By Dr. D. K. Giri
(Secretary General, Assn. For Democratic Socialism)
The dramatic arrest of 70-year-old Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan has plunged the hapless country into a civil war. Imran Khan was by far the most popular cricketer and leader on many counts, his marriage to Jemima Khan, the daughter of media tycoon James Goldsmith, and his own aristocratic background. However, the arrest was on the cards as is typical of Pakistan politics of revenge. When the friends or allies fall out, like the English playwright William Congreve (1670-1729) put it, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like women scorned.”
One is referring to no love lost between Imran Khan and the Army which propped him to position of the Prime Minister in the first place. It has not been clearly revealed yet why they fell out. The jury is still out on it. May be, Imran Khan was overshadowing General Qamar Javed Bajwa in international fora, or the Americans found Khan too hot to handle, as Imran himself alluded. Be that as it may, for the first time in Pakistani politics, the civilians and the Army are at daggers drawn, civilians arsoning the military houses and establishment. One is absolutely unsure where will all this lead to?
Before analysing the Pakistan politics, the structural anomalies, let us have a brief look at the run up to the arrest. Imran Khan was charged with series of corruption, including laundering money to Al Qaeda through his third wife. Arrest warrants were issued. Khan was evading. Finally he was picked up from the court premises in Islamabad. Along with him his key supporters have been picked up. The 13-member ruling coalition seems to be elated with the development as in the event of Imran Khan being disqualified for life, his prospect of coming back to power is nil, whereas they should support Khan in his battle against the all-powerful anti-democratic military. This leads us to the structural problems of Pakistani politics which are derailing the country and have brought it to such an impasse.
Pakistan politics stands on three legs, that is why it remains ever unsteady. These are Islam (religion), the Army, and Kashmir. These three determinants of both domestic and foreign policy have proved direly detrimental to Pakistan’s economic growth and democratic development. Let us take the first pillar, religion. The basis of creation of Pakistan by separating from India was the religion. It was a wrong premise. India was and is a multicultural country with variations within each attribute – language, religion, caste, ethnicity, and so on. What one means is, if Pakistan were an Islamic state, why did East Pakistan (Bangladesh) break away from it? It did because, although they were Muslims they are like Bengalis in their language, food and clothing, etc. Further, the cultural division between various groups like Punjabis, Sindhis, Baluch, Pakhtoons are not yet resolved and are under constant threat of break up.
The second leg is the Army. Pakistan is called a hybrid democracy as the power alters between the Army and the civilian administration. In fact, to be more precise, the Army has remote controlled the civil administration. Since 1947, when Pakistan was created, the Army has directly taken over thrice by staging coups. Worse than that, having taken over, it has physically eliminated the political rivals or made them flee the country. Army officials have minted money through foreign aid mainly from the US promising support to fight the Mujahideens and then the Taliban. On the contrary, the Army has used that money to sponsor terrorism in India. It double crossed even USA by sheltering Osama Bin Laden in their army barracks. Thanks to American intelligence agency, it took them ages to find out Pakistan’s duplicity. Only Donald Trump spoke candidly that Islamabad was hoodwinking the US leadership.
The third pillar is Kashmir. Here again, Pakistan is caught in a perennial bind. All their national and international politics is driven by their obsession with Kashmir. The division of Kashmir is a historical fact which must be accepted. If it was not for a moral posture taken by Pandit Nehru, even the PoK should have been with India. Be that as it may for now as no one can predict the future. But the moot point is Pakistan continuing to claim Kashmir as it is a Muslim majority state is ludicrous. If that is the logic, why could they not hold on to East Pakistan which was a Muslim region? The division of India in 1947 had certain protocols and formulae. Kashmir decided to accede to India, and that is it.
Pakistan’s Kashmir obsession is ruining its politics and economy. Islamabad was using the US support to engineer terrorist violence in India and now it has become a satellite state of China. Many observers have pointed out that embracing China is like a bear hug. Countries tapping China’s so-called surplus money as once Nepalese Ambassador to India hinted “is inviting oneself into a debt trap and then bankruptcy”. Sri Lanka is a case in point. At the same time, as like same poles repel each other, how long the Chinese political autocracy and Pakistan’s military authoritarianism could co-habit is a question to ponder.
Finally, Pakistani democracy is elitist, it has to be made mass based. Then all Pakistani stakeholders –political, business, civil society, professionals, should have a nation-wide debate including a referendum on their top political priorities; if necessary, with international supervision. New Delhi could give a hand in helping Pakistan stabilize, with only one precondition that Pakistani Army should stop terrorism in India. Dismemberment of any country is in nobody’s interest beside humanitarian risks. Pakistan should not reach the brink. The drift must be arrested.
Given Indian tradition of good neighborliness New Delhi should open a back-channel diplomatic intervention. Both countries should forget that anti-India or anti-Pakistan rhetoric gives them political dividends. That is political brinkmanship. What we require in current troubled times across the world is statesmanship. — INFA