by Eric Margolis © 1997 Eric Margolis
NEW YORK - The 50th anniversary last week of India's creation overshadowed the birthday, on 14 August, 1947, of Asia's other great nation, Pakistan.
Just as India was initially defined by the noble dreams of its founding fathers, Gandhi and Nehru, so, too was Pakistan. Its creator, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, saw Pakistan as a refuge for India's persecuted Muslims and a beacon of democracy, justice and economic development for the backward, post-colonial Islamic World.
Fifty years later, Jinnah's dreams, like those of Gandhi and Nehru, have turned to ashes. Today, Pakistan's 130 million people, though better off than India's, still suffer from crushing poverty and illiteracy. While India can boast a functioning, if deeply flawed democracy, Pakistan has been politically crippled since birth.
Behind the facade of democratic institutions, the real power in Pakistan was held by feudal land barons, who bought and sold politicians and parties like sacks of rice. When tribal warfare, disguised as democratic politics, brought the nation to the verge of collapse, the powerful army would step in. The armed forces proved to be the nation's only successful national institution.
The generals struck three times during the reign of the Bhutto dynasty, once directly, and twice by a presidential coup.. The Bhuttos, father Zulfikar and daughter Benazir, though one of the nation's biggest feudal landowners, rose to power and undying popularity by demagoguery and cynical populism that appealed to illiterates. The Bhuttos, and their outrageously corrupt relatives, ran Pakistan's economy into the ground.
Over the past half century, Pakistan's only successful governments have been the regimes of two tough, brilliant generals, Ayoub Khan and Zia ul-Haq. They alone brought some measure of stability to this shaky, fractious nation.
India accomplished the remarkable feat of creating a national ethos out of a bewildering collection of peoples, races, faiths and religions. By contrast, Pakistan is still only a partly-formed nation in which loyalties go to family, clan, tribe and region rather than to the nation. Massive, endemic corruption is the fuel on which Pakistan, like India, runs.
Pakistan remains five separate states: Punjab, Baluchistan, Sindh, the tribal Northwest Frontier, and part of Kashmir. Islam was supposed to have been the glue that bound together Pakistan's disparate peoples, with their different languages and customs. It has not worked.
Pakistan is racked by internal tensions and violence. For a decade, the southern state of Sindh and capitol, Karachi, have been torn apart by near civil war, encouraged by Indian agents, between locals and Muslim immigrants from India. In Punjab, fanatical Shia groups, backed by Iran, battle Sunni Muslim extremists. Up on the wild, semi-independent Northwest Frontier, heavily armed Pathan tribesmen dominate the growing heroin trade from war-torn Afghanistan.
Ironically, the constant threat from hostile India has done more to keep Pakistan united than the force of Islam. Indian chauvinists have never accepted the partition of British India. The BJP, India's powerful Hindu fascist party, relentlessly demands "re-absorption of Pakistan and Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) into Great India."
India and Pakistan have fought three wars, with divided Kashmir the flashpoint. Constant threats by eight-times larger India to crush or dismember Pakistan produce deep national anxiety and have compelled Islamabad to maintain armed forces of 500,000 which it cannot afford. Defense spending has crippled Pakistan and India. As India's former prime minister, V.P. Singh told me, if the two nations could end their bitter, ruinous confrontation and slash defense spending, they would have annual economic growth rates over 10%.
But the madness continues. India has a massive nuclear weapons program, with new, nuclear-tipped missiles targeted on Pakistan. Acquisition of nuclear arms by India forced Pakistan into the nuclear race. Today, Pakistan has 6-8 nuclear weapons and is developing missiles.
The outside world does not realize the grave dangers of this nuclear confrontation. I have been under Indian fire three times along the tense "cease-fire" line in Kashmir and atop the disputed Siachen Glacier. In spite of recent efforts by Delhi and Islamabad to defuse confrontation, war could erupt any time, threatening a nuclear holocaust on the subcontinent.
Before he was assassinated, President Zia told me one evening at his home in Rawalpindi that he was not sure Pakistan would survive into the next century. If India did not crush his nation, the Russians eventually would try. Highly strategic Pakistan is Russia's gateway to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean - the goal of Czars and commissars alike for the past 500 years.
Tragically, Pakistan has not become a beacon to the Islamic World, but a source of endless sorrow and chagrin. Its highly talented, energetic people cannot seem to organize their nation and make it prosper. Never mind India, Pakistanis have yet to learn to respect or live harmoniously with one another.
The new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a former businessman, is struggling mightily to address Pakistan's myriad problems. But when I interviewed Nawaz in 1994, even this natural optimist seemed gripped by a sense of gloom over Pakistan's sea of troubles. Few Pakistanis believe he is capable of resolving the nation's woes.
Far from a state guided by Islam's tenets of brotherhood, equality, stern morality, and social welfare, Pakistan has become a splintered nation of venal self-interests. No wonder so many Pakistanis look to their future with the deepest unease, or even despair.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and
broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
[John Gunther Dean, then US ambassador to India, said he suspected
Israel's secret service Mossad of downing Gen Zia's aircraft in an
effort to stop Pakistan developing the nuclear bomb.--Declan Walsh, Ex-US
diplomat blames Israel for Pakistani dictator's death,"
Guardian, December 5, 2005]
[But KGB was then a world leader in producing undetectable lethal gases.
Just such a gas, concealed in a crate of mangos, is believed to have
rendered the C-130's flight crew unconscious.--Eric Margolis, TIME
FOR TRUTH ABOUT THE MURDER OF PAKISTAN'S LEADER, ZIA UL-HAQ,"
ericmargolis.com, December 12, 2005]
India over lunch," BBC, August 10, 2007
[Since it cast off colonial rule in August 1947, India has become one of
the most powerful nations on earth. But what has it sacrificed along the
way?--Andrew Buncombe, India
at 60: special report," Independent, August 10, 2007]
[Over the course of his career, Ambassador Dean found himself embroiled
in controversy in hot spots in Asia and the Middle East. Serving several
stints in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, he worked on development projects
in all three countries and with the U.S. military in Central Vietnam in
the early 1970s. He brokered the deal that ended the war in Laos and
faced down an attempted coup d'etat in 1973 against the neutralist
regime of Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma. As ambassador in Cambodia, he
was the last man out on April 12, 1975, as the last helicopter left
Phnom Penh and Khmer Rouge forces approached the city. He was notably
willing to work with anyone and everyone-communists and capitalists,
diplomats and spies, urbanites and peasants, entrenched leaders and
emerging reformers, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and
Buddhists.--John Gunther Dean, DANGER
ZONES: A Diplomat's Fight for America's Interests," VELLUM, May 1, 2009]