Pakistan at a tipping point


Hong Kong

The savagery of the slaughter of 132 schoolchildren and nine teaching staff in Peshawar last month stunned even hard-bitten politicians and journalists used to senseless atrocities. The terrorist killers riddled students with bullets and forced schoolchildren to watch as they burned a teacher alive.

Such a horrific deed, leading commentators declared, should prove a turning point, if not a tipping point, finally to force Pakistan’s squabbling factions, the nominal political rulers, the army commanders, the insidious army intelligence, the judges who have given the shelter of the law to terrorists, to put their heads together and pull Pakistan back from becoming a failed state.

That is too much wishful thinking: It would need a quantum leap in imagination, creativity and cooperation between nasty antagonistic players who have their own petty empires to defend, and who are egged on throughout by bigger powers who, frankly, don’t give a damn about Pakistan or the health and safety of its schoolchildren.

Take a bow: the United States, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, tiny rich Persian Gulf sheikdoms and even India.

From the start, Pakistan was a mess, born out of bloodshed, murder and mayhem. Founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah described it as “moth-eaten” because its west and east wings were cut off by India. An estimated million people were killed in 1947 as 10 million migrated from India to Pakistan and from Pakistan to India.

The new countries went to war quickly over Kashmir, went to war again in 1965 and war again in 1971 when India acted as midwife for the bloody creation of Bangladesh from what had been East Pakistan.

The Pakistan military’s senseless slaughter in overturning the election result in East Pakistan and the war of 1971 sucked in the global powers, especially the United States, China, the Soviet Union and India, for whom Pakistan was a pawn in their bigger games.

My first taste of Pakistan came on an October night in 1969 as 10 of us trundled in a Land Rover along the rutted road beside the banks of the Ravi River outside Lahore. It was almost 10 p.m., but we were welcomed with open arms by our host, whom none of us had ever met and to whom we had given no advance warning of our arrival. Our only connection was that one of us knew the daughter of the family and she had said that if we were ever in the vicinity, her parents would welcome us.

They did, and even excused themselves for not being properly prepared because they had just finished a dinner party. They cleared the table, prepared fresh food for dinner and beds for us all. It is hard to imagine such generosity being spontaneously offered in the United Kingdom or the U.S. or Japan — but it was the kind of hospitality that I also received a few days later in India.

They also gave free political lessons about the Indian subcontinent. He was a retired brigadier in the Pakistan Army, a fair-skinned and upright Pathan in every sense, married to a lively dark-skinned Bengali convert from Hinduism. She joked that her husband had been the key player in putting Ayub Khan into power in 1958 because he had a “stubborn and rather stupid sense of duty instilled at Sandhurst.”

The brigadier defended the Lahore front in 1965 brilliantly, but was sacked as a scapegoat for Pakistan’s defeat, but then invited back to give lectures at the army staff college when his achievements were belatedly recognized.

They warned that East Pakistan was unstable, and likely to succumb to Bengali nationalism unless the generals ruling Pakistan woke from their drunken stupor to understand how neglected the Bengalis felt.

Pakistan in those days was safe. (So too was Afghanistan. In the early 1970s I made several trips and climbed the hillside shanties of Kabul, taking pictures, with no worries for my safety other than that I might slip on the steep path or tangle with a goat.)

Peshawar and the frontier regions of the Khyber pass and Baluchistan were fine, provided you did not trespass on tribal customs. Pakistani women went out without veils in the cities. Draft beer brewed in Pakistan was on tap in major hotels, and privileged journalists regularly sipped superior Scotch in his hotel suite with the once and future leader of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

But 1971 brought the terrible beauty of Bangladesh and utter defeat for the Pakistan Army. Bhutto took power. He could — should — have accepted the defeat as evidence of a changed world to create a more manageable Pakistan, with enough challenges for his political genius. He made an uneasy peace with India as the price of bringing home 93,000 prisoners of war. But in Bhutto’s mind, India remained the enemy, which allowed Pakistan’s defeated army to grow its claws again, helped by weapons from China and the U.S.

Bhutto, sadly for Pakistan and for himself, played a devilishly corrupt game with everyone. He was unable to accept opposition rule in the frontier and Baluchistan, using violence to create continuing instability. He played politics with the judiciary and army.

Worst, he roused religion, renaming the country an Islamic state, betraying Jinnah’s promises that people of any religion could feel safe in Pakistan.

This involved more than his own drinking habits: It encouraged men with little education to set themselves up as mullahs and paved the way for General Zia-ul Haq, who overthrew Bhutto and had him hanged, to intensify the Islamic campaign.

Bhutto also became the father of the Islamic atomic bomb. He was famously reported as saying: “Pakistan will fight, fight for a thousand years. If … India builds the (atomic) bomb … (Pakistan) will eat grass or (leaves), even go hungry, but we (Pakistan) will get one of our own.” The legacy of Bhutto’s downfall and death was that the military back re-entered politics with a vengeance.

Moscow and the Americans made their major contribution to destabilizing Pakistan when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and the U.S. used Pakistan as a conduit and proving ground for rebel fighters to arm and train for the assault on the godless enemy in Afghanistan. Be careful what you wish for: The Americans got the Soviet Union out, but created new lawless badlands across whole swaths of Afghanistan and Pakistan, triggering the deployment of shadowy nonstate, quasi-state and secret state players, all in their own games.

Fast-forward to the expressions of horror at the Peshawar massacre. It was the largest and most outrageous of terrorist attacks on Pakistan’s educational establishments. Have we forgotten Malala Yousafzai so quickly?

Even though the commentators are almost certainly wrong that the Peshawar massacre will create a tipping point in Pakistan’s history, they are right that it is high time for the country and its leaders to come to their senses.

Professor Ramesh Thakur of Australian National University wrote recently in these pages that to rescue the state, Pakistan’s military must be brought under civilian control and all intelligence links to Islamist militants severed.

Wise words, but it is not easy to accomplish them. Pakistan has too many armed and dangerous players with lucrative empires to defend and foreign backers with deep pockets.

Too many Pakistanis still accept a distinction between “bad” terrorists or Taliban — who attack Pakistanis — and “good” ones — who attack India or other enemies. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s warning of 2011 that it is dangerous to breed poisonous states in your backyard to bite your neighbors has not been heeded. More than 50,000 Pakistanis have died in terrorist attacks since 2001.

Pakistan has to get over its fixation with India, and realize that it must work out its own salvation. It could do with some help from its friends who have directly or indirectly funded its path to a failing state. Sadly there is little sign that other players in the modern great game have understood that they have a responsibility if Pakistan is to be pulled back from the brink.

Kevin Rafferty, a professor at the Institute for Academic Initiatives, Osaka University, previously worked at the World Bank.

  • agthagola Dastangul

    In 2001 soon after 911 indian Raw agents contacted criminal minded 2 gang leaders one Mulla Fazallualh in Swat and Neik Mohmmad in Waziristan to create a new organization so called “Pakistani taliban”. Since 2001 Pakistani Taliban are funded, guided and proved logistic support by india. Pakistani taliban are nothing but an extended arm of indian aggression against Pakistan deep inside Pakistan.

    India need to stop terrorist activities in Pakistan to improve the relations between two countries.

    • Karthik Sunder

      And you my friend need to lay off the hash ;) Too much of that good stuff is scrambling the way you think.

      Pakistan Taliban as an arm of India. Good god man – what next, you will be calling Imran Khan as a RAW agent.

      • agthagola Dastangul

        I must confess your top spy (Ajit Doval) got 10 points on this from me. It was his master piece. While whole world was accusing ISI of Pakistan for creation of Taliban. Mr. Doval Sneaked in and formed “Pakistani Taliban”. He used smokes and mirrors that will be remembered in history. Chanakya if will be reborn will be glad to be 1st grade student for Mr. Doval. Pakistan’s top spy got head spin in this and got beaten up in wisdom by this Modern day Chanakya.

      • Karthik Sunder

        I stand by and repeat my previous comment :-)

    • dattu prabhugari

      good jock ,hilarious…..

    • MmSanjiv

      If we were to believe you for a moment, I would question your country’s political and military leaderships might to tackle and defeat the Pakistani Taliban. What’s stopping them, if everyone is Pakistan is convinced that it is an Indian creation to destabilize Pakistan? Pak Taliban, is well within the Pakistani territory and are operating freely…. Or are you saying that even the Pak political and military leadership is a hand in glove with Pak Taliban (in turn means working with Indian RAW)? Just ponder over your comments and beliefs…. You will soon realise the truth… Wake up buddy!

      • agthagola Dastangul

        Unfortunately the one who (Such as Newz Sharif and company) has to take action against Taliban do not want to offend India since they have invested directly and indirectly billions of dollars in Indian economy. India can make Newaz Family bankrupt over night if they seize their economic interests. Majority of Pakistani trade with inida is through Newaz Sharif family.

        If you remember Newaz was against taking action against Pakistani Talibans. However current chief of staff has no business interests with inida he just frankly told Newaz that if he like it or not Army is going in to clear these criminals. Situation since then has improved.

      • agthagola Dastangul

        So called “Pakistani Taliban” were always accused to be creation of ISI of Pakistan with monster turning on its masters but now we know it was not the case. Soon after 911 when the Talibans were driven out of power in Afghanistan a neighbouring country india saw a golden opportunity to destroy its arch enemy in region. Indian Raw swiftly moved to create “Pakistani Talibans” one wing in Swat and one in Waziristan. Most of the people who joined were known criminals and joined the movement for money though some of them were also religious but primary incentive was “Salary of 100 dollars a month”’.

        Soon after that so called Pakistani Talibans started blowing up Pakistani schools, Mosques, churches and military installations. Now there is clear evidence that Pakistani Talibans were created and funded by india RAW to destabilize Pakistan. So called “Pakistani Talibans have been guided and financed from the very beginning by indian Raw. They have a clear guidance to destroy Pakistan. It is not surprising that almost all of their victims are Pakistani Muslims and it is not by random happening.

      • agthagola Dastangul

        I must confess your top spy (Ajit Doval) got 10 points on this from me. It was his master piece. While whole world was accusing ISI of Pakistan for creation of Taliban. Mr. Doval Sneaked in and formed “Pakistani Taliban”. He used smokes and mirrors that will be remembered in history. Chanakya if will be reborn will be glad to be 1st grade student for Mr. Doval. Pakistan’s top spy got head spin in this and got beaten up in wisdom by this Modern day Chanakya.

      • agthagola Dastangul

        Unfortunately the one who (Such as Newaz Sharif and company) has to take action against Taliban do not want to offend India since they have invested directly and indirectly billions of dollars in Indian economy. India can make Newaz Family bankrupt over night if they seize their economic interests. Majority of Pakistani trade with inida is through Newaz Sharif family.

        If you remember Newaz was against taking action against Pakistani Talibans. However current chief of staff has no business interests with inida he just frankly told Newaz that if he like it or not Army is going in to clear these criminals. Situation since then has improved.

    • S A P

      Yes pls take the good advice here. Visit a shrink before its too late…

      Wow… Land of pure (nonsense)

  • AlphaOS

    Fixation with “India”? Indians aggression has been occuring near border for some days and all you can do to lower the tensions is write this lousy article, bravo. Hmm, listen author you’ve probably might not know, but we’ve been through a very, very, very tough past. We’ve lost many of our people, made many sacrifices, had went through starvation, seen death face to face, fought wars, we have done a lot of hard times for this country. Just as the people of other country have fought for their country, we have also followed the same path, as they adore theirs we do ours. It’s best you don’t rub salt on our wounds – and it is also best that you give us (Pakistan) a break. Unless you want to see some event take place. Already there are conflicts with border zone. If Pakistan or India become insecure, than everyone will pay a price. Including the Pakistani and Indians, Chinese, Afghanistan, Iran, whichever countries that are near. When the chit hit’s the fan, no ones gonna be lucky to go unscathed.

    • jee non

      Wow,perfect but one correction….When the $h!t hit’s the fan…. $h!t falls in residents head/plate (not neighbors) enjoy mate

    • Karthik Sunder

      Look two things are very clear… India needs to resolve Kashmir, in accordance with the wishes of the people. Pakistan needs to give up its India obsession.

      Regardless of what you wish to believe – this conflict is causing more problems for Pakistan than India. Unless Pakistan actually believes that i t can “by a thousand cuts” get Kashmir from India this is a lost cause.

      And imagine this scenario – would the administration of India rest easy, if this unimaginable scenario of Kashmir being handed over to Pakistan ever occur? Every government in India will want some form of retribution for the thousand cuts. Worse, what if India begins to believe in the policy of giving “moral and diplomatic” support to every ethnic group within Pakistan who wish to have their own country?

      The nuclear bluff is already been called. India has begun returning bullet(s??) for bullet at the borders. Even if the Pakistani version of India being the violator is true, it shows that the threat of going nuclear is not being taken seriously anymore – so who has to lose here?

      The Zaid Hamids and Hamid Guls will never realise, the pain of Peshawar, they will always choose to see what they want to see. Pakistan has to eliminate terrorism of all forms for its own benefit. That includes what it deems as “strategic non-state actors” – these elements do Pakistan no good.

      If Pakistan focusses on its economy and grows, and the enormous potential for this is there. Pakistan can sit on a table and get the respect it deserves without the chest-thumping that goes to demand it. A strong, stable, vibrant and economically viable Pakistan is much more capable of working out a solution for Kashmir than the one it is currently.

      • AlphaOS

        Yeh ghoray sub koshish kar rahey hain kay hum lartey rahain or woh aghey bhur thay rahain.

        Hum ko jugraah kar humarray logo ki lia musllah, in ka kuch nahi jai gah.

        Kashmir main Pakistan or India kay log bhi hain. Bhus idhar hi theek hai, koi zarroorat nahi kay hum kayn “Us ka nahi, humaraah hai or yah Us ka nahi mera hai”. Kashmir belong to Kasmir people (Both India and Pakistan people).

        Yeh kiya masauk hai kay India or Pakistan ko laura kay khush hotain hain, hum ko tension or unko mojhain.

        Humarra South Asia region dunya ka sub say zaada under-developed hai! Jab thak hum develop karney main waqt laghain utna hum sub ka faida. Or Aman ki Asha ko zaada zhor diya jai. Kiya aap agree kartey hain?

      • agthagola Dastangul

        I agree that Kashmir problem is causing problem but mainly for india. If this issue continue Pakistan will keep building its nuclear aresenal and then will gain more and more strategic value. If Kashmir issue would have been resolved in 1949 Pakistan would have never been a thermonuclear power. We do have obsession with india since we are same genetic material but with different religions. I am very proud of my Rajput heritage.

      • Karthik Sunder

        Do you honestly believe that India will allow a build up and not respond?

        “Nuclear Arsenal” by the way does not just cost money to acquire, it also requires maintenance which has significant costs as well.

        India has lived with the “Kashmir Problem” for 35 years now, and it has NOT buckled. Need I remind how the LTTE insurgency in Sri Lanka was tackled? If pressed, India will tackle the Kashmir insurgency with the same vigour and stamp it out.

        Glad you are proud of your Rajput heritage, but do read your history. The Rajputs were proud, but pragmatic people. When they realised that the Mughals could never really be repulsed, they entered into a strategic alliance with them – So start by reading the history of your folks. BTW – there were quite a few fanatical Rajputs who all perished for not reading the ground realities well.

        Kashmir is NOT something that India is ever going to hand-over in a plate to Pakistan, because Kashmir is NOT the problem here. The problem is with identity. Pakistan defines itself with an Anti-Indian Identity.

        If Kashmir is handed over … then what? Do you think the GHQ is going to shut shop and say India is a friend??

        So long as Pakistan does not redefine itself, it will never be able to have a place as a peaceful progressive nation. India knows this and so does Pakistan, but there are plenty of nuts in Pakistan who have access to media. (Not to say that there are no sensible guys either – It gives me great hope when I listen to the really sensible folks over there)

        As far your theory about Kashmir being a problem mainly for India goes .. I believe Pakistan always believed that the Mujahideen only created problems for the Soviet Union – we all can see the results of that myopic policy. Once the Hafeez Sayeed and his ilk start getting frustrated with Pakistan, where do you think they are going let that frustration show?

        Pakistan created these monsters .. Now deal with it. Like I said earlier, too much Hash is not a good thing. Once in a way get some clean fresh air – and a fresher, long and hard look at things will help Pakistan – will be of use to people like you and those wise-men at the GHQ.

  • Dipak Bose

    Muslims cannot tolerate the non-Muslims. This is the reality; everything else is illusion.
    Separation of the Army and the civilian government cannot bring peace, because the partition of the British India and the resultant mass murder of the millions was designed by Oxford-Cambridge educated civilian Muslim politicians not the Muslim army. Bhutto was a civilian, not an Army man.
    Breaking up of Pakistan will be a better idea. Balochistan, Sindh, Northern Area can be independent countries, North West Frontier should go to Afghanistan. Punjab also can stay as Pakistan.

    • Ghulam Lone

      See? Pakistanis aren’t the only one obsessed. You think we are obsessed with India? Look how Indians STILL can’t get over Partition, and want to dismember Pakistan.

      Even wanting the Northwest to be given to Afghanistan, when no Pashtun has looked to Afghanistan with anything other than contempt since the 1980s. India – please update your mindset. This isn’t Pakistan of the 70s. Sindhis and Pashtuns are integrated into Pakistani society. Baluchis, unlike Kashmiris, have never had a popular grassroots movement that cut across all sections of society. There are never mass uprisings in Baluchistan like in Kashmir. Baluchistans militants are the local militias of tribesmen, and some other groups like BSO who subscribe to outdated 1960s Marxism.

      • Dipak Bose

        Creation of Pakistan was an evil idea of the British Empire. It has only caused miseries for millions of people. If it can be broken down it cannot cause any problem or the problem can be localized. That should be true for all other Muslim countries so that they cannot cause any terror for anyone.
        Muslim religion is an evil religion. If it can be abolished, it will be very good for the world.

      • Trish

        Actually there have never been mass uprising in Kashmir. All the terrorist activities in the valley are done by youths recruited across the border from the lawless lands of POK. The last time Pak tried to engineer a mass uprising in Kashmir, codename Op Gibraltar, it failed because Kashmiris didn’t participate. And they still won’t.

        As for Balochistan, BLA is fighting for Balochistan’s independence and is comprised of Balochis themselves. That is what you call mass uprising.

        Also, India never cracks down in its own citizen like Pak did in Balochistan.

  • Ghulam Lone

    This is another article that blames Pakistan’s political-military leadership for all the ills of Pakistan, and COMPLETELY disregards the geopolitical history of the region. WE did not ask for the USSR to invade our neighbor and trigger a massive exodus of refugees which destabilized our society. We were treated like a client state and then absolutely abandoned in 1989 and left to deal with the Afghan mess next door while the rest of the world didn’t care about the mess the West and USSR created in Afghanistan.

    Pakistan suffered immensely because we have the misfortune of being neighbors with Afghanistan.Yes, our leaders have made mis-steps, but I’m sick of commentators acting as though all of Pakistan’s problems are its own making. This simply is not true.

    • MmSanjiv

      While you are absolutely bang on target about your assessment, but over dependence on foreign aid and the corrupt political leadership of Pakistan, has contributed to the rot. While the instability in your neighbourhood is a fact, but the foreign policy of Pakistan and allowing it to be used as a conduit and base for western forces, in return for money (read it as greed) has led Pakistan to its current state. Over the years, the misplaced priorities of political and military leadership has deteriorated things further.

  • dattu prabhugari

    good one,its real