By Usman Khalid
The MQM as well as the AZ –PPP are playing poker with all their cards on the table. Their moves are not hard to anticipate and frustrate.
Never in the history of any country, its government has so consistently acted against the national interest as the Zardari Administration. He presides over a coalition comprising political parties that oppose Pakistan. Under his leadership, the PPP has also become an anti-Pakistan Party that works for the Indian agenda - more eagerly on points on which India and the USA agree. The break-up of Pakistan has been the agenda of India and America during the Bush era. President Obama has yet to show his hand but it is unlikely that he would change that objective; he is more likely to use smart power to achieve his objective, which is the preferred method of India any way. Besides India has experience of 1971 for breaking up Pakistan. In 1971, India had Soviet support for its plans, now it has US support. The Scheme has three parts:
1. The first part of the Indo-US scheme was to install a government in Pakistan that does not care about national interests. That has been successfully accomplished; all the ruling parties are anti-Pakistan. Their popularity rating has sunk to 12 per cent and they do know why? But they do not care; they still have long enough time – four years – to accomplish the break-up of Pakistan.
2. The second part is to make ‘provincial autonomy’ the focal point of politics. Since the experience of 1971 is fresh in the minds of the people, no province is ready to repeat the mistake. But India has other cards to play. It has a ‘Trojan Horse’ in the politics of Pakistan in the shape of the MQM representing refugees from India. They do know what happened to their counter-parts in East Pakistan (Bihari Muslims) after it seceded; they became stateless. The fate of Mohajir in Pakistan would be the same if politics in the provinces were organised on ethnic lines; they would become stateless. Yet, they have volunteered to front the political campaign for the break-up of Pakistan. Why? Because they have to obey those who fund and direct them. It was Sheikh Mujib who fronted the Indian campaign in 1971; it is Altaf Hussain in 2009.
3. The third part of Indo-US scheme is that the armed forces should be discredited and demonised. That is not difficult because the wounds inflicted by ‘General’ Musharraf on Pakistan are still raw. He is the one who acquiesced to Indo-US diktat on every issue of national importance. He deceived the people and acted dishonourably so frequently that it is hard for his successors to resurrect the image of the armed forces. The Army operations against the ‘Islamists’ in Swat and FATA are controversial both in objectives as well as conduct. The Army has been found to be unable to defend itself – physically and in public perception. The biggest success of the Indo-US strategy has been to set the Islamists – who had been the nemesis of the secular forces - on Pakistan instead.
There is confusion in Pakistan of the same kind as in 1971. It was public knowledge that Sheikh Mujib was an Indian agent and would act on India’s directions, but the political class looked at him with admiration for his ‘courage’ to establish contact with the ‘enemy’ and secure its support. Today Altaf Hussain is held in similar awe for having enlisted India and America in his support. His other anti-Pakistan coalition partners would give their eyeteeth for the spell he casts over his Shia-Muhajir constituents. The patriotic Pakistanis – despite being in overwhelming majority - are stricken by dumbness as they were in 1971. Thy do not even have the courage to criticise the MQM draft of constitutional amendment.
There are two important arguments that need to be articulated by the patriotic press and the politicians:
a. Provincial autonomy is neither a universal doctrine nor an Islamic one. It is rooted in the history of the British Empire in India that annexed different territories at different times on different terms. The essential feature of their ‘conquests’ – whether the territory was annexed or remained under ‘princely rule’ - was that the land remained under the ownership of the province or the state; it was the people who became the ‘subjects of the crown’. Even today, all the ‘state land’ is the property of the province. From that it followed that taxes on land and property and rules for the sale and transfer of land and property be made by the province/state. But the taxes on people (their income and their production) were the exclusive right of the federal government, which was responsible for every aspect of peoples’ life – their health, education, security and welfare. That division of rights and responsibilities is still sound in principle as well as practice. Provincial autonomy is fair and good if the land revenue and taxes on minerals – including oil and gas - are collected exclusively by the provincial governments and used for development of infrastructure, irrigation, and maintenance of law and order. The responsibility for health and education should be returned to the federal government as it is the one responsible for the security and welfare of the people and collects taxes on peoples’ income and production.
b. A powerful country is one where the society is cohesive and the people are free. Since 98% of Pakistanis are Muslims, the cohesion among the people is remarkable. The people are free to move inside the country and for work overseas. The Pakistanis are institutionally fee and Pakistan is a strong country. Imagine the situation if a Kashmiri or a Pathan required a work permit to work in the Punjab or Sindh. Would it serve the interest of any province? Balochistan is a province with Pashtun, the Baloch and non-Baloch in almost equal numbers. Should Balochistan be split into three provinces? What would be result of such a split? Mass migrations, more strife and even more poverty and destitution! There are more Pathans in Karachi than in Peshawar. There are more Baloch in Sindh and Punjab than in Balochistan. The people have benefited from such migration. Had that not been the case they would not have moved. To the extent that provincial autonomy places restrictions of freedom of people to move, it is regressive. Indirect restrictions like sale of state land only to locals are the best means by which fears of change in demographic balance are addressed. That is the case at present and this can continue.
That the provinces of Pakistan are not defined by or restricted to any ethnic group is the strength of Pakistan. It is only the enemies of Pakistan who want to define the provinces of Pakistan in ethnic terms. That is why it is the prime enemy of the state of Pakistan, whose leaders decried the Two Nation Theory and the Founder of Pakistan in Delhi - the MQM – who is the mouthpiece of the Indian agenda. The political class is not going to criticise the MQM and its nefarious activities. It is partly because of fear of being gunned down by this mafia and partly because the other political parties not yet organised fully as a mafia consider the MQM as a their model. The direction in which Asif Zardari is moving the PP supports that view. The PPP was a populist political party under the leadership of Late Prime Ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. It is now being transformed into a Zardari mafia. A mafia is an organisation in which strict obedience of the ‘boss’ is the only law. The way the AZ-PPP has switched from supporting the restoration of the judges sacked by General Musharraf to supporting the judges that took oath under Musharraf’s PCO on 3 November 2007, shows that it is now Zardari Mafia like the MQM is Altaf Mafia.
The people of Pakistan are wide-awake through the Indo-US sponsored slaughter in their country. The US support notwithstanding, the ANP has been wiped clean out of NWFP and Balochistan. The MQM is nervous. Its leaders sitting in London and holding ministerial office in Islamabad are meeting American officials offering them their services independently of Asif Zardari. The situation of AZ is really difficult. His coalition partners – the ANP and the MQM – have closer relations with India and the USA. They can start and sustain a civil war to break up Pakistan. All Asif Zardari can offer – if provide the tools - is to use his army to crush the militants in Swat and FATA who have in any case been unleashed on Pakistan under a clandestine Indo-US operation. But he India has a use for him. The third part of the Indo-US scheme for Pakistan requires the armed forces to be an object of derision rather than awe, of contempt rather than fear. That can only be accomplished by wanton use of air power in Swat and FATA as is being insisted upon by the USA, and by Asif Zardari with diligent support of his ‘tried and tested accomplices’ called advisors to the Prime Minister.
The people are wide-awake but they have little hope. The entire political class and the system on which they feed and thrive are ready to collapse. It may well be the Indo-US scheme to break up Pakistan that overcomes their disinclination to mass action. Musharraf ended the prospect of the armed forces acting as an institution to save the country from its political class. Zardari is putting the final nails into the coffin of the political class. The lawyers, the ex-servicemen and other segments of the civil society may yet unite to replace the political class but that does not appear likely. The challenge is too big and the self-imposed restrictions on their objectives and actions are a heavy constraint. May be the MQM draft of amendments to the constitution makes the institutions of the civil society take up the challenge that the PML(N) and other like minded parties are unable or unwilling to. It is hard to make predictions. But the MQM as well as the AZ –PPP are playing poker with all their cards on the table. Their moves are not hard to anticipate and frustrate.
The writer is retired Brigadier of the Pakistan Army who is Director of the London Institute of South Asia (LISA)