From Jinnah to Imran Khan: Why Pakistan’s tryst with democracy had been so treacherous

Not one of the 30 Prime Ministers of Pakistan has completed a full term: Military coups, no-confidence motions and assassinations are occupational hazards of holding that office

History repeats itself across the world, but perhaps a little too often in Pakistan.

Imran Khan’s unceremonious ouster from the office of prime minister is not without precedent. Anybody with even a cursory understanding of Pakistan’s polity would know that the civilian administration in that country is but a marionette, the strings of which are in the hands of an all-powerful military. Not one of the 30 Prime Ministers of Pakistan has completed a full term: Military coups, no-confidence motions and assassinations are occupational hazards of holding the office.

As Shehbaz Sharif takes charge as prime minister, one fervently hopes he is able to achieve what Heads-of-Government in most democratic countries are reasonably confident of: The completion of a full term in office. It’s worth pondering why India, which became an independent country at exactly the same time as Pakistan, has had exactly half the number of prime ministers.

The army that has a country

An oft-repeated saying in Pakistan goes thus: “While other countries have an Army, the Pakistan Army has a country.”

Pakistan has seen three decades of martial law since 1953. For the statistically inclined, that’s about 40 per cent of the years it has existed as an independent country. Even when Pakistan has a nominally civilian government, the military Deep State always has a knife to the jugular of the administration; the slightest hint of veering away from the fauji diktat can cost a prime minister his office. Case in point: The rolling of Imran Khan’s head after he ran afoul of Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Unlike the Indian armed forces, which have fastidiously kept out of politics, why is the Pakistan military establishment all-too-happy to play kingmaker?

Fear and loathing in Islamabad

Unlike India, which is the successor state to an 8,000-year-old civilisation, Pakistan has no civilisational basis for its existence. Its raison d’etre is defined by a deep sense of insecurity against a supposedly Hindu India, where, Mohammed Ali Jinnah averred, Muslims have no place. In other words, Pakistan’s existence is ironically justified by India’s; the former would have no reason to exist if the latter didn’t.

This has given rise to a siege mentality against an imaginary aggressor demonised as being out to wipe Pakistan off the world map. The Pakistan armed forces have effectively capitalised on this. By projecting themselves as the saviours of Islam in South Asia against an ‘expansionist’ and ‘rapacious’ India, the forces have created a perpetual zeitgeist of hysteria against their eastern neighbour and, in the process, appropriated an inordinate amount of resources and power.

The 1971 dismemberment of Pakistan served to ‘confirm’ the strident narrative of the military that India would not rest until Pakistan was rendered non-existent, and allowed the generals to tighten their vice-like grip over administration. The religious fervour, hitherto simmering in Pakistan, was brought to a full boil as a jihad against India became a shibboleth and religion became a tool of political control in the hands of Zia-ul-Haq. The country has since seen the armed forces as its only hope against the belligerent Hindus on the other side of the Radcliffe Line.

Not unlike Ingsoc in George Orwell’s 1984, the military of Pakistan draws its power from whipping up fear against a so-called enemy and perpetuating a conflict that it cannot afford to end, for that is the basis of its legitimacy.

The price of Faustian deals

Resigned to the understanding that the military will always call the shots, the civil administration of Pakistan sees no choice but to appease it.

Prime Ministers in Pakistan aren’t so much elected as they are appointed by the armed forces. Compelled to make deals with the Devil in Rawalpindi, the somewhat-civilian government of Pakistan has no choice but to continue to ratchet up anti-India fervour. Attempts by the government at normalising relations with India, or working out durable solutions to bilateral disputes (particularly the Kashmir issue), amount to biting the hand that feeds it.

This was all too evident in 1999 when Gen Pervez Musharraf started the Kargil war without Nawaz Sharif’s concurrence and overthrew him in a coup later that year. Sharif’s efforts at normalising ties with India and temerity to work out the Lahore Treaty with Atal Bihari Vajpayee had miffed the military overlords, who feared that an improvement of India-Pakistan relations would diminish their influence on the polity of their country.

This influence has only been self-serving. Pakistan has suffered the consequences of warmongering. Trifling matters like economic growth and suchlike must take a backseat while the Pakistani Army goes about the all-important task of running a protection racket on its citizens.

An Unhealthy Obsession

Pakistan’s toxic sibling rivalry with India sees it play a particularly ruinous game of Keeping-Up-With-The-Joneses. War being an expensive business, the cost of sustaining proxy wars and cross-border terrorism — to say nothing of expensive military hardware — has drained Pakistan’s coffers. Making matters worse is the ever-mounting envy over India’s economic growth, which has far outstripped Pakistan’s since the turn of the century.

Compelled by the ultra-nationalism created by the armed forces, Pakistan cannot afford to concede economic defeat, and so it must maintain a pretence of growth — even if it means playing into the hands of a shylocking China. This insightful piece by Maj Gen SB Asthana details how Pakistan’s ruinous military expenditures have compelled its government to take out loans on usurious terms from China, effectively turning the Communist Party of China into a modern-day East India Company.

Peace with India would allow for normalised trade, cross-border investments and greater economic cooperation, benefiting people on both sides and providing Pakistan with a profitable avenue of economic growth. However, far be it from the military establishment to brook any threat to its authority, no matter how beneficial to the country to which it claims allegiance.

A cautionary tale

So long as the Pakistan armed forces hold hostage the interests of their country, Pakistan will continue down the path of self-destruction. Under their toxic influence, the country foams rabidly at the mouth, blinded to good sense by its all-consuming hatred for India.

Pakistan’s descent into bankruptcy, chaos and ignominy serves as a cautionary tale for countries around the world. It does not do a country good to define its very existence in opposition to another country, for this deprives it of a real raison d’etre. In the absence thereof, vested interests, often clad in military fatigues and jackboots, will expropriate power and influence, strengthening themselves and their cronies but leading the common man to ruin.

The author is associated with Rashtram School of Public LeadershipRishihood University, writes on political, diplomatic and geostrategic affairs. Views expressed in this article are personal.

05 May 22/Thursday                                                                                Source: firstpost