South Asia

Pakistan: The world's next failed state?

Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan
, by Mary Anne Weaver
Reviewed by Sreeram Chaulia

Since September 11, 2001, no country has captured the attention of US policymakers and news analyzers as much as Pakistan. A plethora of current-affairs pundits in the United States, whose visions rarely crossed the Middle East, rediscovered forgotten Pakistan as it turned overnight from a "peripheral" state, in Richard Haas' foreign-policy priority classification, into a "vital" state for the conduct of the war on terrorism. Unlike these opportunist "experts", Mary Anne Weaver has written on Pakistan and its surrounding region for more than 20 years. She is rightfully a South Asia specialist, immensely experienced, possessing access to the most important movers and shakers of the region.

In the mold of CNN's Anita Pratap, she has covered Pakistani and Afghan politics for The New Yorker with a blend of professionalism, courage and compassion, qualities on display in this new book that asks troubling questions about Pakistan's stability as a state and reliability as a bulwark against militant Islam.

Profusion of drugs, arms, private militias, fundamentalist ideologies and sectarian violence has led to an "accumulation of disorder in Pakistan such that it could well be the next Yugoslavia" (p 7). Whichever place in Pakistan Weaver visited in 2001, "there was a tangible fear that Pakistan was drifting, perhaps inexorably, toward chaos ... one of the most frightening places on Earth". Weaver's gut feeling expressed in the preface is that Pakistan's structural weaknesses are so advanced that it "could well become the world's newest failed state - a failed state with nuclear weapons" (p 10). The next major day of terror in the United States could also come from this combustible and volatile country, whose military rulers halfheartedly agreed to assist Washington against the Taliban when cornered with implied threats of diplomatic and aid embargo.

Weaver's first chapter sketches President General Pervez Musharraf, the man who sits uneasily astride a "country that is angry and out of control". His dispute with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif centered on Pakistan's Kargil intrusion of 1999 into Jammu and Kashmir, which led to a quasi-war with India. Army chief Musharraf considered the misadventure a "major tactical coup" and was sore that Sharif ordered a withdrawal under US pressure. Musharraf's hawkish anti-India tendencies were also revealed when his airplane was disallowed from landing in Karachi on Sharif's order (October 1999), and the pilot informed him that the Indian city of Ahmadabad was open for an emergency stop. The ex-commando's reply was brusque: "We're not going to India! Over my dead body will we land there!" (p 15) According to one old Musharraf colleague, "when India and Kashmir come up, he's transformed into a hardline table-thumper". Working his way up the army ladder, Musharraf spent his "entire adult life battling India" (p 28).

On the domestic front, his "western cowboy" image notwithstanding, Musharraf has been unable or unwilling to rein in the state-nurtured Islamist terrorist networks fanning jihads around the world. Weaver thinks it is the result of his power base, an army that is increasingly anti-American and fundamentalist. In his three-year reign, Musharraf has acquiesced recurrently to the pressures of the religious right. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan labels him a "silent spectator in the rise of the orthodox clergy and militant Islam" (p 36). Before September 11, under Musharraf, Pakistan's backing of the Taliban had risen to client-state proportions. In a face-to-face interview, Musharraf parried Weaver's questions about the rise of fundamentalist forces, saying "all this talk about madrassas teaching militancy is just hearsay". Musharraf's responses on squeezing Islamist extremism in Pakistan were "unforthcoming, even misleading at times" (p 39).

Chapter 2 recalls the fatal swing Pakistan took toward Kalashnikov and jihad culture under Musharraf's mentor, General Zia-ul-Haq. Pakistan's role as a frontline state in the first Afghan jihad, starting in 1980, resulted in a profligate slippage and diversion of arms, opium and oil from the US Central Intelligence Agency's pipeline by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Fifty percent of US arms (including 500 Stinger missiles) never reached the battlefields of Afghanistan. The US "intentionally or not, launched Pan-Islam's first holy war in eight centuries" by massively aiding the ISI and its favorite Islamists. The lethal formula of parlaying popular unrest into holy wars, tested in Afghanistan, went on to be applied by the ISI in the Kashmir proxy war against India.

Zia's militarization and his focus on jihad deepened anti-Punjabi fissures in Pakistani society. Weaver recounts a 1983 meeting with the leader of Sindhi separatism, G M Syed, in house prison. Question: "Why are the Sindhis so angry?" Answer: "Because we are dominated by Zia's Punjabis." One encounter with the powerful Khan of Kalat in Balochistan reinforced this deep sense of insecurity felt among minorities in Pakistan. "Pakistani Army raided this very house. They took away my father. There were many more army operations - and then you ask us why we are anti-Pakistan" (p 100).

Chapter 3 sojourns into the tribal areas of Balochistan, a fiercely independent and Islamist province of Pakistan. Of the 5,000 or more Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters who had slipped into Pakistan by March 2002, the majority sneaked in from Balochistan, adding to the "returnees" from the anti-Soviet jihad. The mass influx of Osama bin Laden supporters transformed Balochistan and its adjoining North West Frontier Province "the world's next Afghanistan" (p 87). In Quetta's Smugglers Bazaar, Weaver found dealers selling anti-tank rockets, launchers, AK-47s, light cannon, landmines and grenades. "A bullet costs only one rupee; an egg costs two" (p 118).

Anti-Pakistan secession movements are benefiting from the open availability of deadly arms. The leader of the rebellious Marri tribe, Humayun Khan, told Weaver, "We're being exploited and neglected. We're bitter, we're angry, we're armed" (p 106). Baloch music in the remote town of Turbat carried chants of "May Allah curse the Pakistani government and martial law". So suspicious are Baloch youth and nomads of Pakistani rulers that road-building personnel of the central government are pelted with rocks as an alleged part of a plot by Musharraf and the United States to take over the Makran coast.

Chapter 4 is an account of the Wahhabi Saudi Arabian sway over Pakistan, cultivated by both military and civilian governments in Islamabad. Through the medium of the houbara bustard bird, which is hunted rapaciously by Saudi elites in Pakistan, Weaver goes to the heart of Pakistan's Arabic orientation.

Billionaires from Riyadh, Doha, Manamah, Dubai, etc entered Pakistan from the 1970s to shoot the endangered houbara to near-extinction. Agha Abedi, the Pakistani founder of Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), arranged hunting outings for the sheikhs in return for walloping bank deposits. When the BCCI collapsed a few years ago, the question cropped up: "How did Pakistan become so enmeshed with the interests of one bank?" (p 134) Arab dignitaries who pumped wealth into the bank and greased the palms of Pakistani generals were given diplomatic immunity even when less powerful Pakistanis got arrested and prosecuted for houbara poaching. Conservationists view the non-application of environmental regulations on Arab guests as a case of sheer hypocrisy on the part of the government.

But there are profounder reasons for the exalted treatment of Arabs in Pakistan. As they have been doing in the rest of the Muslim world, Saudis are the primary financiers of Pakistan's Sunni supremacists and Islamist terrorists. Besides funding the thousands of mujahideen and madrassas, they bankrolled the government of Pakistan with about US$3.5 billion in annual military and economic aid in Zia's time. Pakistan's emergence as the leading figure in the world of militant Islam owes a great deal to the oil wallahs from the Persian Gulf.

Chapter 5 takes a close personal look at Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, who now lives in exile in London. Weaver sees Benazir, the avowed secularist, as the incubator of the Taliban during her tenure in power. Musharraf, as Benazir's director general of military operations, had helped her spawn the Taliban in the mid-'90s. Her inability to improve Pakistan's appalling human-rights record on women and her reliance on religious motifs to survive in a highly conservative Islamic polity doomed her prime ministership. She had to cede control of Pakistan's nuclear program, its high-risk policy in Afghanistan and the anti-Indian war in Kashmir to the generals. Her influence on the ISI was minimal, as the latter intervened in fundamentalist movements across the world.

Weaver remembers Benazir's election rallies in Rawalpindi where her supporters fired AK-47s with gay abandon and sang, "Listen, all you holy warriors." Benazir's failure in politics is summed up in one sentence: "Pakistan is not an easy country for anyone, let alone a woman, to rule" (p 179). Her promise of "breaking the stranglehold of the Islamic clerics" never materialized.

Chapter 6 discusses the growing Talibanization of Pakistan, a process Weaver denotes as Afghanistan moving farther east into South Asia. Musharraf's public rhetoric on dealing firmly with homegrown Islamist terrorists has not been accompanied by concrete actions, leading many in Washington to doubt how dependable and ally Pakistan can be.

Weaver reports seeing shops in Miram Shah, a tiny town of the Waziristan area, where for only $100, Taliban and al-Qaeda escapees were shaved, issued new sets of clothes and sent into major Pakistani cities with false identity papers. A few miles from there, in Parachinar, "the mullahs announced to everyone assembled that they should kill Americans on sight" (p 221).

Weaver personally received e-mails from publicly banned Pakistani terrorist claques "informing us that they were going underground to regroup and that we would be receiving their new e-mail addresses and websites" (p 222). Osama bin Laden underwent dialysis treatment in a military hospital in Rawalpindi and, according to Afghan intelligence, was under the protection of Maulana Fazlur Rehman of Pakistan's Jamiat-ul-Ulema-I-Islam in December 2001. Most frightening, a Pakistani official told Weaver that the maverick nuclear scientist Bashiruddin Mahmood, who is a proponent of Islamic science, "failed six or seven lie-detector tests" when interrogated on his meetings with al-Qaeda top brass. Peace envoy Anthony Zinni reckons, "in a few years, Pakistan's nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of religious extremists" (p 266).

Musharraf himself has a queasy past regarding bin Laden. In 1999, before his coup, Nawaz Sharif was asked by Washington to set up a special commando unit to capture or eliminate the man responsible for the Kenya-Tanzania bombings. The project was "scuttled by the ISI" upon Musharraf's nod. Even earlier, in 1998, Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia sought Islamabad's intervention with the Taliban to extradite bin Laden. Musharraf "opposed the Saudi move" (p 247).

Weaver's final chapter delves into Kashmir. The same policies of holy war against India that Zia, Benazir and Sharif followed are today being applied with renewed vigor by Musharraf. The seemingly unlimited funds that Pakistan allocates to the jihad in Kashmir come not only from its own coffers but also Libya, Saudi Arabia, Europe and North America. By 2000, Pakistan's military spending alone was greater than all of its development spending combined. Much of this goes into helping mujahideen infiltrate across the Line of Control. Weaver witnessed Pakistani soldiers giving these irregular troops "rations, weapons and ammunition, and even air cover, if need arose" (p 258).

US intelligence estimates that 300 or more al-Qaeda Arabs are active in Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control, besides participating in Sunni-Shi'a battles and attacks on Westerners inside Pakistan. Against the overwhelming evidence, Musharraf remonstrated to Weaver in an interview: "All this talk of private armies is total nonsense. These men are freedom fighters, not terrorists!" One prominent Pakistani liberal put Musharraf's stand on militant Islam thus: "He's got this agenda in Kashmir. And he is using the Islamists' fervor for the battle of Kashmir" (p 271). In the process of exporting battles all over the region, Pakistan itself has been converted into a battleground. The jihad has come home.

Weaver's book suffers from a few factual and descriptive inaccuracies. Musharraf is wrongly absolved of any role in Zia's Afghan jihad and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is oddly termed a "strident Hindu nationalist", a representation neither his foes nor his friends would agree with. The narrative of the book is also disconnected, with plenty of non sequiturs between chapters.

To Weaver's credit, she has packaged plenty of anecdotal evidence that many are not familiar with, especially not in the West. Readers are left pondering whether Pakistan will indeed fall deeper and deeper into the quagmire of lawlessness and state failure and whether more Ramzi Yousefs and Aimal Kansis (both came from Balochistan) are going to hit the United States hard in vulnerable spots.

Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan, by Mary Anne Weaver, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, November 2002, New York. ISBN: 0-374-22894-9. Price: US$24. 285 Pages.

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Mar 1, 2003


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