The Anarchic Republic of Pakistan

The Anarchic Republic of Pakistan

Mini Teaser: Pakistan's military-intelligence complex is too preoccupied with countering India to mount a serious campaign against radicals who threaten the nation's survival. The country is being destroyed from within.

by Author(s): Ahmed Rashid

Ethnic violence is translated into interparty political assassinations. The Muhajir-dominated Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which rules Karachi is made up of Urdu-speaking migrants from India. They are in a bloody war with an MQM offshoot and in intense rivalry with the largest Pashtun secular political group (the Awami National Party) as well as with the majority Sindhi population. The Muhajirs blame the Pashtuns for introducing the Taliban to Karachi, and ethnic killings are multiplying; party workers of all groups are being targeted.

There is another civil war going on in Baluchistan Province between Baluch separatists and the army. A province long deprived of development, political freedom and revenue, this is the fifth insurgency by the Baluch tribes against the army since Pakistan’s founding. The ISI maintains that Indian agents based in Afghanistan and the Arabian Gulf states are arming and funding the Baluch. The insurgents launch ambushes and assassinations, and lay land mines every day. They have begun killing prominent non-Baluch who long ago settled in the province. School teachers, university professors and officials have proven the easiest targets—and this in a province that professes a literacy rate of only 37 percent (20 percent for women) compared to the national average of 54 percent. This summer Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that four separatist Baluch “armies” funded by India had forced 100,000 people to migrate from the province. Baluch militants killed 252 non-Baluch settlers from January to June of this year, also assassinating 13 army officers. The army in turn has brutalized Baluch society and several thousand young Baluch are said to be missing, presumed in prison and being tortured. The army’s insistence that the entire Baluch problem is caused by India and that the Baluch have no grievances of their own simply leads to further escalation of violence and further alienation of the population. The province erupted in days of riots and strikes after prominent Baluch nationalist leader Habib Jalib was gunned down in Quetta in mid-July.

The local justice system in Pakistan is in dire straits. Policemen, judges and lawyers are frequently intimidated by terrorist groups. Evidence is rarely collected against the arrested perpetrators of attacks, and either the police or judges release the suspects. If not, the terrorists are quite capable of freeing their own by force from jails, courthouses and hospitals. After the Ahmadi killings, terrorists attacked a hospital where one of their arrested comrades was being treated under heavy police guard. In June, terrorists attacked a Karachi courthouse, freeing four members of their group undergoing trial for the earlier massacre of 43 Shias in the city.

It is now a cliché to describe how a worsening economy and the lack of education and job opportunities have helped spawn Islamic extremism in Pakistan and elsewhere. Yet it is a trope worth repeating.

PAKISTAN’S GEOPOLITICAL assertiveness in the midst of all this chaos is a result of the military’s overwhelming power. It may be losing its hold on vast amounts of territory to the extremists, but it is taking control of Pakistan’s national security and foreign policy away from the government. As the country is now led by weak and widely considered to be incompetent and corrupt civilian rule with President Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of slain leader Benazir Bhutto, at the helm, the armed forces have found it relatively easy to carry out their own programs.

Following its election, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) sought to reform the policies of the Musharraf era. This included improving relations with India, Iran and Afghanistan and ending Pakistan’s regional isolation. They failed.

Zardari’s overtures regarding India were rebuffed, not only by New Delhi, but also by the Pakistan army—such civilian initiatives are considered an encroachment on military territory. And the November 2008 massacre in Mumbai by Pakistani extremists paralyzed engagement with India for nearly two years. India accuses the ISI of having a direct role in the massacre, which Pakistan denies. Yet Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group behind the massacre, has not been curbed.

The situation in Afghanistan isn’t much better. Although Zardari improved personal relations with President Hamid Karzai, it had little impact on the army’s posture—an anti-Karzai, anti-ruling-government strategy. Only recently has the army decided that with a U.S. troop withdrawal starting next year, Karzai and the Afghan Taliban need to be brought together. The Afghan Taliban leadership has had sanctuary and support from the military since its retreat into Pakistan in 2001. Though former-President George W. Bush never attempted to tackle this conundrum, President Barack Obama has privately acknowledged what must be done, trying hard to bring Kabul and Islamabad together. Certainly, any recent success can’t be chalked up to the civilian leadership in Pakistan. The army says it wants to see a stable and peaceful Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal, and to that end it is trying to promote talks between Karzai and the various factions of the Taliban. However, many Afghans remain suspicious of an army that wants an Afghanistan free of Indian influence.

Zardari and the PPP no longer make any moves that oppose the army’s foreign-policy aims. And over the past two years, a strident judiciary, at times backed by the military, has whittled away at the president’s power, trying repeatedly to undermine Zardari or force him to resign by resurrecting old corruption charges against him and by asserting its influence over the constitution—which is in fact Parliament’s prerogative. This judicial collision with parts of the government has further stymied the country’s reputation and put off aid donors and investors. It is destroying Pakistan’s democratic character. Making matters worse, the all-powerful General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has just received a three-year extension to his term as army chief. It was a move that stunned the country. Many Pakistanis concluded that this further reduced the power of civilian authority.

Political instability is precisely what Pakistan does not need. The country requires a sustained period of democracy under civilian governance—even if it is a bad, poorly functioning democracy. If Zardari is unpopular or ineffective, then he should be removed in the next election, not through a judicial or military coup.

FOR DECADES, a cyclical pattern of military rule followed by its collapse and replacement by elected but weak civilian governments has occurred. In time, they too fall—often with a prod from the ISI—and the military returns. Repeated military rule has resulted in the decline of political parties, the exile or execution of civilian leaders, their lack of experience or knowledge when they do come to power, and the unwillingness of young professionals to get involved in politics. The political class has seen no new blood for a generation.

The PPP suffers from all these problems and more. However, it remains the only national party in Pakistan, for it has support in all the provinces—Baluchistan, Sindh, Punjab and the former North-West Frontier (now called Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa). Every other party, including the Pakistan Muslim League–N (the main opposition group), has degenerated. They are now nothing more than regional organizations representing local ethnicities or territories. Only the political alliance the PPP has forged in Parliament can claim to forward a national agenda; it includes regional parties belonging to all ethnic groups. If the government had the total support of the military and the judiciary, there would be a chance of greater stability and better policy options.

Despite the severe problems it faces, the PPP has accrued some political successes in which lie hope for the future. After much delay and procrastination, Parliament passed the Eighteenth Amendment to the constitution in April 2010 that incorporates over 100 changes to the 1973 version of the document, virtually restoring it to its original form and doing away with authoritarian amendments made by successive military dictators.

From having a de facto presidential form of government under military rule, Pakistan has now reverted back to having a parliamentary form of government with the elected PPP Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani as the chief executive. The amendment also introduces a new judicial commission to choose judges for the higher courts (justified surely, but it has unsurprisingly angered the judiciary and further prolonged the conflict between it and the PPP).

The amendment also grants an unprecedented degree of autonomy to the four provinces, increases decentralization, and brings many social subjects such as health care and education under provincial control for the first time. This has long been the demand of the three smaller provinces which have felt deprived by the concentration of wealth and power in Punjab. Now the government is giving an additional 10 percent of the federal tax take to the provinces under a new National Finance Commission Award. And Punjab made a rare sacrifice by giving part of its share to the poorer provinces. Over 70 percent of federal taxes now revert back to Baluchistan, Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa. For the first time there is relative peace between the center and the periphery.

In an effort to continue these steps toward stability, the PPP has moved to give greater autonomy to the northern areas abutting China. This is especially remarkable because they are part of the territory involved in the Kashmir dispute between Islamabad and New Delhi. Because of the areas’ proximity to India, Pakistan has exercised control over the region, which has never had self-government. That is now changing.

Image: Pullquote: The [Pakistani] public fear is that the army is losing control of the country as the extremists become ever stronger, ever more daring and ever more capable.Essay Types: Essay