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India/Pakistan






COMMENTARY
Pakistan: In need of a new 'A'

By Sreeram Sundar Chaulia

"We reject the referendum ... Pervez Musharraf is an American agent."
- Slogan of a Jamaat-i-Islami rally in Multan, April 6


Street legend has it that Pakistan was doomed to be ruled by a combination of three strong-armed masters since its birth: Allah, America and the Army.

Whenever it has become too frustrating to make heads or tails of the twists and turns in the country's domestic and foreign politics, experts and commentators have fallen back on the "three A's" tripod to explain what appear to the outsider as irrational and inscrutable developments.

Given the peaks and troughs that dot Pakistan's crisis-ridden lifeline, it is perhaps expedient to stop being "empirical" and to search for answers in populist reasoning in order to gain a better grip on the causality of policy. Given these observations, I will discuss the permutations and combinations within the "A triad" as they have played out in history, and link them to present developments.

The order of the three A's - Allah, America and the Army - is significant, even though many Pakistanis utter them without knowledge of their chronological sequence.

As a nation, Pakistan was conceived in the name of Allah by Cambridge scholar Rahmat Ali in 1933, and later constructed by Muhammad Ali Jinnah as a separate homeland for the Muslim majority provinces of undivided India. The logic of a Muslim state was, above all, presented in the 1940s as civilizational. To quote Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi, the most influential historian who lionized the Pakistan movement, "Islam and Hinduism build two entirely different kinds of society ... they represent two different civilizations" (The Struggle for Pakistan). Immediately after partition in 1947, though, it was not at all certain whether Pakistan was meant to be a theocratic Islamic republic with Allah as the state God. The vanguard of Islamism, the Jamaat-i-Islami, actually opposed the creation of Pakistan and Jinnah himself visualized a loose federal structure with a secular non-ideological outlook. It took until 1956 for the insecure civilian prime ministers (originally hailing from the erstwhile United Provinces of British India) to declare Pakistan officially an Islamic republic. A common misperception among many Westerners is that Islam's hegemony in Pakistan had something to do with the military. Allah and Islamization actually came to command instruments of power before the Army.

Another idea floating in the minds of people whose memories do not stretch back beyond Zia ul-Haq's time is that Pakistan's alliances with the United States were fashioned by dictators in khaki and green. On the contrary, a US alliance was sought by Pakistani civilian politicians long before General Ayub Khan's coup of 1958. In 1954, Pakistan signed a mutual defense agreement with Washington, and the following year it joined the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Baghdad Pact (later renamed CENTO, the Central Treaty Organization), on paper aimed at containing communism in South Asia, but in reality for balancing itself against a larger, threatening India.

While the Cold War never quite appropriated the region as a major theater of conflict, America's support for Pakistan took on a highly militarized form between 1954 and 1965 when about US$1.5 billion was transferred by the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations to enhance Islamabad's defense capabilities. Even though US military aid was suspended after the 1965 India-Pakistan war, the US retained a "tilt" toward Pakistan, both as the famous back door to China for Henry Kissinger's "Ping Pong Diplomacy" and in the 1971 Bangladesh war, when the USS Enterprise was stationed in the Arabian Sea to deter India from decimating West Pakistan. In the decade of the 1980s, America, the middle A, went on to score many more goals in Pakistan, converting the latter into a frontline state for aiding the mujahideen in Afghanistan in their struggle against the invading Soviets.

While Zia's equation with Ronald Reagan was like a magnet to an iron rod, a more interesting and subterranean clash began to emerge during the Afghan jihad between the concepts of Allah and America. Allah, by now consolidated, mobilized and politicized through the widening mass bases of extremist religious "parties" such as the Jamaat-i-Islami, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-I-Islam and the Tehreek-I-Nifaz, had come to the fore in strident opposition to and hatred of the US, especially after the Iranian revolution of 1979.

As was to happen later in the 1999 Kosovo campaign when the US seemingly took up a "Muslim cause" for self-centered motives, and Islamists were certain that "the aims of [Osama] bin Laden and America temporarily coincide" (Osama bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America by Yossef Bodansky, page 398), a growing chorus of opinion among the fundamentalists in Pakistan began to term US assistance to the anti-Soviet jihad as a "temporary" coincidence. For nearly 10 years, Pakistani intelligence and religious parties helped channel US aid exclusively to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami, often screening the Central Intelligence Agency from entering the mujahideen training camps due to fear that the "Great Satan" with all its corrupt modernity would insist on a "secular jihad". A more fundamental reason for the evolving schism was that the "Allah" conglomerate, while siding with the US in Afghanistan, was quietly fearful of Westernization and the "corruption of true Islamic values" that could be the long-term result of US encroachment of Pakistan.

This latent enmity for America was aggravated from 1988, when, true to its selfish reputation, the US decamped from Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew and abandoned the country to the reactionary Mohammad Najibullah. The big break between Allah and America occurred between 1988 and 1992 when it was proved beyond doubt that the US had all along merely "used" Pakistani and Afghan youth trained in Jamaat madrassas (religious schools) for its own strategic ends. Religious parties were furious that, once containment of the USSR no longer mattered, Islam was jilted by America like a worthless toy.

From 1991 onward, Pakistanis generally also felt the brunt of being abandoned after four decades of spoon-feeding when US aid plummeted and Washington began adopting an alarmingly pro-India stance on various regional issues. Anti-Americanism, enunciated and elaborated by the religious leaders, thus gained wider respectability after every successive crisis of democracy, economy and society in Pakistan. By 1998, it was the "Allah" lobby that was the most ardent supporter of an Islamic nuclear bomb and, important for this discussion, it was seen to be aimed not just against traditional rival India but also against the domineering and arrogant West, which, to cite Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman, "wants Islam's head".

Once America's war against terrorism began in Afghanistan late last year, the street power of the "Allah" posse multiplied to new heights and massive demonstrations and fiery anti-American propaganda were unleashed in Pakistan's major cities, expressing solidarity for the Taliban and threatening to "march on to Islamabad and establish the rule of the Khilafah" (political system of Islam). As President General Pervez Musharraf's dependence and pledges of support to the US increased day by day, it was apparent that for the first time in history, the balance of the three A's was disturbed, with Allah now polarized against both the Army and America. Anonymous fatwas were issued against Musharraf for kufr (blasphemy) and even bin Laden realized the ripeness of the moment by declaring in one of his al-Jazeera interviews that he was "disappointed with Pakistani rulers". From October to December of 2001, it almost seemed as if the dangerous concoction of Pakistan's failing economy, discredited army-intelligence complex and rising Islamist fortunes would engender a catastrophic implosion.

The Army prevailed, somehow, and the American alliance is said to be growing firmer by the minute, even now. US grants to Musharraf's government have beaten all previous records and one of the more interesting forms of aid that is being given is "Democracy Assistance", which aims at shutting down madrassas and weaning the youth of Pakistan away from jihadi terrorism. Needless to say, it is the ultimate insult to the "Allah" camp that America has not only established military and naval bases all over the country, infiltrated its spies into the four corners, hunkered down to a seemingly permanent presence in the region, and allegedly seized control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, but is also beginning to uproot the very basis of militant Islam madrassa education.

On the insistence of the United States, Musharraf has also promised to crack down on the military wings of several tanzeems (parties) fighting in Kashmir as well as curb sectarian proliferators of violence such as the Sipah-i-Sahiba, the Tehreek-i-Jafria and the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi. It appears that the combined result of these developments has been a universal demonization of the hitherto-adored "Army" in Islamist ranks. The latter realize that Musharraf's prolongation as head of state through a referendum could mean the end of the road for "Allah" as a dominant paradigm in Pakistani politics. It is in this context that the combined weight of Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed, Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman is being exerted against "Army domination", a phrase that once used to be music to fundamentalist ears.

With the triumphant and all-enveloping return of the middle "A" to Pakistan, the fissure between "Allah" and "Army" has emerged into the open and is bound to deepen into a permanent cleavage. Musharraf cannot afford to lose the support of some of the fundamentalist bigwigs just before the referendum, and is working overtime to convince them that he is taking all measures to "safeguard Islam". He has refused to extradite Sheikh Omar Sayeed to the US for the Daniel Pearl murder and has also not come down in any substantial way on the mujahideen fighting in Kashmir. While US Federal Bureau of Investigation teams jointly raided with Pakistan army regulars to capture top al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaidah in the last week of March, Musharraf's spokesmen have taken pains to emphasize that US troops will not be allowed full leverage to conduct hot pursuit inside Pakistani territory. In trying to keep a foot in both the "Allah" and "America" compounds, the Pakistani army is once again attempting a delicate balancing act.

It is my belief that since the contradictions among the three A's of Pakistan have matured to near breakdown point, the time is apt for a new A, a new force to emerge and change the history of the country for the better. Noted feminist and human-rights activist Asma Jahangir has been fighting against religious intolerance, sexism, economic enslavement, corruption and militarism for many decades and she has gained considerable grassroots support among thinking and right-minded Pakistanis. Jahangir, a lawyer, has worked both in Pakistan and abroad to prevent the exploitation of religious minorities, women, and children. She is serving her seventh year on the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. In August 1998, she was appointed by the United Nations to be the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. Jahangir has waged a committed and principled battle against blasphemy laws, hudood (limits and punishments set by Allah) ordinances, restrictions on civil liberties and other forms of institutionalized oppressions and cruelties that were the direct or indirect results of the vice-like grip of the three A's on Pakistan's polity. Having given voice to the cause of the voiceless and championed the side of the downtrodden and marginalized in the fashion of Nawal-el-Sadawi in Egypt, she can easily be called the conscience of Pakistani civil society that yearns to be freed from the tyrannies imposed by the religious leaders, generals and exploitative superpowers.

If Pakistan fails to break free of the conceptual vicious triangle of the three A's and if the progressive elements led by the fourth A, Asma Jahangir, continue to be sidelined from decision-making, the future appears bleak. Here is the choice for every concerned Pakistani citizen: either remain stuck in the morass perpetuated by Allah, America and Army, or arise to a new dawn by empowering genuine people's representatives who guarantee human rights and dignities of the so-called "silent majority".

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