Monday, November 07, 2005

Generals in Islamabad

Pakistan has been led by military dictators for 30 years, whereas India has had a parliamentary democracy for twice that long. Pakistan's generals have had their failures. General Ayub Khan presided over a revolt in Baluchistan in 1958, the humiliation of 1965 when Indian troops entered the outskirts of Lahore and its navy shelled Karachi, and the rise of separatism in East Pakistan. General Yahya Khan witnessed the birth of Bangladesh. General Zia-ul-Haq presided over the huge influx of arms and narcotics into the North West Frontier Province, the growth of Mohajir militancy in Karachi and the spectacular rise of Islamist radicalism. Pakistan was increasingly viewed as a rogue state. General Musharraf survived four attempts on his life. Should he be overthrown, it would be the turn of another General in fortress Pakistan.

Nonetheless, the four generals had one element in common i.e. they ensured that Pakistan profited from the United States. They tailored their foreign policy to leverage maximum international aid. Pakistan, on account of its strategic location, routinely provided services to the United States and was rewarded accordingly. The sole enemy was India and it was acceptable to do business with anyone else.

Ayub Khan, an ethnic Pukhtoon, governed Pakistan from 1958 to 1969. Pakistan played a key role in the United States sponsored Central Treaty Organization and the South East Asia Treaty Organization. Pakistani troops helped bolster pro-American regimes in the Middle East that included Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Sa'udi Arabia. The United States rewarded this with huge inflows of international aid.

His successor, Yahya Khan, an ethnic Persian, was caudillo from 1969 to 1971. His regime had one achievement, which was its facilitation of the Sino-American rapprochement through back channels and Nixon's ground breaking visit to Beijing in 1972. The US increased its financial support for Pakistan still further.

Zia-ul-Haq, a Punjabi, administered Pakistan from 1977 to 1988. The Carter administration had initially spurned him for having overthrown a democratically elected government. However, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 provided the Zia regime with a unique opportunity to act as a base for United States-led efforts to undermine the Soviets. Huge amounts of American economic and military aid poured in after a gap of three years. The Pakistani army continued to back stop the Sa'udi monarchy. The Sa'udis in return footed Pakistan's weapon's procurement bill. George Bush (Snr) halted aid flows in 1990 with the Soviet disengagement from Afghanistan.

Pervez Musharraf, a Mohajir, captured power in a coup d'etat in 1999. The Clinton administration had initially cold shouldered him. However, following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Musharraf summersaulted to serve United States interests. Long standing Pakistani policy in Afghanistan was jettisoned and the Taleban swiftly disowned. The United States resumed huge amounts of economic aid to Pakistan after a gap of 11 years. It declared Australia, Japan and Pakistan to be "major non-NATO allies". Pakistan's dexterity has enabled continued American largess giving it a financial resilience that it might not have had otherwise. Indian decision-makers need to realize the fickle nature of American intentions in the region. The Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan years were particularly noteworthy.


doubtinggaurav said...


Doesn't Mohajir is used to denote Muslims from UP and Bihar ??
While Mushharaf is from Delhi, I think he has punjabi roots.


libertarian said...

Jaffna, interesting post on an interesting topic. As you pointed out, the generals have had two big successes: opportunistically extracting money from Uncle Sam; and driving a national consensus that Pakistan is "not-India" (more successfully than a civilian administration would have). Uncle Sam's feast or famine diet is not helpful for a state with a struggling economy and a struggling polity. They will implode under the strain. The question: are we (in India) prepared to handle the fallout?

history_lover said...

I think we Indians tend to under estimate pakistani nationalism.
Since 1947 (Sardar Patel comes to mind) there has been a thought (or should I say wishful thinking) in some sections of Indian leadership and inteligentsia that pakistan will implode soon.
Despite the formation of Bangladesh ,it has survived for 50 years and I think it will continue to muddle along

Jaffna said...

History Lover

I agree with you. Pakistani nationalism is real and has its roots in large parts of civil society.


libertarian said...

history_lover, since 1947 the thought of implosion was by far the reverse - many (even in India) thought India would disintegrate because it had to many religions, too many languages, to many ethnicities ... just too many diverse people. Turns out, that has been our strength. There is no question of Indian disintegration today - it's come down to a few secessionist movements on the borders against an increasingly powerful state.

Instead we debate the ability for Pakistan to hold itself together. The ideology of Pakistan (a homeland for Indian muslims) is a shaky one at best - they stopped immigration to it 50 years ago, plus India has nearly as many muslims as it does. Their nationalism is primarily based on the idea of "we are not-India". And as much as they concoct historical precedent of a muslim state in the Northwest, there really wasn't one. Teaching their kids about the conquest of Sind in the 7th century and somehow using that as justification for the state of Pakistan is a joke. The Pakistani nationalism that you and Jaffna refer to is a house of cards. It's been internalized by large sections of the populations but has no real basis. Pakistan is a figment of Jinnah's imagination. It's unraveling is inevitable.

history_lover said...

I remember reading somewhere (but I can't recall at this moment) Sardar Patel saying at a public meeting that pakistan is a ripe fruit which we will pick soon (or something like this).
This may be anecdotal evidence but I have relatives in pakistan and they are nationalistic as we are.
Reducing the idea of pakistan to a figment of Jinnah's imagination is simplistic to the say the least.Somehow I am still not convinced about the weakness of pakistani nationalism.

I agree with you on the strength of Indian nationalism though.

libertarian said...


The Sardar Patel observation is interesting. I wonder if he had a plan or was just posturing. His work with the princely states is undeniable though (especially Junagadh and Hyderabad).

I do not deny that Pakistanis have a deep sense of nationalism. I have several Pakistani friends, and can attest to that. However, in the face of an external threat, will that nationalism stand up? I'm not talking about India massing troops on the border (everyone will be Pakistani then). I'm talking of fomenting sub-nationalism and secession among the Sindhis, Balochis, Pathans and Kashmiris. The Punjabis will certainly be more loyal than the king - they're disproportionate stakeholders. The others are not quite as committed to the cause of Pakistan. Another fault-line is the Sunni-Shia divide. All these divisions are papered over by a strong-arm military. But they exist - and can be exploited as the need arises.

The need to dismantle Pakistan is directly linked to it's support of terror. At some point, Uncle Sam and/or Chacha Shyam is going to get pissed off enough that carving up Pakistan becomes the only viable option. And the military administration will be totally unprepared to handle that kind of insidious attack. My bet is that Pakistani nationalism will be held aloft and fought for by the dominant Punjabis but by few others.

Regarding Jinnah, I'd love to hear your perspectives (history_lover and jaffna). I thought Jinnah initiallyadvocated a muslim state with limited sovereignty within the Indian union, but then caught up in the juggernaut (of rich feudal interests) that ran its course to a separate state.


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