PFS 15: Pakistan Failed State

Chapter 15


The credit for coining the name Pakistan probably goes to one Choudhry Rehmat Ali who is said to have thought of the name in 1933 as an acronym containing letters from the names of all the areas which this man thought were representative of the ancestry of his people. Another theory is that the acronym was composed by a group of students in Cambridge in England. It is not clear if Rehmat Ali was one of these students. A passage attributed to him says (155):

“Pakistan” is both a Persian and an Urdu word. It is composed of letters taken from the names of all our homelands - “Indian” and “Asian”. That is, Punjab, Afghania (North West Frontier Province), Kashmir, Iran, Sindh (including Karachi and Kathiawar), Tukharistan, Afghanistan, and Baluchistan. It means the land of the Paks-the spiritually pure and clean. It symbolizes the religions, beliefs and the ethnical stocks of our people; and it stands for all the territorial constituents of our original Fatherland.

The theory that Pakistan is an acronym does not stand up to scrutiny. In the first place, the Pakistan described by the acronym includes Iran and Central Asia (Tukharistan) as part of Pakistan and makes no mention of East Bengal, which was part of Pakistan until it seceded with the creation of Bangladesh. A second curious anomaly is that the name of this nation that is claimed to be derived from Urdu and Persian is composed of letters in the English alphabet with the English letters forming the acronym. Such an acronym is non-existent when the name is written in Urdu. It seems more likely that the acronym theory of the name is a confabulation, a plausible but imagined memory that fills in gaps in what is remembered as to how Pakistan got its name.

Ultimately, the stress on pure Islam and a nation purely for Muslims, that has Urdu as its official language suggests that the real origin of the name Pakistan derives from the Urdu word Paki. The dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi and English defines Paki as Purity - with stan meaning country (156).

That stress on purity - or purity with a narrow definition has certainly played a role in Pakistan’s undoing. Purity is a subjective concept, and can only be grasped in relation to something else that is impure. To define purity, one must simultaneously define what is impure, and Pakistanis have spent the years since 1947 years struggling to weed out anything that they consider impure, rather than concentrate on nation building. India, and Indians were impure and were rejected. Minorities and religious groups in Pakistan were impure Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Ahmediyas and later even Shia Muslims in Pakistan were not pure enough for Pakistan. Further purity was required by fighting wars and making sacrifices. Social imbalance, corruption, poverty and greed were all minor blips in the route to Pakistan’s mythical purity.

Conditions of life for a Pakistani depend on what class of society one belongs to and whether one lives in a rural or urban area. As noted in chapter 2, there are only two main classes of society in Pakistan, the very rich and the very poor and these classes comprise 90% of Pakistan’s population.

There is a very small, very rich class of Pakistani. They are the Rich Anglophone Pakistani Elite, sometimes facetiously referred to by the acronym of that name. The acronym R.A.P.E. is perhaps an apt description of what this class have been doing to Pakistan. They are the feudal lords, who may own thousands of acres of land. They might be rich industrialists and businessmen, or they might be serving or retired army officers.

The lifestyles of these people can be compared to that of the rich and famous anywhere. They live in fabulous mansions, maintained and supported by armies of servants. These are the beautiful people, the handsome men clad in lounge suits or traditional sherwanis, the mascara and lipstick adorned women in designer dresses. No burkha (veil) for these women.

The elite are educated, often in the best schools and universities of the world. They travel, and are familiar with all the major cities that a man of this world should know about New York, London, Paris, Rome, Geneva. They are seen in parties and receptions attended by friends and diplomats, actors and society people. Their photographs appear in glossy magazines and on the Internet. These charmed people are the Pakistanis that we see and hear.

Irfan Husain wrote in the Dawn:

An old friend was recently invited to a serving general’s official residence for a small dinner party, and came away hugely impressed by the acres of immaculate lawns, the discreet lighting, the tasteful furnishings and the overall level of luxury...The food and refreshments were of the highest quality, and the army staff who served the small gathering had apparently been trained at a fivestar hotel...

But 90 percent of Pakistanis are rarely seen or heard outside Pakistan. They are the servants, the sweepers, the waiters, the casual laborers and sharecroppers, the goatherds and the cleaners with their wives and their children. They can be seen on Pakistani streets and in the villages. The men wear crumpled and seemingly unwashed salwar suits. The women, if seen at all, are covered in burqas as expected of women in Islamic Pakistan. The women do not work outside the home and may have four or more children to bring up. More than half these people do not earn enough money for a decent life. Most earn less than the equivalent of US $1 per day. Even those who earn more than that often sink below poverty level at certain times of the year, or in times of illness or drought.

Malnutrition is rampant, as is lack of education. Any education that can be gained, can be gained only from madrassas that often provide food and shelter for its students. That is a welcome source of relief for a very poor family with many children to care for. But girls are not allowed, and girls are not sent to schools either, in the few places where schools exist.

Life is harsh, and many try to find work in the Middle East to earn a living as menial laborers. Others try to migrate to Europe and beyond. The hard life, hunger, poverty and destitution are accepted by some people as the will of Allah that cannot be questioned or mitigated. Others are angry and frustrated at their lot and these people are told by their elite masters that poverty and hardship are because of Indian aggression or some other extraneous factor. Pakistani leaders, being Islamic and who appear forever busy to defend Pakistan, are above blame.

And that has been an integral part of Pakistan’s problem. For more than five decades since independence, Pakistani leaders have sacrificed enormous and fruitless amounts of money, time, human life and effort to somehow equal, match or defeat India. The build up of Pakistani armed forces into a formidable war machine was initially to defeat India and take Kashmir, and later to defend against an India that had no intention of attacking Pakistan. Money and effort that should have gone into building schools, roads and hospitals in Pakistan was spent on building a war machine that could never overwhelm an India that was just too big. Pakistan was halved when Bangladesh seceded, but even then the wasteful expenditure did not stop. The bloated ranks of army retirees had to be accommodated, and businesses were custom made for employing them, and development of the poor was bypassed as usual. Money from any source was poured developing nuclear weapons to deter India. Money was diverted to training Islamist operatives for covert operations against India, and a system of salaries and pensions had to be set up for them, while the stoic Pakistani public, with women and children at the bottom of the pile received little. Even criminal activity aimed against India, gun running or currency counterfeiting swallowed funds that should have gone into schools and healthcare in Pakistan.

In the midst of this, the poor of Pakistan are left with the only succour they can get - Islam. And even that is used against Pakistan’s arch enemy, India. Popular devotion to Islam is channelled to provide an endless supply of men for jihad. Anger is carefully re-directed away from the ruling elite, to be directed at India, Israel, the US or other Western nations, or is internalised as people not being “Islamic” enough. The anger is compounded by what is taught in schools and madrassas following curricula that actively teach hatred and discrimination to impressionable children.

The madrassa is the place where students’ physical hunger is assuaged, but their emotional hunger for explanations about the miserable existence of their families is often met by a call for violent jihad against forces that are blamed for hunger and misery. Every son sent to a madrassa is one mouth less to feed for a poor family, and sending one son to die for jihad brings honour and financial reward to the family.

Girls grow up uneducated, live at home until they come of age, marry and produce children. Boys are preferred in all ways in this male-dominated society. The girl child gets less food and is more likely to die of malnutrition and disease. The ratio of men to women in Pakistan is grossly skewed with many more men than women.

But women hold the key to family honour. A woman’s place is in the home - she is not supposed to be seen outside, either alone, or in the company of a man who is not her husband or father. A woman who breaks rules by exposing herself or by being seen with a non-approved male companion, or a woman who marries against the wishes of her family is considered to be committing a crime by bringing dishonour on the family - an act that is punishable by death.

Pakistani society has both extremes. On the one hand the society has a small minority of wealthy and emancipated people among whom women can get educated and work. The other extreme is the harsh life of a woman living under the burden of strict discriminatory rules. Between these two extremes are a vast mass of Pakistanis who are more or less generally poor; they are generally uneducated, and the level of education for women is invariably less than that of men.

The people are docile, as the British had found them. They do not easily rise up in revolt against tyranny or injustice, but individuals in such a society grow up in conditions that make their minds receptive to indoctrination into a life of terrorism and jihad.

The people need clean drinking water, roads, schools, health care, and access to family planning so that births can be spaced out, giving a mother time to recover and nurse an earlier child before bearing another child. But the money, people and will to provide these things never reach the population. All the money in Pakistan, be it government funds, aid money or export profits is split up and shared by a small percentage of wealthy people at the top. The Army gets money; the army businesses do well; the businessmen and feudal lords get money, and very little reaches the Pakistani on the ground. The only funding that reaches this level comes from unaccounted and unaccountable sources funding the madrassas that preach an agenda of hatred and jihad.

Pakistan is controlled by an oligarchy of a thousand individuals or so (157) in a few dozen families. This ruling elite is composed of senior army officers, business magnates controlling key businesses such as transport, fuel oil and cement, as well as feudal landowners. For the survival of corrupt business interests in Pakistan the elite must remain in power and not be bothered by rebellion or the uncertainties of democracy. The 140 million mostly poor people of Pakistan are kept in check with the excuse that their faith, Islam, is under threat from India, and other nations. Pakistanis have been told that the army and the ruling elite have protected Pakistan and Islam from these external threats. For aid givers like the US and rich Western nations, the ruling elite of Pakistan behave like moderate, secular and well-intentioned democrats who are keeping Islamic fundamentalism at bay.

Time and again Pakistani leaders change masks depending on whom they are addressing. They appear in Western suits or crisp army uniforms, speaking in English to aid givers and donors. To their deprived population, they appear in traditional Pakistani salwar suits, and speak in Urdu. Western aid givers are told what they want to hear; that the ruling elite are fighting to hold fundamentalist forces at bay and that more aid and lifting of sanctions are essential for the prevention of a Islamic fundamentalist takeover of Pakistan.

In the meantime the ruling clique in Pakistan ensures its own survival. Each member of this elite community knows that too much action in curbing or controlling the vast business empires of their rivals will upset one’s own business interests. Opponents are rarely killed, punished severely or publicly humiliated. They are gently sidelined, along with sops to keep them happy. This mechanism was clearly illustrated after the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb Abdul Qadeer Khan made a public confession that he was responsible for the proliferation of nuclear technology (chapter 13). Within a day, he was publicly pardoned by Pakistani President General Musharraf, and allowed to keep all the wealth that he had earned from nuclear proliferation activities. The ruling clique of Pakistan stands to gain from this form of loose cooperation in which all the business interests survive at the expense of the constitution and law, while people are constantly fed with the anti-Muslim India threat.

The threat that is held up is that if the ruling clique goes, Pakistan will sink into an uncontrollable morass of 160 million hankering for an Islamic state. Whether this is likely or not, the US administration and some US think tanks seem to believe this providing the ideal setting for Pakistani rulers to play a double game of pretending to be devoutly Islamic for their people, while appearing moderate to aid givers.

When Pakistani President and Army Chief Pervez Musharraf was given an ultimatum by the US government in September 2001 that he could be With the US or against the US in its war on terror, he made his decision to support the US in a speech (56) that used the time tested Pakistani mask-changing routine to address different groups of people. He spoke in English initially, knowing that this would be understood by viewers in the US, saying words of support to please the US. But in the course of the same speech, he addressed Pakistanis in Urdu and, using Islamic examples, told them that his alliance with the US was akin to a temporary alliance with the devil to deter an immediate threat. This ploy is a fail safe formula that has allowed the survival of the Pakistani oligarchy so far, even as the human condition of the people in Pakistan has gradually deteriorated.

The average poor Pakistani is taught that his misery is because of Indian aggression, or more recently, because of the US’ war on terror. External anti-Islamic forces are always to blame. The powerful and wealthy groups of Pakistan stand to lose their money and lifestyles if funds are diverted to education, health care and development of the poor. As long as the poor can be left to vent their anger against some external foe by joining jihad or accepting their misery as Allah’s will the rich army, elite and feudal leadership of Pakistan will be under no pressure to change.

No power on earth can coax this small group of rich and powerful Pakistanis that wealth in a nation has to be shared and spread around for development of society and the nation as a whole. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and the population of the poor is rising rapidly, and their level of education is falling. These people will form a huge mass of uneducated and unemployed people in a few years’ time.

The ruling elite of Pakistan are engaged in a strange experiment in which they seem out of touch with reality. They exist on a different plane from the poor and they do not seem to understand that the burgeoning population of the poor, and the anger that is now being channeled against India or the West can turn inwards. The poor are over 100 million strong now but will be twice that number in a single generation, and they will be jobless, hungry and angry.

Nations like India, China, Russia and Western countries, who have all had to face the violent consequences of trained jihadi fighters from Pakistan are vigorously resisting and neutralizing them. The forces of jihad are unlikely to receive sanctuary or be allowed to survive in these nations in the current geo-political scenario. Faced with such pressure outside Pakistan, thousands of indoctrinated, armed and dangerous young men could well turn inwards at Pakistani rulers, blaming them for their inability to help in the victory of jihad over unbelievers. If Pakistani leaders can show constant military victories, it is likely that their population will at least temporarily continue to be happy at the successes. But when low-tech irregular Islamic militias spawned by the Pakistani army and governments are unable to achieve victories despite tremendous losses, they are increasingly likely to ask the leaders of Pakistan, the army and the elite why they are being defeated.

From the beginning Pakistanis, rich or poor have had no sense of nationhood, no sense of whom and what they are other than being a group of Muslims who have escaped from India. Every effort at development and good governance has been destroyed by a vested interest, always living in the vain hope that some Western nation, or rich Islamic nation will bail the country out. Democracy was first derailed by the migrant bureaucracy who had moved to Pakistan from India. Later it was the army that stood to lose from democracy. Political parties have been disempowered, and the judiciary lives under the shadow of the army.

The only forces that are gaining strength are those of fundamentalist Islam, the forces that seek to fight India or the US, or even Shias within Pakistan. The two most powerful groups in Pakistan today are the army and Islamic groups, Pakistan is getting to the stage when the Islamic groups have infiltrated into the ranks of the army and appear set to take control of Pakistan. The Islamic groups themselves are divided, and their unity may only last as long as it takes for them to gain control of Pakistan.

None of these powerful groups seems to be interested in development or progress. No group seems set to allow modern education, peace with India, women’s rights or birth control in Pakistan, all essential for progress. The political parties and democratic forces did not do this. The army did not do it and the Islamic groups do not show any intent of fostering a progressive Pakistan. Predictably, they too are careening down the path of more and purer Islam as the answer to Pakistan’s problems. And worse for Pakistan, Islamist groups, with trans-national loyalties, cannot be guaranteed to be interested in the territorial integrity and borders of Pakistan as they exist. And so the disease eating Pakistan from the inside continues. Jessica Stern wrote (119):

Pakistan is a weak state, and government policies are making it weaker still. Its disastrous economy, exacerbated by a series of corrupt leaders, is at the root of many of its problems. Yet despite its poverty, Pakistan is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on weapons instead of schools and public health. Ironically, the government’s “cost-saving” measures are even more troubling. In trying to save money in the short run by using irregulars in Kashmir and relying on madrasahs to educate its youth, Pakistan is pursuing a path that is likely to be disastrous in the long run, allowing a culture of violence to take root.

Pakistan is in an unstable state and there appears to be no leader who can show Pakistan a way out. Too many Pakistanis have been taught that they exist only for Islam and for jihad and these people are now caught between the twin pincers of the global war on terror being conducted by many nations on the one hand, and by the rich and corrupt Pakistani rulers on the other. The long term outlook for Pakistan does not appear encouraging. In a paper on Pakistan, Stephen Cohen wrote (158):

When security, human services, justice, and basic necessities are not provided, states fail.

Pakistan can be compared to a broken biscuit whose pieces are held together by some wrapping paper. The area labeled as Pakistan on maps is called Pakistan, but that area is not wholly under the control of any single government or leadership, as one would expect of a normally functioning nation-state. The first fragment of the biscuit that broke off was Bangladesh, in 1971. There is no guarantee that the other fragments of this dysfunctional state will hold together.

Pakistan is already a nation that is only partially under control of its government which is basically the army. Only 5% of Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest province, is under Pakistani control. Tribal law rules the sparsely populated land. The Pakistani government has little or no control over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas the so called FATA. Areas of Pakistan’s first city, Karachi, are outside government control.

Gaining control of Pakistan is easier said than done. As indicated in Chapter 12, Pakistan is awash with illegal weapons. The FATA areas are home to hundreds of small arms factories and shops that sell them (151). With 18 million illegal firearms, Pakistanis outside the military and government have enough weapons to equip several armies, and anyone trying to bring heavily armed private militias under control will have to contend with a lot of firepower.

But as the history of nations shows, if the Pakistan government is unable to control its own territory, someone else is likely to step in to fill the vacuum sooner or later. Therein lies the real significance of having large areas in a country that are out of governmental control. The fact that a government can only govern areas that it controls means that areas beyond government rule are ripe for control by some other force or alternate government. These schisms are begging to be exploited. The United States already has a powerful military presence in Pakistan, and perhaps that is an eerie harbinger of yet another civilization set to rule this lawless land.

Pakistan is perhaps fortunate that the nation state of India is not yet as adept and conscious of international hegemonic games and how India can interfere to bring law and order to the fraying edges of Pakistan. But that may be changing as the lawlessness of Pakistan continues to spill into an increasingly powerful India as terrorism, forcing India to become conscious of its role and responsibility in the region.

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