By Syed Ata Hasnain
May 31, 2016
I sometimes wonder what it must be like to be a citizen of Pakistan. I often meet the elite Pakistani citizenry which paints a picture that all is well at home. Sipping mojitos, they speak of Clifton in Karachi and high-end shopping; money seems to be oozing out of their pockets. Yet, facts give it all away.
To attend a conference or simply to travel as tourists, Pakistanis can never be sure how long it will take them to get a visa; although officially, 29 countries are listed in websites, which grant them visa-on-arrival, as compared to India’s 59. To be perceived worldwide as a nation which sponsors terror, is the core centre of Radicalism and which concerns itself least with development and welfare of its citizenry, isn’t a brand to be proud of; neither is it to belong somewhere where wives can officially be given light beating by husbands and Governors are assassinated on grounds of blasphemy.
Pakistanis usually laugh it away embarrassingly and admit that India has indeed made great strides in building an international image. The Pakistani diaspora is reputed to be hard working; of course nowhere near the brand of Indians, but their ability to integrate well within other societies is always suspect because of the image that goes along with them.
I remember the time when the role and image were the opposite. Pakistanis visiting India in the Sixties brought along various foreign goods and a unique water pumper called Rahber. They were immensely proud of their quality of life and looked down upon us Indians in socialist India.
Today, one can see Pakistani artistes wishing to settle here. If anything, they are fully aware that despite all its limitations, India aspires and works towards the betterment of its common citizens. There may be corruption, poverty, overruns of projects and too much bureaucracy, but at the end of the day the Indian citizen can legitimately aspire for a better life and that cuts across strata of society, farmer suicides notwithstanding. An Indian enjoys high international reputation. Worldwide, people speak of India’s century along with that of China. The old world hyphenation of India with Pakistan is now transformed to hyphenation with China and other emerging nations.
A Pakistani citizen may have to wait nine months or more for a visa to visit Hong Kong because being Pakistani is synonymous with being reasonably undesirable and alien to civilized society. How did this come to pass and why does that image persist? Is Pakistan doing anything as a nation to dilute that image? That would be worth examining because Pakistanis themselves would be interested to find out.
At the outset we need to go back to 1977 and the Zia mission. It was all about the planned retribution by the Pakistan Army against India, for the loss of its eastern segment (now Bangladesh). General Zia knew that to take on India he needed to do two things; one, go nuclear and two, exploit India’s ethnic, religious, caste and regional fault lines through a low cost, long term proxy war.
Pakistan went covertly nuclear in early 80s. On the second front, it started with Punjab and moved on to J&K before targeting other parts of India. Pakistan’s military establishment, not the Government, thinks it is still winning the low intensity proxy war that it commenced in the 80s and continues to support it. Zia had no qualms in radicalizing the Army because Radicalism in his vocabulary meant total support from the moneyed elements of the Middle East.
The Pakistani citizens need to know and so does the rest of the less-informed world that the tenuous hold that Islamic radicalism has over the world today can be squarely placed at the altar of Zia and his advisers of the ISI and the Army. It also attracted the much needed funding for Pakistan on the pretext of the Afghan refugees and the trans-national Islamic mercenaries. The Zia Plan continues to the day, followed by his successors. What it has succeeded in doing is to keep the ‘terror sponsor’ label closely affixed to Pakistan’s national persona.
A civil society instrumental in removing Ayub Khan from the presidency in 1968-69 through street power, today is virtually cowering and held to ransom by a brute military; one of the major achievements of the Pakistan Army. The common citizen is under fire from different directions; the radicals and the clergy along with the Army all combine to make life hellish. There is a vibrant media which feels intimidated; remember the Hamid Mir case. The ubiquitous face of the Pakistan Army is everywhere. It seems it never lost power ever.
Surprisingly, the citizenry extols the virtues of its domineering Army and perceives that Pakistan is a true democracy. No one seems to have told them that nations do not become democracies just because their citizens have universal suffrage; it’s more about developing institutions which are democratic. Pakistan’s national psyche is one of self-delusion and not surprisingly because for far too long the national discourse has been dictated by an army whose byline is unpredictability. Many say that the Pakistan Army’s greatest weapon is it irrationality.
What never ceases to amaze is how an institution such as the Pakistan Army has been allowed to prosper and hijack much of the world’s agenda for peace. There are three stakeholders in this.
The first are the people of Pakistan whose self-esteem has taken a nosedive with no apparent hope of recovery, given the circumstances and the power that their Army wields.
Second is the international community; different segments have different interests. For instance China is least concerned about the wellbeing of the Pakistani people; its concern is about stability and unity of Pakistan because of the huge investments at stake for future economics of China. Pakistan’s geo-strategic location affords China the ability to counter-balance India.
It is China’s national interest which gives the Pakistan Army the scope and gumption to exercise power and employ the much discussed and condemned strategy of ‘good terrorist bad terrorist’. The US perhaps is the one single entity most responsible for bolstering the confidence of the Generals in Pakistan. The long standing relationship going back to the CENTO/SEATO days has been an enduring one, not the least because of the US realization that Pakistan occupies the world’s most crucial strategic space.
I do not want to be clichéd in my analysis and therefore do wish to state that from a professional angle I find the Pakistan Army extremely proficient. This perception is based on a lifetime of meeting Pakistani officers on the LoC, in UN operations and in training courses and seminars abroad. However, the obsession with targeting India appears to come from a mindset that the position of pre-eminence they enjoy in Pakistani society only comes from maintaining a standoff with India. Many times we hear Pakistani citizens regretting the state of relations with India but the Pakistan national mindset remains fixated on what its Army desires. Perfectly educated, very articulate and extremely forward looking minds in all other spheres go berserk when the India-Pakistan context emerges. The rationality of a friendly India, a quiet and peaceful neighbourhood and cooperation to take the teeming millions in the subcontinent to a better destiny, never seems to appeal to the Pakistan military leadership as an element of Pakistan’s national interest.
The tragedy of the Pakistani people is that the control over their lives is not alone in the hands of the Army but equally in the hands of a radical clergy and it’s more than equal radical followers. The Army used the clergy at one time to establish its own control. Now it cannot dismount from the proverbial tiger. That is why this situation will persist and India has to be prepared for that. Peace processes will meet their end after fits and starts and the charade will go on. In a few years the already yawning gap between India’s economy and that of Pakistan will have a telling effect of the citizens of Pakistan. That is when things will begin to happen, from within the people, unpredictably and therefore dangerously.
Through my years as a senior Indian Army officer I always made it a habit to ask my officers to do an annual review of Pakistan. The subject was always ‘The Psyche and Mindset of the Pakistan Army’. The deductions I received from the studies then continue to be the same today. Will they ever change? Only Allah and Pakistan’s Generals know.