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BOOK REVIEW: Ungovernability of Pakistan

by Khaled Ahmed


 Pakistan in Regional and Global Politics

Editor:Rajshree Jetly

Routledge 2009; Pp365

Price Rs 845 Indian

Available in bookstores in Pakistan


One of the suicide-bombers involved in the July 2005 terror attacks in London, Shehzad Tanweer, spent a week at the Manzur ul Islam madrassa in Lahore, run by Jaish-e-Muhammad, during a 2004 visit to Pakistan


Amin Saikal, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, in his paper “Musharraf and Pakistan’s Crisis”, finds that General Pervez Musharraf (retd) turned his back on Pakistan’s clients — the Taliban regime and its Al Qaeda allies — and moderated Pakistan’s support for cross-border violence in Kashmir to commit himself to a policy free of religious extremism. (p.8)


Musharraf publicly backed the Hamid Karzai government in Afghanistan, but privately demanded that Karzai give his ethnic Pashtuns the largest share in the post-Taliban power structure and rid his government of the influence of the Northern Alliance. In September 2006, he went so far as to claim (inaccurately) that in Afghanistan the Pashtuns constituted almost 60 percent of the population and that the Tajiks formed a mere 5-7 percent minority. Historically, the Pashtuns have never accounted for more than 42 percent of the Afghan population, followed by ethnic Tajiks as the second largest group with 25-30 percent of the population and other minorities making up the rest. (p.11)


Saikal also finds that Pakistan was not too happy about Afghanistan getting into SAARC and thereafter tried to limit the linkages between Afghanistan, the Central Asian republics and India in order to maintain Pakistan’s manoeuvrability as a pivotal actor in the process. (p.14) Most observers have found President Musharraf ambivalent in his policies. This obfuscation, which ultimately led to his downfall, emanated from his incumbency of office inside the Pakistan Army.


Selig S Harrison’s paper “Global Terrorism: US Policy after 9/11 and Its Impact on the Domestic Politics and Foreign Relations of Pakistan”, sees Pakistan supporting the Taliban because it didn’t want them as enemies and didn’t want the Northern Alliance stepping into the power vacuum created after the downfall of the Taliban. (p.26) He notes that two former ISI directors, General Hamid Gul and General Javed Nasir, have “remained actively involved” with Islamic radical movements linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. (p.27)


Harrison likewise sees Balochistan as the bastion of the Taliban. Chaman is “the main base” for the Taliban, and several madrassas in the Pashtunabad slum area of Quetta “not only provide the Taliban with ideological training but with extended material help”. The rise to power of Islamic groups in the province of Balochistan “gave a tremendous boost to the Taliban’s efforts to regroup” and “many of the provincial ministers and members of Parliament belonging to the ruling MMA became actively involved with the Afghan rebels, using the region as their base. Many Pakistanis belonging to the ruling group also joined the Taliban.” (p.27)


He notes that Jamia Banuria in Karachi, with some 10,000 students enrolled in eight affiliated madrassas, displayed a banner at its main gate urging Muslims to join the Taliban. Some of the other madrassas in the city were used as safe havens by international terrorist networks. When the police raided the Jamia Abu Bakr Islamia Madrassa, after an FBI tip that it harboured Al Qaeda sleeper cells, they found that a student enrolled under the name of Ahmed Mahdi was actually Tun Rusaman Gunawaji, a leading activist of Indonesia’s Jemaa Islamiya, which staged the 2002 bombing of a Bali resort, and was a brother of its leader, Hanbali. (p.29)


One of the suicide-bombers involved in the July 2005 terror attacks in London, Shehzad Tanweer, spent a week at the Manzur ul Islam madrassa in Lahore, run by Jaish-e-Muhammad, during a 2004 visit to Pakistan. (p.29)


Harrison is of the view that the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan has led to a disproportionate Tajik influence in the Afghan intelligence, police and military apparatus at the expense of Pashtun interests. (p.34) But he insists “that Islamist and secular Pashtuns alike share a common desire to escape from the domination of Islamabad. The Pakhtunistan movement is dormant, but not dead, and its re-emergence cannot be ruled out in the context of the growing instability and disintegrative tendencies in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.” (p.35)


He delivers himself of the following judgement often seen in his books on Pakistan: “If history is a reliable guide, the prospects for the survival of the Pakistani state in its present form, with its existing configuration of constituent ethno-linguistic groups, cannot be taken for granted.” (p.31)


Kanti Bajpai, Headmaster Doon School, Dehradun, in his “Managing Ambivalence: Pakistan’s Relations with the United States and China since 2001”, says Pakistanis are deluded into thinking that they would feature in the strategic calculations of the great powers. Instead, Pakistan seemed to fall off the strategic map. Washington and Beijing have shifted their gaze to other parts of the world. Worse, both capitals began to perceive Pakistan as a source of some degree of worry: “strategic issues that had been earlier ignored in relations with Islamabad gradually became more significant.” (p.64)


The Chinese have begun to worry about Islamabad’s policies. They fear the extremism of the fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Uighur problem in Xinjiang province has festered for years but the Chinese focused more on the defeat of Russia in Afghanistan than on what was happening in Xinjiang. Now the disaffected Uighurs were turning to violence, and there was evidence that they obtained support from Pakistan-based Islamic groups. (p.69) Bajpai states: “Like the United States, China had cause to worry about the possibility that Pakistani nuclear weapons could pass into the hands of extremists within the Pakistan armed forces or jihadists of one stripe or another.” (p.69)


On the other hand, there was the rapidly growing economic relationship between China and India: bilateral trade between the two countries rose from hundreds of millions of dollars annually ‘to several billions in the course of a decade’. (p.70)


Christine Fair, a senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation, in “Pakistan’s Relations with Central Asia”, says Pakistan failed in its strategic depth policy to address the security concerns of the Central Asian states, and that many critics have come “to view Pakistan as a major source of global insecurity, due to, among other things, its past and present support for a number of militant groups operating in the region.” (p.125)


She reveals that “Pakistan [had] hoped that Hekmatyar could deliver a corridor to Central Asia that would begin in Peshawar, continue through Jalalabad and Kabul, stretching onwards to Mazar-e-Sharif, and finally reaching Tashkent. Kabul remained the choke point in this passageway. Islamabad also hoped that Hekmatyar would recognise the Durand Line as the international border.” (p.127) But that never happened.


Fair notes significant Indian presence in Afghanistan after the failure of Pakistan’s ‘strategic depth’ policy. After the failure of Pakistan’s approach to Central Asia through the RCD (1964) and ECO (1985), Pakistan is now faced with the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), founded in 2001, which protects Central Asia from the Islamic threat that emanates from its tribal areas. (p.134)


The book highlights the failure of Pakistan to reconcile itself to the changing strategic vectors of the world in the region. Because of a stasis in its ideological thinking, it is gradually losing its viability, as pointed out by Selig Harrison; and some pre-collapse symptoms are quite apparent in its growing lack of governability. *

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