Joined: 21 Dec 2006
|Posted: Fri Feb 16, 2007 11:10 am Post subject: Accumulated habits By Ayaz Amir
|Accumulated habits By Ayaz Amir
“It seems that you haven’t changed a bit in these four years and more, captain,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, somewhat more amiably. “It seems in fact, as though the second half of a man’s life is usually made up of nothing but the habits he has accumulated during the first half.” —Dostoyevsky: The Possessed
AS with individuals, so perhaps with tribes and nations: some habits become second nature, first to be accumulated, then to be repeated over and over again. Frightening thought if you have had the gift of accumulating bad habits.
This is the year of our 60th anniversary as a nation or at least a country and we can see that certain habits have become part of our national temperament. Question is: are we condemned to live with them for the next 60 years of our existence?
This is a country whose national skyline is dominated by one single institution, the army. Standing at 600,000-plus, in terms of numbers, it figures among the half a dozen large armies in the world. But its spread in Pakistan goes beyond the mere fact of numbers. Such has been our history, such the tale of errors written into this history, that the ethos of the state is today represented by the army.
The direction of higher policy, the narrative of national security, the priorities of national endeavour, are all scripted, consciously or unconsciously, by the army.
The political process is subservient to the army. Indeed, instead of the political process laying down any kind of parameters for the army, it is the other way round — the army determining the frontiers of politics.
And the remarkable thing is that instead of rebelling against this state of affairs, as might be expected in a more turbulent landscape, the Pakistani political class, its leading icons and its foot soldiers, give every indication of having learnt to coexist with this condition.
The Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) pretends to be a left-of-centre political party, but it is not. It is a centrist party which long ago arrived at the conclusion that knowing what one stands for can be the greatest political liability. True, it still retains a hold over the affections of the disenfranchised classes. Pity the closed choices before these classes.
Why blame the PPP alone? All of Pakistan’s political parties -- and they make a sorry collection -- hover either in the centre or the right, a few benighted ones stretching out to the far right, there to delve in the dark byways of religious confusion and frenzy.
Creatures of the status quo, none of these parties -- ‘liberal’, secular or religious -- questions the fundamentals of the existing system, the way wealth is distributed, or indeed not distributed, the way national priorities are set and national myths propagated. No danger of a Hugo Chavez arising from the murky waters in which they swim.
The PML-N of Nawaz Sharif is as much a creature of the status quo, if not more so, than any other party. Nawaz Sharif is anti-Musharraf, not anti-army. He is also pro-business and pro-corporate culture which makes him an unlikely champion of any other class.
Three exceptions to the overall, pro-status quo trend of Pakistani politics should be noted.
Firstly, the MQM in Karachi is a party based on the politics of mass mobilisation. But its appeal is limited to one community and the Fuehrer principle in it is so strong that it invites comparisons with the principles of National Socialism flourishing in some parts of Europe in the 1920s and `30s. The MQM can be admired from a distance but at closer quarters it gives rise to somewhat different feelings. Having to talk in euphemisms about it is itself a tribute to its ubiquitous power in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.
Secondly, Balochistan is 10,000 miles away from the rest of Pakistan if the discontent and inchoate anger seething among its hills and ravines is any measure of distance. The politics of army rule itself contributes to this distinction because Balochistan is virtually unrepresented in the higher echelons of all the services, military and civil.
If we were at all careful about the federal principle, we would have the sense to make someone from Balochistan president of the republic. But that would presuppose a maturity of outlook and a change in the national mindset that it would take us some time to arrive at.
Thirdly, the religious radicalism which has taken hold of some of the tribal areas -- notably North and South Waziristan and the Bajaur Agency -- is a response to the situation in Afghanistan. It is also an offshoot of the games the Pakistan army under General Ziaul Haq played during the days of the anti-Soviet resistance. The dragon’s teeth sown then have sprouted to haunt all the original cultivators: Yanks, Brits, the Saudis and the general staff of the Pakistan army.
But the point to note is that although this is a conservative country, this religious radicalism represents no widespread national tendency. Whatever appearances may suggest, this is not a nation awaiting the summons of Taliban-style religious insurrection.
The army has blundered in Waziristan, adopting highhanded and ham-handed tactics in the beginning which, given the intractable nature of the tribal Pakhtoons, was almost guaranteed to trigger a militant response. Had the army not succumbed to American pressure, and had it been faithful to its own instincts, it could have saved itself much subsequent trouble and agony.
Americans may be the most dynamic people on earth, theirs may be the last word in rocket science, but as Vietnam and Iraq testify, they are not to be trusted when face to face with the dynamics of popular resistance. Time and again this most talented of nations has tried to solve a political problem as if it were a mathematical equation. The human condition is not a series of mathematical equations.
Returning to the army’s domination of the national skyline, some of it was prefigured in the circumstances of our birth. Apart from Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a towering figure, the movement culminating in the creation of Pakistan produced no crop of outstanding leaders. Competent and even sincere, they were not outstanding. They were helpless against the rise of the mandarin class which, given the poverty of the political material produced by the Muslim League, was powerful even under Jinnah but which came into its own when he had departed from the scene.
Hostility with India only partially explains the rise of the military ethos. True, Pakistan was beset by insecurity from the moment of its birth. But was this insecurity greater than Israel’s when it came into existence a year or two later? How has Israel, even through wars and endless conflict, managed to preserve a democracy while Pakistan, less challenged, remains trapped in an ugly hybrid halfway between democracy and dictatorship? An Israeli president has to leave office because he forces his attentions upon unwilling women. An Israeli justice minister faces charges because he kisses a female soldier a bit too hotly, again against her wishes. An army chief of staff faces a storm of criticism because of his poor handling of the war against Hezbollah. These things are unimaginable in Pakistan. An army chief can bungle Kargil and face no retribution, bungle Waziristan and face no questions. The spirit of democracy remains an elusive bird.
Why? Sixty years is a long time. The British were in Punjab (I am not talking of the rest of India) for only 98 years -- 1849-1947 -- and look what they accomplished (from their point of view, not ours). They laid the foundations of a strong administration (from their point of view again) and planted the first seeds of representative government, first at the municipal level, then higher. Far be it from me to glorify the achievements of Empire. Still, this question is hard to avoid: why have we so signally failed to put in place the rudiments of a stable democratic order?
And if we have failed to do this in 60 years, does it mean that for the next 60 we are condemned to live through different or similar cycles of the same accumulated experience? Depressing thought. We certainly deserve better.