Pakistan: A Fading Fledgling at its 75th Birthday
This article examines the life of a country that never tires of calling itself the bastion of Islam or boasting of being the sole nuclear power among Muslim nations. However, neither Islam nor atomic bomb has helped advance her economy, and on its seventy-fifth birth anniversary, Pakistan is as weak as it has ever been.
In 1947, Britain carved Pakistan out of India as its constitutional dominion with King George VI proclaiming as its first Head of State. When Queen Elizabeth II took oath as the second Head of State in 1952, she promised to govern the peoples of Pakistan according to their wishes. However, Britain’s real interest was to cultivate and employ this strategically located territory as her security bulwark in Asia. For this, Pakistan’s foreign, and defense and strategic affairs were declared exclusive domains of the Monarch with the Queen enjoying absolute constitutional authority to appoint the Council of Ministers, including the Prime Minister, and ambassadors to foreign countries.
The Queen, as the sovereign of Pakistan, made this country a member of Baghdad Pact, Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). These alliances were formed to challenge the expansion of the Soviet bloc. In 1955, the Queen appointed Major-General Iskander Mirza as the last British Governor-General in Pakistan. The same General Mirza then became the first President when the Queen declared Pakistan a sovereign country on March 23, 1956.
As fate would have it, President Mirza ran into rousing peoples’ protests for regional autonomy and electoral reforms, which he tried to contain by imposing the country’s first martial law in 1958. This provided another military general, Field Marshal Ayub Khan the opportunity to shorten Mirza’s reign and three weeks later, he took charge as country’s second martial law administrator. Seventy-five years on, Pakistan is still enchained by the military junta and there is no sign of things letting up.
All the while, the generals could have bettered the lives of citizens by using the country’s location for cultural connectivity and regional trade. But they preferred to turn Pakistan into a hub of Islamic terrorism by making India-hatred a national policy. The policy to profit from terrorism also empowered terrorists in neighboring Afghanistan at a great cost to the lives and economy of Afghans. Taliban’s control over Afghanistan fosters interests of Al-Qaida, the Tehreek Taliban (TTP) and other transcontinental terror outfits. This fixation has isolated Pakistan internationally with considerably higher ramifications for internal stability. According to a report of Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, Pakistan saw 42% more terrorist attacks in 2021 compared to the previous year with 40% increase in deaths of its defense personnel.
While Pakistani generals were busy wasting time and national resources on the doctrine of ‘bleed India with a thousand cuts’, Indian leadership focused on strengthening democratic institutions and steadily moved up as the world’s fifth largest economy. The emergence of Pacific and Middle East QUADs with India as a vital member has increased Pakistan’s isolation.
Both USA and India have signed several game changing defense agreements including the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for geospatial support, the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement. These agreements will provide India with a significant edge over Pakistan in navigation and intelligence gathering.
USA showing flexibility on India’s S-400 defense system deal with Russia and willing to work around India’s refusal to condemn invasion of Ukraine are testimony to India’s growing clout. Pakistan is invariably losing relevance in the growing US-China rivalry with India surfacing as the only Asian power capable of countering Chinese aggression. The deceleration on CPEC projects also exposes Pakistan’s failure to maintain sincere relations with both rivals.
The interference of the military in civilian affairs with generals and brigadiers encroaching on executive posts has exacerbated challenges like energy shortfall, systemic corruption, faltering governance, and food and human security. Pakistan has secured credit from the International Monetary Fund although it might not help keep the dying economy buoyant. General Bajwa’s much-touted shift to geo-economics as outlined in the latest National Security Policy is nothing but old wine in new bottles and wouldn’t stop rupee’s free fall.
Pakistan failing to cope with the turbulent downward spiral exhibits intelligentsia’s lack of acumen to learn from mistakes. Manzoor Pashteen, who is the head of Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM), says that rulers portray Pakistan as a sanctuary of Muslims relishing in an Islamic welfare system. However, in the last 75 years of Pakistan’s existence, no army has massacred as many innocent Muslims as the Pakistani army.
During an event recently arranged by the Washington Group, Pashteen claimed that the Pakistani army is the only military that bombards its citizens and trades their dead bodies for profit. Further, the army exploits and transfers billions of dollars-worth of fossil fuel products from Sindh, Balochistan and Pashtun lands to Punjab while depriving original owners of rightful share in benefits. Pashteen exclaims that the police and judiciary are subservient to the military in providing legal cover to the genocide of the indigenous populations; and the media remains tightlipped even as army bombs an entire village and annihilates centuries-old cultures and vital means of livelihoods.
Dr. Hyder Lashari, a historian from Sindh while recounting Pashteen’s experiences adds that fostering terrorism is highly profitable. Therefore the generals invest most of the taxpayer’s money in this venture and utilize the dividends to purchase private islands for their children in Europe and Australia. As the local saying goes, when a general is not training terrorists, then he is busy grabbing lands from farmers in Bahawalpur or Sindh.
Till date, Pakistani army and its paid terrorists have killed over 70,000 Pashtuns while aiming to secure strategic depth in the tribal belt. Families of these deceased Pashtuns are now being pushed around as refugees in places like Sindh with no help during the worst flooding of the modern century. Pakistani army is displaying gravest form of racism and apartheid by attacking Baloch in their homeland. According to Dr. Naseem Baloch, the head of Baloch National Movement, over 30,000 Baloch languish in military torture cells with no judicial recourse. He accused the army of raping Baloch women and trafficking organs of the Baloch killed in torture cells.
Echoing Baloch, Shafqat Inqalabi, a historian from Gilgit Baltistan says that survival of minorities is not easy without compromising with national identity and losing natural resources to Punjab. Inqalabi explains that activists who resist against oppression have to face the music of terrorism as secret services confiscate their identity and travel documents, freeze their bank accounts and slap them with sedition charges.
Pakistan’s birth anniversary may be a festive occasion for the Punjabis or the Taliban but a majority of inhabitants of Pashtun, Baloch and Sindh provinces hoist black flags on this day to mourn the death of their loved ones as the military has usurped the right to life from common man. On this day activists organize events to commemorate and raise awareness about hundreds of thousands of missing persons abducted, tortured and killed by the military junta.
The mutating global and regional geostrategic ecosystem marked by great power rivalry and economic competition has deep bearing on Pakistan’s future. Pakistan’s emergence as a security state let the military generals fill coffers while dumping a plethora of socio-cultural and economic challenges on the common man. The undue interference of military junta in civilian matters has depleted the economy, aggravated systemic challenges and deteriorated internal security and regional stability. The situation greatly restricts Pakistan from effectively functioning as a sovereign nation.
(Senge Sering is the President of Gilgit Baltistan Institute in Washington D.C).
*This article was first published by the Baltimore Post-Examiner on 22nd September 2022.