Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Pakistan at the Crossroads-I

Experts have been debating about the future of Pakistan given the nature of civil strife and political instability that has dogged that country for the past few years.[1] It needs to be emphasized that Pakistan’s problems are not of yesterday’s making. They are systemic and congenital, if one can use the expression for a nation-state.

The Beginnings

The state of Pakistan was doomed since its birth in 1947. The creation of Pakistan in 1947 was tumultuous and marked by violence unprecedented in the sub-continent. Pakistan came into international limelight by invading Kashmir in 1948 which was contiguous to both India and Pakistan In just over a year after its independence, its first founding father, Jinnah passed away. In October 1951, its first PM Liaqat Ali Khan was assassinated. His assassin, an Afghan was killed and hence the causative factors behind the assassination remained unknown. In the absence of leaders of stature and substance to lead Pakistan post-Jinnah and Khan, Pakistan’s troubles began.

Pakistan became a republic on March 23, 1956, with Maj. Gen. Iskander Mirza as the first president. The first Constitution was adopted in 1956, nearly 9 years after its independence. But it was suspended in 1958. The first elected President of Pakistan, Iskander Mirza was deposed in a bloodless coup carried out by martial law administrator, General Ayub Khan.

Thus within a decade of its birth, Pakistani polity started dithering. Institutions of democracy that were nurtured in neighbouring India were not allowed to take roots in Pakistan. Forces of democracy were subverted by the Army, which came to play a pivotal role in its governance. Pakistani society also came to be divided on regional or linguistic lines, with the Punjabi elite dominating the West and the East being dominated by Bengali-speaking Muslims. This division was to cost Pakistan dearly in 1971 with the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent state.

Though political parties such as Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) (led by Z A Bhutto) and MQM emerged, what Pakistan failed to get was an able leader; a statesman who would take the nation on the path of progress and prosperity.

Pakistan was under military rule from 1958 to 1972, with two generals Ayub Khan (1958-69) and Yahya Khan (1969-71) being at the helm of affairs. Pakistan went to war twice with India in 1965 and 1971 under both the generals; the 1971 war resulting in the emergence of Bangladesh. Pakistan returned to civilian rule under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972 after the debacle in East Pakistan in 1971. Under Z A Bhutto, a new constitution was framed which came into effect on 14th August 1973. The constitution represented a compromise consensus on three issues: the role of Islam; the sharing of power between the federal government and the provinces; and the division of responsibility between the president and the prime minister, with a greatly strengthened position for the latter. Neither Bhutto nor his government lasted long. In 1978 he was deposed in a bloodless coup and sent to the gallows and General Zia-ul-Haq took over the reigns of the country. General Zia’s policies took Pakistani society on the path of radical Islam.

In December 1978, on the occasion of the first day of Hijra, Zia delivered a nationwide address to usher in the Islamic system in Pakistan. The government began a programme to enforce Nizam-e-Islam (Islamic system) and established Sharia benches to enforce Islamic law. By enacting draconian laws such as the Zina ordinance and Hudood Ordinance[2], Zia ensured that Pakistan would become Talibanized or at any rate Islamicized.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 saw Pakistan being catapulted as a frontline state in the war against communism. The Mujahideen backed by Pakistan’s ISI with financial assistance from the West carried out attacks in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Pakistan was deeply involved in this jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. After the pull-out of Soviet troops in the late eighties, Pakistan continued to be involved in the internecine conflict in Afghanistan.

On August 19, 1988, Zia was killed in a midair explosion of a Pakistani Air Force plane. Elections which were held at the end of 1988 brought longtime opponent of General Zia, Benazir Bhutto, into office as prime minister. Civilian rule meant political instability and a constant struggle to survive rather than rule.

The corruption, brutality and incessant fighting of the Mujahideen prompted Mullah Omar and his students, the Taliban, to rid Afghanistan of these rebels. The Pakistan-trained Taliban let loose a reign of terror in the war-ravaged country. The Taliban gained control of the country with the active assistance of Pakistan. The casualty of these policies were economic progress. It is said violence begets violence; these very policies have come back to haunt Pakistan post-9/11.
Part II Pakistan at the Crossroads - The Musharraf Regime

[1] Emergency was declared in Pakistan on the night of 3rd November 2007.
[2] Under Offences Against Property (Enforcement of Hudood Ordinance 1979), the punishment of imprisonment or fine, or both, as provided in the existing Pakistan Penal Code for theft, was substituted by the amputation of the right hand of the offender from the joint of the wrist by a surgeon. For robbery, the law provided for amputation of the right hand of the offender from the wrist and his left foot from the ankle.

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