Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is the High Commissioner of Pakistan to Britain.
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had a vision of a modern, progressive and secular Pakistan. Yet some are trying to replace it with a Talibanised state in which schools are closed, heads chopped off, women flogged in public and a pagan religion takes over in the name of Islam that Allah the Most Merciful bequeathed to humankind through the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to enlighten the darkened world.
Ever since its advent, Islam has been a religion of peace and compassion with no room for animosity for any other religion. Its fundamental tenet is Huququl Ibad – that is, you would not do unto others what you would not want to be done to you.
Not withstanding the ugly facts as to how we have come to the present tragic pass we must remember that the world is a stage where players play their part and fade away. However, when it comes to a leadership role, some leave indelible footprints on the sands of time. Others who play foul with the destiny of a nation are consigned to the dustbin of history or are acknowledged as unavoidable footnotes mentioned for their misdeeds.
While not condoning the questionable role of some of the civilian leaders of the past, members of the superior judiciary, civil bureaucracy and selective elite, the most devastating impact on Pakistan’s growth on sound democratic lines, in keeping with Mr Jinnah’s unequivocal emphasis that religion shall have nothing to do with the business of the state, was dealt by the constant direct extra-constitutional interventions by military dictators for over 31 years.
Some readers have suggested that Pakistan’s politicians close ranks to beat back the Taliban advance, and that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party re-unites with the ruling coalition as a first step.
It is an idea that seems to be gaining traction, going by a spate of media reports The Financial Times said that Sharif could consider joining a unity coalition led by President Asif Ali Zardari, citing a senior member of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Muslim).
Now that President Asif Ali Zardari has agreed to reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and offered to challenge a court decision against his rival Nawaz Sharif, is he going to come under pressure to give up his powers to dismiss parliament, another popular demand?
For many Pakistanis, that is the next stage in the rapid emasculation of Zardari’s presidency. Article 58-2B of the constitution, which many blame for much of the country’s political instability, has several times been used to sack elected governments. Zardari had promised to ditch it but has yet to deliver.
Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is much talked about these days as the one national figure who could lean on Pakistan’s warring politicians to back down from a confrontation threatening the stability of the country. The question is over how he would intervene while maintaining a commitment to keep the army out of politics.
Most analysts have ruled out a coup for now and in an interview with PBS Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he believed Kayani was committed to a civilian government.
Maybe this always happens at times of national upheaval. But there is a surprising disconnect between the immediacy of the crisis facing Pakistan as expressed by Pakistani bloggers and the more slow-moving debate taking place in the outside world over the right strategy to adopt towards both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Reading Pakistani blogs since confrontation between the country’s two main political parties exploded and comparing them to international commentaries is a bit like watching men shout that their house is on fire, and then panning over to the fire station where the folks in charge are debating which type of water hose works best.
In his book on the Pakistan Army, South Asia expert Stephen Cohen quotes a senior lieutenant-general as warning the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto against using the military to control political opposition. “If you use a stick too often, the stick will take over,” Cohen quotes the general as saying. “This has always been the history of the stick.”
There’s no sign yet of the Pakistan Army reverting to its usual role of wielding the big stick. But with the police out in force to quell protests in Punjab over a Supreme Court ruling excluding former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz from office, the obvious question to ask is whether we are about to see a repeat of the old cycle in which security forces are called out to restore order and end up taking over altogether. Indeed, the Pakistan Army’s first involvement in politics is generally dated to the 1953 imposition of martial law in Lahore – where protests erupted on Thursday over the court ruling. Sharif has blamed President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of the late Benazir Bhutto, for the ruling.
After India last held state elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 2002, the Kashmir Valley witnessed a period of relative peace only to see it shattered when plans to give land to Hindu pilgrims triggered the biggest protests since the Kashmir separatist revolt erupted in 1989.
The latest elections – which produced a turnout of more than 60 percent despite a boycott call by separatists and ushered in a new state government led by Omar Abdullah – have provided a second chance to change the mood in the volatile Kashmir Valley. But do India and Pakistan, and the Kashmiris themselves, have the ability to turn this second chance into a real opportunity for peace?
The anniversary of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has reminded everyone just how much we still don’t know about her killing in a suicide gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi on Dec. 27, 2007.
The same questions that transfixed the shocked country in the days after her death, such as why was the crime scene hosed down so quickly, was she killed when the blast smashed her head into the lever on her vehicle’s escape hatch or by a bullet, why was no autopsy performed, are again being raised.
Investigations by the previous government and the U.S. CIA accused an al Qaeda-linked militant, Baitullah Mehsud, of killing Bhutto, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy.
That would seem logical enough but, as we’ve seen with the Mumbai attacks, any militant attack on or linked to Pakistan seems to raise questions about possible links to old allies in the powerful intelligence services.
But what is the world to do if such actors operate from the territory of a state and the state is unable or unwilling to act against them, especially because they were created by its intelligence agencies in the first place, asks leading U.S. scholar Robert Kagan at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
While Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is in the United States discussing U.S. military strikes across Pakistan’s border, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is on a far less publicised trip to China to talk about defence cooperation. The timing may be coincidental, but the potential implications of the United States and China playing competing roles in Pakistan are huge.
Pakistan has always seen China as a much more reliable friend, while support from Washington has waxed and waned in line with U.S. interests (Islamabad has never quite forgiven the United States for using it to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and then dropping it when the Russians were driven out in 1989.)