Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari has penned his thoughts on terrorism, Pakistan’s fragile democracy, its history and more in an opinion piece in The New York Times, published by many papers in India on Wednesday, including Mint. His plea for understanding his country’s problems deserves sympathy; his analysis of the situation, however, cannot paper the contradictions in the idea of Pakistan.
Zardari has argued that the Mumbai attacks were directed not only at India but also at Pakistan’s new democratic government and the peace process with India. He has also asserted that supporters of authoritarianism in his country and non-state actors don’t want change to take root in his country. Pakistan is a target and victim of terrorism.
The “date” that he sets for the origin of the present crisis is the Cold War. The West’s use of religion to defeat the Soviet Union, he argues, left a mess in Pakistan, one that is the cause of terrorism today. His solution: support Pakistan’s democracy.
He is, of course, right in a way about the date. Aggressive use of Islam began under General Zia ul-Haq. But that only marked a new phase in an old game: the cynical use of Islam to bolster the legitimacy of the Pakistani state. But in the Zia years and later as well, it provided a levy of irregulars who could wage war covertly as dictated by officers in Rawalpindi. But in the process the Pakistani army, too, was transformed from being a secular corps of well-trained officers into a problem itself. The umbilical link forged with militants and mullahs became an institutional feature, one that ensures that terrorism is part and parcel of the army. That’s why terrorists can be arrested, but then have to be released unharmed.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The institutional basis for representative rule in Pakistan was weak right from the beginning. Jinnah’s reliance on aristocrats and rulers ensured that when his country came to birth, political parties would be a rare and endangered species. After 1958, when General Ayub Khan took over, they became extinct: Only an oligarchic husk, run by businessmen and hucksters, remained. The army became the state.
So today, the idea of democracy in Pakistan is an oxymoron. Accidental presidents like Zardari are only a foil for the army while it regains legitimacy. Sure, democracy is a good idea to champion, but it cannot be a solution to terrorism and anti-India vitriol that flows through that country.
The president would do well to remember that he is but a creature of the circumstances that his army controls. It does not behove Indians to tell him that another president thought otherwise and paid dearly for that folly. His name was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Zardari’s plea: misguided or disingenuous? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org