Pakistan is about to face the second ‘withdrawal’ blowback from Afghanistan. The first, after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union, came under General Ziaul Haq, whose policies metamorphosed Pakistan into an adventurist, fundamentalist nation with its face turned to the past. The second is upon us now, as the US Army gets ready to withdraw. Both events will coalesce to cause severe existential disorder in Pakistan.
In General Zia’s war, the blowback for Moscow was in the shape of the break-up of the Soviet Union. The US became the sole superpower after that. The blowback for it was silently taking shape within the Islamic warriors it had mustered in Pakistan. The post-Soviet euphoria was expressed through the term ‘New World Order’. Pakistan, sunk under its own Ziaist legacy, delivered the 2001 punch to the US in the shape of the al Qaeda attack.
Iran defeated the US in Iraq, and its people are paying a price for this victory with their freedoms. Pakistan’s non-state actors (Taliban, etc.) and foreign warriors have defeated the US in Afghanistan under Pakistan’s doctrine of ‘strategic depth’ — and the people of Pakistan should get ready to pay a price for this victory too. General Zia spawned madrassas and tried to create a pattern of governance resembling the khilafat. Pakistan became a Machiavelli’s nightmare — who had warned the Medici of Florence not to employ mercenaries to fight their wars — crawling with “civilian warriors” sharing internal sovereignty with the state.
As it gets ready for the blowback from the American defeat in Afghanistan, ‘victor’ Pakistan’s parliament is presiding over a state without internal control, while protesting external sovereignty against American drones. Almost 60 per cent of its territory is controlled by terrorists and insurgents. The terrorists are led by al Qaeda, whose certified capacity to control the behaviour of Pakistan’s large madrassa network is paralleled by its growing penetration into the army rank and file. Violence and its corollary, intimidation, persuade the population — the rich and the poor alike — to embrace al Qaeda’s ‘nation-building’.
What Iran did not face because of its oil and totalitarianism is economic collapse and loss of internal sovereignty. In Pakistan, the masses can no longer bear the burden of ‘victory’ and are increasingly willing to overthrow the current system of governance — not through another takeover by a general but by anyone who would give them the capacity to survive. No one who would win their support can even think of governing without first swearing hatred of the US and acceptance of the terrorists as “our brothers”.
The winds that blow from the Muslim world are not reassuring after the chastening experience of the Arab Spring. Olivier Roy says that the youth that gathered at the Tahrir Square lacked the will to take over Egypt when it was ripe for the plucking and let it be snapped up by the Islamists. Irfan Husain in his book Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West (Harper Collins India 2012) says that when he googled ‘rightwing militant groups’ on his computer he got 392,000 websites spewing plans to “remake the world in their own vision of utopia, and never mind the collateral damage”.
Implosion caused by an outdated Pakistani mind, or collateral damage caused by the West trying to survive against Islamic aggression, may doom Pakistan in its present shape. It may ape Afghanistan and survive by giving up its internal writ, some of it already given up in preparation. A path-dependent, economically damaged Islamic state threatens its neighbourhood with jihad because its vision for the future is untenable.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2012.