Across The Partisan Divide, Cronies Of The State Are In Strategic Oblivion

Across The Partisan Divide, Cronies Of The State Are In Strategic Oblivion
Governing Pakistan was never easy. Now it is just bordering on impossibility. Its domestic political structures—that includes the normative constitutional setup and de facto power centres and political cultures – and its international character—that includes its foreign policy, strategic concepts and military culture—all were shaped during the formative period of its existence during the Cold War. We not only militarised the state during those days, we militarised the response of those communities and segments of society which we continued to oppress under the Cold War logic or under the logic of a strong central government. The groups which we now describe as centrifugal forces were militarised while we were happily serving our foreign masters in their endeavours to counter international communism. Our policies gave birth to another illegitimate child of the Cold War in our society and that progeny was also heavily militarised—the religious militant groups, which were raised in support of Afghan “Mujahideen” as a parallel Jihadi network in Pakistani society by the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq with financial and technical assistance from Washington’s intelligence community and defense establishment.

Ironically, our policy makers, who were suffering from some kind of myopia – for that is something that we can certainly claim this with the benefit of hindsight – were living in some kind of a bubble. They simply ignored the fact that the kind of military adventurism they were engaging in required financial and other resources that could become the envy of even vast global empires. But they had access to the right kind of levers then— the American empire with its vast military and financial resources was backing them and the sheikhs of the Gulf Emirates were matching every dollar spent by the Americans with a dollar of their own. Americans were providing state-of-the-art weapons systems—the toys for the boys of Pakistani military. One staffer of an Arab Intelligence outfit, in an interview with some media outlets, recently stated that they used to give dollars in huge sacks to Pakistanis during the Afghan war. Obviously, policymakers with this kind of supply of cash didn’t have to worry about the economy.

What was the level of manufacturing capacity of the society and what would be the manufacturing capacity – let’s say – 20 years from then? What kind of human capital were our educational institutions producing and what would be our human capital in the future? Our ruling classes and elites were made accustomed to imported luxury items and this has a trickle-down effect. Now our middle classes are also addicted to foreign luxury items. Life without an imported air conditioning systems and an imported luxury vehicle is impossible – and this is not only for the elite: it is impossible for a middle-income family in our society. The objective of enhancing the manufacturing capacity of our society or to increase the capacity of our educational institutions to add human capital to our economy can go straight to hell, as far as our policymakers were concerned.

All this came to us as a package deal: The military dictators and later obviously the civilian rulers as well— as they failed to break free from this security and adventurist paradigm of the state—needed the support of dominant classes and groups for their adventurous security policies, which they were pursuing in partnership with Washington and western world. So they appeased them with comfort and luxury. These policies on the one hand gave birth to a monsters in the shape of religious militancy and on the other hand consolidated the hold of parasitical groups and classes, which were addicted to luxury and their rent-seeking and crony capitalists and crony feudal status within the economy—a great and real obstacle in the way of economic expansion and growth.

The state machinery in this situation became a crushing machine to defeat the political aspirations of the Pakistani masses, communities and nationalities. Nationalities are demanding linguistic, political and cultural rights: crush them. Democratic forces are demanding representative institutions: crush them. Women are demanding equal rights and opportunities: crush them. Media and journalists are demanding the constitutional right of freedom of expression: crush them and beat them up and put them behind bars. Some of these situations are now out of hand. The Baloch middle-class is completely alienated from the state. Unrest is brewing in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, although there is calm on the surface. PPP might be your best bet in Sindh. But don’t ignore the simmering rage of Sindhi youth.

Punjab is completely in the grip of middle-class parties like PML-N and PTI. Each of these two parties have demonstrated the tendency at different points of time to be both antagonists towards the state machinery and to act as its front organisations. The social composition of both the parties is similar: star leadership, middle class forming its second tier, crony capitalists financing their political activities and feudals entering their ranks in droves once the Army generals start emitting signals as to which would be the winning side this time around, close to parliamentary elections.

Our current state of affairs is a recipe for disaster. The social base of our political system is very narrow. Both PML-N and PTI galvanise the middle classes in Central Punjab and urban areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The rest of the country only partially participates in electoral processes. Take the example of Balochistan, where voter turnout has remained minimal during the past several parliamentary elections. We have just come out of a civil-war-like situation which accompanied the ‘War on Terror.’ But we are not completely out of that situation. After the August 2021 Taliban takeover of Kabul, we are again face-to-face with two low-key insurgencies: one in the north-west and the other in the south-west. The economy shows no signs of taking off and our foreign masters seem to not to be in the mood of financing another of our counter-insurgency operations.

Our existing political leaders coming out of PML-N and PTI, the state cronies (yes, I label them with this name), don’t seem to offer any solution or any vision for the enormity of our problems.

Be it the urban developmental goals of the PML-N or the anti-corruption (and now independent foreign policy) slogans of the PTI, they define our problems far too narrow-mindedly. Both of them are suffering from strategic oblivion. Or at least, this is how informed observers in Islamabad describe their policies and attitudes.

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad.