Friday, December 28, 2007

The Benazir tragedy: is Pakistan a failed State?

Benazir Bhutto, 52, a former Prime Minister of Pakistan was shockingly assassinated yesterday at the same venue where that country’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was shot dead in 1951. During the 56-year span between the two tragic incidents, what has happened to Pakistan? Has it stood still or gone backwards?

India too had its share of assassinations and terrorists attacks. But so far the country has managed to absorb shocks and tragedies and carry on. In spite of the looming threats and vicissitudes, India has stuck with democracy. The divisive forces that are becoming increasingly active have not yet succeeded in severely disrupting that yet.

What went wrong with Pakistan? It followed the wrong path of India-centric hate, allowed the army to hold sway, and nurtured the ground for dictators who claimed to know what is good for their country better than anyone else. Well, that is the hallmark of a dictator. History is full of them. Some change from uniform to civilian suits or vice versa, but that is usually just cosmetic.

Pakistan too has elections. But how much conviction do they, like the present one, carry? The duly appointed Chief Justice is under house arrest, judges are changed at will, the Constitution is amended by executive orders, opposition candidates who could be inconvenient are disqualified, and so on.

Are only the Pakistanis to be blamed for this sad state of affairs? What about that country’s staunchest supporter, the United States? Since the Second World War that country seems to have been backing the wrong horses.

The Americans pour money and material on Pakistan to fight terrorism, which is undoubtedly the biggest threat to the world today. But does Pakistan have the right credentials to be a bulwark against the menace? Perhaps the Americans are convinced that their ally is fighting terrorism on its Western border. At the same time Pakistan seems to unleash terror across its Eastern border. Hate India appears to be the only policy that country follows consistently.

Will Benazir’s martyrdom open the eyes of the lotus eaters?


Also see: Obituary: Common Sense


Anonymous said...

I've had the chance to observe people from South Asia closely during my NRI days and I can state without a doubt that the character of a people is closely dependant of the quality of life thay have at home, the prospects of a better life etc., in their countries of origin.I assure you that Pakistan surely, is a failed state and so are Bangladesh & Nepal.

Maddy said...

now they say she banged her head on the sun roof...well, it is going to be difficult to bring back peace out there, that much is clear..

happy new year to you

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Anonymous said...

There is a posting on the same topic in a sister blog. Pakistan took birth in the midst of the worst communical riots and blood-letting the continent had ever seen. Pakistan has demonstrated that while religion can be a reason for the birth of a nation, it cannot be the only reason. There have to be other ingredients which act as raison d'etre for a nation's emergence. Israel is a shining example of this where democracy and pluralistic opinions sustain the existence of this country through myriad trials and tribulations.

Pakistan has failed because, religion was the main reason for its emergence as a nation. Its successive leaders most of them in military uniform substituted the democratic deficit with visceral hatred towards India. One can ponder whether Islam as a religion can encourage pluralism of thoughts which are sine qua non
attributes of a democracy. Taking the examples of the shaky 'democracies' of Malaysia and Indonesia, one wonders.

Unfortunately there will be more tragedies before that country will recognise that it is heading towards an abyss. A failed state and a dump of nuclear arsenal are an explosive mixture ( please pardon the pun).

Unknown said...

Thank you Guru for the detailed comment.

Unknown said...

An email comment received from Europe is reproduced here:

Congratulations on your quick, and well-written Blog posting on the Failed state of Pakistan. In addition to the relevant factors you have mentioned, I feel that Pakistan had the misfortune of losing it's founding fathers in the early years of it's independence, while India was fortunate to have them to guide the country through the dangerous young phase.

Anonymous said...

We are looking at a snap shot of Pakistan in the current time line. I agree that there is some substance in the argument that Pakistan lost its founding father/s in its formative years as a nation. That was past, but democracy of some sort was not allowed to take root in that country, because it found itself as a pawn between the then two superpowers, Russia and America. The latter exploited the strategic position of Pakistan when John Foster Dulles (then American Secretary of State) coerced Pakistan to become a member of SEATO and CENTO, the quasi-military organisations which he created primarily to help to confront the ‘big bear. Before that Nehru spurned similar offer from Dulles fearing that the interests of India will be subjugated by such alliances, and he was right. America, the great democracy for obvious reasons is always comfortable in dealing with dictators and one party states as it knows that it can strike a deal with a strong man, be it Mubarak, Musharraf or the Saudi King. Yet when it suits it can argue just opposite about Saddam and Putin The fiasco that followed the U-2 spy plane incident during Eisenhower’s presidency and the aftermath of arming the Afghan tribes that included the predecessors of the Taliban movement during Regan’s presidency to fight the Russian invaders, saw thousands of gun-toting and stinger-missile brandishing Afghans establishing their bases in parts of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan which for all practical purposes has become a bandit country.

The consequences for a nation with tenuous history of democracy are serious. The brand of Islam that Jinna the founder of the nation preferred soon became impregnated with ‘talibanism’, and the already shaky foundation of the nation started swaying with the brutal machinations of the Afghan ‘guests’.. Karzai, the ‘president of Afghanistan’ whose writ does not run beyond Kabul said recently that Pakistan and Afghanistan are like twins and he went on further to say that they are joined as a common body!. That explains the pathetic state this nation with rich resources finds itself in today.

I think that India could have helped its neighbour a bit more, the Kashmir problem and previous wars nothwithstanding. I am referring to the nuclear India with all the dangling problems that goes with it. If BJP government egged on by none other than Kalam, the then defence adviser, now the ex-president who Indians seem to glorify as a visionary ( that tells the state of India today!) had treaded cautiously before exploding the nuclear device, we might possibly have seen Pakistan today without the nuclear dimension. I know many argue that nuclear Pakistan was inevitable but I doubt whether Pakistan with its dictator connected with the American leash would have dared to conduct the explosion first. India handed out a very good reason for nuclear Pakistan and may well regret it when its radioactive toys fall into the hands of extremists who might well run them on the streets of Mumbai (The Bollywood industry there is notorious with its NW region connection).

A failed state in its final stages of disintegration may very well take a big victim with it. It is a shuddering thought.

I always wonder about the ‘voodoo politics’ played by American presidents. The great democracy with its achievements all round is incapable of producing a president
these days who can exercise common sense. After 9/11 when the crying need of the hour was to destroy Talibans with undivided attention, Bush Jnr opens up a second front in Iraq using all kinds of reasons including WMDs and dictatorship. Americans whom I admire and respect do not learn from history. Though democracy is the preferred option of all bad options ( as Churchill said), dictatorships in some countries do work in the sense of holding the country together. Yugoslavia under Tito is an excellent example. I do not venture to open up a second front myself saying that
BushJr simply wanted to fight his daddy’s war a decade later in his foray into Iraq. That can wait another day. I am talking about keeping Musharraf in position for a few years until some sense of stability is achieved. Today I hear Ms Price the American Secretary of State advocating the elections and road to democracy as if her country always encouraged democracy! If a weak leader emerges as a result of a cobbled up election ( Imran thinks that he would do as a PM as if ruling a country is like completing 50 over innings in a cricket ground!) and a civil unrest ensues after a time, the military have to step in any way. Why not keep the devil you know . I know his is weak argument but I have not read and heard any better solution to this failing unfortunate state.

Pradeep Nair said...

It's very tempting to think Pakistan is a failed state. But 9/11 has been a turning point. Musharraf changed. Pakistan is changing. Benazir very faintly exhibited symptoms of that change. It's too ambitious to expect to change in any way dramatically.

Anonymous said...


Interesting article by Christina Lamb: My life woth Benazir in the Sunday Times, London. The link:

Unknown said...

Guru, Pradeep, Like most people in India, I am also worried about further dvelopments in Pakistan and their impact on India.

What I just can't understand is why they concocted that story about the sunroof of the car being the villan.

Unknown said...

Guru thanks for the link to the Christina Lamb article

Anonymous said...
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