Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Review of Husain Haqqani's book (Dawn, July 4)

Spread of fundamentalism and democracy

By Tariq Fatemi

HOW come a state that was created by the freely expressed will of the people, through various forms of participatory elections, has had to endure decades of unelected, authoritarian rule, from those who have shown scant regard for even the pretence of democracy? And, how come this same state, whose birth was bitterly and vociferously opposed by the religious parties, has now come to accept a primary role for these fundamentalist religious groups?Finally, why and how did the United States, while proclaiming and preaching its strong attachment to democracy and the rule of law, nevertheless prefer to sustain and nurture authoritarian, fundamentalist regimes in this country?These are questions over which many a Pakistani has agonized for years, wondering when and how things went wrong in their homeland for which millions sacrificed all they possessed. We now have as good an answer as any we are likely to get.

Husain Haqqani, a well-known Pakistani journalist, who had the unusual distinction of gaining the confidence of two of the country’s most bitter political rivals (Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif), has obviously spent his years in Washington DC to good purpose, as evident from his book, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military released recently by the Carnegie Endowment.The book should be welcomed for both its content as well as its timing, by political analysts and common citizens of this tormented land. Simultaneously, it should merit consideration by the establishments in both Pakistan and the United States, given the fact that not only is Pakistan the recipient of massive amounts of assistance from the US, but that Washington has declared Pakistan, and more importantly its military ruler, General Musharraf, as a lynchpin in American plans for combating global terrorism.Mr Haqqani paints a wide canvas, in which he not only deals extensively with the role of the Islamic parties and the armed forces in the evolution and development of the country’s politics, society and the economy, but goes back to the very origins of the country’s quest for security and an identify.

In pursuit of this ambitious objective, he seeks to examine all those postulates which became sacred over time, not because they emanated from the people, but because it was to the advantage of the ruling circles, to perpetuate these myths and turn them into shibboleths.A stage was reached where Mr Jinnah’s important policy pronouncement was altered to suit the whims of the rulers. Therefore, it is imperative to know the tragic events that led to the evolution and development of a polity that became religiously extremist and socially bigoted, that in turn transformed the country into a fundamentalist state, where the military claims for itself the unquestioned right to rule. And in this most bizarre mix, the United States became not only a key player, but one whose influence continued to grow, even at times when the two appeared to be drifting apart. No wonder then, that though Pakistan has been one of the major recipients of American largesse, the country’s vast majority has a hostile view of the US.Of course, many of the things that Haqqani writes about have been known or suspected for years.

To see the confirmation of these misgivings, by reference to source material, is deeply disturbing. Should we then be surprised to learn that the army chief decided way back in September 1953 to visit the United States “at his own volition”, so he could offer Pakistan’s “services to serve US interests as the West’s eastern anchor in an Asian alliance”.Or, that Gen Ayub had discussed with the British envoy his plans to topple the civilian government “because the time had come for him to act”, and presumably was encouraged to do so. And, notwithstanding his own aversion to religious rituals, Ayub recognized early on the usefulness of injecting Islam into the body politic of the country. Therefore, while abroad, he presented himself as an Ataturk, while at home, he “moved Pakistan further along the road of a state-sponsored ideology”.It was however under Pakistan’s second military spell that the regime not only co-opted the Islamists into the state machinery but made them and the military, the guardians of state ideology. That this should have been done by Gen Yahya, who in his personal life showed scant respect for the precepts of Islam, made it even more cynical.Bhutto did succeed in “creating a new Pakistani order in which secular civilians attained ascendancy”, but he failed to protect it against “the onslaught of the mosque-military combine..... because of his compromises with the forces of obscurantism and his desire for a large military beholden to him”. Thereafter, Zia ul Haq not only “attained power as a result of the mosque-military alliance, he also worked assiduously to strengthen it over the next 11 years”.On Afghanistan, the book tells us that much before the Soviets had installed Babrak Karmal in Kabul, both Pakistani and American intelligence were already funnelling in men, money and material into that country.

However, it was Gen Zia, who having seen his two military predecessors stumble into war with India, and thereafter lose American support and finally their power, who realized the folly of repeating the same mistake. He was fortunate in having the brilliant strategic thinker, Yaqub Khan as his close confidant and counselor. The latter had the foresight to point out the dangers of a conflict with India, especially at a time when we were already engaged in a war-like situation with Afghanistan.General Musharraf, too, having engaged in the Kargil encounter and seen its fall-out, realized early on that “the semblance of good relations with India had become a prerequisite for Pakistan’s security relationship with the US”. He, therefore, made normalization with India his major goal. This has not only earned him kudos in Washington, but made it possible for the resumption of American arms supply to Pakistan.Significantly but tragically, the two civilian political leaders who were the most enthusiastic supporters of a strong military and went out of their way to prevent its humiliation met inglorious ends. True, both Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif made many mistakes, including ‘their refusal to compromise and work with each other”, but it is equally true that the “civilian leaders might not have blundered into many of their bad decisions if they had not had the mullahs and the military narrowing their options”.That the Americans have always had a preference for military rulers in Pakistan is well-documented.

Nevertheless, to see fresh corroboration of this is an eye-opener, to any who suffers from the illusion that the US is committed to democracy and the rule of law.Our military rulers, aware that American policymakers focus much more on the failings of politicians than on their shortcomings, make it a special point to cultivate the Pentagon. In this context, the roles played by Generals Zinni and Frank to facilitate General Musharraf’s acceptance in Washington is fresh confirmation of this perception. Relevant here is also the observation of the American historian Dennis Kux, who in the context of the 1990 aid suspension has written that “the Pentagon was especially sorry about the rupture in cooperative security ties”.Even more revealing are the aid statistics. Between 1954 and 2002, the US provided a total of $12.6 billion to Pakistan. Of this $9.19 billion was given during 24 years of military rule, while only $3.4 billion was provided to civilian governments covering 19 years.Admittedly, American support for Pakistan’s military regimes has not made the task any easier for Pakistan’s weak, secular civil society “to assert itself and wean Pakistan away from the rhetoric of Islamic ideology toward issues of real concern for the citizens”.

But is there any lesson in all this for the present leadership, should it ever wish to disengage itself from its involvement in national politics? Ironically, it may be the counsel of a senior general, who was one of the foremost proponents of the army’s rule, that it may wish to recall.In 1969, Major General Sher Ali Khan had advised Gen Yahya that the army’s ability to rule lay in its being perceived by the people as “a mythical entity, a magical force, that would succour them in times of need when all else failed”. It is for the current rulers to determine if any of that myth or magic remains. But they are patriots. They have to recognize that continued denial to the people of their inherent right to be governed by a freely and fairly elected government, that is accountable and answerable to them, amounts to preventing the inevitable march of history.They must also realize that the alliance between the military and the Islamists “has the potential to frustrate anti-terrorist operations, radicalize key segments of the Islamic world, and bring India and Pakistan to the brink of war”. There are other dangers as well, arising primarily from the regime’s willingness to adjust its priorities to fit within the parameters of US global concerns.

Do we not realize that we are receiving military and economic aid from the Americans only because we have made Pakistan, “a rentier state, albeit one that lives off the rents for its strategic location”.The US, too, must abandon its preference for quick, short-term, transient advantages for long-term, permanent benefits. It must recognize its past mistakes, and then embrace strategic choices, such as strengthening civil society, encouraging secular political parties, nurturing forces of peace and moderation and insisting on democratic values and the rule of law everywhere, but certainly so in countries that seek American support and assistance. It is only then that the Americans will be perceived as “friends and not masters”.