LUCKNOW, APRIL 2, 2012
|Ms. Aruna Patel Vajpeyi, Mr. O.P. Tandon, Mr. Rajendra Bajpai, Ladies and Gentlemen,When Mr. Rajendra Bajpai asked me to deliver this lecture in the memory of Mr. Upendra Vajpeyi, I took it as an honour and accepted immediately, before I realized that he wanted me to speak on two subjects which are mysteries to me – Pakistan and the future. Speaking authoritatively on a single issue about which one is clueless is acceptable; Ministerial replies to Parliament Questions are in fact based on this principle. It is also perfectly acceptable to speak on different occasions on different issues that you know nothing about; talking heads on TV do it all the time. As a journalist who covered Parliament, Mr. Upendra Vajpeyi would have confirmed that both these propositions are true. Brandishing a simultaneous, double-barrelled ignorance, however, calls for a special brazenness. I was therefore reluctant to make this the topic of my talk tonight, but Mr. Rajendra Bajpai insisted, perhaps hoping that, as in mathematics, a minus multiplied by a minus would become a plus, and ignorance multiplied by itself turn into knowledge. Even more than with Pakistan’s future, that is a hope best tempered with scepticism.Over the last three years, at the National Human Rights Commission, it is India’s present that I have worked on and its future that worries me. My thoughts on those two subjects might have interested the distinguished journalist whose memory we honour today, but would also be dispiriting, and it is perhaps best in these trying times to be philanthropic and think of others, not of ourselves. So here I am, expecting you to suspend disbelief as I tell Pakistan’s future.Like Nostradamus, the man who knew tomorrow, it is always a wise precaution in the profession that I have joined for this evening to project your forecasts into a future where you are unlikely to be around when all of them go wrong. Otherwise, you should have the perfect alibi, like the civil servant who on the day Pandit Nehru died, looked at his horoscope and announced that he would live. When he was asked later why he was so horribly off, he said that the problem was that his stars were bad when he made his prediction. (Clearly that was only an astral hiccup because he rose to be Cabinet Secretary.) The other option is to follow the lead of my near-namesake, Paul the octopus, who foretold the outcome of the last FIFA World Cup, and prudently died while he still had a perfect record.
We have all heard rumours that the outcome of the Cricket World Cup was known to the studious Indians who make books, which shows that Indians can in fact both tell and shape the future. The ICC has vehemently denied this, but it bends principle like the arms of those who are now called bowlers but would earlier have been banned as chuckers. If it is prepared to say that there are acceptable limits within which a ball may be thrown, it is only a matter of time before it decides the limits within a match may be thrown as well. This digression into cricket is not entirely irrelevant because part of Pakistan’s problems stems from the craven indulgences it has been given and the concessions that have been made for it. Its cricketers in fact represent its problems in miniature. Instead of being held to the straight and narrow, Pakistan has been allowed to drift onto a bent and self-destructive path.
If Pakistan is bent on destroying itself, does it have a future, and either way why should it matter to us? If the old saying still holds that the difference between a saint and a sinner is that the sinner has a future while the saint has a past, Pakistan, which has sinned more than most, should have quite a future. India of course is the land of saints, from Vasishta to Anna Hazare and counting, but we tend to ignore history and to forget our past. In the summer of 2004, when I was Acting High Commissioner in London, I was given a vivid reminder of this by Sir Ghulam Noon at a lunch to which he also invited Pakistan’s High Commissioner, Maleeha Lodhi.
Ghulam Noon, as some of you may know, changed the national dish of post-imperial Britain from humble pie to chicken tikka masala. After William the Conqueror no one has civilized the natives as he has. What is less widely known is that he is also a patron of British artists, including Adam Aaronson, who works in glass. At the end of the lunch, he presented us with two small boxes which he asked us to open. We did and found that each held an exquisite oval glass bowl, with our respective names and designations inscribed on the rim. On his commission, Aaronson had blown a glass egg, which he cut through the middle and turned into the two bowls that we now had. They represented superbly a past in which India and Pakistan were one, a present that was fragile, and a future in which we would always be separate, but also one in which we could, if we chose to, simulate a lost unity by placing ourselves, as it were, lip to lip. Politics sneers at artistic conceits, but there is much to think about in that story in glass that Ghulam Noon told.
So the first question is, will Pakistan hold together? Will the other bowl break, and should we bother if it does? Glass does not shatter sympathetically and we will stay intact even if the other half splinters. With all the grief Pakistan has given us, very few Indians would shed tears over its shards.
That is one way of looking at it, and the even more hard-headed view holds that Pakistan’s breaking up is a consummation devoutly to be wished, since the remnants would be less of a headache for us. That, though, needs to be thought through. We have broken up Pakistan once; the creation of Bangladesh neither weakened Pakistan nor its animus against us. On the contrary, it bred in its security establishment a thirst for revenge that still has not been slaked, and Bangladesh brought with it other problems, which we often ignore because of our obsession with Pakistan, but which are as serious.
Would Pakistan’s breaking up again, with or without our help, be different? I tend to take the view of a wise colleague, a true expert on Pakistan, who used to say that it was bad enough trying to deal with one Pakistan; dealing with five would be a nightmare. Is that a possibility?
In 2008, the US National Intelligence Council report on “Global Trends 2025” made this assessment:
“The future of Pakistan is a wildcard in considering the trajectory of neighbouring Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and tribal areas probably will continue to be poorly governed and the source or supporter of cross-border instability. If Pakistan is unable to hold together until 2025, a broader coalescence of Pashtun tribes is likely to emerge and act together to erase the Durand Line, maximising Pashtun space at the expense of the Punjabis in Pakistan and the Tajiks and others in Afghanistan.”
In its follow-up report, “Global Governance 2025”, which came out in 2010, the Council went further. Drawing on assessments made by five leading think-tanks, it listed Pakistan with Bangladesh, Nigeria and Ethiopia as “among the world’s most vulnerable and fragile countries” and warned that their collapse would “likely overwhelm international conflict management efforts”, given how difficult it had been to contain the fallout of collapses in countries like Sudan or Somalia with much smaller populations. India is sandwiched between two of the four most vulnerable States. We cannot insulate ourselves from their collapse even if we tried to; the first and the heaviest impact would be on us. More than any other country, therefore, India has a vested interest in the welfare of our two fragile neighbours.
However, we need not take the NIC warning as gospel. The five assessments it collated each analysed aspects of weakness in all developing countries. Of the five, the two best known and most widely respected are the Brookings Institute’s “Index of State Weaknesses” and the “Failed States Index” put out by the Fund for Peace with the journal Foreign Policy. In the Brookings index, Pakistan is in the second lowest quintile, ranked at 33 among the 141 States surveyed, which might seem bad, except that India and China are in the third quintile, not too far above, ranked at 67 and 74. Even more, the overall score for the weakest State, Somalia, is 0.52 on a range of 0-10, Pakistan’s is 5.23. India’s score is 6.28, China’s 6.41. In other words, Pakistan is much closer to us than it is to the States that are the weakest.
The index of the Fund for Peace seems more worrying, because in 2011 it put Pakistan among the countries most at risk of failure, ranking it 12th from the bottom; India is at 76, China at 77. Its analysis is more detailed, listing the factors that cause stress. The social and economic indicators it considered were demographic pressures, refugees and IDPs, group grievances, human flight, uneven development and poverty and decline. However, on all of these, though the situation had worsened from 2010, in a five-year framework there had been steady improvements. The political and military factors the index considered were the legitimacy of the State, public services, human rights, the security apparatus, factionalised elites and external interventions. All indicators had held steady in a five-year framework. An obituary therefore was premature. I suspect the trauma Pakistan went through in 2010, not least from the massive floods and their aftermath, drove its scores down in 2011. I doubt if it will do as poorly when the next index appears.
My first forecast is that though Pakistan has seemed in recent times to be either tearing itself, or falling, apart, twenty years from now we shall have the same country to our west that we have had from 1947. This might seem either hopeless optimism or unpatriotic pessimism, but the history of the last sixty years shows that States broke up because of factors that are either absent or weak in Pakistan:
– the claim of a religious minority to a State of its own was conceded, as it was in India in 1947. No such minority in Pakistan wants to secede;
– irreconcilable differences of ethnicity and language and disputes over the division of resources led to a rupture, as they did when Bangladesh broke away in 1971. The same differences and disputes simmer in Pakistan now between the provinces, but they are nowhere near as marked as they were between the two wings of Pakistan;
– disagreements over ideology became acute, as in the Malayan Federation when Singapore left. The ideologues who now want to turn Pakistan into a theocracy have a pan-Islamic vision; if anything they want even more than Pakistan, not just a section of it;
– the most developed unit thought it was being held back; with other factors, this drove Slovenia’s decision to abandon Yugoslavia; Punjab, the most developed province, is also Pakistan’s proprietor, and has no plans to leave;
– an aggressive nationalism drove a wedge between communities and led to a rupture, as in Yugoslavia, where Serbian nationalism came into conflict with those of the Croats and Bosnians. Only the Baluch want to leave Pakistan and they are too weak to matter;
– when the centre is weak, and the political and economic costs of keeping the periphery together outweigh the benefits; this was the case when the Soviet Union broke up. The Punjab, the centre in Pakistan, is strong and prehensile, and the costs to it of Pakistan’s breaking up are heavy; it will not permit this;
– by mutual consent, as when the Czechs and Slovaks parted. There is not the slightest chance of the Punjab letting the others go nor indeed, barring Baluchistan, do the others want to leave;
– most importantly, in each case where the rupture was resisted, a powerful external actor forced it through – the British in India, India over Bangladesh, the EU in Yugoslavia. Not only is there no such interest on Pakistan, the most powerful countries are terrified at the prospect of a nuclear-armed State falling apart and will do everything they can to keep it together.
In a superb article in 2009, which he titled “Pakistan: the road from hell”, Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, one of Pakistan’s leading nuclear physicists and among the bravest of its liberals, a man whose intellect and integrity I came enormously to admire, staked out his position with the following bold assertions:
“Pakistan’s future is uncertain. But a few things can be said with something approaching certainty about what will not happen. The country will not break up; there will not be another military coup; the Taliban will not seize the presidency; Pakistan’s nuclear weapons will not go astray; and the Islamic sharia will not become the law of the land.”
As I have made clear over the last few minutes, I agree with him that Pakistan will not break up, but while his other forecasts may well come true, it is hard to be as certain about them. To start with, given Pakistan’s history, we cannot be sure that we have seen the last military coup there, though for India, if a future coup follows the pattern of its predecessors, it does not matter either way.
Even in Pakistan’s democratic interludes, when politicians governed, the Generals ruled, and the politicians have rarely been better for us. There is nothing we can do to encourage democracy to take root there. Democracy might make a token difference to the common Pakistani, but none to our dealings with their government, except perhaps to make them more difficult, as parties in power must show that they have not sold out to India. We have to work with what we have; we can neither choose our neighbours nor those who govern them.
The Army under General Kayani has been content to let politicians have nominal control, and his immediate successors will indulge them as long as the military’s core interests are not threatened. Both the PPP and the PML have learnt their lesson, and are unlikely to forget that they govern at the pleasure of the Chief of Army Staff. During the recent imbroglio over when exactly General V.K. Singh came into this world, an SMS from Pakistan put it very pithily. The difference between India and Pakistan, it said, was that in India the government determines the age of the Chief of Army Staff, in Pakistan the COAS determines the age of the government.
Those who believe that the Pakistan Army has changed, or that power equations have changed in Pakistan, will point out that, despite grave provocations after the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Army did not, or could not, send the PPP government packing. In my view, this was not because the Army had abjured coups, but because it did not suit it to take over.
Pakistan is now going through one of the worst phases in its history – the economy is in a shambles, with no signs that it will improve, the relationship with the US is particularly fraught and deeply unpopular on the street, the rise of the Punjabi Taliban poses an even more difficult challenge than dealing militarily with their Pathan counterparts, and the aftermath of huge floods over three years has placed enormous strains on the infrastructure and on the social fabric of the countryside. It suits the Army to let the politicians take the blame for all this, and to stay in the background, insisting only that its share of the budget must be inviolate and that it have the final say on what it considers strategic issues, including policy towards India, Afghanistan and the US.
The Army will also try to ensure, as it has in the past, that there are no mavericks in Parliament who might agitate against them. Before the next elections, some candidates will get visits from men who will put it to them that their business and family interests would be best served if they did not contest. Others would be encouraged to contest but to make sure that they lost. These are precautions, to keep out of Parliament and Government those who might question the Army’s right to rule or threaten its entrenched privileges and force it to take over.
If that continued to be the only trigger for a coup, it would be reasonable to hold that one was unlikely, since the political parties are chastened. However, there are other actors now and different motives at work in a Pakistan that is in ferment. The composition of the officer corps has changed. For two decades after independence, officers came from the Westernised landowning classes. General Zia and the Afghan wars changed all that. Zia recruited from the lower middle classes, with piety an important factor in selection and promotion. The officers who are now rising to command divisions often come from the same background that produces the Taliban; they are conservative in their beliefs, insular in their outlook.
They have grown up in a Pakistan that has become much more vulnerable to theocratic pressures. There is a misconception that it is only the Taliban that espouse an extreme view of Islam and their influence in Pakistan is still limited. The Taliban get the worst press, but all the religious parties push for the same broad agenda, the imposition of Sharia in Pakistan and their bigoted views on its social mores; there are simply shades of difference between them. The Taliban are Deobandis and therefore have in the past been at daggers drawn with the Barelvi, who are believed to have a much more liberal view of Islam, but Mumtaz Qadri, the security guard who killed Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, betraying his duty to protect him, was a Barelvi; he claimed a duty to kill Taseer for opposing the law on blasphemy and 500 Barelvi clerics issued a joint declaration in his support.
Even more surprisingly for Western observers, 200 lawyers, among them those who had led the year-long opposition to unseat Musharraf, offered to defend the killer. This, though, was to be expected. A very odd coalition of interests drove General Musharraf out; a handful of secular lawyers started the movement because they felt he had subverted the institution of the judiciary, but the vast majority of those who joined them were lawyers close to the Jamaat-e-Islami, to whom the General was anathema because, in his personal life and in his support to the US war on terror, he had failed Islam. These were the men who rejoiced in Taseer’s death and pledged to defend the murderer. Their sentiments would have been shared by many in the Pakistan Army.
The fact that the religious parties do not command much support in elections misses the point completely. They are the counterparts of the Anna Hazare movement here, convinced that they have a mission to cleanse their country and only they know how to do it. They have no time for democracy; like some in the Hazare camp, they think that is part of the problem. Their following and their strength are in the streets, and no government for the last two decades has been able to either rein them in or go against their wishes. Even when he was an unchallenged despot, Musharraf was unable to push through madrassa reform because the mullahs opposed it. It is therefore unwise to expect weak, elected governments to take a stand that a military ruler, armed with the draconian powers of martial law, could not. But why, their critics ask, do the mainstream parties not rally their own cadres, the PPP in particular, which does have a mass base and claims to espouse liberal views?
The answer is simple: the difference between Hazare and the Pakistani fundamentalists is that he threatens to kill himself if his demands are not met, they threaten to kill those who refuse. Very few politicians, anywhere in the world, take up this profession to seek martyrdom. In Pakistan they have seen what the bigots can do. The judge who passed sentence of death on Salman Taseer’s assassin had to be immediately sent out of the country to save his life. Sherry Rahman, the PPP MP (and former Minister) who introduced a private Member’s Bill in November 2010 proposing amendments to the law on blasphemy, received death threats for days afterwards, had to go into hiding, withdrew her Bill in February 2011 and has since had to be sent into safe exile as Ambassador to the US.
This means that the liberal voice in Pakistan is either voluntarily stifled or murderously choked. This also means that Pakistan, under the almost unchallenged influence of the bigots, has and will become an increasingly conservative society. A contemporary in the Pakistan Foreign Service recalled that, as a college student in Lahore, girls in his class played tennis in skirts; his son, at the same college, thought this was a fairy-tale. Professor Hoodbhoy told me that when he started work at the Qaid-e-Azam University twenty-odd years ago, only one girl student wore the hijab; in 2007, only one girl in his class did not. That process deepens with every passing year, because there are no countervailing influences. The middle classes try to emigrate if they can, the rich all have bolt-holes abroad, so Pakistan is being left to the mercy of those who want it governed by their narrow vision of Islam. Voices in the wilderness, like those of Professor Hoodbhoy, have so far not been throttled because, I suspect, the bigots know that they are impotent.
When I was in Islamabad, I devised an ordeal for my Pakistani guests to test their purity, a bit like Ram with the returning Sita. The Residence has a magnificent life-size bronze ardhanarishwara, which I put in the entrance foyer, spot-lit, so that was the first thing visitors saw when they entered. Liberal Pakistanis were fascinated; I recall a retired General running his right hand admiringly down the appropriate half of the statue, glass of single malt in his left. The discomfort others showed as they faced half a naked woman was a good gauge of how orthodox they were. Among those who failed my test abysmally was General Shuja Pasha, until recently the head of the ISI, who flinched and turned away.
Again, let us put this in perspective. The turn inwards, the return to older and more conservative practices, is not unique to Pakistan, it is a phenomenon seen in almost every Muslim community, particularly those that feel threatened by the political and social challenges they face from the West. If anything, the process in Pakistan started a bit later than it did in the Arab world. In 1990, I remember the wife of the Egyptian Ambassador in Dhaka, saying, in some bewilderment, that she did not understand her daughter’s generation, which was agitating to put on the veil which her generation had fought so hard to be rid of. Later that year, on a visit to Calicut, which has such a large Muslim community, I found to my relief that, as in Bangladesh then, it was impossible to tell from their dress which community the women belonged to: Muslim, Christian or Hindu, they all dressed alike. In 2010, passing through Calicut again after twenty years on my way to study the condition of the tribals who live in Waynad, I thought I was back in Jeddah, where I served in the 1970s; nowhere, outside Saudi Arabia, have I seen so many women in burqas.
At one level therefore, we could argue that if Pakistan becomes more theocratic it would simply make life a bit more difficult for its women and its liberals. It would be no skin off the noses and more that most Indian women could still flaunt, so why should we bother? The problem is that the world-view of the fundamentalists in Pakistan includes a certain view of India, and if that view were to prevail in its foreign policy, or even more worryingly, if it became the ideology of the rulers, we would have grave difficulties.
Pakistan is unlikely in the near future to come under the control of fundamentalists through a democratic process. A “Taliban takeover”, shorthand for theocrats of whatever dispensation seizing control, is also unlikely because they do not have the strength to take on the Army. The real imponderable therefore is the Army: will it, or elements in it, either come under their influence to a degree that they either facilitate this process or take over the reins themselves?
|This is why the test that General Pasha failed becomes interesting. From the moment Ayub Khan took over, the allegiance of the officer corps was to the Army and Pakistan, in that order. When war broke out in 1965, Ayub used Islam as a spur and a glue, to drive and to bind, but the diarchy of Army and Pakistan never became a trinity under him; Islam was an afterthought, bringing up the rear. Zia institutionalized Islam in the Army; there was now a triangle, with the Army still at the apex, but in terms of priority it was Army, Islam and Pakistan. Musharraf tried to bring the sequence back closer to that of Ayub, making it the Army, Pakistan and Islam. Kayani, who has broken with much of Musharraf’s legacy, has retained this, but his successors, who will come from those Zia chose, may not. Their allegiance may well be to Islam, the Army and Pakistan, in that order. If at a point of crisis in the future, a majority of the Corps Commanders are of their ilk, Pakistan could fall into the hands of theocrats, not through a struggle, but because the overlords of the one institution that could prevent this hand the country over to them.This is the point at which the crystal ball becomes very murky. It is almost impossible to say if this is a realistic possibility. On the one hand, even officers from the most deeply conservative backgrounds grow up in what is still a professional army, not a religious militia. The hard edges rub off, even if personal piety deepens over the years. The problem is that the form of Islam now prevalent in Pakistan expects loyalty to the religion to be placed above all other allegiances. There are several scenarios, none of them improbable, which could test the loyalty of the current crop of officers.Popular protests in Pakistan are rarely on the issues over which Indians agitate – living conditions or other secular concerns. They are protests on Islamic issues. Any popular movement in the future will almost certainly be led by Islamic parties or groups, and have an Islamic cause; if that sets off a crisis, will the Army help the government even if it asked, and if it does, will some officers refuse to obey orders?The rank and file, drawn from rural stock, are even more deeply conservative, and have been indoctrinated from Zia’s days to think of themselves as soldiers of Islam; this indeed was one of the reasons why the Army was so reluctant to fight the Talibanised tribes in the north-west and officers found it hard to motivate their men to do so. Pakistani soldiers have already asked why they should be ordered to kill the Taliban who also are manifestly soldiers of Islam. Pictures used to circulate in Islamabad of soldiers kissing the hands of Taliban they had captured, to offer obeisance and to ask for forgiveness. Faced with a dilemma in future, would soldiers take the lead in a revolt? Would young officers do so?
In the past, coups have been carried out by the Chief of Army Staff. The sort of coup seen elsewhere, where young or middle-level officers or common soldiers remove the government and their own leaders has never taken place in Pakistan. Given the stresses building up in Pakistan, if there is a coup in future, it might take this form, and would therefore be much more unpredictable.
Democracy therefore will remain under strain in Pakistan. It has already had more rebirths there in fifty years than the average Hindu expects to go through in five hundred. It will remain frail, but though our democracy seems more robust, Pakistan, oddly, has a better chance of evolving into a true democracy. As here, feudal practices die hard in Pakistan, so political leadership is inherited, which is anathema in a true democracy and makes a mockery of it. In the future as in the past, the two principal parties, the Muslim League and the PPP, will remain the fiefdoms, respectively, of the families of Nawaz Sharif and Zulfikar Bhutto. Even the two smaller parties, the ANP and the MQM, have turned into family concerns. Ironically, it is only in the religious parties that contest elections – the JEI and the JUI – that leadership is not a bequest. In all of this, Pakistan is very much like India.
The crucial difference is that, though these parties have a regional base, they have a national outlook, because there are no sub-groups or castes in Pakistan society that can be exploited for political gain. The two parties that cater explicitly to group interests, the ANP for the Pathans and the MQM for the Mohajirs, try to embrace everyone in its group, not subsets of it. What is said of us, that in other democracies you cast your vote, in India you vote your caste, cannot be said of Pakistan.
Politics in Pakistan is not, as it has become in India, a zero-sum game, where every group wants a larger share of a fixed pie, at the expense of other groups. In India, each political party tries to ensure that it placates a core constituency of around 25% of the electorate, while trying to fracture those of its opponents, so that they cannot get more. Instead of developing a national identity, democracy in India encourages citizens to think of themselves as members of beleaguered groups, threatened by other groups that will corner the riches of the State, leaving them only with the crumbs. If a party in opposition succeeds in instilling this paranoia, helped by a government that does nothing to dispel it, it sweeps the next elections. If, as in UP, for instance, parties can get an absolute majority with less than 30% of the vote, there is no incentive to frame policies for the larger good.
Because this will not work in Pakistan, its politicians have to do what their counterparts in established democracies do, try to reach a consensus that appeals to a majority, or at least to a much larger proportion of the people than the small segments to which our politicians appeal. They too have their clients and their factions, but they also have to reach out beyond them. Therefore, while democracy faces threats in Pakistan that it does not here, it is also developing on the right lines.
Ultimately, though, the future of a State, the future of democracy are abstractions. People make up a State, democracy is for the people. What sort of future will the people of Pakistan have? In 2000, the Millennium Summit of the UN laid down the Millennium Development Goals, minimum targets in seven critical sectors that developing countries had to meet by 2015 if their people were to have a future less bleak than their past. These really were the irreducible minimum, representing not what the people needed but what their governments were prepared to concede. If a government does not meet these targets, you would have to say that the outlook for its citizens is grim.
The UN has set up the MDG Monitor to assess how far governments are on track. The report card on Pakistan says that:
– on Goal 1, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, on Goal 2, to achieve universal primary education, on Goal 4, to reduce child mortality, on Goal 5, to improve maternal health, and on Goal 7, to ensure environmental sustainability, it is still possible to achieve the goal if some changes are made
– on Goal 3, which was to promote gender equality and empower women, Pakistan is off-track, which is not surprising with the mullahs on the rampage
– surprisingly, on Goal 6, to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, the target is very likely to be achieved.
It is possible that the UN has given Pakistan the benefit of the doubt on one or two points, because the floods have shown that it is at serious environmental risk, a point to which I shall return, and a conservative society will tend to downplay, as India did, the incidence of HIV/AIDS. Overall, you would have to say that this report shows how difficult a future Pakistanis will face, and it does the government no credit. Before we sneer at the mote in Pakistan’s eye, however, we should look at the beam in ours.
The MDG Monitor assesses that, like Pakistan, it is still possible for India to achieve Goals 1 and 2 if some changes are made. It makes the same assessment on Goal 3, where Pakistan is off track. However, we are off track on Goal 4, the reduction of child mortality, and the Monitor records that there is not enough information to assess our progress on Goals 5 to 7. India’s performance on the Millennium Development Goals is therefore even worse than Pakistan’s. For a democracy, that is a shameful record. It shows that, though our GDP growth far outstrips Pakistan, and will continue to do so in the future, as far as the common man is concerned the more things change the more they remain the same.
It is the common child of today who will grow up to be the common man, and in our patriarchal societies, the even more common woman of the future. It is therefore sad that, according to UNICEF and FAO estimates in 2010, almost 40% of Pakistan’s children suffered from malnutrition. Undernourished children are unable to reach their physical and intellectual potential, which means that Pakistan will continue to have poor human capital twenty years from now. Again, any temptation to gloat should be firmly held in check.
From 1990 to 2010, the period in which we have had sustained growth hovering a bit under double digits, the World Bank estimates that Pakistan’s per capita GDP growth was just 1.7%, while inflation averaged 10%. Despite our remarkable growth, though, the World Bank’s “World Development Report” 2011 estimated that in the time-span of 2000-8, 43.5% of Indian children, a percentage even higher than Pakistan’s, suffered from malnutrition. (The figure for China was 6.8%). The data in WDR 2012, updated to cover the period 2004-9, shows that the percentage for India remains exactly the same. (China’s has dropped even more to 4.5%) If in neglecting its children Pakistan has let its future wither on the vine, so have we, even more callously and with even less excuse. In the worst possible way, there is not much difference between the lives that the majority of Indian and Pakistani children live now, or will in the future.
There will, though, be crucial differences. Pakistani children will be even more poorly educated than ours. Most will go to government schools that are the sort of shambles that I see in our villages, or to madrassas; the difference is that in Pakistan they will also be fed a bigoted view of the world. Not only will they be given no skills that would help them get on in the modern world, they will be taught to hate and fear it, as their teachers do. Like the Taliban, the madrassas that produced them are believed to be the only source of obscurantism, but this is not so.
A study done by two Pakistani psychologists, who worked with young Pakistani jihadis who were captured in Afghanistan after the American assault in 2002, found that the majority were not from madrassas but from government schools, which taught much the same message, reinforced by the weekly sermons in their mosques. This process will continue, because the Government has shown no interest in reforming school education, and it cannot control the madrassas. The next generations of Pakistanis will therefore be even more alienated from a world in which they will not be able to fit in.
What will they do and where will they go? Agriculture cannot give most of them a livelihood. The ILO’s 2012 report on “Global Employment Trends” warns that in South Asia, “accelerating the movement of poor people out of agriculture into more productive jobs in the non-farm sector remains one of the most critical priorities for the region”. In the 60s and 70s, led by light industries, Pakistan did much better than India, so, when well over 60% of our work-force was still on the farm, Pakistan had brought its down to under 50%. There however it has stagnated, and now the industries which provided employment have been decimated by cheap Chinese imports which, to keep their patron happy, the government cannot stop. Pakistan has not developed the alternatives we have, of service industries or high-technology niches which serve as a partial outlet for labour. According to ILO data, between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of the Indian work-force employed in agriculture came down from 59.8% to 51.1%; Bangladesh did even better, coming down from 62.1% in 2000 to 48.1% in 2006. Pakistan is still at 47%, but the rest face an uncertain future. The Gulf, to which millions have gone as migrant labour, is slowing down, and will not be able to accommodate the same numbers, precisely when Pakistan needs them to take even more. And, without skills, Pakistanis are not welcome in the West. Unlike Bangladeshis, they cannot seep into India either. The pressure of unemployed and unemployable labour will build up over the next decade in Pakistan to dangerous levels. And unlike in India, the majority of these young men will be radicalised. There will be a temptation for any government in Pakistan to turn their rage outwards, finding scapegoats for the problems that they face.
This will be an even greater temptation, perhaps an imperative need, if tensions flare up between the provinces, as they well might. Agriculture will be at the heart of the problem. Even more than in India, Pakistan needs to ramp up its agriculture to feed its people, to build up purchasing power in the villages and to stop an uncontrolled exodus to the cities. It has a further incentive, because the politicians, who come from the landowning classes but diversified into industry, see their factories shut down or running at a loss, and therefore must get more out of their lands.
The Punjab and, to a lesser extent, northern Sind, where the great feudal families rule, are demanding more water because, as in India, farmers in Pakistan are profligate in its use, using much more than their counterparts abroad do. This means that dams must be built in the mountains where the Pathans live, inundating the fertile land of their valleys, while the water is used in the Punjab, leaving very little for southern Sind, where the Indus carries a fraction of what it once did. If any issue has the chance of being so divisive that it breaks Pakistan, this is it, and therefore the government there will do everything possible to pin the blame elsewhere. We have had an early warning in 2008, when we had done nothing to deprive Pakistan of the water that was its due under the Indus Waters Treaty, but the government there claimed that we were the reason for the drop in flows in their rivers that year. Even a gullible population, told ad nauseam that its neighbour is an enemy, becomes blasé after a while, but if crops are dying, and Pakistanis fear they might too, because, they are told, the old enemy has stolen the water, a torrent of hate replaces the water that was lost. Water, I fear, will be critical in our relationship over the next few decades.
Unfortunately, global warming will compound the problem, since our region is likely to be among those hit hardest by its effects. The science of climate change is not exact and estimates of damage, including on agriculture, vary, but a study done by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the IUCN, under a grant from the British Government, estimated that in Pakistan southern Punjab would see drops of 15-20% in the yield of major cereals, with similar drastic drops in cotton and sugarcane. I have seen estimates by some World Bank experts that project even steeper drops in India’s agricultural production, which would mean that we would also be in the market for foodgrains, driving international prices up, which in turn would make it difficult for weaker economies, like Pakistan’s, to buy as much as they need. That is a grim scenario, which we can only hope does not come about.
If it does, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2007 report on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”, which will be updated later this year, made this dire forecast:
“Climatic changes in Pakistan and Bangladesh would likely exacerbate present environmental conditions that give rise to land degradation, shortfalls in food production, rural poverty and urban unrest. Circular migration patterns, such as those punctuated by shocks of migrants following extreme weather events, could be expected. Such changes would likely affect not only internal migration patterns, but also migration movements to other western countries.”
They really could not go to the West; boat people might drift across the Mediterranean, not across two oceans. The pressures, and the safety valves, are likely to be local. It would be safe to say that for the foreseeable future, we will have to deal with a Pakistan under severe stress, which means that there will always be a temptation there to use the Indian bogey to deflect domestic rage, and make it that much more difficult to have a cooperative relationship precisely at a time when cooperation would help them even more than it would us.
I have always argued that we cannot make incremental peace with Pakistan, because those who want to project India as an enemy know that progress, even if slow, is meant to work towards a rapprochement that does not suit them, and will therefore derail even the most measured movement forwards. We have seen this over and over again. To pre-empt this, we need a Camp David moment, where symbolically two apparently implacable enemies decided to work together for peace. It is not that Camp David sorted out any problem between Egypt and Israel; it did, however, make it much harder for the nay-sayers on either side to use force in the future to try to settle their differences.
That kind of symbolic agreement needs strong governments on both sides or, in its absence, a national consensus. For the foreseeable future, neither country will have a strong government and though, on making peace with Pakistan, it should be able to forge a consensus in India, Pakistan would find that hard, not least with the malign influence of the theocrats being what it is. In Pakistan, only a military government would have been able to take this step, so we lost our chance when Musharraf left. If, for the reasons I have put forward, the Army leaves governance to the politicians, no civilian government will have the courage to take so bold a step. This means, though, that the mischief-makers will have prevailed, and they will continue to stir up trouble in any way they can.
What they do will depend, in great measure, on the future of Afghanistan, and here there is every reason to worry. The Pakistan Army has never slackened in its support of the Afghan Taliban and knows that its investment will pay off as the US and NATO leave. In one way or the other, the Taliban will take over, and since their policies cannot coexist with those of the moderates now in government, conflict is unavoidable. A reprise of the first Taliban conquest seems inevitable because all the parameters that made their rise possible in the 1990s are in place – a weak, unpopular and corrupt centre, warlords ruling their areas, a population desperate for order and a Pakistani military willing and able to back the Taliban to the hilt as they present themselves as the saviours.
In the short term, this will mean that the energies of the Pakistan Army will be turned westwards; so too will those of their protégés in the Taliban. As they did in the 1990s, the madrassas of Pakistan will empty out, sending jihadis over to Afghanistan, and they will be joined by the Punjabi Taliban, which will greatly relieve the government. Once the next Afghan civil war is over, however, the Pakistani Pathans and the Punjabi jihadis will return, battle-hardened, knowing that they have won a country for Islam and looking for fresh fields to conquer. The government in Islamabad will not want Pakistan to be that country; unless there is a fanatical theocrat in place as COAS, which seems unlikely in this time-frame, neither will the Army. As after the end of the jihad against the Soviets, it will suit the Pakistan Army five years or so from now, and the government might believe it to be essential for their self-preservation, to turn the jihadis loose against India, simply to get them out of Pakistan. This might seem alarmist but is, I am afraid, a realistic prospect. Do we simply accept this as our fate? I am sure we will not, but what we do to prevent or thwart it time will tell; I cannot.
I used to argue that Pakistan could do very little to help us but much to hurt us. We can hurt them too but, if the scenarios I have gone over make any sense, it should be clear that the problems that Pakistan poses now, and the pain it could try to inflict on us after Afghanistan returns to the Taliban, would pale in comparison to those we would face from a Pakistan dying or tearing itself apart. Our ability to help them is also limited, even if they swallowed their pride and asked for it. But they are not too proud to beg elsewhere and indeed they must. For the next decade or more, while our growth continues, Pakistan will survive on foreign aid. This aid may not be generous, but it will keep its head above water, because the three most cash-rich parts of the world all have interests in ensuring that Pakistan survives:
– for the West, which sees radical Islam as a threat, Pakistan is essential, both because it is viewed as the fountainhead of the threat and because, paradoxically, it is also the conduit to the Ummah that the West understands even less, finding it much easier to deal with the Islamic world through English-speaking Pakistanis than through Arabs. For both reasons, the West will pay to keep Pakistan afloat and its nuclear weapons out of the reach of the theocrats;
– the Arabs fear that a Pakistani collapse will trigger off a flood of dhow people, which would place intolerable strains on their societies; they also want their own extremists elsewhere and Pakistan is an asylum where these madmen can be sent; and, of course, because the Pakistani bomb gives them a sense of vicarious pride, for which they are prepared to pay; and
– China, to which Pakistan has been and will continue to be useful, performing services for which a retainer is in order.
We should not beat our collective breast and moan that money given to Pakistan will simply let them spend even more on arms. Whether there is starvation or not in Pakistan, the defence budget will not be cut; we know this as everyone else does. Even if a part of the aid is siphoned off, it leaves some for the general population, and it is in our interest to see that they are not driven to desperation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Having come to hear a Bengali speak, you must have been wondering when he was going to start spouting poetry. I have kept it till the end. The poem I have in mind is not “Hum dekhenge”, the marvellous anthem of hope that Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote, which Pakistanis still recite and sing when all seems black. It is a poem by the Bengali poet Shakti Chattopadhyaya, whose vision seemed to teeter on the edge of madness, very apt in a forecast of Pakistan’s future. Faiz wrote of a new dawn. The surreal piece I have chosen and translated, about a body split in four, could describe in sequence the future of Baluchistan, Sind, Punjab and Pakhtunkhwa if Faiz’s hopes are dashed:
I hacked myself in four. A quarter then
I shut indoors, four walls its cicerone,
Took three to stalk the town, where one I lost
In nameless wards, domestic, humdrum, drab —
One was hollow, half a sham. I filled its life
With bitter flames of change, the plenitude
Of burnt rice, bird’s down, the body’s cold shade —
One rides a leper through the mad night air.
I return to the question I posed at the outset. Given the grief Pakistan has given us, should we shed a tear if it does become a leper ridden by one of its own maddened provinces? The answer perhaps lies in Katas Raj, the perennial pool in the Salt Ranges of Pakistan to which Hindu pilgrims come, because they believe it was formed from Shiva’s tears as he mourned the death of Parvati. It reminds us that if a tandavanritya starts, no mortal can forecast where it will go, what it will destroy, and when it will stop.
Mr Pal is a member of the National Human Rights Commission and former High Commissioner to Pakistan