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ARMED WITH A PROBLEM

Pakistan: Eye of the Storm By Owen Bennett Jones, Viking, Rs 395

Pakistan has always been a problem not only for its neighbours but also for political scientists who find problems categorizing the nature of Pakistani polity and society. While some label it as a rogue state, others bracket Pakistan as a “state without a nation”. Owen Bennett Jones attempts to analyse the various facets of the Pakistani state without going into any theoretical formulations.

Unlike India, Pakistan has not witnessed a single elected government complete its full term in office. For half the period of its existence, Pakistan has been under army rule. Bennett Jones claims that even under a civilian government, the army retained extraordinary influence over decision-making. Arenas like foreign policy, budget and so on remained the special preserve of the army. The reason the army has been able to encroach into the civilian institutions is because Pakistan from its inception has been a weak state. The writ of the central government has never run throughout the length and breadth of the country. The situation continues to be the same.

Since 1947, the Pakistani elite has attempted to grapple with the role of religion in the new state. Unlike the Congress, the Muslim League lacked a grassroots level organization for mobilizing the masses. So it had to depend on the pirs and maulvis to garner votes. Nevertheless, the charisma of Jinnah and the modernist outlook of Liaqat Ali held the religious elements in check. But after Liaqat Ali’s assassination, political leaders for short term gains pampered radical religious parties. The rise of religious extremists heightened Shia-Sunni, Ahmadiya versus non-Ahmadiya rivalries. The resultant rioting led to a complete breakdown of law and order. So the politicians had to call in the army repeatedly to aid the government. By 1958, the public had lost faith in the judiciary and the police. So Ayub Khan’s military coup was not only bloodless but also inevitable. Continuous military governance is further facilitated by the perception among the Pakistani elite that a strong central government is a necessity and the civilian rulers are unable to guarantee it.

The emergence of regional movements for autonomy lends more credence to the demand for a strong centre. The Mohajirs, once refugees from India, who monopolized the bureaucracy till the Seventies, have been demanding autonomy for a while now. Similarly, the Beluchis also demand autonomy from what they perceive as a Punjabi-dominated centre. Under the Bhutto regime, 80,000 troops had to be deployed in Beluchistan. Large-scale internal repression has resulted in the loss of legitimacy of the civilian regime.

Pakistan has always been a poor country and the army has always blamed the civilian government for it. Bennett Jones argues that the army rule has resulted in a further economic downslide since the state has had to spend on an average about 5 per cent of the GDP on the army. The only way out is to reduce defence expenditure and to increase revenue through taxation. But the generals have never agreed to the former. And like the civilian governments, successive military regimes have failed either to weed out dishonesty among government officials or to widen the base of taxation. Till 2002, only 1 per cent of the Pakistani populace paid tax.

The author, with the aid of interviews and published sources, has written a lucid account of Pakistan’s history. Bennett Jones however has a depressing conclusion to offer. He thinks Pakistan’s future is dark. The Musharraf regime’s attempt to raise tax and fight corruption has been a failure. Fundamentalism and the predominance of the army will prevent any compromise on the Kashmir issue. Which means Pakistan will continue to remain the world’s “eye of the storm”.

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