Pakistan: The National-Security State Dilemma



Special Report: The national-security state
Aitzaz Ahsan, former Interior Minister, the Pakistan People’s Party
HIMAL South Asian,Vol. 19, No. 9: December 2006
The pain of the Partition has left a legacy. There also persists in some quarters a fairly widespread fragility syndrome – as if Pakistan would revert one day to India, and that it is a fragile state. It was something that was attributed to Jawaharlal Nehru. This held the minds of Pakistani intellectuals, because there was a crisis or a certain inability to properly identify and realise one’s own identity. The only way we could identify ourselves was that we were Muslims. But the presence of a large number of Muslims in India, the creation of Bangladesh, among other things, weakened this proposition. The fragility syndrome helped suppress these uncomfortable questions – you don’t ask questions, you cannot seek answers because Pakistan is fragile, India is hostile.

Indian hostility was manifested quite early. The first issue was that water was held back after the monsoons in 1947. Secondly, the division of assets became a sore issue. Now in the context of this fragility syndrome, and the initial hostility, a third feature emerged very early in Pakistan’s life. Pakistan adhered to a protectionist regime for its industrialisation. Imports were regulated very strictly. So we historically sealed out borders in a way regarding the exchange of goods and business with India.

The Pakistan Army took over in 1958. Gradually, but very perceptively and very surely, the very nature of the state changed, from what was initially to be a social-welfare state to a national-security state. In a welfare state, the first priority of the state is the citizen; in a national-security state, the first priority of the state is the soldier, and the intelligence agencies and the state establishment. To justify a military government, you also need to have palpable threats to national security. So you also tend to convert your neighbours to being your enemies.

Now, India’s contribution itself to this national-security paradigm in Pakistan has been profound and continuous. If India blasts the Pokhran sands with a ‘smiling Buddha’ in 1974, Pakistan has no option but to say ‘We’ll eat grass, but we’ll have the bomb’. If India blasts the Pokhran sands on 11 May 1998, we have no option but to shake the Chagai mountains on 28 May 1998. And India continues to raise its defence budget, which elicits a response from Pakistan.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was democratically elected, but was a continuum of the national-security state. He also sought to appease the mullahs with some gestures but it was during Zia’s time that money, weapons, weapon trainers came into jihad and empowered fundamentalist units. This period also saw the Islamisation of the textbooks. Hate literature came into it. Our history began in 712 AD, when Mohammed bin Qasim came to Pakistan. It was not the history of the land we were teaching; it was the history of the religion.

When you start creating a national-security state and paradigm, then you are bound to get into adventures like we did in the so-called Afghan jihad, against the Soviet Union, where we were used as tools. In that process of the jihad against the Soviet Union, Pakistan became populist, weaponised and jihadised, intolerant and militarised. All these jihadis were unemployed after the withdrawal of the Soviets and the failure of the operation in Jalalabad in 1989. And the whole swath actually moved into the Kashmir front, so that became live. All these events reinforced what was a marginal faction in Pakistani politics – the faction that believed that Pakistan was an ideological state, just like Israel.

The cold war between India and Pakistan has continued through this period and created vested interests – for instance, the weapons suppliers who sit and lobby in the Defence Ministry, sit and lobby in the prime minister’s house. The other problem is that our foreign offices are locked in reciprocity. Neither state has the imagination or the guts or the initiative to say, ‘We don’t care about reciprocity, we are going to open visas. We’re going to open imports.’

At present, Pervez Musharraf is incapable of breaking away from the hold of the national-security structures of the state and the national-security establishment. In fact, at least three close calls on his life in December 2004 have made him even more a prisoner. He owes his continued uniform and the holding of two offices to them, as they voted for him in the 17th Amendment.

Having said that, I think India is wasting an opportunity. The solutions that a Pakistan Army chief can undertake with India are not those that political parties will be able to do even after full democracy is restored. We should look at a gamut of measures in different fields that can improve ties – from the defence-security options to the economic security, and look for avenues and work on that. Pakistan will not cut its defence budget if India is increasing its defence budget. Secondly, nobody is stopping people from issuing visas, people-to-people contact. There has been a certain amount of movement in that. I think the visa regime should be relaxed enormously because it really brings people together.

Pakistan must realise the immense potential out of trade with India – it gets a market seven times its size. India gets a huge market as well. And despite such an opportunity, our commerce minister goes around begging for an increase of 0.01 percent in textile quota in category 622 in Europe and the US. On the import side, why is it the fault of my 160 million consumers, that he should have to buy a cycle for 4000 rupees when can buy it for 2200 rupees coming across on trucks from Wagah?

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