About two decades ago, a compulsive letter-writer in an English daily would describe some funny incident he had seen, heard or read about and conclude his letter with the words: “What a country!”
The Musharraf government has failed on account of internal, not external dangers. While peace reigns on the border with India, the scene of at least three wars, there is a near-complete breakdown of law and order as well as the political process within the country. The state’s sovereignty looks very tenuous.
General Pervez Musharraf had begun his rule in 1999 by declaring on television before the world that the country “had hit rock bottom” under his predecessors. Eight years later, he has conceded that the situation is much worse by declaring that “Pakistan’s sovereignty is in danger unless timely action is taken” and the country is on the verge of “committing suicide”. “Extremists are roaming around freely in the country, and they are not scared of law-enforcement agencies,” the president added. Pakistanis may now be yearning for the “good old” days of “ten percent” and the “heavy mandate” era.
General Ayub Khan, while seizing power in 1958, had accused the politicians of turning the country into the “laughing stock” of the world. He promoted himself to Field Marshall but, having totally bungled a war with India and completely alienated the people of East Pakistan, Ayub left the country in total disarray.
His successor, General Yahya Khan, unleashed a war that led to a shameful military defeat, the secession of East Pakistan and the captivity of over 70,000 Pakistani soldiers in India.
Our “god-given country” (mumlakat-e-khudadad) lurches from one crisis to another. Until the Bangladesh crisis in 1971, Pakistanis complained that the world did not know their country. Now, the problem is that the world knows too much about Pakistan. It is now an embarrassment to be seen as a Pakistani anywhere in the world. Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Islamabad and Waziristan are now nearly as well known around the world as Texas, Chicago, Moscow and Berlin, and for the wrong reasons.
In retrospect, few will disagree that Pakistan as conceived and created in 1947 was a flawed state in more ways than one. Said to be a “homeland” for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, the country contained just over one half of the Muslim population of pre-partition India. Also, East Pakistan as a province of Pakistan was a geographical, political and cultural anomaly that led to much grief and bloodshed.
Less than a quarter century after its creation, East Pakistan seceded to form the independent state of Bangladesh, which contained a majority of the population of pre-partition Pakistan. In other words, Pakistan as presently constituted contains less than half of its original population, and less than one third of the Muslims of the subcontinent.
Even if the secession of East Pakistan is overlooked, few will now deny that just over three decades later the residual Pakistan resembles a struggling state, if not a failed one. The army chief has taken over the administration of the country for the fifth time in its brief and chequered history (1958, 1969, 1977, 1999 and 2007), citing grave and imminent dangers to its survival, none of which emanated from an external threat. If that is not proof of a failed state, what is?
Presently, the writ of the state practically does not run in one of its four provinces (NWFP). Another (Balochistan) is deeply alienated from the federation, particularly after the murder of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. Yet another (Sindh) has not recovered from the shock of the treatment meted out to its most illustrious son, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The second largest ethnic group in Sindh, the Mohajirs, may be breathing freely under the present government, but they have not forgotten the reign of terror let loose against the Mohajir youth accused of being MQM activists or sympathisers in the 1990s.
That leaves us with the fourth and largest province, the Punjab. Deep fissures now run through the body-politic of Punjab, whose most popular leader by far (Nawaz Sharif) has been unceremoniously “deported” from his own country.
In the gravest of developments fraught with unforeseen consequences, Pakistani soldiers are now surrendering before the Taliban-Al Qaeda in hordes either out of fear or sympathy or a combination of both.
It is hard to imagine how the state of Pakistan can survive such substantial challenges without a major reconfiguration. The mutilated and deformed constitution of 1973 has been put in abeyance for the third time in a little more than three decades.
India got its constitution in 1949 and it continues to be the law of the land with some amendments. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi briefly lost her head after losing a court case in 1975 and proclaimed a state of emergency. This aberration lasted but two years. Trounced in the general election in 1977, Indira bowed out of office gracefully.
The US constitution, adopted in 1787, survives to this day with only 27 amendments. The UK does well with an unwritten constitution. Tiny, war-torn and besieged Israel functions as a democratic country without any constitution at all. (In lieu of a constitution, Israel has what are called Basic Laws, various pieces of legislation from the Knesset that outline the nation’s political structure.)
It took Pakistani lawmakers nine long years to frame a constitution (1947-1956). Within two years, in 1958, the army chief (General Ayub Khan) and the president (Iskandar Mirza) conspired, together abrogated the constitution and proclaimed martial law. Ayub soon deposed and exiled Mirza and, four years later, drafted and implemented his own constitution (1962). It was abrogated by this own army chief (General Yahya Khan) in 1969 when Ayub resigned in the face of massive protests both in East and West Pakistan.
Bhutto, who deposed Yahya in Dec 1971 and took over as CMLA, gave a constitution in 1973, which was abrogated within four years by General Zia-ul Haq, who not only deposed Bhutto but also hanged him.
The famous French writer Victor Hugo once said that history repeats itself, first time as tragedy, then as farce. One is tempted to see all the Pakistani governments from Ayub to Musharraf, indeed from Nazimuddin to Musharraf, in this light. Only it is hard to tell which phase constitutes tragedy and which farce.
While one may argue over that depending on one’s political affiliations, there is little doubt that the world sees us as essentially flawed and virtually failed. There is something about Pakistan that evokes amazement.
* From the Daily Times, 05 November 2007. Circulated by South Asia Citizens Wire | November 2-5, 2007 | Dispatch No. 2467 - Year 10 running.