There are two Pakistans
Author: Haider Ali Hussein Mullick
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 07/18/2008
There are two Pakistans. The first is stuck in an illusion of undisturbed national stability and unity through military management; the second stands on the weak shoulders of a nascent democracy, perpetually insecure and sporadically functional.
For more than sixty years, Pakistan has struggled with its split personality, brought about by its military or political parties. Historically the United States has preferred the first Pakistan – managed by the military and governed by the free market. The challenge for today’s generals and politicians is to find a way to merge, secure, and present the country in a way that attracts the better of the two Pakistans, and preserves U.S. support in the war on terror.
Today, more than any other time in the nation’s history, Pakistan needs ideological and political harmony. But socialist demagoguery or Islamist idealism will no longer suffice. Pakistan’s Pandora’s Box has exploded, letting loose new and old forces questioning the very heart of the country’s raison d’être. The elusive quest for constitutional justice lead by idealistic lawyers and savvy politicians has locked horns with the military. Equally important is the surge in energy and food prices, and domestic and regional terrorism. Still, there is more. Millions of ordinary Pakistanis, empowered by a recalcitrant media and rapid globalization, refuse to buy the stories of the generals and the politicians. From picket lines to flour lines, Pakistanis are asking for a new Pakistan – one country under law, dignity, and prosperity.
But before a new and united Pakistan can emerge, the dichotomy of the two existing Pakistans must be resolved.
Regional and international economic and security concerns have greatly influenced Pakistani domestic politics. Defining and redefining the idea of Pakistan, and its future course, however, has always been the prerogative of domestic forces, notably the generals and the politicians. They have managed and governed the two Pakistans.
The generals come to power during times of economic doom and national (real or perceived) insecurity – for example, in 1999 former general and present President Musharraf ousted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in the wake of national bankruptcy and U.S. sanctions against Pakistan’s nuclear tests. They take over and promise to ‘clean house,’ psychologically teleporting Pakistanis to the Day of Independence to watch the generals rewrite the idea of Pakistan.
All four military rulers have sold the idea of Pakistan as a country backed by the United States, militarily strong, economically viable, ideologically coherent, and diplomatically dependable. That’s usually Plan A. Plan B – in times of U.S.-Pakistan friction – is Chinese and Saudi support. These plans are usually sold to ordinary Pakistanis as a clear alternative to incompetent, weak, corrupt, and bickering politicians. Regional national security imperatives, such as favorably shaping Afghan politics and keeping India bogged down in Kashmir, require sugar coating. That’s where all-purpose political Islam comes into play. Generals believe that supporting an Islamist ideology defined by a puritanical, anti-Western xenophobia yields benefits that outweigh the costs. A multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-sectarian country needs a simple unifier, and while religion doesn’t mix well with politics, the generals have always believed that they can control it.
In the short run, most ordinary Pakistanis fall for the promise of total transformation: a land of hope with no sign of past corruption, all the glory and promise of a strong nation state, and the will to fight poverty at home and promote its national interest abroad. But that presents one major problem: Big promises yield short term economic growth but not long term political or judicial stability. Within a decade, wealth disparity, political agitation, and military fatigue pushes the generals out.
Civilians usually come to power in times of national crisis, when millions are crying foul over broken promises. There is tremendous hope but little patience. Depending on the severity of socioeconomic strife, the politicians may have a few months to deliver relief to the masses. If they fail – and most of them do – the voters get angry and the democratic opposition begins to discredit the government. At first the opposition exerts political pressure through national and provincial parliaments. Then there is talk of the ‘no confidence vote’ – two-thirds of the national parliamentarians can vote out the prime minister. If all else fails, the opposition lobbies for the presidential and military support to oust the government. Depending on their agenda, the intelligence services usually play the role of a catalyst; they abet the rise or fall of a political party.
The military sits back or watches – and sometimes facilitates – the politicians’ failure. When the economy completely tanks, the military scolds the prime minister. That usually doesn’t work. Then the military advises the president to dissolve the parliament, and if the president refuses or is incapable, the military unilaterally removes the prime minister. A few years later, the generals fail to keep the lid on political dissent, and millions of Pakistanis are back to square one.
The new civilian government and the military leadership can choose a similar path – or, for the first time, they can genuinely support constitutional democracy. Only then can the country overcome its plethora of socioeconomic and security problems. Acting alone, the two Pakistans are self-destructive. Bringing them together, pragmatically and constitutionally, is the calling of our generation.
Bio: Haider Ali Hussein Mullick is an independent policy analyst, and an Adjunct Fellow at Spearhead Research, Lahore, Pakistan. He can be reached at email@example.com.