Three classes of people trample all over Pakistan, the military dictators and terrorists it spawns with such remarkable fecundity, and the foreign commentators who write books of a terrifying banality that purport to explain why it does so. These are usually sniggering sermons that hold it up to the rest of the world as a cautionary tale, schadenfreude masquerading as scholarship. T.V. Paul’s The Warrior State is the latest hatchling of this sorry clutch.
Paul’s thesis is that Pakistan has been warped and its growth stunted because it placed ‘hyper-realpolitik’ above all other considerations, turning itself into a state that prepared, sterilely, only for war. ‘Since the very inception of the state in 1947’, he writes, ‘the Pakistani elite has held on to an ideologically oriented hyper-realpolitik worldview, as though chronically under siege.’ That is not exactly the discovery of the Higgs boson, but if there is nothing new in the charge, neither is it false. It’s a truth recalled and a point made many times before, simply because that is so obviously the case,and it’s hard to fathom why another book was needed for an umpteenth j’accuse. It is almost as if those who write these books on Pakistan fear the contagion of an evil, against which the incantation of a mantra or a novena earns the believer protection and merit.
However, in the same paragraph in which Paul makes this statement, he also asserts that ‘In addition, an Islamic religious and ideological framework served as the core of the country’s nationhood and identity.’ That is a farrago of fantasy and prolepsis. Pakistan was conceived as a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims, as Israel was as a homeland for the world’s Jews, and those who went there were Muslims, but it did not follow that a religious framework then formed its identity, any more than in Israel, which was run for its first three decades by governments that were socialist in orientation. For the best part of its first two decades, Governments in Pakistan paid lip-service to Islam, but religion was very much a matter of private belief, and Islamic ideology did not influence governance.
Islam was commandeered into the service of the nation only in extremis in the 1965 war Ayub Khan foolishly set off,after India launched a counter-attack he had not expected, and for which he had therefore not prepared the country. Ayub lost his bravado and found Islam simultaneously, conflating religious duty and patriotism to hold his country together. Bhutto exploited religious sentiment with his usual cynicism and Zia invoked it out of conviction, all three of them uncorking a genie which has been as hard to put back in the bottle as champagne, and much less pleasant to have around. Pakistan has been hoist on their petard, but in a book on a warrior state Paul hardly examines the battles between contending soldiers of Islam that are tearing the country apart.
Ayub exhorted his soldiers in 1965 to be ghazis, and since then, particularly after Zia, the Pakistan Army has seen itself as soldiers of Islam. However, the jihadis claim a higher calling, and the average Pakistani jawan cannot understand why he should have to fight the Taliban, also soldiers of Islam. The slogan earlier used to rally support for Pakistan, ‘Islam in danger’, now works against it, because that is now the global rallying cry for the Ummah, and for those who use it nationalism is anathema. The Pakistan Government and Army can no longer harness Islam in their cause because the Taliban and Al Qaeda ride it better and against them. Unless Pakistan can reclaim Islam from the mosque and the madrassa, a task almost impossible, its future is fraught. That is the crucial battle playing out now in the warrior state, but Paul is not its Clausewitz.
Paul writes of Pakistan’s geostrategic curse, arguing that its rulers have exploited its strategic location to milk vast sums of money from others, but because this is easy money, which they have assumed will always be on tap, simply because Pakistan will always be where it is, they have not invested in their people or their economy, nor had the incentive to do so. According to him, this is why, unlike other States obsessed with security, like the Republic of Korea, Taiwan and Israel, which transformed their economies and societies, Pakistan stagnated. This argument has been made before, is true up to a point, but ignores a reality that Paul neither explores nor explains.
In the first twenty years of Pakistan’s existence, when it was at its most vulnerable, when its leaders were paranoid about the survival of the nation, and at least as obsessed with military security as they were later, its economy grew and changed faster than India’s did. This cannot simply be explained by the rents that Pakistan levied from the West; we too were getting vast sums of money from the Aid-India consortium, but not only was Pakistan’s GDP growth higher, it was getting people off the land quicker than India was, which means that it was also industrializing and diversifying its economy faster than we were.
Paul dismisses this as crony capitalism, pointing out that the economy was controlled then by 22 business families, but this was more or less what was happening in the ROK during this period. The chaebols were family-run, throve on State patronage and drove ROK’s economy forward. If Pakistan had continued on the path it set in the 1950s and 60s, it cannot be ruled out that it too might have had very significant economic success, and could, with luck, have been the first South Asian tiger.
Pakistan’s economic growth was halted, and its trajectory reversed, by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. His nationalization of industries and the expropriation of the big business houses was a mortal blow to the economy; in a nation where most did not believe in rebirth, a renaissance was perhaps not possible. The coup de grace therefore was delivered by a civilian politician, not by the generals whom Paul blames for Pakistan’s misfortunes, and took place in the phase when, after the separation of Bangladesh, Pakistan was at its lowest ebb politically, and unable to trade off its strategic location for money, because interest in South Asia waned as West Asia and its oil became the cynosure of western eyes.
The decisions that destroyed Pakistan’s growth, and turned it slowly into a basket-case, had absolutely nothing to do with strategic concerns, calculations of real politik, or even a compulsion to compete in stupidity with India, where Indira Gandhi was well embarked on her own hatchet-job on the Indian economy. These were decisions taken by Bhutto, at the height of his power, untrammelled by any military restraint or advice, for reasons that were both ideological and venal.
It is another matter that the generals and politicians who came after Bhutto were unable or unwilling to reverse his policies entirely. It would have been of far greater interest, and a demonstration of scholarship, if Paul had examined why they did not or could not. For Zia, this was not a priority after he got the rents rolling once the Afghan jihad started, but why, stretched for funds before then, did he not try to undo Bhutto’s handiwork? Clearly, he felt that this would ignite a popular opposition which he did not want to risk. This decision, which helped to ossify the Pakistani economy, again had very little to do with strategic considerations, it was simply a prudent political assessment made by a usurper trying to consolidate his rule.
Paul writes that ‘successive rulers of Pakistan followed policies that negatively impacted political and economic development, integration and long-term security.’ That might be a fair assessment, but he goes on to say that ‘as a result, Pakistan has fallen behind many of its peers in Asia and Latin America in the arena of economic development….’ In other words, Pakistan’s problems are far more grave, and as evidence of this Paul recalls that the ‘2013 Human Development Report assigns Pakistan the 146th rank out of 186 countries (placing it in the lowest category)….’ What he does not tell his readers is that the same report ranked Bangladesh also at 146, twinning what 1971 separated, Myanmar at 149, Nepal at 157, therefore doing even worse, and Bhutan only slightly better at 140. In other words, Pakistan is in lock-step with its peers in SAARC.
These, of course, were all countries that, like Pakistan, have had authoritarian or unrepresentative governments most of the time, and therefore, it could be argued, were just as callous about the lives of their citizens, even if they were not warrior states. But what explains India’s contiguity in the HDI to these neighbours, when we have been a democracy where, we believe, a government that does not respond to the needs of the electorate is replaced at the next elections? In 2013, we were at 136, marginally better than Bhutan, separated from Pakistan by ten ranks. (In the measurement of multi dimensional poverty, which the UNDP started to do in 2010 to assess the multiple deprivations faced by the poor in 104 countries in health, education and standards of living, we are even closer to Pakistan, which is ranked 72; we are at 64.) The HDI is an indicator of State indifference to good governance, but if a fatal obsession with ‘hyper-realpolitik’ drives that indifference in Pakistan’s rulers, as Paul argues, has the taint touched India as well?
Though Paul sets out to assess Pakistan’s place in the contemporary world, he does not draw these comparisons or ask these questions. He argues instead that, stemming from the failure of its policies, ‘in 2012, Pakistan is one of the weakest states globally’. That is its place in the contemporary world. As evidence, he cites the ‘Failed States Index’, which ‘places Pakistan at number 12 in 2011’ and reminds his readers that this ‘was actually a slight improvement from previous years: Pakistan ranked tenth in 2009 and 2010 and ninth in 2008.’ We might assume from this that a Pakistani implosion is imminent, but to set its ranking in perspective, which Paul does not do, in 2011 the Index placed Myanmar at 18, Bangladesh at 25, Nepal at 27 and Sri Lanka at 29. In the 2013 Index, Pakistan is at 13, another ‘slight improvement’, but our other neighbours still cluster around it, Myanmar at 26, Sri Lanka at 28, Bangladesh at 29 and Nepal at 30. Afghanistan, of course, is always in the top ten, so, if Pakistan is failing, SAARC is a confederacy of collapse, going down the tubes in benighted solidarity.
They will be in excellent company, because the Index placed China at 72 in 2011, at 66 in 2013, sliding swiftly down its slippery slope towards failed statehood. This of course is the anxious US wish being the father of a reassuring thought, but shows how far the Index is from being gospel. And if it is, Pakistan merely keeps its neighbours company; it is not in desolate isolation.
This book tills ground that has given all it can yield. There is very little in it that anyone with the slightest knowledge of Pakistan will find useful or consider a fresh insight. It will of course interest those who know nothing about Pakistan and this makes it dangerous, because, while the outline it traces is beguiling and plausible, it is also one-dimensional, ignoring the many shades and complexities of a difficult and tormented country. It is a book as deeply flawed as its subject.
Satyabrata Pal is a former Diplomat and a former member of the National Human Rights Commission.