Overhauling the Pakistani State: Husain Haqqani

Overhauling the Pakistani State
By Husain Haqqani, August 1, 2007, The Nation (Pakistan)

Once again, extremist Islamist radicals in Pakistan have exposed the inadequacies of the Pakistani state. Notwithstanding the state’s show of strength just a few days ago at Islamabad’s Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), the radicals had the upper hand when the mosque reopened after repairs. Supporters of the detained cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz (whom the authorities believed they had discredited by his attempt to escape the besieged mosque in a burqa) took over the mosque again and rioted violently.

The policemen deputed to tear gas the mob were attacked by a suicide bomber right in the heart of Pakistan’s capital, resulting in many casualties. If the radical extremists can, even after the much publicized and high casualty botched military operation of a few days ago, show such strength in Islamabad one can only imagine their capability in the remote mountainous parts of Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which everyone knows as extremist strongholds.

If the events in Islamabad were not enough to highlight the dire straits that Pakistan finds itself as a result of the strategic fantasies of incapable and politicized generals, the latest U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) pointed out the absolute failure of Pakistan’s strategy in the war against terrorism by noting that Al-Qaeda has reorganized itself from safe havens in Pakistan. The NIE could well be wrong, as U.S. intelligence has sometimes proven to be, but its release has created the spectre of direct military strikes against alleged Al-Qaeda safe havens on Pakistani soil.

The challenge of terrorists within the country and the threat of an ally using military force on Pakistani soil because it distrusts Pakistan’s own capabilities should have served as a wake up call for Pakistan’s leadership. Instead, General Pervez Musharraf is still dragging his feet over sharing power and allowing civilians with a popular power base to help him (and Pakistan) out of its tough spot. Several politicians and political commentators, too, are proving their inability to overcome their prejudice (for example the dislike some have for the Bhutto family) in favor a constitutional-institutional arrangement that allows elected civilians to run the country again without confrontation with the country’s army.

As for the army, its leadership’s vision also remains limited to conventional balance of power concepts. Pakistan test-fired the enhanced version of the nuclear-capable, low-flying Babur cruise missile, also known as the Hatf 7 last week -- the second such test this year. The military’s statement on this occasion said the test-firing was successful and a “part of a continuous process of validating the design parameters” of this “indigenously developed” missile.

The Babur, we were told by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), “has near-stealth capabilities, is a low-flying, terrain-hugging missile with high maneuverability, pin-point accuracy and radar avoidance features.” The missile can hit targets at 700 km, an improvement on its earlier version launched in 2005 that could only travel 500 km. “The latest test would consolidate Pakistan’s strategic capability and strengthen national security,” the ISPR said, without informing Pakistanis of its utility in dealing with rioting madrasa students, suicide bombers and restless citizens. As I have argued before, Pakistan may have the ability to project its power externally, but lacks the strength of an effective state at home.

Pakistan’s elite appears oblivious to the country’s slow hemorrhaging. Bankers and stock brokers only speak of the country being a hot destination for investors from the Gulf, encouraged by business friendly government policies and annual GDP growth rates of 7 percent over the last four, five years. Government economists cite increasing mobile phone use and expanding sales of motorcycles and cars as signs of progress and speak of the privatization program being a regional success.

Pakistan’s elite now drives around in Porsches, more of which have sold in the city of Lahore alone than the car’s manufacturer had envisaged for the entire country. The pace of construction for new country clubs, golf clubs and luxury hotels also reflects growing prosperity of a select few. Pakistan reveals multiple realities, and the temptation to let optimism prevail is great. But, in essence, Pakistan has a high level of dysfunction and unpredictability.

A former Pakistani Finance Minister and World Bank economist recently told a roundtable on Pakistan in Washington DC that in most countries 6-8 percent economic growth should translate into reduction in poverty by 10 percent. He said that trickle down does not seem to be working in Pakistan as 6-8 percent growth rates have not reduced poverty at the rate of the global average.

According to this particularly knowledgeable Pakistani, the growth in Pakistan is based on capital flows rather than on better performance of manufacturing, agriculture or the domestic service sector. Such growth does not create jobs and does not help alleviate poverty at a rapid pace. He estimated that 65 million Pakistanis live in absolute poverty while another 65 million live in poverty. Only 30 million Pakistanis are well-to-do. The well-to-do often ignore the rage and anger brewing among the poor, who will be particularly vulnerable to extremist ideologies if political inclusion does not replace the current system of oligarchic rule.

Pakistan’s army, largely recruited from one of the country’s four ethnically diverse provinces, has traditionally maintained order in Pakistan. But its ability to keep a lid on dissent has diminished with the emergence of well-armed militias, both Islamist and secular, in various parts of Pakistan. In the process of building extensive military capabilities, Pakistan’s successive rulers have stood by as essential internal attributes of statehood degrade. A major attribute of a state is its ability to maintain monopoly, or at least the preponderance, of public coercion.

The proliferation of insurgents, militias and Mafiosi reflect the state’s weakness in this key area. There are too many non-state actors in Pakistan –ranging from religious vigilantes to criminals – who possess coercive power in varying degrees. In some instances the threat of non-state coercion (for example in the form of suicide bombings) weakens the state machinery’s ability to confront challenges to its authority.

The disproportionate focus of the Pakistani state since Pakistan’s independence in 1947 on ideology, military capability and external alliances has weakened Pakistan internally. Pakistan spends a greater proportion of its GDP on defense and still cannot match the conventional forces of India, which outspends Pakistan 3 to 1 while allocating a smaller percentage of its burgeoning GDP to military spending. The country’s institutions – ranging from schools and universities to political parties and the judiciary – are in a state of general decline.

Pakistan’s problems, however, run very deep and will not end with changes at the top. It is time to set aside the immediate preoccupation with General Musharraf’s future to examine the fundamental conditions of the Pakistani state. Nothing short of a complete overhaul of the state structure under elected democratic leadership, based on rule of law and well-defined roles for all institutions, will brink Pakistan from the brink where it currently is.

Husain Haqqani is director of Boston University’s Center for International Relations and co-chair of the Hudson Institute’s Project on Islam and Democracy. He is the author of the Carnegie Endowment book “Pakistan Between Mosque and Military.”


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