Pakistan: Tragedy Revisited!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Houshang Hassanyari
Professor, Royal Military College of Canada

Ever since its inception in August 1947, Pakistan has seen growing crises; gone through wars after wars; and the country has still not accomplished political tranquility and military security; and neither seems attainable at this stage. The land that was created after the victory of liberation forces led by Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinah over British colonialism has been grappling with war, coup d’etat, political violence, loss of East Pakistan (Bangladesh), identity crisis, economic defeat and terrorism since 1947.      

The idea of creating a country to the northwest of India for Indian Muslims goes back to the 1930s and the time of Allama Iqbal. In the 1940s the idea of two nations was born which was going to be implemented as a demand and scheme by Mohammad Ali Jinah and his aides. The British pullout resulted in the division of the colonialist land into three pieces: Pakistan claimed independence on August 14, 1947. The newly established country comprised two regions with Muslim majority population: East Pakistan and West Pakistan including northwestern regions of British India and Baluchistan state; northwest border, west Panjab and Sind. Division of Panjab and Bengal states led to displacement of millions of Muslims to Pakistan and millions of Hindus and Sikhs to India.

Dispute over division of certain regions such as Jammu and Kashmir with Muslim majority which went to India and joined modern India resulted in attacks by Pashtun tribes against the region and it is marked as the first Kashmir war in 1948. Pakistan which became a republic in 1956 staged its first premature military coup after General Ayub Khan gained power. His presidency from 1958 to 1969 also saw the second India-Pakistan war in 1965. The situation for Ayub Khan’s successor, Yayha Khan (1969-1971) was not better as the country experienced an internal war in 1971.

Economic and political problems in East Pakistan turned to violence but military interventions not only did not help restore stability but fanned the flames of domestic war. This prepared the way for India to deepen the rift between East and West Pakistan which resulted in the 1971 war between India and Pakistan and led to division of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh (East Pakistan).

After the tumultuous era of the military, the rule of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (1972-77) gave the glad tiding of tranquility. But this hope too, like the past, was thwarted with bloodshed through a military coup by General Zia ul-Haq. He ordered execution of Bhutto to put an end to the short period of peace in the war-shattered country.

The presidential term of Zia ul-Haq was coupled with introduction of sharia as the legal framework in Pakistan and particularly prepared the ground for emergence of Islamist groups. The rising number of various groups in the name of expansion of Islam did not prevent Zia ul-Haq’s death in an air crash which still remains a mystery. His death in 1988 paved the way for coming to power of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto. This was the lesson of time although Benazir too was assassinated by the same people who had found room for maneuvering under the open space created by Zia ul-Haq.

The political rivalry between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif ended in favor of the latter but Sharif in turn fell victim to a military coup by Pervez Musharraf. The powerful military ruler (Musharraf) however was forced to quit in August 2008 alive. Political turmoil has been going on in the blood-stained young republic ever since.

The saplings of Zia ul-Haq’s time have matured today, come out of religious schools and once again challenged power in Pakistan. Some of the fruits of the tree have turned into Pakistani Taliban within radical religious groups in the northwestern regions; some others are setting girls’ schools on fire in Swat region and portray a metamorphosed image of Islam which is in open contrast with the realities of the religion.

The problem of Pakistan is a fundamental problem. The country which is located in a very strategically sensitive region is apparently still coping with its identity crisis. The extremely deep conflicts between the civil society and demands of the radical groups on the one hand and the failure of the Pakistani politicians in forging relations between the various regions for the sake of national solidarity on the other, is driving Pakistan towards an unsure future where any scenario including renewed disintegration cannot be ruled out. The power structure in this apparently modern country is deeply ethnic and tribal. Maybe the expectation of the first generation of militants to create a clean land without any historical reference was unattainable.


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