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Switched roles: Pakistan and Afghanistan at the cross roads of history

LogoAfghanistan, being one of the very few geographic entities in the world where colonialists couldn’t plant the Western European state system, also missed out on graduating to be a viable state during the pre cold war era when a number of others did. The unfortunate repercussions of King Aman Ullah Khan’s reforms after his brief stint into the post World War I Europe can be cited as a classical example of failure in statecraft vis a vis Afghanistan. In recent history, another such effort was undertaken by the socialist alumni of Afghanistan in 1979. The murder of the Monarch cum Prime Minister, Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan, seems to have foreshadowed a pattern of events that would then lead to an almost complete collapse of the Afghan state. The communist regime’s revolutionary fervor, for reformation of the rudimentary state structure, started to lose steam in the face of rural Afghan communities’ acute incapacity for change, and as the regime only half heatedly braced to overcome the centuries old intellectual and social stupor of a  secluded populace through the use of sheer military force,  the world’s anti communist extreme right, guided by insights into fundamentalist Islam, found a breed of homo sapiens that could be used as canon fodder against Soviet Union for decades, at the cost of only keeping the pseudo religious clergy fed well enough . Thus was laid the infamous ‘Bear Trap’ by the so called proponents of the free world. Their gigantic anti Soviet efforts forced Afghan regime and its supporters far beyond the Oxus, to keep on expanding their stakes in the civil war, which in turn was joined by Islamic fundamentalist elements from around the world. The resultant tensions led to a devastation of unparalleled magnitude in terms of human tragedy en masse that continues to this day and in lieu of which not only the communist regimes but also (extremely unfortunately) the very state of Afghanistan almost got compromised. The role of Pakistani military and clergy; and of Arab neo islamists supported by petrodollars, was pivotal in the struggle for success of the then called Jihad against the Soviet Union. The holy alliance of mullah, military, mujahideen and money prevailed against the monster of Stalinism at the cost of not only the total physical destruction of valuable lives and infrastructure but also bestowed a permanent religious, moral, and intellectual turpitude upon the Pashtun people which is manifest in their current cultural, social and political frigidity.

Over the years Pakistan too has undergone severe debilitation of the state, especially during post cold war era. This severe retardation of the state is the direct consequence of military disruption of constitutional democracy in the country. The military dictators’ all out prioritization of the suzerain interest serving policies over national policy making drastically severed the social cohesion required amongst the state and its component stakeholders. Consequently, few institutions have emerged as viable remnants of the state. Pitifully enough, three decades of Pakistani deep state policy maneuvering till late 2000s, brought the country only to where Afghanistan stood at the cross roads of history in early 80s under the pro Soviet regimes: A state bent upon imposing its writ over an acutely incapacitated civil society! By some arcane coincidence the two states seem to have switched roles. Today’s Afghanistan, though hampered by internal deviants, is looking forward for a proactive role in its surroundings and around the world; much like Pakistan was in the early 80’s -only if the dictator had not taken it off course. And today’s Pakistan is wasting valuable resources on imposing the writ of the state on a severely incapacitated people.

Ironically enough in both cases the states insisted on ‘Restoring the Writ of the State’, and not on ‘Ensuring the Rule of Law’.

As if that still is a very long shot?

Like Afghanistan of early 80s, Pakistan at this point in time seems all poised to reassert state authority over its subjects. However not much seems to have been learnt from the Afghan experience and the only lever that has been used effectively, so far, is disproportionate and lethal military force, against extremely volatile communities in the heartland of the Pashtun people. That very policy had been followed by the communist regimes of Afghanistan, from1980s to early 90s, while dealing with the resistance of Pashtun tribes on their side of the border. We in Pakistan should learn from that episode and must avoid riding the high horse of military conquest against our own people and our own territories. We must also understand that military control in the peripheries of the state must be checked by the rule of law through state apparatus as is being done in Karachi. Where, notwithstanding tremendous pressures from the military controllers of the operation, the civilian set up of Sindh province is getting itself heard. This will limit the fallout of the operation to its mandated objectives. On the other hand, the case for rehabilitation of FATA after the military operation is going berserk by the day. Tribesmen have started proclaiming their rights and obligations in large demonstrations, however little is being done by the federal government. At the very least permanent watch and report facilities need to be provided to media groups as people take the hard road back to homes. Resort to disproportionate and violent military force, as complained by FATA civilians, is natural when there is none watching, as is the case in FATA specially and KPK generally at this point in time. Denial of access to media in FATA and to social information in vacated territories has consistently been downplayed by the political government under different pretexts. However, it’s never too late for doing the right thing and in order to exert civilian control of the state. The parliament should take a bold stance on the issue and end the concept of media no go areas once and for all. Otherwise, consequential fallout of various sorts is ominous and will only affect the bodypolitik of the state as did Kargil; because major power holders in Pakistan have time and again proved to be immune to dialectics of statecraft and rule of law. There will be nothing new about the next episode as well!


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