Pakistan’s Unending Political Crisis

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Muharram 03, 1444 2022-08-01

Main Stories

by Zafar Bangash (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 6, Muharram, 1444)

Since its emergence on the world map on August 14, 1947, Pakistan has seldom witnessed calm for any extended period, staggering from one crisis to the next like a corner drunk. Its wounds are largely self-inflicted opening opportunities for predatory powers to interfere in its internal affairs.

The latest crisis that erupted in March is a case in point. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) had made significant progress in stabilizing the economy when a crisis was engineered ousting him from power. Quite aside from the argument about whether it was US-engineered—opinion on both sides is deeply entrenched—since Imran Khan’s ouster, the economy has been battered. Foreign exchange reserves have dwindled, the rupee has nose-dived vis-à-vis the US dollar and inflation has skyrocketed making life miserable for the already poverty-stricken people. Today, 90 million people languish in poverty. Three months ago, it was 60 million.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs and why was it necessary to undermine Imran Khan’s government and to what purpose? These are questions that need clear answers. Unfortunately, these will not be forthcoming because those who engineered the crisis were acting at the behest of their foreign masters and will hardly confess to wrong-doing.

Perhaps it might be more useful to examine the root causes of Pakistan’s recurring dilemma. For this, we must examine the circumstances in which the struggle for Pakistan was waged. The provinces that currently constitute Pakistan—Punjab, KPK, Sindh and Baluchistan—were largely absent from the struggle for independence. They already had Muslim majorities and had no need for change.

The struggle for independence was waged by people who lived in predominantly Hindu-majority areas of British-ruled India. They bore the brunt of Hindu fascism and struggled to secure their rights once the British raj ended. The former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was disposed off in 1971 because the West Pakistani elite were not willing to share power with the Bengalis. For their selfish ambitions to retain power and privilege, they were prepared to destroy Pakistan. And they did. This story needs to be recounted.

The idea of Pakistan as a separate homeland for the Muslims of India was conceived by Dr Muhammad Iqbal in his presidential address of December 21, 1930 to the All-India Muslim League convention in Allahabad. Iqbal did not refer to it as ‘Pakistan’ but he clearly envisioned an independent state for the Muslims.

It also needs recalling that the All-India Muslim League was established in Dhaka in 1906. The people of what came to be called East Pakistan were in the forefront of the struggle for Muslim rights yet regrettably, once Pakistan came into being, they were sidelined and treated largely as second-class citizens.

Pakistan started on the wrong foot right at independence. The opportunity to make a clean break with British raj was missed when Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who led the Pakistan movement for independence, opted to become governor general of the new state. Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck was accepted as the supreme commander of the armed forces of both India and Pakistan. On his first day as governor general, Jinnah rode to office in Karachi in a horse-drawn carriage in the style of the British viceroy.

Compared to those that followed, Jinnah was honest and hard-working even if steeped in British habits and manners. Within a few years of his passing, political intrigue gripped the new state. His successor, Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in October 1951 two weeks before he was to visit Moscow and the intriguers and crooks came into the open.

Shortly thereafter, Pakistan joined CENTO and SEATO military pacts, placing it squarely under the United States umbrella against the Soviet Union. An air force base at Budhaber near Peshawar was given to the US from where U-2 planes would take off to spy on the Soviet Union. It earned the Soviets’ enmity resulting in disastrous consequences for Pakistan.

Three names stand out in this sordid tale of intrigue and making Pakistan subservient to the US: Iskandar Mirza (a military-bureaucrat), Ayub Khan (a military man) and Ghulam Muhammad (a bureaucrat). Of the three, Ghulam Muhammad was the most devious and morally bankrupt. He died of venereal disease (gonorrhea) in 1956 although penicillin had been discovered a year earlier. It did not arrive in time to save him.

In the two-year period between 1954-1956, six governments were dismissed. The main characters behind this drama were Iskandar Mirza and Ayub Khan who had by now become the commander-in-chief of the Pakistan army and defence minister. His British commanding officer had written in his file that Ayub Khan should not be promoted above the rank of lieutenant colonel because he was incompetent. How did this incompetent military officer not only become the commander-in-chief of the Pakistan army but also grabbed power in October 1958 and elevated himself to the rank of field marshal? This is where his skills for political intrigue came into play.

In his book, Friends not Masters (believed to be written for him by Altaf Gauhar), Ayub Khan proudly admitted that Muslim officers in the British Indian army, as true professionals, remained ‘neutral’ as the pogrom of partition got underway. Their ‘professionalism’ and ‘neutrality’ cost the lives of more than a million innocent Muslims at the hands of Hindus and Sikhs. Does the word ‘neutrality’ ring a bell?

In its early days, the Pakistan army was staffed by British officers. The commander-in-chief was General Frank Messervy while Douglas Gracey served as deputy commander-in-chief. When Pakistani tribes from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) entered Kashmir in October 1947 to help their Kashmiri brethren against the Dogra forces and the invading Indian army, General Messervy was away in London. General Gracey was acting as Pakistan army chief. He refused Jinnah’s order to send Pakistani troops into Kashmir, instead waiting from Auchinleck’s orders.

Auchinleck had already issued Standdown instructions that in the event of military conflict between India and Pakistan, no British officer would participate in the conflict. From the get-go, the army displayed insubordination to civilian authority, including Jinnah who was governor general.

With time, such insubordination has not only been entrenched but the military (army) has intruded into other domains—politics, foreign policy and the economy—and usurped more power and authority. It has become the arbiter of who should rule and who must be sent packing home.

Successive bouts of martial law—Ayub Khan (1958-1969), Yahya Khan (1969-1972), Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) and Pervez Musharraf (1999–2008) have stymied the development of civilian institutions. When not directly at the helm of affairs, the men in khaki have dictated policy from behind the scenes. The martial law regimes threw up such men as Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (Ayub and Yahya eras), led to the break-up of Pakistan (Yahya era), Sharif family and MQM monstrosities (Zia era) and PML-Q (Musharraf era).

When Imran Khan tried to chalk out an independent foreign policy by reclaiming some political space, a motley collection of criminals, murderers and money-launderers was cobbled together and placed in power by the army. Its claims to ‘neutrality’ find few takers.

Imran Khan’s ouster has brought the country to the brink of economic ruin and civil war. Will anyone be held accountable for such crimes? There is little hope because accountability is unknown in Pakistani politics, especially when it involves the men in khaki.

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