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Edge of a precipice – Part 1

Mahboob Qadir

The writer is a retired Brigadier. He has extensive experience in dealing with UN matters related to strategic policy on countering violent extremism.

Do we really know or care to know what is happening around us? How have we been treated by the state, society, leadership and the clergy and where are we being taken to? These are not just questions out of curiosity or academic interest but the ones whose answers will determine the general direction of our future and that of the coming generations. Do we understand what kind of wet blankets we are wrapped into and sinking while the world around us is moving away from us and evolving in a broad sunny manner? As a country and as a nation immediately after Jinnah’s untimely death, we have been first made to wade into conceptual puddles, on to ideological mud flats, followed by unsheltered exposure to raw notions’ rain and sleet and now we are almost hydroplaning disoriented out of control. That in simple words means a complex but quite comprehensive disaster and a looming system crash.

Let me briefly recollect the sequence of events and how we were led from pit to pit and on to the rim of the precipice. Soon after independence we got inducted into Kashmir war which has been left simmering by the world powers by design ever since. However that inconclusive war unfortunately created a psychosis of military insecurity in Pakistani establishment viz-a-viz India which led to seeking help from abroad thus diverting a newly formed country’s vital energies from socio economic development to military preparedness, a classic Sparta replay somewhat. This turned out to be a fateful diversion as it opened the door to a different and a ruthless breed of opportunists, power seekers and eventually plunderers of the national treasury.

SEATO and CENTO defense pacts crafted by the US became an attractive option which Pakistan joined. Soon we got enough but minimum US military hardware to feel reasonably confident of defending ourselves should India aggress. Auspiciously India desisted and a peaceful interregnum became available which afforded space for an all-round improvement in the standard of living, industry, agriculture, education, health, trade and exports. It was because the nation had tremendous potential and our resources were relatively freed from feeding the expanding security psychosis.

Pakistan was coming into its own and beginning to realize its intrinsic and international potential. But that was not scripted. Sadly corresponding political system did not really evolve or was not allowed to evolve.

Yet the country was looking good and moving on an upwards trajectory, economic indicators were healthy, regarded well and had a positive image overall. We were at a break out point but that was enough. Two diametrically opposite but corrosive forces were already at work. The religious doctrinaires and the eruptive but madly ambitious politicians. Let’s discuss clergy latter, politicians first.

After an initial decade of chaos and mediocrity there appeared a young ambitious politician from Larkana who knew the art of effective speech and had a very sharp mind with an acute sense of political opportunism. He soon entered the inner circle of President Ayub, the then military cum civilianized ruler of the country and was raised to the level of the foreign minister. Just the spot that he needed. President Ayub was then passing through a period of self-doubt as agitations were taking place country wide led by Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, a formidable political opponent and a sister of the Founder of the Nation. Her credentials were impeccable. Seeing the moment opportune Bhutto worked on President Ayub’s ego and vulnerability both and as foreign minister, cleverly led the country into a precipitate war with India again over Kashmir in 1965.

Pakistan Army did not have the necessary military superiority nor requisite war materials stamina to fight a decisive war over Kashmir with India. Consequently Kashmir could not be liberated but Pakistan survived a military defeat by the skin of its teeth and managed a stalemate through the superlative grit and guts of its armed forces and a highly motivated nation. Indian counter-offensive was stopped in its tracks and repulsed. This entire episode must be viewed as a betrayal of a different but very grave kind. Just when Pakistan was on its way to becoming a modern and prosperous country with great amount of self-confidence and an all-round progress, it was plunged into an unwinnable war.

US military aid was turned off just as Pakistan needed it the most during the 65 war. It was the first indicator of US fickle mindedness or her strategic limitations in our region and should have served as a measure of what to expect from this fleet footed ally in future too. But we are always short on analysis and late in learning our lessons and had by then fairly deeply interwoven our state and personal (civil military leadership and senior bureaucracy’s) interests into US foreign policy articulation in the region. The country was to pay dearly for this ill-considered reliance on US support in times to come.

Meanwhile Z.A. Bhutto had kept his lines of communication open with the US, presenting himself as a more dependable and politically savvy leader. Soon after the war he realized it was time to jump the ship which he had himself helped steer to the sand bar. He acted as an angry patriot, parted ways and formed his famous but ill-starred Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Shortly Ayub had to go, leaving the field open to a whisky-soaked Gen Yahya Khan and a highly manipulative Bhutto whose agenda was to seize power but before that the playfield had to be leveled.

He wanted unimpeded political power but there were stumbling blocks .The larger than life Army, the powerful industrial lobby, a strong bureaucracy, private monopoly over banking system and most of all a numerically larger East Pakistani vote bank. From what could be reasonably deduced, he seemed to have devised a great gamble, which could well draw a commendation from Machiavelli. It unfolded in the following sequence. General elections were held where PPP secured a majority in West Pakistan and Mujib’s Awami League from East Pakistan bagged an overall majority in the country. That created a double dilemma. He prevented West Pakistani MNAs from attending NA session in Dakkah and prevailed upon Yahya to crack down on strident Mujib. Civil war broke out and eventually the Indian military intervened in East Pakistan where despite its valiant fight, Pakistan Army suffered a crushing defeat in 71.

Yahya was made to resign and Bhutto took over as the Chief Executive of the truncated Pakistan. From this time onwards Bhutto started off with the systematic decimation of the armed forces, nationalization of industries and banks, destruction of the tested and tried structure of the bureaucracy and an indiscriminate proliferation of deliberate social anarchy. He was to pay with his life for taking on too much at the same time together. Had he been a little patient and more discreet, chances of him surviving for a longer time could have improved. He was the nimblest dancer on Pakistan’s political stage. However, what he did could be termed easily as fascism Bhutto style from which the country has never recovered. A wonderful synergy and very desirable national synchronization were destroyed by one man’s ego and whims.

Bhutto’s indiscriminate nationalization of perfectly productive and running industries, banks and large corporations brought the economy almost to a standstill. It effectively discouraged the environment of purposeful entrepreneurship and long term investment in major projects and injected a fly-by-night investment, quick profit and fly-out kind of highly insensitive and irresponsible sentiment in the businesses in Pakistan. Naturally the quality and reliability of our industrial output and other manufacturing undertakings suffered badly. Major businessmen shifted their main businesses out of the country maintaining only a nominal presence leaving the field open to the novice, the opportunist and the unreliable. From the consequences point of view it is fair to conclude that Bhutto’s nationalization as the economic sabotage of the worst order.

More sinister had been the deliberate destruction of our old traditional social order, harmony among communities and sectoral balance. The ensuing chaos shook the very roots of our society and our social structure slowly but irreversibly disintegrated, collapsing upon itself. the social anarchy we see today is firmly rooted in the devastating free for all but responsible to none society that the scourge of Bhuttoism created to perpetuate himself in power through widespread chaos, distrust and disorder.

Having smashed the time tested systems late, Bhutto failed to provide a better, for that matter, any alternative concept of economic management, social framework and governance mechanism. Meanwhile, the armed forces shifted into a self-preserving mode. A huge pandemonium had started to set in. Popular reaction began to build up as PPP rigged next elections. Power structure had started to shudder under pressure already. At this juncture, he contrived to deliver a fatal blow to our delicately poised religious/sectarian equilibrium hoping to appear as the champion of the faith and thus be able to deflect politico-religious agitation being mounted against him. Most unfortunately this is where mullahs appear on stage in force.

Deceitfully, as a first step, he banned liquor and declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims, playing right into the hands of the very subterranean religious lobby that Quaid-e-Azam had kept at an arm’s length right from the start. People saw through this smoke screen and nobody believed Bhutto’s opaque religious credentials. The trick proved to be bland and stale. Ambitious Gen Zia-ul-Haq, already lurking in the wings overthrew him replacing one fascist monstrosity with another equally pernicious military-sectarian demagoguery .We as a nation were walked from one pit to the other to be deceived once again this time in the name of faith, our last remaining  but primary bastion. And what a comprehensive moral destruction it since has been.

(To be Continued)