Flaws in the flow
The lingering Indo-Pak disputes over new dams warrant revision of outdated Indus Water Treaty
By Aoun Sahi
Pakistan and India are fighting the case of the 330-megawatt Kishanganga hydro-power project across the River Jhelum in the International Court of Arbitration (COA) since May 2010 -- after years of failed bilateral talks between the two countries.
The first meeting of the COA was held in January 2011 in the Netherlands, where only the schedule of proceedings was agreed upon between the parties. Under the schedule, Pakistan is required to submit its case memorial before the COA by April 2011 which would be responded to by India in six months -- that is September this year.

Yeh Woh
The other side of us
By Masud Alam
It is spring time and Islamabad is blooming -- at least for those few who look for Islamabad outside the one kilometre square area infested with government wallahs and those who pimp for them.
If you have the capacity to get pleasure from seeing, there is plenty to gladden your heart. The evergreen Margalla hills, the tree-lined streets bursting with colours, the sprawling splendour that is Fatima Jinnah Park, the clear blue sky with fat-cheeked baby clouds crawling all over it, the bustling Markaz markets, the little girl smiling at young dears who are staring at her from across the fence along Ismail Zabeeh Road, the pair of boys outsmarting each other in selling flowers to motorists in front of Jinnah Super, the beaming crowd watching cricket on a large TV screen installed on a skyscraper in Blue Area … there is beauty and serenity everywhere you look.

business
Thriving in protests
Rallies and demonstrations may be nuisance for some, but lucrative trade for others
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Pakistan is the only country in the world where a gathering of a thousand people can be called a “Million March,” says Muhammad Asim, an executive working at a courier company’s office in Karachi’s Saddar area. Quite ironically, he says, the media buys this claim and keeps on using this term in bulletin after bulletin.
“This encourages every other person to gather a handful of people and block any busy junction and disrupt traffic and citizens’ life.” Asim, who is fed up with endless protests, processions and sit-ins on his way to office, has no other option but to quit his job or get reprimanded by bosses for coming late every other day.
While these gatherings come as a job risk to the likes of Asim, these also provide livelihood for many others. In fact, there is a whole sustainable economy that revolves around the culture of protests and gatherings arranged as a show of strength by different political and religious parties in the country.

Failed state or Weimar Republic?
Pakistan remains a military-dominated rentier state, still committed to American and Gulf Arab alliances
By Omar Ali
A friend recently wrote to me that Pakistan reminded him of the Weimar republic; an anarchic and poorly managed democracy with some real freedoms and an explosion of artistic creativity, but also with a dangerous fascist ideology attracting more and more adherents as people tire of economic hardship and social disorder and yearn for a savior. Others (much more numerous than the single friend who suggested the Weimar comparison) insist that Pakistan is a failed state. So which is it? Is Pakistan the Weimar republic of the day or is it a failed state?


The year 2011 has been termed crucial for deciding Afghanistan’s fate due to the decision by the United States to start withdrawing some of its troops by July depending on the ground situation in the war-ravaged country.

Though last year’s Nato Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, fixed 2014 as the cut-off date for ending the military mission in Afghanistan and pulling out all the troops and handing over security to the Afghan forces, the draw down of some of the western soldiers including those from the US, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Poland and other countries would begin in 2011. The Taliban too are claiming to have made preparations for increased attacks and improved military strategies for 2011 to achieve their aim of forcing the foreign forces to leave Afghanistan.

A number of questions are being asked with regard to the evolving situation in Afghanistan. The questions are difficult with no easy answers. Below are some of the frequently asked questions and the answers that one could come up to the best of one’s understanding.

Q: Is there any possibility of power-sharing arrangement between President

         Hamid Karzai’s government and the Taliban? Has there been a change in the Taliban outlook?

A: One doesn’t expect any power-sharing agreement in the near future as Taliban and Karzai have yet to develop trust to work together. Karzai has put conditions that Taliban cannot accept. Besides, Karzai has to be mindful of the US and its allies while making any peace overtures to the Taliban. The Taliban, on the other hand, continue to refer to Karzai as a puppet of the US and refuse to deal with him.

Regarding any change in the Taliban mindset, one has the feeling that the Taliban would be more careful and less rigid in their attitude if they ever return to power. They still talk about enforcing Sharia, but there is also the realisation among the Taliban that they would need to do positive things to win the support of the people, particularly Pashtuns, instead of alienating them again. Taliban are promising that they would not unleash their religious police the way they did the last time and earned the displeasure of the people. Many Taliban admit their past mistakes and appear willing to make corrections. However, the taste of the pudding is in the eating and we would have to wait and see if there is any real change in Taliban policies in the future.

Q: Would the US forces withdraw in 2014 without settling the al-Qaeda issue?

A: The issue is unclear as different voices are being heard in Washington. The US Vice President Joe Biden first insisted that 2014 was the final year of withdrawals. Later he came around to the mainstream opinion explained by the White House spokesman and the US Ambassador in Afghanistan, General (Retd) Karl Eikenberry that the ground situation in Afghanistan would be considered in 2014 while making a final decision. Eikenberry also said the US has made huge investments in Afghanistan and it has to worry about al-Qaeda and other enemies in future. The US intentions also became clear when President Karzai told his nation that the US wanted permanent military bases in Afghanistan. Indeed the al-Qaeda issue would be the key to deciding the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and reaching a negotiated political solution. However, there is no indication yet that a political settlement including an arrangement to remove al-Qaeda from the Af-Pak region could be reached with the Taliban.

Q: Is it possible for Mulla Mohammad Omar and his Taliban to dissociate from al-Qaeda and do they realise the West’s concerns on the issue of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organisation?

A: Mulla Mohammad Omar and his Taliban Shura seem to understand the seriousness of the situation and the worries of the West. This is the reason that in his Eid messages last year Mulla Omar tried to reassure the world that Afghanistan would not allow its soil to be used against other countries. Mulla Omar and his Taliban followers would be willing to discuss the al-Qaeda issue during any future peace talks but not as a condition for holding negotiations. It appears that the US and its allies would also no longer insist on such a condition but hope that keeping al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan would be one of the outcomes of any deal with Taliban. The Taliban would be more likely to restrain foreigners including al-Qaeda members this time in case they are allowed to stay in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. There is a feeling among Taliban that they have sacrificed enough for Osama bin Laden and expecting them to do more for him and his men would be unjustified.

Q: The names of certain individuals, organisations and countries have been mentioned as likely facilitators or go-betweens for initiating talks with the Taliban. Is this the way to establish contact with the Taliban?

A: They would have a limited role. Certain western countries are holding track-II talks by arranging conferences or trying to establish contact with the Taliban. They may have made contact with Taliban, but have yet to talk to the top-ranking Taliban officials. Some have been talking to the wrong people or even to imposters such as the fake Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, who claimed he was the Taliban commander with the same name.

Taliban would consider talking to the US because they realise that it is the most important party to the Afghan conflict. They say why not talk to the real power instead of others who in any case would need to seek a nod from the US for holding talks with the Taliban.

Q: Is there any role for former Taliban ambassador in Pakistan, Mulla Abdul Salam Zaeef, in the peace process as he recently travelled to the UK and has been mentioned as a possible focal person for talking to the Taliban?

A: Taliban respect Mulla Zaeef but they say he isn’t really a free man because he is living in Kabul under the protection of the Afghan government. In the past also, they made it clear that former Taliban leaders cannot represent the Taliban movement and that only the Taliban Rahbari Shura (Taliban Leadership Council) led by Mulla Omar can take decisions and appoint spokesmen and negotiators. However, it must be added that there is lot more respect for Zaeef among the Taliban than Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, the former foreign minister, and others with past association with the Taliban. The reason is that Zaeef remained loyal to the Taliban and was arrested and spent three and a half years in the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay. Mutawakil, on the other hand, surrendered to the US forces without taking Taliban leaders into confidence.

Q: What is Pakistan’s role in any peace process in Afghanistan?

A: Pakistan has publicly and privately offered to play the role of mediator by bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. It is waiting for a signal from the US to play such a role but the latter hasn’t decided to negotiate yet with the Taliban. Instead, the US is pleased with the impact of the recent Nato military offensives in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, the main Taliban strongholds, and is now keen to undertake similar missions elsewhere to weaken the Taliban. Pakistan has some influence on the Taliban, but it cannot order Mulla Omar to do whatever is in the interest of Islamabad. Mulla Omar would always keep Taliban interests supreme though he won’t become part of any unfriendly act against Pakistan.

Q: What role Saudi Arabia and Iran could possibly play in ending the Afghan conflict?

A: Saudi Arabia and Iran could play an important role in stabilising Afghanistan. Both are resourceful and have been spending money to promote their cause and strengthen their favourites in Afghanistan. The Saudis, however, are not ready to become involved in Afghanistan as mediators until there are chances of success. They have put up a tough condition for the Taliban to first dissociate from al-Qaeda before Saudi Arabia could become a mediator in the Afghan conflict. Taliban aren’t going to accept any such condition. For Saudi Arabia the biggest threat is Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

As for Iran, it cannot become a mediator due to opposition by the US and Nato. Also, Taliban may be receiving some support from Iran but their alliance is temporary and limited to their common opposition to the US. The Taliban and Iran still don’t support each other politically and they would have little incentive to cooperate once the US-led Nato forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

 

Flaws in the flow

Pakistan and India are fighting the case of the 330-megawatt Kishanganga hydro-power project across the River Jhelum in the International Court of Arbitration (COA) since May 2010 -- after years of failed bilateral talks between the two countries.

The first meeting of the COA was held in January 2011 in the Netherlands, where only the schedule of proceedings was agreed upon between the parties. Under the schedule, Pakistan is required to submit its case memorial before the COA by April 2011 which would be responded to by India in six months -- that is September this year.

Pakistan has always argued the project is against the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) and it will reduce the flow of water into Pakistan significantly. In response, India revised the dam’s design in 2004.

Since then Pakistan has raised new objections -- that any construction on the Neelum River upstream will affect power generation capacity of Pakistan’s Neelum-Jhelum power project. It expresses reservations about the design of the dam, the inter-tributary transfer of waters and seeks protection for the existing land uses.

In all likelihood the resolution of Kishanganga Dam dispute might take several years. Meanwhile, the debate on how the IWT withstands new challenges will continue.

Kishanganga Dam is located about 160-km upstream Muzzafarabad and involves diversion of Kishanganga River (called Neelum River in Pakistan) to a tributary named Bunar Madumati Nullah of Jhelum River through a 22-km tunnel. This diversion will change the course of Neelum River by around 100-km, which will finally join Jhelum River through Wullar Lake near Bandipur town of Baramula district in Indian-held Kashmir.

Presently, Neelum and Jhelum rivers merge near Muzaffarabad at Domail. Pakistan maintains under the provisions of the treaty, India is under obligation to let all the waters of the western rivers flow uninterrupted. It claims that India’s plan to divert waters will cause obstruction in the flow of Kishanganga River and damage agriculture in the Neelum valley.

According to estimates of the government of Pakistan, completion of the 22-kilometre long tunnel to divert water from the Kishanganga to the Wullar Lake will leave Pakistan with about 11 per cent water deficit in summer and about 27 per cent in winter. On its completion, the project will reduce water flow of the Neelum River and will decrease the power generation capability of Pakistan’s proposed 969-mw Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project in Azad Kashmir by more than 15 per cent.

Pakistan also objects to the Wullar Barrage as India plans to store water in it and then tunnel it to the Wullar Lake, where it is planning to construct an 800-MW powerhouse. Pakistan believes Wullar Barrage can disturb the water flow in upper Jhelum, upper Chenab and lower Bari Doab canals.

Experts believe that the Kishanganga dam could reduce Pakistan’s total water availability from an estimated 154 MAF (million acre feet) to about 140 MAF. If Pakistan does not complete construction of Neelum-Jhelum projects before Kishanganga, technically it will be obliged under the IWT to allow India use these waters for power generation without storage. India is expected to complete its dam by 2016 while Pakistan’s dam will be completed by 2018.

Rejecting Pakistan’s opposition to the project, India maintains that Pakistan has not established any existing hydroelectric or substantial agriculture use; therefore, India was permitted under the IWT to construct the Kishanganga Dam. On Pakistan’s objection to the depletion of dead storage level in the proposed run of the Kishanganga River, India maintains that in the Baglihar Dam case, neutral experts had approved the depletion below dead storage level as necessary to flush out silt for proper operation and maintenance of the reservoir.

Experts have started questioning the long-term effectiveness of the Indus Water Treaty, considerably one of the most effective water pacts successfully implemented for more than five decades between the two South Asian neighbours. They believe that this is the right time to revisit the treaty as water availability in Pakistan has decreased from about 5,000 cubic metre per capita in late 1950s -- when the treaty was negotiated -- to less than 1,200 per capita today.

When the treaty was signed, the three western rivers had enough water to irrigate agricultural land in Pakistan as the cropping intensity then was about 70 per cent. The Indus irrigation system was built for this cropping intensity, but over the years the cropping intensity has increased to about 175 per cent. So, Pakistan cannot afford losing even a drop of water from the western rivers.

India on the other hand claims that according to IWT it can build specified storage limited to 3.6 MAF on western rivers which it has not built so far.

A special report on water published in Economist in May 2010, said that the IWT which survived the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars is now threatened by three developments.

First, India proposes to build a water-diversion scheme in Indian held Kashmir that would take water from the Kishanganga River to the Jhelum River before it could reach Pakistani Kashmir.

Second, India, which already has more than 20 hydro projects on the three western rivers allocated to Pakistan, is now building at least another 10 projects, and more are planned. All these projects comply to the treaty since it does not involve storage but merely run-of-the-river dams, in which water is returned downstream after it has been used to generate power.

However, Pakistan is concerned about the cumulative effects. The Baglihar hydro project dispute went to arbitration after Pakistani complaint in 2005. The ruling went in favour of India. Pakistan feels that the spirit of the agreement has been breached and the treaty needs revision, partly because advances in technology make it possible to build dams that were not foreseen when the deal was signed.

Third, Pakistan badly needs more reservoirs. Additional storage is essential to provide supplies in winter (two-fifths of the Indus flow comes from the summer melting of glaciers) as Pakistan’s two big dams are silting up. It would like to build a new one in Pakistani Kashmir, but India has objected, and the money is not forthcoming.

A US Congressional report “Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia’s Growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, issued in February 2011, also questions whether the IWT can address India’s growing use of the shared waters and Pakistan’s increasing demand for these waters for agricultural purposes. The report said the urge to meet energy demand through hydropower development is increasing in India and Pakistan -- two neighbours that lack access to sufficient energy.

“India has 33 projects at various stages of completion on the rivers that affect this region,” the report reads, adding that the number of dams under construction and their management is a source of significant bilateral tension.

Currently, according to the report, the most controversial dam project is the proposed 330-megawatt dam on the Kishanganga River, a tributary of the Indus. “While studies show that no single dam along the waters controlled by the Indus Waters Treaty will affect Pakistan’s access to water, the cumulative effect of these projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season,” the report says.

 

Yeh Woh
The other side of us

It is spring time and Islamabad is blooming -- at least for those few who look for Islamabad outside the one kilometre square area infested with government wallahs and those who pimp for them.

If you have the capacity to get pleasure from seeing, there is plenty to gladden your heart. The evergreen Margalla hills, the tree-lined streets bursting with colours, the sprawling splendour that is Fatima Jinnah Park, the clear blue sky with fat-cheeked baby clouds crawling all over it, the bustling Markaz markets, the little girl smiling at young dears who are staring at her from across the fence along Ismail Zabeeh Road, the pair of boys outsmarting each other in selling flowers to motorists in front of Jinnah Super, the beaming crowd watching cricket on a large TV screen installed on a skyscraper in Blue Area … there is beauty and serenity everywhere you look.

The miserable winter is gone, and the ferocious summer is yet to arrive. The sumptuous cusp is all ours to enjoy and there is nothing the government or the television can do to dampen our spirits. If anything, they are cancelling each other out: the talk show hosts continue to beat their chests against the government for failing to govern, which in turn never fails to switch off power during TV’s prime time, in the name of load management, and so instead of the verbal poison of one against the other, we can partake of a healthy and soothing walk in the pleasant evenings.

As if on seasonal cue, bootleggers have finally dropped the prices of imported liquor by Rs500 a piece after raising it by Rs1,500 a few months ago. It could be a coincidence rather than a generous spring treat, but those who like to say it with cocktails and long drinks have another reason to celebrate.

Even the eager-to-ignite walking bombs are on holidays, to live up a few days before the blistering heat and frustrating cuts in water, power and pretty much everything else the government is supposed to supply, motivate them to put on the jacket. Better to die with a bang rather than dying a little bit every day.

The air is just as intoxicating in Lahore where the families of two slain men pardoned the killer after receiving stacks of cash in blood money, and then promptly proceeded on holiday without leaving a forwarding address.

The Raymond chap is happy too, getting away with double murder using Islamic laws and excellent cooperation of Pakistan army that helped enforce the law. This little incident has the potential to be a watershed in the way Americans view Islam. They know no other law that gives instant and total relief to a confessed murderer. And since they, the Americans, have to do a lot of killings in Muslim countries, they are sure to ask a certain pastor from Florida to cease and desist from burning Quran and instead brush up his reading of shariah laws to identify clauses American mercenaries could use in future.

In short, all is well and everyone seems content ... except for Imran Khan and Munawwar Hasan. The two angry old men can find a reason to yell and froth all year round and this spring is no exception. They joined hands in calling a protest march against the release of Raymond Davis. In fact there were two rallies, one in Lahore, the other in Islamabad.

For a time they were taken seriously. The US closed all its diplomatic missions for a day, fearing unrest and attacks on American interests. NGOs and businesses with American affiliation followed suit. And then the entire Islamabad, including schools and shops, decided to take a day off.

There were the usual ‘fool proof’ security measures meant only to make a fool of common people, but come the feared Friday, and police was puzzled to find that its own men and women far outnumbered the protesters. It was the same in Lahore. The angry politicians had made a grave mistake in timing. As much as we love street protests and chanting slogans on any pretext at all, we prefer to go easy during fair weather. Kite flying? Yes. Picnic? Maybe. Open air theatre? If there’s no cricket. But agitation? Get out.

The only ones to miss out on the national mood swing are television anchors, holed up in their own world full of grave issues that require a shouting match to be articulated. If their employers can’t send them away for anger management courses, at least take them out to smell the air, and meet some real people who like to have a smile once in a while.

 

[email protected]

 

business
Thriving in protests

Pakistan is the only country in the world where a gathering of a thousand people can be called a “Million March,” says Muhammad Asim, an executive working at a courier company’s office in Karachi’s Saddar area. Quite ironically, he says, the media buys this claim and keeps on using this term in bulletin after bulletin.

“This encourages every other person to gather a handful of people and block any busy junction and disrupt traffic and citizens’ life.” Asim, who is fed up with endless protests, processions and sit-ins on his way to office, has no other option but to quit his job or get reprimanded by bosses for coming late every other day.

While these gatherings come as a job risk to the likes of Asim, these also provide livelihood for many others. In fact, there is a whole sustainable economy that revolves around the culture of protests and gatherings arranged as a show of strength by different political and religious parties in the country.

Apart from the national flag, there is an uninterrupted demand for flags of religious and political parties, student organisations, activists pursuing different agendas, trade unions, labour groups and so on, says Shahid Kamran, a Lahore-based owner of a printing press. The product line he offers to his clients includes banners, posters and flags.

The demand for foreign countries’ flags including that of USA, Israel and Denmark is also there but it is quite small in number, he tells TNS. The reason he cites for this trend is that only a flag or two of these countries are required per event -- for burning in front of a brigade of press photographers and cameramen.

However, the demand is larger for flags of Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China etc for events organised to express solidarity with these countries or welcome their top leadership. “On the other hand, a religious or political party is always in a number game and waving flags across the length and breadth of the crowd is the best way to show one’s strength,” Kamran adds.

He says unlike banners, flags can be used repeatedly for years. Banners have to be scripted according to the event and the agenda of a protest or procession held at a particular time.

In addition to procuring material for public gatherings, organisers are also supposed to meet the headcount target. This comes at a cost. How political representatives at union council or tehsil levels are asked to manage their quotas of protesters, vehicles and food is not a secret at all.

Pakistan Labour Party spokesman Farooq Tariq partially agrees with this perception. “Holding demonstrations and rallies has become a very expensive exercise. When there are mass movements, people come on their own willingly paying for the transport and food. But when there is a lull in the movement, it is difficult to bring people to demonstrations and you have to cover all these costs.”

He says Labour Party Pakistan never pays people to come to demonstrations. “Sometimes the party provides transport, food and refreshments for a particular event and there is nothing wrong in doing that. We are opposed to burning of tyres and flags because it pollutes the environment.”

Tariq says the minimum cost of holding an hour’s rally of 1,000 people may cost over Rs100,000 in terms of transport, refreshments, banners, posters and leaflets. It is much more expensive for the organisers who have better cash flows.

Over the last few years, some media personnel have also become part of the beneficiaries of this economy. A small group of protestors with better links with some photographers and reporters may get better coverage in the media than a much larger rally whose organisers do not know the tricks of the trade. Media loves adventures in demonstrations and rallies. They ignore thousands in a peaceful rally, but are happy to cover a few people burning tyres and throwing stones.”

Sheikh Nisar Parchamwala, the owner of VIP Flag Company in Karachi, tells TNS that his company has excelled in this business over the last 25 years and set up the world record by producing the largest Pakistani flag measuring 1,33,400 square feet. He says his clients range from the government departments to political and religious parties, student unions, NGOs and general public.

Sharing details of his sales, Parchamwala says the PPP flags are highest in demand and more than 50 per cent flags required for MQM’s Yaum-e-Tasees (Founders Day) were provided by his company. “Of late we have supplied huge Saudi Arab flags measuring 60 by 90 feet which will be hoisted on 300 feet high poles in Riyadh.”

Parchamwala says he has requested the government and Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to transport a large number of quality flags to the venues where the Pakistan cricket team will play the semi-final and, hopefully, the final.

Ejaz Chaudhry, Central Vice-President of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) says that the office-bearers of his party arrange funds for rallies themselves. “Promotional material and flags are ordered by the central office which gives them to provincial and district chapters at subsidised rates. For example, a flag measuring 2.5 by 1.5 feet is available for Rs10 and that measuring 5 by 3 feet at Rs20.” He says the biggest flag producing centre is Faisalabad which produces most of the fabric with best dying units.

 

The writer can be contacted at [email protected]

 

Failed state or Weimar Republic?

A friend recently wrote to me that Pakistan reminded him of the Weimar republic; an anarchic and poorly managed democracy with some real freedoms and an explosion of artistic creativity, but also with a dangerous fascist ideology attracting more and more adherents as people tire of economic hardship and social disorder and yearn for a savior. Others (much more numerous than the single friend who suggested the Weimar comparison) insist that Pakistan is a failed state. So which is it? Is Pakistan the Weimar republic of the day or is it a failed state?

There are clearly some features that do suggest a comparison with Weimar Germany. Pakistan, like the Weimar republic, seems to be in a state of perpetual crisis as well as great ferment. Its mainstream political formations are increasingly discredited and appear impotent. Law and order is breaking down and unemployment and inflation stalk the land.

There is also a determined fascist alternative and their propaganda is attracting more and more adherents, not only among traditionally rightwing groups but even among those who previously sided with socialist parties. But the differences are even greater than the similarities. First of all, we are not Germans and Pakistan is not Germany. This is not a highly developed and scientifically advanced society with an ethnically homogenous culture. Nor do we have universal literacy, outstanding higher education, and a powerful business and engineering tradition, temporarily thrown into disorder by defeat in an ill-advised war. Far from having suffered a devastating defeat in war, we have in fact managed to use the ongoing “war on terror” to significantly increase the power and reach of our armed forces.

Our religious fascists do bear some resemblance to the Nazis, but our Left cannot hold a candle to the multiple strands of German left wing politics in the 1920s and our fragmented national identity bears no comparison to Germany. In short, we are NOT the Weimar republic and that comparison just muddles the issue.

What about the other statement: are we a failed state? In spite of all our problems, that too does not appear to be true. We are not a very successful state, but we are not a failed state and not likely to become one in the foreseeable future. A more accurate reading would be that we are a potentially prosperous state that is held back by rapacious and incompetent rentier elite.

This elite is not just corrupt (a feature it would share with many third world countries) but also uses perpetual conflict with India and the nuisance value of Islamist militants to sustain national identity at home and obtain funding from foreign patrons abroad. In other words, we add a layer of peculiarly Pakistani problems on top of the problems we share with all poor and under-developed post-colonial states. To the usual challenges of inequality, incompetence and corruption, we added an economically and culturally irrational “hard border” with India and then, as if to compound our problems, nurtured religious terrorists who have slipped out of control and started an economically and socially devastating civil war within the country.  

The origins of this “peculiarly Pakistani problem” go all the way back to partition. Right from the creation of Pakistan, the ruling elite started looking for foreign patrons to try and balance a perceived disadvantage vis a vis India. Jinnah sahib himself is known to have advertised that “pro-Western Pakistan” would be a bulwark against Russian expansionism and that the USA and other Western powers should pay Pakistan for this purpose (this expansionism may have been mostly imaginary, but the Americans did not really need convincing) and his successors were quick to jump into CENTO and SEATO in exchange for military and civilian “aid”. This set the stage for a rentier ruling establishment that soon became very adept at milking its foreign patrons.

An ill-considered war with India in 1965 set them back a little and in 1971 the larger half of the population opted out of the arrangement with Indian help, but the remaining state proved easier to manage for the military-bureaucratic elite and after Bhutto redeemed the position of the armed forces, they repaid him by hanging him and stepped decisively out of civilian control (a position they have never really surrendered since then).

The Afghan war was a godsend for the ruling elite, providing them with unheard of riches and opportunities, but it also led to the introduction of armed Islamist fanatics into the state and unfortunately for the poor people of the nation, it triggered new and more ambitious dreams in some members of the ruling establishment. After the Americans finished their dirty work in Afghanistan and left, the establishment decided to direct these newfound “assets” towards Kashmir and eventually to set up a zone of Pakistani influence in Afghanistan and central Asia. We multiplied the militants by a factor of 10 with such enthusiasm that Gaddafi stadium was being used for displays of “Jihadi kartab”!

Money from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states bridged the gap created by suspension of American subsidies and as China rose in power; it came to be regarded as a model for the future (replacing the Latin American dictator model imported with modifications from Langley). That there was no comparison between Pakistan’s rentier elite and the leadership of the Chinese communist party (or between our role as neo-colonial outpost and the last 60 years of Chinese history, or between our confused and shallow national identity and 5000 years of Chinese civilization) was happily overlooked.

The terrorist attack on 9-11 provided another opportunity to restore traditional arrangements with the Americans, but it also led to a new set of challenges as the Americans wanted all or most of the religious terrorist networks shut down in the course of this new mission. Since the half a million militants trained under the previous grand scheme refused to all go home quietly (or at least, to stay quiet till the Americans got distracted elsewhere), this challenge has not been easy. Thousands of Pakistanis have lost their lives in the ensuing civil war and there is no end in sight. Even the resilient people of Pakistan cannot engineer an economic miracle in the middle of a civil war, so the state has become even more dependent on foreign funding than it used to be.

There is some talk from the smartly dressed spokesmen (and women) of the deep state that better days lie ahead because China has become much richer and will supposedly take up the slack should the Americans pull out. They may also be hopeful that signs of popular unrest across the Arab world may mean we see an increased demand for Pakistani mercenaries as well as greater support from Gulf princes anxious to keep Pakistan on their side. But these hopes appear exaggerated and are, may be, meant mainly as propaganda aimed at the new half-educated constituency that flocks to Facebook sites dedicated to Zaid Hamid and others like him.

As the Raymond Davis affair indicates, the real situation may be more precarious and the actual dependency on US aid may be greater than admitted. Instead of a transition to some Chinese sponsored heavenly peace, what is more likely is that we will see more of the same: A continuation of the alliance with the Pentagon (since neither side is in a position to change course or even truly wishes to change course at this time) and of the confused but unstoppable civil war against the true-believer Jihadists. Similarly, the gulf states are in no mood to see a jihadist Pakistan, so the civil war against our old friends from the various “militant organisations” is bound to continue.

The bottom line is that we are neither a failed state, nor the Weimar republic; we are a military-dominated rentier state, still committed to American and Gulf Arab alliances and unlikely to see either sudden collapse or dramatic improvement in the foreseeable future.

 

The writer is an academic physician based in the US

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