Pakistan is ‘the sick man of Asia’. In the early 21st Century, our neighbour to the west deserves that appellation as, ironically, Turkey-Ottoman Empire did in the 19th century. Turkey, if you recall, was the model of the army-run state with a veneer of democracy that General Zia ul-Haq tried to replicate in Pakistan, and his successor as martial law administrator, General Pervez Musharraf was much enamoured by because of his early youth spent in Istanbul, courtesy his father’s posting in the embassy there. Turkey earned the label of ‘the sick man of Europe’ owing to its hostility to Russia in the 19th Century that led to its imprudently initiating wars that it invariably lost. Turkey incurred huge costs to fight the war, surrendered vast territories, and had to muster the indemnities demanded by the Czar. It resulted in an empty treasury, the Turkish society in a shambles and ready for a radical makeover by Kemal Ataturk post-1918 Treaty of Versailles that dissolved the Ottoman Empire.
It is salutary to recall that General Ayub Khan (before he awarded himself the field marshal’s baton) did an Ataturk in Pakistan in the decade 1955-65 when that country was galloping at nearly 6 per cent rate of growth, outpacing India’s ‘Hindu rate’ of some 3 per cent by a hefty margin. He had instituted a secular order and promoted development. Indeed, it was this exemplary performance of Pakistan under first a quasi-military and then a fully-military dispensation, which sparked the original fear in the bosom of that professional paranoid and conspirator, V K Krishna Menon, along with the other prominent member of the cabal around Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, B M Mullick, director, Intelligence Bureau, who first sounded the tocsin of the coup d état virus floating east across the Punjab plains to infect the Indian Army. Whence the drama involving the thinly veiled accusations against the Indian army chief, General K S Thimayya, in the late ‘50s followed by his resignation, his withdrawing it at Nehru’s urging, and finally his being mocked in Parliament for doing that.
The way Pakistan was going at the time there was every reason for Pakistanis to believe Partition was verily a blessing, and the small intelligentsia among India’s Muslims to wonder if they hadn’t made the wrong choice. At his pomp, and pumped up with hubris, Ayub made the first vital mistake that set Pakistan speeding on the road to perdition. He activated Operation Gibraltar in 1965 — the attempted takeover of Kashmir by covert means followed up by an armoured thrust in Akhnoor to cut off Kashmir and present India with a fait accompli. What happened instead was the diminutive Lal Bahadur Shastri ordered the Western Army commander, the towering General Harbhaksh Singh to move across the international border towards Lahore, which brought the Pakistan army to its senses.
That war proved the grit in the Pakistani economic machine, which did not come to a shuddering halt but slowed down measurably. Much as it had subsidised Ayub’s great decade when Pakistan, on the Soviet Union’s periphery, sided with the United States, American aid and assistance kept that country afloat and revitalised its military post 1965. It led another General, Yahya Khan, to make the wrong decision, this time to rub out East Bengali nationalism by mass murder and foolishly to offer India the excuse to enter the war to realise an independent Bangladesh by launching air strikes on Indian air bases.
Pakistan’s first prime minister, Liaqat Ali, had described Pakistan as “the heart of Asia”. Its geostrategic location has always been at a premium but only as long as there was no actual conflict. Luckily for Pakistan, the Cold War did not turn hot or it would have been vaporised by Russian thermonuclear bombs. Its location, adjoining Afghanistan, turned into a liability once the Soviet military occupied that country prompting Washington, cleverly it thought, to beat the godless communists with a mixture of Islamic extremism and a liberal channelling by the US Central Intelligence Agency of monies and Chinese arms and ammunition to the instantly created mujahideen. With the Russians decamping from Afghanistan by the mid-80s, the mujahideen imbued with the success of his jihad reformed as the Taliban and captured Kabul. The short-sighted Americans, having bred the Islamic jihadi monster, then calmly walked away only to get a rude reality check with al-Qaeda attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers, in New York. Whereupon the US played the role the Soviets had vacated in Afghanistan as an occupying power.
A decade and more of fighting later the Americans are nowhere near subduing the Afghan Taliban and have chosen discretion as the better part of valour, and are thinning out their presence. Meanwhile, the Inter-Services Intelligence, elated by the ‘bear trap’ they had set in Afghanistan that snared the Soviet Union tried the same thing in J&K. Except, the Pakistani Taliban and fellow-terrorist outfits — the various Lashkars and the Jaish-e-Mohammad the ISI had hoped would take on the Indian Army in Kashmir, turned on their minders instead.
The logic behind the Pakistani combine of al-Qaeda remnants, Pakistani Taliban, and the various Lashkars and the Jaish-e-Mohammad taking on the Pakistan army and state is simple enough. What would be more useful to realise their grand objective of a wahabbi Caliphate? A Kashmir, assuming they can wrench it from India’s firm grasp, or the Pakistani state with proven Chinese nuclear weapons carried on accurate Chinese missiles? Take over Pakistan and voila! the Islamists have the Bomb in their possession, and they can dictate to the world.
Voices are now being heard in Pakistan about the mistake made in not integrating FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) — the hotbed of violent Pashtun unrest all these years. Islamabad committed the same folly in FATA the Indian republic did by endowing Jammu & Kashmir with separate status, producing a variant of the same FATA result. Except Article 370 conferring special status was supposed to be only a short-term panacea. Isn’t the time up on Article 370?
Bharat Karnad is professor at Centre for Policy Research and blogs at www.bharatkarnad.com