RANA BANERJI, MAIL TODAY
Published January 29, 2017
The book traces Pakistan’s journey from an optimistic start towards a rather pessimistically-painted doom, to which it now seems to be hurtling. Written with flair and analytical precision by a trained intelligence professional, now retired, it delves deep into problems which Pakistan faces. Dealing with most issues with empathy and objectivity, the author supports his narration with an impressive array of carefully marshalled facts. He offers clear-cut, if somewhat firm and unpalatable, solutions.
The framework or structuring of the book is refreshingly readable.
Starting from the foundations of the Pakistan movement, it traverses through the building blocks of ideology, covers Pakistan’s provincial dilemma of perceived Punjabi domination, deals with the emergence of the army as self-proclaimed defender of the country’s ideology and sovereignty, sequentially going on to discuss perennially fraught civil-military tensions.
Islamisation, used intermittently as a crutch by military dictators, attendant sectarian strife and terrorism are dealt with next, before going on to the delightfully tongue in cheek acronym of ‘WEEP’, a chapter which brings out Pakistan’s endemic crises in water management, economic development, lack of adequate investment in proper education and the unemployment chasm confronting its emerging youth bulge.
Discussing civil-military relations, the author identifies ‘at least three occasions’ when civilians could have clipped the army’s wings.
Bhutto senior had the best chance, after 1971, but his own character failings, ill-concealed arrogance and quick temper perhaps cost him dear. Surprisingly, there is no reference in the book to the calamitous findings of the Hamoodur Rehman Commission of Enquiry, which were suppressed from public gaze then. Two other occasions listed here are Nawaz Sharif’s opportunity after Kargil and post-Abbottabad, for the Zardari government. While dwelling on ‘windows to the world’, the author sets the tone through pithy chapter headings – India is dealt under the ‘quest for parity’, Afghanistan as a ‘quest for domination’, ties with China are seen as a ‘quest for succour’ and the now tension fraught relationship with US as a ‘quest for dependence’.
In his concluding chapter, the author lists out ‘a wish list’ which could cause the Pakistani establishment to reform its behaviour, to help avert its inevitable slide toward the abyss. Understandably, this wish-list is India-centric, fulfilment of which seems ‘absurd and would constitute appeasement of the worst kind’. In the absence of drastic educational, religious and societal reforms, the author does not give much time for Pakistan to get its act together.
This is a depressing scenario and reckons without a crisis driven resilience which enables the State or some of its stronger institutions to rally and overcome, or even temporarily sweep under the carpet difficult problems and survive. The army, under Raheel Sharif, has tackled the domestic terror threat from TTP robustly enough, to bring down violence and suicide bombings in the last two years. Albeit, this crackdown has been selective and terrorism refuses to fade away.
Though applauded earlier in the past, as the author has noted, there is today persisting civil society ennui, even antipathy against future military take-overs, which is evident to the generals. Asim Bajwa’s over-hyped veneration of Raheel Sharif was disliked and the DG, ISPR’s post has been reduced to two-star rank by new Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa. Not much is being heard about the one-judge enquiry against the Dawn news leak about which the army was baying for the leaky bureaucrat’s blood. In the Panama corruption case, the judiciary is displaying new streaks of independence.
Pakistan’s journey through the woods may be fitful but it need not go in an irreversibly negative direction. With generous dollops of economic aid from China in the pipeline already under the CPEC, there is buoyancy in spirit among not only traditional apologists of the right but also discerning political analysts, who see the recent disappearance of social media bloggers as ‘the revenge of the resurgent State’.