Pakistan, since 9/11, continues to be in the news prominently. Pakistan has had a long relationship with the U.S. During the cold war, through the seventies and eighties, Pakistan served the interests of the West, mainly the U.S., by providing tactical support and intelligence.
Pakistan's role in supporting the Afghans defeat the occupying Soviet Army and end “the evil empire” in the eighties is readily acknowledged. The extensive and intensive long drawn experiences that Pakistan has gained in its' short history and its' loyalty to the U.S. has not rendered for its' masses any progress or security.
Pakistan provides for the U.S. a very useful model that reflects not only the inherent problems that nations may face because of lack of economic development, but also allows us to examine our foreign policy that in many instances around the globe, has caused instability and chaos that in turn create conditions that foster a hatred of the United States and allow terrorism and extremism to take root.
The world community presently faces a triple threat: of religious extremism, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. In different parts of the world, one or the other of this troika is affecting governments and masses. However, nowhere else in the world has this unholy trinity come alive collectively, than in Pakistan.
How has Pakistan evolved into the kind of state which is perceived a threat to global peace and security? Pakistan's short history of 57 years has been driven mainly by two factors: the mutual hostility between India and Pakistan and Pakistan's support by the U.S. driven by the U.S.'s own strategic interests whether in defeating the Soviets or, as seems the case now, in defeating terrorism.
The hostility between India and Pakistan has a historical/religious basis. Much of it has to do with the Colonial experience that the people of the Indian Sub-continent were subjected to and the mess that the partition of the Indian subcontinent caused when the British hurriedly left their former colony after WW II.
The US involvement in the region came about as part of the Cold War Strategy: we needed allies in close proximity to the Soviet perimeter allowing us the ability for surveillance of the USSR. Acting in its own interest the US befriended Pakistan. From the time of President Eisenhower until now, Pakistan has played a major role in US foreign policy whether it was during the Cold War or the presently continuing War on Terror.
Interestingly, during the worse moments of these conflicts, Pakistan has always stood beside the U.S. and the U.S. fortuitously has found a General at the helm of affairs in Pakistan — from President Field Marshall Ayoub Khan during the U2 incident when the Soviets shot down the spy plane flown by Gary Powers which had flown out of an American Base in Pakistan, to Gen. Zia ul-Haq during the Afghan war, to the present War on Terror and Gen. Musharraf, our ally. It appears that the U.S.'s own strategic interests were the only reason behind its long relationship with Pakistan. During these periods all kinds of military aid was provided to strengthen the hands of the Pakistan Army. How much weaponisation of the area occurred as a result of our involvement is evident when one could purchase a Stinger Missile in an open market until recently in the border areas of Pakistan.
This important development is enormously significant in the Terrorism story. The other equally, if not more important dimensions of the fall-out is the emergence of religious extremism. In a region devastated by war hardly any attention was paid by the U.S. to political and economic development – issues vital to any nation. After the Afghan war, the US just packed up and left with no concern for the people of Pakistan or the political, economic and other development of the country. Bad politics and religious extremism form a natural alliance to the detriment of progress of any people. The US must surely know this.
A look now at Pakistan itself. Pakistan as a state has failed in all modern aspects of state hood and governance. Coming into existence on a religious basis, as a homeland for Muslims of the Indian sub-continent, by and large it has failed to deliver to its masses not only the basic necessities of living but has also allowed to breed a mutation of Islam totally contrary to its values and ethos.
Pakistan has repeatedly failed in evolving, if not into a “democracy”, at least into a form of representative government and most of its 57 years have been under military rule, although the converse could also be argued. The political system has remained undeveloped because it has been made into a fiefdom as it were of a few families and the Army – the feudal base of these leaders, and others whose empowerment has been through amassing wealth by corrupt business practices, looting the government treasury, or by military coups. Transparency and accountability are not in the lexicon of these leaders whose sole ambition is power, not the progress of the people they profess to serve.
Accumulation of political power or leadership in Pakistan has been mainly through a combination of one of several ways. Feudal connections and large landholdings render generations of people working on these lands into servitude and total dependence on the feudal lord for their livelihood – they can hardly be expected to raise their voice or cast their votes with freedom. There are those including bureaucrats and army officers who have thrust themselves into leadership positions after acquiring and amassing wealth through corruption, bribery, and other illegal means. For them being in power and decision-making not only protects their ill-gained fortunes but adds to them. In every government, including the present one, there are cabinet members or people in powerful positions who fall in this category.
Then there is the Army. It has become part of the mind set of an average Pakistani, that the army is the least of all evils and therefore must be allowed to trash the political system and come into power as it chooses in the name of national emergency. There is no acknowledgement of the fact that this further sets back the emergence of a representative government. Sadly this idea is so pervasive that even the educated Pakistanis living in Pakistan or elsewhere including here stand up and cheer when they see a uniformed “Messiah” leading them to the promised land. The result of and partly contributing to the above are the other two key Factors: lack of economic development and illiteracy, each dovetailing and feeding into the other thus perpetrating the cycle of misery for the people of Pakistan.
The stage is set for the worse form of religion to surface and further exploit the masses. Hatred of others including India becomes a sustaining passion. The same argument is the driving force for the fundamentalist Hindu leaders across the border. Sowing sectarian hatred and religious bigotry, the religious leaders whose worldview is always ” Us vs. Them”, make the situation worse for the gullible masses. It is interesting that though the Army and the religious groups hate each other, Gen. Musharraf retains political power in no small measure through alliances with the religious leaders.
The birth and acquisition of nuclear technology in the sub continent is the worst tragedy for the region, not just in terms of its potential consequences, but also because of its economic impact. This money could easily be utilized in the social sector, health and education where it is critically needed. The defense budgets which eat up an enormous amount of both countries' budgets, expenditure on this destructive force is unconscionable for both.
Lastly, because of all the social and political pathologies that Pakistan has come to represent, terrorism is an expected out come. The war on terrorism continues. The packaging and branding of the war has been under the “Al-Qaeda” label. It may be easy to sell this “war” if it is packaged and made identifiable by a brand name, yet terrorism itself remains ubiquitous and not easily rendered neatly tied up with a ribbon in a box. The dynamics and the cross currents that we see in Pakistan are complex but must be understood properly. In view of all of this, it is not at all surprising that Pakistan has played such a key role in “Wal-Martization” of nuclear weapons and technology. Every thing and everyone is on sale in Pakistan.
Why do they hate us? This question is being asked more and more in this country. The answer lies in looking at our relationship with Pakistan and other countries and recognizing what went wrong. Instead of supporting the military infrastructure of the countries, the U.S. can strengthen the infrastructure of peace and prosperity by supporting the countries develop in peaceful ways. If we are to make any headway in this war on terror we ought to rethink our foreign policy and find better ways of engaging with the people across the world rather than being supportive of dictators, monarchs and despots.
Our involvement with Saddam during his early days is a lesson enough. We must demand transparency and accountability for the masses from any of the regimes we support; even during the transition that some of the countries like Pakistan is going through, this must never be ignored. Then only can we hope for a democratic future for these nations.
Understanding these issues and addressing them as policy matters and Prioritizing them will help us gain some ground in this war. The general's friendship and loyalties may only be a short-term victory in a battle and not in the War.
Dr. Nazir Khaja is is a Pakistani American. He is Chairman of Islamic Information Service that produces weekly Islamic programs for television. He practices and teaches Medicine. He is also active in inter-faith dialogues and activities related to Peace, Justice and Mutual Tolerance.