Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Orwellian shades in Pakistan

Shades of 'doublethink' can now be seen among Pakistan's citizenry.  Even ‘educated’ people would understate the genocide against East Pakistanis and ignore the ongoing atrocities in Balochistan.

Criticism of the establishment of Pakistan is now often seen as a betrayal of Pakistan itself, as was observed with the 'Memogate' affair.  While Mr. Haqqani’s methods were certainly questionable, supporters of the military establishment generally construe any criticism of the Pakistan Army, no matter how plausible, as treason.   The military establishment appeared to favor and perpetuate the view that Mr. Haqqani’s actions were in the vicinity of treasonous conduct, while warning the government of 'grievous consequences' for exercising its constitutional powers.

The struggle between the military establishment and civilian rulers began shortly after the creation of the first republic in 1947 and continued until its death in 1971.  Had the war criminals of 1971 been made to face justice, the military establishment’s interventions in the second republic could perhaps have been averted.  But the military establishment argued against the cause of justice in order to avoid deleterious effects on the Army morale, notwithstanding the effects on the morale of the remaining Pakistani nation.  Subsequently, the military establishment has also sought to keep the second republic under its control, through overt military coups and covert manipulation of political affairs by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).  The military establishment has determined that it is the best arbiter for the future of the country even if that means complete subversion of the republic’s constitution.

The republic has paid dearly for this, with the loss of more than half of the population in 1971, the alienation of Balochistan and the guns and drug culture brought in during General Zia-ul-Haq’s era.  Lack of continued democracy has also meant that a sense of nationhood has not developed, with provincialism, whether based on religious or ethnic identities, increasingly taking precedence over the Pakistani national identity.  As it is, the concept of Pakistani nationhood emerged as a reaction to fears of Hindu domination, and not because Muslims of the subcontinent shared any bond that could define them as a nation.  And once this fear was alleviated with the creation of the first republic, there was little to unite them as was obvious in West Pakistan’s chauvinism against East Pakistan.  Still, a nation could have been forged if the people had been allowed to elect their governments in successive elections which would have brought about a sense of ownership in the country.

This is criticism of the state of Pakistan and its military establishment, which is not the same as the criticism of Pakistani people who are talented and hardworking people.  But one aspect of the military establishment’s agenda has been to engender resistance to any criticism directed against it among the population, with rewrites of history and jingoistic rhetoric having taken their effect over the decades.

One does not need to be connected to the military in any way to know that it is Pakistan Army that matters in Pakistan, not the Pakistan Air Force or Pakistan Navy.  When the Pakistan Army launched Operation Gibraltar and sent in covert troops into Indian-occupied Kashmir in the summer of 1965, not even the heads of Pakistan Air Force at the time knew about it.  The military establishment then blundered its way through the 1965 war with mid-battle command changes, delayed decisions and overall command confusions.  There was reason behind General Ayub Khan’s signing of the Tashkent Accord despite the territorial gains claimed by the Pakistan Army:  the much larger Indian Army was parked outside Lahore ready to move in.

This was followed by the East Pakistan debacle, where the military establishment participated in genocide with casualty estimates as high as three million.  The top military brass was well aware of the mass killings, the deliberate wipeout of the intelligentsia and the random rapes of East Pakistani women, and yet did not call an end to hostilities until surrender was forced upon the genocidal generals of Pakistan by the Indian Army.  The Indian Army played a role in the Dhaka debacle, but the decision to apply the Nazi type of “final solution” on the population was taken by the senior Pakistani generals alone.

The 1965 and 1971 wars should have invited criticisms of the military establishment's role among the populace, but over the years the military establishment has become adept at the Orwellian concept of 'reality control'.  The government-controlled media assured the population that the 1965 war had been won, and September 6 is celebrated as the 'Defense Day' every year to reinforce the lies that should not be set right.

Similarly, no general was ever brought to trial for the war crimes of 1971, despite the preponderance of evidence, with official Pakistani history silent on the murder, torture and rape of the Pakistani population.  War criminals of the Axis forces were convicted and executed for lesser crimes and with less evidence following World War II, but the war criminals of Pakistan’s military establishment escaped without much scrutiny and with limited consequences.

The more recent debacle was at Kargil Heights, where General Musharraf took a ‘brilliant’ tactical step without considering the longer-term consequences.  History has it that even General Zia-ul-Haq, the myopic military dictator credited with destroying the very fabric of Pakistani society, was cognizant of the fact that occupying Kargil Heights would invite consequences that Pakistan would not be able to withstand.  That Pakistani soldiers lost their lives, with thousands of widows and orphans created, for another ill-thought out adventure is another question that will never be addressed in Pakistan’s history books.

Apart from keeping up the morale of the Pakistan Army, this rewrite of history is also essential to ensure continued patriotic fervor among the general population.  And patriotic fervor is necessary to keep the population from asking for its rights as envisaged in the republic's constitution.  If it were not for this patriotic fervor which convinces the citizenry that the Kashmir cause is more important than the well-being of Pakistan itself, that the Islamic Jihads westward in Afghanistan and eastward against India are crucial, the citizenry might come to realize that it deserves better healthcare, education, infrastructure, security and overall a better life than is afforded to them by a dominant and extravagant military.

Endless confrontation with India is required to continue justifying the military budget, which at present means an annual spend in the region US$ 6 to 7 billion on 'defense' while leaving a fraction of that for education and health.  The military establishment supplements its resources through its commercial activities and through appropriations of vast amounts of real estate.  'Field Marshal' General Ayub Khan was known to have compared Pakistan Army to the Prussian Army of the nineteenth century, ignoring the crucial difference that Prussian Army expanded its territory to meet its growing expenditure requirements, while the Pakistan Army could only live off Pakistan.  Of course, the central figures in the military establishment lead lives which are the envy of their counterparts in other countries' military outfits.

Shades of 'doublethink' can now be seen among Pakistan's citizenry, where two opposing views are held and sincerely believed simultaneously.  Even ‘educated’ people would understate the genocide against East Pakistanis and ignore the ongoing atrocities in Balochistan, while completely aware that such practices are reprehensibly cruel.  This doublethink further entails arguments that the military establishment must be right, and is sincere and virtuous and knows best, and that it must not be questioned and its rule accepted as unblemished and free from corruption, its crimes against humanity considered acts of patriotism.

There was a short-lived outrage of sorts directed at the military establishment following the events of May 2011, when one of the best-equipped military forces in the world could not detect helicopter landings and a commando operation less than a mile away from its finest training academy.  This called into question the credibility of the military establishment and its capabilities despite the dollar amount spent on it every year by this indigent country.

This was followed by the torture and murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, ostensibly by Pakistan's security establishment.  Mr. Shahzad, an investigative journalist, had published write-ups that the military establishment considered damaging to "Pakistan's" interests.  The overall theme of the military establishment's nexus with terrorist networks was not news, but the level of detail that Mr. Shahzad provided was not to be tolerated.

Unfortunately for the military establishment, information about the US operation in Abottabad and Mr. Shahzad's revelations have already been made public and cannot be taken back.  The global news media, unlike the fabricated history in Pakistan's schoolbooks, cannot be rewritten to suit the patriotic requirements of our protectors.

Returning to the issue of the ‘Memogate’ the same source which made public the existence of Mr. Haqqani’s memo also revealed that the ISI’s General Shuja Pasha visited several Gulf states seeking their assent to yet again subvert the republic.  If General Pasha indeed sought blessings from external forces to carry out unconstitutional activities against the republic, then his actions are as close to treason as Mr. Haqqani’s memo which also sought foreign intervention in the affairs of the republic.  And yet there was much more furor about the memo to US government than General Pasha’ efforts to again disenfranchise the Pakistani people.  This is further credit to the extent to which the military establishment exercises control over media and opinions in Pakistan.  However, history eventually will put these actions into perspective much as it did with 1965 and 1971 wars. The citizenry also has to move towards breaking free of 'doublethink' and 'blackwhite' propaganda and to support the democratic process.

To continue with the present government and political leadership or to remove them is the prerogative of the Pakistani people and not of the military establishment; constitutional avenues are available to bring about changes in government.  For the first time in the history of this country, no political party wants to derail the political system and no one is looking to the military establishment for intervention.  That is the silver lining in the dark clouds.  Our ‘Big Brother’ had better take heed.