S.P.Cohen The Idea of Pakistan, p. 143]

Fundamental contradiction #3: An ethnic mosaic A: The Baluch are one of the several ethno-linguistic groups whose loyalties are local rather than to the Pakistan state.

The Baluch never wanted to be part of Pakistan, and the Baluch leadership continue to resent Pakistan’s control of the province. This is one of the reasons for the continued resistance activities among the Baluch. Many Baluch believe that the Pakistan government takes more value in the gas it obtains in Baluchistan than it returns to the Baluch people.

Fundamental contradiction #4: An ethnic mosaic B: The Pathans (Pushtuns) are also one of the several ethno-linguistic groups whose loyalties are local rather than to the Pakistan state.

The Pushtun tribes, many of whom live in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, have remained essentially autonomous, as they have been for centuries. The British dealt with them by paying them off, and the Pathan tribes remained relatively autonomous after Pakistan was formed. The autonomy of the Pathan tribes in FATA has made the region a haven for renegades from the state.

Fundamental contradiction #5: An ethnic mosaic C: The Punjabis, supported by the Muhajirs and some educated Pathans, dominate the Pakistani state in their own interest, despite claims to be managing a democracy.

According to Sindhi and Baluch intellectuals and politicians “the Punjabi-dominated Establishment [is] in league with a few Mohajirs and the Pashtuns, [and] use foreign and defense poloitcy as a club to beat the lesser provinces, notably Sindh and Baluchistan.” They will “not normalize relations with India because they want to maintain a large army.” [SPCohen, The Idea of Pakistan. p.223].

Fundamental contradiction #6. A powerful contraband industry flourishes In the face of state institutions.

Stephen Cohen: “There is a large unofficial economy, estimated to be 50 to 100 percent of the size of the regular economy” [SPCohen, The Idea of Pakistan, p. 249]. “[A]s far as perceptions of corruption are concerned, Pakistan was ranked 93 in the world…” [p. 255]. “the urban middle class, traders and industrialists avoided taxes by privately lobbying the government through a process of sifaarish (connections) to exempt them from the provision of tax laws, by hiding income and by publicly resisting any attempts to levy new taxes…. the urban middle class sought its own solutions through private rather than collective actions. They created private educational facilities, private health care institutions and private protection forces. [As a result] the soicety became increasingly fragmented ….” [ p. 260.] And public services have languished.

Fundamental contradiction #7. Owing to corruption, the government fails to maintain a just and orderly society.

There is a manifest failure of the established institutions of governance to enforce the rule of law. Stephen P Cohen, for instance, describes the situation in Karachi: “protection, kidnapping, and extorting rackets are common, … [There were] 219 major kidnappings (involving high-profile persons …) in the city between 1990 and 1998.” [Cohen, The Idea of Pakistan p 210].

Fundamental contradiction #8: The Pakistani army is a capitalistic organization as well as a military organization.

According to Stephen P. Cohen “…defense expenditure in 2003 stood at 54.5 percent of the budget…” [p 249]. Beyond the military budget, the army holds huge agricultural and industrial properties. “[T]he armed forces have become entangled in the economy in a way that will be harmful to both growth and their professionalism. … [There are powerful] foundations and businesses linked to the military. …[The largest of these, the Fauji Foundation, has assets worth] Rs 9.8 billion in 2000 — and is now one of the largest business conglomerates in the country. [The military also controls] other foundations [with] revenues of Rs 18 billion. [Moreover] these businesses expanded … because they received government subsidies and preferential contracts.” [p 261].

Fundamental contradiction #9: The army has encouraged Islamist movements in order to have troops ready for the Kashmir cause (while claiming to fight “the war on terror”).

Pakistan has countenanced many Islamist organizations and Deobandi madrassahs owing to the army’s concern to keep the struggle over Kashmir going. The government has neglected official state educational facilities and allowed Islamist-leaning madrassahs to develop. Hassan Abbas (Pakistan’s Drift toward Extremism) refers to dozens of Islamist networks that are organized and impelled by a sense of alienation from the western world (p 2005). In 2002 there were fifty-eight politico-religious parties and twenty-four armed religious militias (“jehadis”) in the country (p. 201), many of them linked to or in sympathy with Al Qaeda. There were over 30,000 madrassahs, Islamist schools, where, according to Hassan Abbas (2005: 203), students were “taught how to kill people”. Moreover, criminal elements, especially in the illicit drug industry, had found in Islamist groups “a perfect cover for their own activities” (p. 206). Graduates of the Islamic schools are ill-prepared for work in a modern society. Islamic schools have “created a class of religious lumpen proletariat, unemployable and practically uneducation young men … who find traditional avenues clogged and modern ones blocked” (Cohen, The Idea of Pakistan, p 182).

Fundamental contradiction #10. Saudi wealth has funded Wahhabi madrassahs as well as mosques that support Islamism.

Saudis have invested heavily in mosques and madrassas in Pakistan, and as elsewhere their wealth has fostered Wahhabism, which leans toward a strong Islamist critique of the public affairs.

Fundamental contradiction #11: Al Qaeda seems to operate with impunity within Pakistan’s tribal areas.

That Osama Bin Laden has found sanctuary in Pakistan without being captured in the last six years suggests that his presence is even tolerated by at least some officials. His continued commitment to a struggle against the western world is an open challenge to Pakistan’s commitment to trying to capture him.

Fundamental contradiction #12: The Taliban found sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal areas and have been gaining in strength despite official claims to be controlling the movement.

The rise of the Taliban since 2001 inside Pakistan is one of the most serious developments in the region. The new power of the Taliban is manifest in the strength they have gained over the local tribal elders in the tribal areas in the last year, threatening the old tribal system of authority. [Giustozzi, 2007. Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop.] Pakistan has become a major hub for “Islamist movements and their offshoots,” say Zahab and Roy (Islamist Networks, 2004)

Fundamental contradiction #13: Certain minorities within Pakistan enjoy little protection from abuse.

There are sizable minorities in Pakistan – Christians, Shi’ites, Ahmadis – and many of them have been targets of attacks by extremists of various sorts, with rare consequences. Minorities often find that the official institutions by which they might obtain redress fail to act in their behalf.

Fundamental contradiction #14: Pakistan’s nuclear industry, of which many are proud, has had surreptitious connections to rogue states.

Despite Pakistan’s claims to being involved in the “war on terror” the scientist that brought nuclear power to Pakistan, A. Q. Khan, has apparently sold this knowledge to other countries such as Libya, North Korea, and Iran. Dr. Khan is officially under house arrest.

Fundamental contradiction #15: Pakistan’s future viability as a country obliges the country to maintain connections with regimes elsewhere that have no interest in the democracy that Pakistan officially espouses.

Pakistani officials even as early as the 1970s decided that the United States would be an inconsistent source of support and that the country’s future had to be anchored to other countries, notably China. Since then Russia has become a similarly important ally.

Fundamental contradiction #16: Pakistan has a growing demand for fossil fuels which makes it dependent on Saudi Arabia and Iran and obliges the country to seek connections with the fuel-rich countries of Central Asia.

Pakistan’s energy needs will become desperate within the next decade, forcing a major push for connections into Central Asia. This is the reason for the new port being built at Gwadar with the help of the Chinese, in hopes of linkages into Central Asia that will prove lucrative to Pakistan. Pakistan’s relations with fossil fuel producing states will create profound dependency on those states.

Fundamental contradiction #17: Pakistan needs Afghanistan to be friendly – and dependent.

Pakistan’s need for connections into Central Asia turn Afghanistan into a critical corridor for the transport of goods. Afghanistan is critical to Pakistan’s future, which means that the Afghanistan government must be won over – which is unlikely – or must be made subservient – which is even more unlikely. It is hard to guess what this will mean for Pakistani – Afghan relations, but historically they have never been good.

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