The incongruous partnership

Reviewed By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

PAKISTAN’S political history has been chequered and turbulent. The failure of its civilian leadership to work out a stable and feasible democratic system has cost the country dear. There have been numerous breakdowns in the constitutional structure while the army has been a frequent intruder in politics. This has been a favourite subject for commentators and analysts to study since the factors that have led to this aberration offer a vast field for research. Even though much has been written about this subject in recent decades, the fund of information and material appears to be inexhaustible.

Recently researchers have attempted to prove that there has been a direct link between the army and the religious parties in Pakistan and this has been at the root of the malaise in the country’s politics. Husain Haqqani, a former activist of the student’s wing of the Jamaat-i-Islami, journalist, adviser to Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, is the author of Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military. In this book his thesis is, “The alliance between the mosque and the military has been forged over time, and its character has changed with the twists and turns of Pakistani history.”

Haqqani is not the first one to address this issue. Hassan Abbas, another researcher in an American thinktank, in his book Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism covers the same subject. Both reach a similar conclusion though Haqqani is more convincing because he takes pains to document his sources and gives comprehensive footnotes.

The way for Pakistan to adopt an ideological identity was paved during the freedom struggle and the early years of Pakistan when Islamic rhetoric was lavishly used even by the secularist Mr Jinnah to win Muslim votes for the Muslim League. In the post-1947 years the army which was always in control — until 1958 from behind the scenes — used the Islamic idiom to consolidate its own hold over Pakistan’s politics and also achieve its other aims such as confrontation with India, friendship with the United States and strategic depth via Afghanistan.

Since the army has had the upper hand by virtue of its military power it has sought to impose its institutional supremacy within the country

This equation between the army and the mosque was so firmly entrenched that when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over the reins of government in 1972 this pattern did not change. In fact, Bhutto tried to cater to the whims of both sides and enlisted the help of the military as well as the Islamists to sustain himself in power. He protected their interests — the Hamoodur Rehman Commision’s report was kept classified and it was Bhutto who had the Ahmadiyyas declared non-Muslim. To please this civil-military complex he adopted an avidly anti-India stance and diluted his socialist rhetoric with Islamic ideals.

Under Ziaul Haq’s rule, the partnership between the mosque and the military was further consolidated. While the mosques grew in number, the military was kept busy mobilising support for itself, mainly against India and the USSR in Afghanistan. After 1988, when democracy was supposedly restored, the civilian governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif could not resist the military’s pressures and its hold on policy making in areas of its interest such as Afghanistan, Kashmir and the nuclear programme. That is why the Islamic/military strand in Pakistan’s policy remained unchanged throughout the ‘90s.

Since the army has had the upper hand by virtue of its military power, it has sought to impose its institutional supremacy within the country. It has used force to achieve this end. This has created psychological and political layers of insecurity in the nation. The alliance between the mosque and the military, according to the author, maintains and sometimes exaggerates these fears to its advantage. It has proved difficult for the country’s weak, secular civil society to assert itself.

As a result Pakistan has historically suffered from many faultlines and contradictions that have led to instability, insecurity and the breakdown of law and order. Thus there is a perpetual struggle for power between various sections of society — the military and civilian sectors, ethnic groups, provinces and the various schools of Islamists — and the conflicts never seem to be resolved.

In these conditions when the political process has not had a chance of normal development, the American support for the army has had a negative impact on the country’s domestic and foreign policy. For instance, the fear of India and the exaggerated role of Islam in the country’s politics and economy have emerged as key factors in Pakistan’s national life.

That would explain the rationale of many policies adopted by the governments in power. Pakistan’s support for forces which challenged Indian power — the Sikhs, insurgents in Kashmir and the disgruntled neighbouring states — was designed to undermine New Delhi. The military used the Islamists to further its aims.

On its western flank, the army has found the Islamists most useful to acquire strategic depth which it lacks. The early military leaders were trained in the British strategic doctrines and they had failed to enlist the support of the ethnic/racist nationalism. Hence, they sought to appeal to the religious sentiments of the masses and encouraged the Islamists to pursue a forward policy across the Durand Line. In 1973, the Jamaat-i-Islami joined hands with the ISI to operate in Afghanistan. This was much before Kabul fell to the Communists.

Pakistan’s generals who are now entrenched in power have juggled to keep the religious parties in their folds as well as the Americans on board. This has become increasingly difficult after 9/11. In response to President Bush’s “you are with us or against us” ultimatum, President Musharraf has had to end his support for the Taliban and agree to intelligence sharing with the Americans. As a result, Pakistan has become a victim of the Islamists’ wrath.

Very convincingly argued, the book, however, ends on a flawed assumption. Haqqani writes that the Islamists can be contained through democratic means. “Washington should no longer condone the Pakistani military’s support for Islamic militants, its use of its intelligence apparatus for controlling domestic politics, and its refusal to cede power to a constitutional democratic government,” he writes. His argument is that even in 2002 the religious parties could win no more than 11 per cent votes. Therefore, they can easily be sidelined through the ballot box.

But this line of thinking could well be a fallacy. The wave of religiosity and anti-American sentiments that grips the country today could work in favour of the Islamist parties in an election. This has happened before in Algeria and Palestine where extremist Islamic groups won their way to the top through a popular vote. In Algeria, they were not allowed to enter the government but in Palestine the Hamas wields power today. It might already be too late in Pakistan to exclude the Islamists from the state structure through the electoral process.

This is a lucidly written book which sheds light on the complex military-mosque alliance that has shaped Pakistan’s destiny.

Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military
By Husain Haqqani
Vanguard Books, 45 The Mall, Lahore.
Tel: 042-7243783
ISBN 969-402-498-6
397pp. Price not listed