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Pakistanis have seen it all, what next?

Over seventy years after independence – and many saviours and experiments later – Pakistan is at the moment struggling to stay in the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and not be blacklisted, like in Iran and North Korea. International leaders, scholars and commentators keep asking “what went wrong with Pakistan” and debating whether it is a failing state or a failed state.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad once remarked that India is a country, while Pakistan is an experiment. An experiment, indeed, it has been. But before I get into that, a word or two about India.
India was a normal country, with a constitution written within a couple of years of independence and in force ever since. Only once was the constitution suspended, in June 1975, when Indira Gandhi lost her mind after an Allahabad High Court verdict against her and declared a State of Emergency. But she lost the next elections in March 1977.
With some twists and turns and a few wars fought, one disastrously (with China), others successfully ,India was developing slowly but steadily. By the first decade of this century, it had grown into a stable democratic and secular state, with a high standing in the comity of nations. It held the promise of developing from a south Asian to an Asian power and an economic powerhouse.
Then came Narendra Modi and BJP. Their determination to enforce the ideology of Hindutva on one of the world’s most diverse and complex nations quickly transformed India from a normal country into an experiment too, and a very dangerous one at that.
Hindutva is alarming because it joins religious fanaticism with hyper nationalism, both of which are independently capable of wreaking havoc on any country.
As for Pakistan, an experiment it has been from birth, indeed a series of experiments, each one of them a worse fiasco than the preceding one. This country’s first decade was consumed in wrangling over issues of federalism, particularly provincial electoral weightage and autonomy, as well as the role of Islam in the state structure.
Soon after a broad agreement was reached, resulting in the adoption of a constitution in March 1956, General Mohammad Ayub Khan burst in. In tandem with President Iskander Mirza (whom he threw out in three weeks), he cast the constitution to the dustbin, declaring that politicians were pest and that he was the savior who knew best.
Promoting himself to Field Marshall, Ayub Khan devised a system of “Basic Democracy”, in which 80,000 Basic Democrats would elect a powerful President, to wit, himself. His experiment in “guided democracy” was enshrined in the constitution of 1962.
A hare-brained scheme, it floundered under the weight of rising public discontent throughout the country, but especially in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The ill-advised 1965 war with India revealed and exacerbated many fault lines within the country. Four years later, Ayub resigned in disgrace, another general stepped in and things got from bad to worse.
The catastrophic defeat to India in the 1971 war, and the resulting secession of East Pakistan, brought Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the self-proclaimed Quaid-e-Awam. Pakistan got a new constitution in 1973.
Bhutto began with the promise of Islamic Socialism but, faced with the challenge of Islamist parties, he proclaimed Musawat-e-Muhammadi, understood as Islamic egalitarianism. That did not save his government.
The man who overthrew Bhutto and sent him to the gallows promised Islamisation of the Islamic Republic. Nizam-e-Mustafa (“System of the Prophet Muhammad”) became Zia’s catchword, supported by the Islamist parties who had coined the term.
Zia Ul Haque put the constitution on the chopping board in the name of Islamisation. His experiment blew up in thin air, when his plane exploded in the sky in 1988. While the wreckage of Zia’s plane was cleaned up within hours, fragments of his experiment in Islamisation still haunt the country.
Then came this and that, followed by more of this and that. In just about ten years (1988-1999), Pakistan had four elected governments, all dishonorably dismissed, and three interim, caretaker administrations, which managed things rather carelessly.
These were years of high drama and byzantine intrigues, of back-stabbing, vote-buying and vote-selling, all controlled and manipulated by The Establishment, sometimes remotely, sometimes not so remotely.
All came to a head in 1999, when the prime minister, who boasted about his “heavy mandate” from the people (a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly) sacked his army chief, only to be sacked and imprisoned himself within hours by the sacked army chief.
Pakistan now had a new savior, General Pervez Musharraf. A commando by profession and inclination, he liked dogs, despised politicians and promised “enlightened moderation”. Call him “Ayub Khan the Second” if you will.
With him at the helm, two times elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif first went to jail and then into exile in Saudi Arabia. Another two times elected prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, choosing discretion over valour, divided her time between Dubai and London.
Musharraf spoke of “enlightened moderation”, but scattered mainstream and relatively secular politicians, hobnobbing instead with Islamist parties and fringe entities.
Politicians had the better of Musharraf, though, just as they had of Ayub Khan. Amid much turmoil, Musharraf’s arrogance was busted and he bowed out in 2008. Soon it would be his turn to face prosecution. The commando chose instead to flee into exile in Dubai under the pretext of visiting his ailing mother.
With him gone and a rapprochement of sorts between the two major political parties and their leaders, Pakistan seemed on the way to becoming a normal country. Power was transferred peacefully in 2013 for the first time from one party to another as a result of elections. The next (third) consecutive election within the stipulated time frame had held out the hope that Pakistan’s position as a normal democratic country would be further strengthened.
Instead, as the elections approached, the government became the target of sniping and shelling by powers that be. The most popular political leader of the country, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was thrown into jail and his associates persecuted. Elections were held in 2018 in conditions that were far from free and fair.
It was time for a new saviour, Imran Khan, under the banner of fighting corruption and “tabdeeli” (change). He promised to transform a struggling and experimental “Islamic Republic” into a “New Madina”. This is understood to mean a society where social welfare, equality before the law and justice would prevail. All indications are that this is no more than another pie in the sky, yet another experiment bound to fail.
One wishes that Pakistan was just a normal country, with free and fair elections, an independent and competent judiciary and an unfettered press, rather than a laboratory of experiments for charlatans and careerists, commandos and captains.



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