Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy
A conversation with Pakistan Scholar, Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa
Pakistan for Sale
By WAJAHAT ALI
“They never forget. They’ll come after me. Not now, but later. The military never forgets. Never,” warns Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, a “Pakistan Scholar” at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and author of the incendiary “Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy.“ While eating a South Asian, weekend buffet at Mehran Restaurant in Bay Area, California, where she recently gave several talks on the “most dangerous nation on Earth,” the Pakistani native calmly explains how Pakistan’s military has yet to retaliate against her damning critique of the military industrial complex. Due to global attention and vigilance fixed directly on Musharaff and the military to provide “free and fair elections,” the military, according to Siddiqa, has acted cool and allowed her to promote her latest book that catalogues the pervasive influence and predatory nature of Pakistan’s military, which, she alleges, controls and abuses the country’s military-industrial sectors for personal profit and political leverage.
I sat down with the opinionated scholar over several cups of tea for an exclusive interview to discuss her controversial book, the recent Pakistan elections, the influence of Pakistan’s military, Pakistan’s volatile relation with India, and the role of the United States in supporting Pakistani dictatorships.
ALI: Many, like you, argue the Pakistani Military is overbearing and pervasive in the political and economic sectors. Yet, the recent election results saw majority votes for Bhutto’s PPP [Pakistan People’s Party] and [Former Prime Minister before Musharaff] Nawaz Sharif’s party not the pro-Musharaff parties. So, perhaps the military is not as pervasive as one would assume? Does this mean democracy is back in Pakistan?
SIDDIQA: Firstly, the election result doesn’t mean the military is not pervasive. It means, for certain reasons, the military didn’t put pressure, did not use its intelligence agencies to influence the election results.
Pakistan has had 3 free and fair elections in its history: first was in ’71, the other in ’88, and now in 2008. These were three times the military was under tremendous pressure and sufficiently demoralized. It’s a very social-political institution, the military of Pakistan. It’s not like a bureaucratic organization we have in the United States. It’s very much part of the Pakistani society and politics: it is very sensitive to how people feel. It, on part, depends on how accepted it is in the society. Here in 2008 we have a problem of the military’s image being tarnished due to Musharaff’s activities and how it got involved in the economy and society.
The military has just backed down for a while and let the elections play the way they did: thus, we had relatively free and fair elections. This doesn’t mean there was no rigging of the elections, or rigging didn’t take place.
Does it mean democracy is back? I hope it is. But, it’s too early to draw any conclusions. First, the political government has to strengthen itself. Second, there will be tremendous economic pressures. Thirdly, there will be pressure from outside, like United States: it will be too anxious to see Pakistan tow its policy on the war on terror. Finally, the military will be, meanwhile, waiting in the wings: it needs 2-3 years to repair its damaged image. If the [newly elected] political players don’t improve their behavior, the military is waiting to take over.
ALI: Were the election results an example of Pakistani people embracing the policies of PPP and PML-N, or rather was it mainly an anti-Musharaff vote: in that they would side with anyone but the military and Musharaff?
SIDDIQA: It is an anti-Musharaff vote, but see, PPP and PML-N [the political parties that won the majority of seats] are part of the life there. These are the alternative, patronage networks available to the common man to get some benefits. When you have a government of the military and technocrats that’s what Musharaff is proposed to have done the problem is that in the name of “sham meritocracy” the distribution of resources is very limited.
In a political government, the so-called distribution of resources is slightly wider. So, when you have political governments, people talk about jobs, because the nature of that political animal is as such that it has to prove employment, jobs, create jobs for its constituency. Once you have a military, the government of technocrats, the problem is they can always say, “Well, we cannot create jobs if there are no jobs.” [The common man] can’t even go and vie for a share of the resources. Who do you talk to? The bureaucracy has a bland, emotionless face: they don’t respond. The political parties, however, do.
You have to look at the voting patterns: Punjab [one of the four major provinces of Pakistan] urban voted primarily for PML-N [Nawaz Sharif’s party] and the rural areas voted for PPP [Bhutto’s party], where it’s more popular. So, you can’t just say it’s an anti-Musharaff vote itself.
ALI: You coin an interesting term in your book: MILBUS. You define it as “military capital used for personal benefit of a military fraternity.” Briefly describe MILBUS, how it relates to Pakistan, and why it dominates Pakistan?
SIDDIQA: MILBUS is a term I coined for “military plus business.” For years people have discussed military-economy defense spending in relation to defense budgets the entire debate was focused on that. Yet, what one saw all over the world was a larger military-economy, which was not captured by the academic debate at all. The security sector, after the end of the Cold War, has evolved all over the world, even in the United States. It’s not fair to argue that in the United States the security sector is limited to just the Armed Forces; it includes parts of the private sector as well. In Pakistan, historically, it has been expanding. It’s been happening in a lot of other countries.
So, first, what is this military capital and then what is its impact? I argue that first; it is an illegal and predatory military capital because it enters into areas of activity that technically belong to the world of civilians. Here, military makes a foray into commercial activities because of its influence in parts of the government of where they are. Secondly, if you then have this predatory capital in a country where the military is very politically active, for example in Pakistan the military is considered the largest political party, right? So, if you have that, then what affect does this combination have?
In Pakistan, you can see in 1954 the military first started its foundation and a lot of industries were set up in the name of contributing to national development. There are 3 reasons why militaries engage in business:
1) The national savior paradigm where they protect the state and contribute to national development.
2) The national development paradigm, of course.
3) Finally, the predatory-anarchical paradigm which means that commercial activities are conducted due to the greed of individual officers and generals.
ALI: You mentioned that 7% of Pakistan’s GDP goes to the military?
SIDDIQA: Yes, 7%. That’s how much they control. It includes everything, the defense budget as well. It is the net natural resources, approximately, that Pakistan spends. Now, it’s very difficult to draw the line, which says, “These are the activities which were done for national development, or which were done in the context of the national savior paradigm, and these were predatory.” Because military in Pakistan is definitely above accountability: it is not transparent.
So, when can you tell the officers are now engaging in predation? It’s very tricky. For example, General Ayub Khan [Pakistani military general who seized power through a coup and was President from 1958to 1969] who started setting up these industries, started expanding the network of military welfare later in the 50’s and 60’s, he himself engaged in predation. He and his senior generals got over 250-260 acres of land a single individual got this. He established his sons in business like many generals who set up private businesses. But these businesses weren’t doing well because they were wonderful entrepreneurs; it was because they were depending on their influence and connections to the state machinery to set up their personal business.
ALI: Let’s discuss legal accountability. You mention Halliburton and Dyncorp as examples of private military firms operating in a fog of war, such as the current Iraq War. They emerge as “ambiguous entities” that neither belong to the public nor private sectors, and as such there is no legal accountability for their actions. How is this similar or dissimilar to the Pakistani Military?
SIDDIQA: On a theoretical level, they are all connected. There’s Halliburton, Dyncorp, MPRI, many companies in U.K., France, South Africa, Brazil, Burma, Bangladesh lot of countries have it. The difference between all of these is that their visibility and nature of predation depends on what role the military has vis-a-vis other stake holders. In case of the United States with Halliburton, it’s extremely predatory. Unlike Pakistan, they predate on resources outside the United States.
ALI: Like Iraq?
Like Iraq, like Bosnia, Africa. We talk about Iraq, because we’ve heard about Iraq. No one speaks about the kind of damage they’ve done in Africa, Sierra Leone. Right? Their role has been disastrous. They have an impact on the American economy as well, because millions of dollars, contracts, have gone to these companies without any proper accountability: that’s a common thread. They benefit the military fraternity because a lot of people working in these corporations are retired military people.
In the U.S., there is this case of “double dipping.” A military person takes early retirement from the United States military that has provided him training. Then, he goes and gets employed by a private company, which is then subcontracted by the U.S. government. Then, this chap gets paid more money for doing the same job, which he was doing earlier.
ALI: But with no legal accountability? There will be no court marshal for him, right? Like what we’re seeing with Blackwater now?
SIDDIQA: Right, Right. So, you have that. The other point of departure is – in the case of American companies – the main predator is the corporate sector. The United States Military is a secondary predator: it piggybacks on the private sector.
In Pakistan’s case, the military’s predation inside is much larger. The visibility of its predation is much bigger. The military is the primary predator, and the corporate sector is a secondary predator.
ALI: Ok, now I’m going to talk like a Pakistani middle-aged uncle. And Pakistani uncles are the same everywhere; United States, Pakistan, all over the world doesn’t matter; I’ve met ’em all. They’ll say to you, “Even if what you say is true, at least under military dictatorship there is stability in Pakistan. There is economic growth. So, Musharaff is the lesser of two evils. The system is so out of whack, we might as well choose the lesser of 2 evils that at least helps the economy.” Your response?
SIDDIQA: Where’s the evidence? Right now, whoever comes in the next government is basically screwed from the word “Go.” During Musharaff’s 8 years, they have ended up in a huge budgetary deficit well over a billion dollars. Problem is how do you finance this deficit? We badly need price adjustment. Now, if you do price adjustment in the short run, it will increase costs: fuel costs, electricity costs all by 20-30%. You do this, and all other commodity prices go up; the big fat ones won’t be affected. The poor man is the first one to get affected. The transition cost for the poor man increases.
ALI: What percentage of Pakistan is the poor man? What slice of the pie?
SIDDIQA: 36% are below the poverty line: that’s huge. Now, if they don’t do price adjustment, the government will be forced to borrow from the banks: they have to. If you borrow, you have to return it. That means the Pakistani government is bound to print currency. You print currency, you get inflation, and then the poor man is dead. There is a huge issue here.
The other option of course, which some always recommend, is sell your assets. How far can we go on selling our assets? You have a military regime that has not come to an end because Musharaff continues. The same thing happened under Zia al Haq [Pakistani’s military dictator from ’77 to ’88.] They do borrowing; they are so much dependent on external capital influences. They create this sham semblance of economic growth, but after a while they [the military] are gone, it is the political governments that must start picking up the pieces. No one is saying their performance is excellent comparatively. But, the political governments have always had to pick the burden of what has happened with the military regimes.
Look at the 1960’s: this was the age of development where 22 families made it rich. Now, these Pakistani uncles sitting around everywhere will say, “Well, at least it was economic growth.” Now, I say, “At what cost?” You have half of the country which walked away. The uncles will also it was Zulfikar Bhutto [Benazir’s father who was Prime Minister in the 70’s] who did it. But, the guy in charge was also in the military not just a nobody. What the Ayub/Yahya [The Khans who were, respectively, Presidents of Pakistan from ’58 to ’71] duo passed on to us was a legacy of a broken up Pakistan [Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan, separated and became an independent republic] and a huge cost of war [the 1971 India-Pakistan War] and an economically impoverished country. That’s what we got in 1971. Then, you have 7 years of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto: a policy of nationalization. In hindsight, we all get critical of Bhutto, but today we look in Venezuela and we see Chavez doing nationalization as well. Remember 1970’s? Nationalization, breaking the cycle, the curse of the corporate sector, the entrepreneurs who were far and few: it was important. You had to nationalize. In hindsight everything looks much clearer, but not at that time.
In 1980’s, you had economic boom, but you also had drug economy. You also had weapons, a culture of weapons of civilian destruction: the small arms and light weapons. Pakistan got flushed with weapons: Klashnikovs, AK-47’s which would sell for $100,000 Rupees in 1979. Now, that price is something like $12,000 Rupees which is something like what? Less than $200? You can get it delivered at home. So, that’s the legacy of General Zia al Haq [Pakistan’s military dictator in the ’80’s who helped supply arms and munitions to mujaheddin forces in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet Unions.]
The problem of the Pakistani uncles is they need to put things into perspective. Yeah, right now, you see privatization, you see a lot of corporate culture, but it is so very limited. You have a lot of money, because post 9-11, post the earthquake, a lot of money has come in. The question is: “Is that money reaching where it ought to? The poor people?” We still have those disparities which will create greater tensions between the haves and the have-nots.
ALI: That post 9-11 money, approximately $10 billion, came from U.S. So, here’s a question: How has the United States colluded in the growth of Pakistan’s military industrial complex? Specifically, how do we explain the duality of a relationship in which U.S. has given the most amount of money to Pakistan under military dictatorships, yet barely anything when there were seeds of a democratic movement?
SIDDIQA: Well, the United States says they want democracy; they want responsibility in governments. The problem is that once you have political governments, the political governments have their own issues as well. They have their own constituents to deal with. Once you deal with constituents, not everybody will agree with how policies are made or implemented. For example, in the months to come, the War on Terror for the United States will be trickier for them than it was under Musharaff. On the one hand, this is a better action because you will have political actors on board able to negotiate with their constituents about this war. But not everything the Pentagon would want to see implemented will be implemented.
Secondly, another problem that is possibly going to come in is that the military will shut its door. Their policies will not be in the purview of the Prime Minister. If we are going to have that duality, it will create problems. What happens is that the United States gets too nervous, too worked up over the domestic tensions in Pakistan. And, then, the minute the military actually steps in and gets rids of the political governments, United States is happy to go back and talk to the military. It has happened twice before [U.S supporting dictators like General Zia al Haq and General Musharaff.] Unfortunately, this is a strategy India has been adapting as well.
ALI: How so exactly?
SIDDIQA: Well, you talk to people in the security sector in India, and they’ll be like, “Well, Musharaff and military bring stability to Pakistan.” I get very worked up. Because, here is India claiming to be the largest democracy, and here there are some Indians claiming that instead of a democratic, political setup, it is the military and Musharaff which are the answer for Pakistan’s stability.
ALI: A lot of people, including Indians, Indian Expatriates, Pakistanis, and many Americans, say the following: Why has India progressed and Pakistan floundered? Same time partition, and the same time declaration of independence. Look at India right now: it has a flourishing democracy, it has infrastructure, a sophisticated groundwork to stop brain drain and support the IT sector, a technological sector, and so forth. Now, look at Pakistan: a near failed state. So, why has India progressed, while at the same time Pakistan has not?
SIDDIQA: Firstly, we failed to market ourselves. I am proud to say our media, at least some segments of it, are much braver and much more courageous than India media can even dream to be.
ALI: What’s a concrete example of that claim?
SIDDIQA: Not just one, there are several. Indian media, and of course Indian politics, is different. Ask the biggest giant media in India to go write detailed commentaries on Indian politicians and Indian political parties; they will steer clear of that. Day and night in Pakistan, we criticize the government, the politicians, we criticize different people left, right, and center, and we survive. We have problems as well, it’s not that we don’t have problems in the media, but we do it. I’m not arguing that Indian performance has not been better; of course, it has.
Primarily, India received a much more capitalist structure. Ours was a pre-capitalist structure, which was a mix of postcolonial capitalism and feudalism with the dominance of feudalism. The areas that became Pakistan were much more socio-politically underdeveloped than the rest of India: the dynamics were different. And who says India isn’t authoritarian? It is authoritarian: civil authoritarian. But again, India has the basic minimum which is necessary for a democracy: electoral democracy.
You know, countries go through different experiences. In a family, you have siblings that take different routes; their lives are born of the same womb, yet they go in different directions. Yes, India has been lucky. But, more than lucky, it is, primarily, because they managed to get rid of feudalism. And, they had capitalist structures that made them get rid of feudalism much quicker and much earlier than Pakistan ever did.
ALI: A common remark by many is that Pakistan should not have sought partition from India in the first place. They did partition to seek freedom for Muslims, and yet when they got it, we see Muslims killing Muslims. Is Islam the problem? Was partition necessary?
SIDDIQA: Well, people are dying in India as well. When I look at partition of 1947 [Declaration of Pakistan and India’s respective independence], well, we can look in hindsight now and argue maybe the partition shouldn’t have happened. And, who knows, maybe it shouldn’t have happened? Now, in 2008, let’s not get bothered by 1947. The fact is in the Indian subcontinent the 1947 partition happened because the Muslim elite’s understanding was that they had to create another exclusive category based on religion. Because in a larger India, they would not have any influence on favorable distribution of resources.
Then in 1971, there was Bangladesh. Many would argue that this unraveled this “exclusive category.” I say they are wrong. Bangladesh did not unravel religion as a basis of exclusivity. Bengalis did not go and merge into India: they made Bangladesh. It was an option to merge, but they didn’t. They held onto their Muslim identity. On top of that, they created another exclusive category based on ethnicity and culture. So, those who argue that the whole basis of Pakistan as a country which would provide better opportunities with Muslims was unraveled by the creation of Bangladesh, my argument is no it didn’t. It created another additional category.
Wherever you have a problem of resource distribution, people tend to create those categories. Let’s go back to pre-1947, even if we were a united India, you’d still have people fighting each other, because there were economic disparities all over, all over India. There are regional disparities in India. For those who want to run away or hide away from how huge the income disparity is in India I want to draw their attention. There is one India in the form of high tech educational institutions, the doctors, the IT experts all over the world. Then, there is another India as well, where a major part of the population doesn’t even have access to electricity. There are educational disparities. Only 5% of the people get admission in higher institutions. Less than 5% are from small towns. That says something.
Ultimately, wherever you have a tussle for resource distribution you would have a conflict. We made Pakistan, but we still have Muslims fighting Muslims. In India, which claims to be secular, you still have Muslims fighting Hindus. Nothing has changed. Even if we put them all together, nothing would change.
Despite that I would argue things would get better if regions of South Asia connected together. We have to re-imagine South Asia differently. Things need to change.
ALI: There is always a concern about “elitism” that permeates the South Asian society. This manifests itself in the military, as you’ve mentioned, classism, education, and even color of skin. Why is elitism so deeply entrenched in Pakistani culture, and how do we remove it in the 21st century?
SIDDIQA: The first move is education. The day in South Asia we manage to free education from the hold of elitists and elitism, we will start to make progress. There’s a great work by a prominent Pakistani linguist Dr. Tariq Rahman and he argues quite well that English is meant for the select few for the elite. It is deliberate that the teaching of this foreign language is taught to the elite, because you don’t want to make it the language of the general public. Same goes for India and parts of South Asia. That’s one major issue. If you begin to empower people with tools of social mobility, elitism will begin to break down. That is a starting point.
ALI: One aspect that is not touched upon frequently is not only the rise of extremism of Pakistan, but the rise of religious extremism in India as well. We see in Gujrat, the popularity of Narendra Modi [pro-Hindu, nationalist Chief Minister of the state of Gujrat] and the appeal of his very anti-Muslim rhetoric to the middle class and rural class. We also see Pakistani, pro-Kashmir, anti-Indian groups and their extremist actions and rhetoric. A question asked by many Americans: why do Pakistanis and Indians hate each other so much? What’s the cause of this hatred, and can we move beyond this and create a bridge between both neighbors?
SIDDIQA: First, I will completely disagree. We don’t hate each other. Let me tell you this interesting story. In 2002, that was the first time ever in my life I went to India: the middle of a stand-off between both countries.
Now, I’m not a hawk by any standards, or I don’t feel like one at least. But, you suddenly realize how 30 35 years of propaganda can get to you. The day before I left to India, I asked a family member, “Hmmn, so what do you think people in New Delhi look like?” And my family member laughed and said, “I didn’t expect you to ask a question like this. Of course they look like us!”
Those were also the days when there was no direct flight from Pakistan to India, so I went through Dubai. I’m waiting in the terminal of Dubai Airport waiting for my Delhi flight, and I walked towards a woman with a bindi on her forehead and looked very Hindu-Indian to me. I very consciously went up to her and asked her, “So, how long is the flight to Delhi?” She turns around and says, “Haven’t you been home?” I said, “I’m not Indian. I’m actually traveling from somewhere else.” And I was constantly gazing at her. And then she asked, “Where are you from?” And I answered, “Pakistan,” measuring her response and expecting her to jump in the air and shout, “Devil! Devil!”
Nothing of the sort happened. She casually said if you’re in Delhi go see that area, go see this area, don’t go here alone, be careful at night, and all of that. And, I spent 6 uneventful days in Delhi despite this tension. I saw one line scribbled a wall chalking against Pakistan much later when I went.
Look, we have co-existed together with very silly and negative perceptions for 60 years, right? Things need to change. We can’t continue living like this for another 60 years. This is not the answer for a Pakistani or an Indian.
In 2004, I was in Karachi, Pakistan. A few months earlier Vajpayee [Former Prime Minister of India] had come to Islamabad and things started to look better. I talked to my Pathan Pakistani cab driver from the frontier province region. I asked him about the visit and he said, “Well, mehim sahiba, let’s have peace.” And I was surprised and asked him, “What will we do with Kashmir? Don’t you want it?” And with exhaustion in his voice, he said, “You know? Leave it. You know we can’t have it. You know it doesn’t matter. Let’s have peace so there is more money that our government can spend on our health and education.”
The common man wants that. Yeah, of course, we’ll have ego issues. Once you have open interactions with Pakistanis and Indians, of course there will be misunderstandings. Pakistanis, of course, will get very upset sometimes with this aggressive attitude. The average Indian of the middle class in India, when they look at India, or perceive India today, it’s like a young woman discovering her sexuality, and getting very excited about it. They’re so excited they don’t care how people perceive them.
The Pakistani wants to discover its sexuality yet it’s so scared. So, you have those differences which sometimes create misunderstandings, yet that is a bridge we all have to cross.
Yes, there is Modi in India. Yes, we have our extremists as well. But, let me tell you, extremists are very few and far between; they do not represent the perception of the common man in Pakistan. That crazy element of the society would be present in any society. The only thing that will put an end to this extremism is better relation with India in the South Asian region. A better structure of the region in the long run where people can relate to each other, where people believe in each other’s well being because they benefit from it, rather than thinking of war and conflict.
For example, if you have investment in Pakistan, Indian business investing in Pakistan, right? What would happen? At some point, they will stop thinking of war and conflict. In fact, war and conflict will make them nervous. So, why can’t we do that?
ALI: Rage boy is the image of the enraged, angry, frothing Pakistani on the cover of magazines. Is extremism the modern image of Pakistan? Is this limited only to the northern frontier regions, and why is extremism so difficult to root out from these places?
SIDDIQA: First, extremism is not the face of Pakistan. If you look at the results of 2008, people voted against religious parties, didn’t they? Common, ordinary people voted against them; the same people who Musharaff claims are extremists. See, my problem with this whole debate with extremism is that it is a creation of the Musharaff regime itself. It has systematically sold this idea, which has comfortably been bought by the Republican administration, that the country of Pakistan is filled with extremist, religious whackos, and the only sensible guy is Musharaff and his cronies.
What no one talks about is that these whackos have been created by the military themselves, and some of them are still being kept. For example, Jaysh-e-Muhammad and Lakshar-e-Tayyaba [Pro- Pakistan Kashmir extremist groups], there is no evidence that action is being taken against them, because the military considers these militants as assets. Not just in Kashmir. See, as long as Pakistani establishment’s perception of India remains as it has –
ALI: Which is?
SIDDIQA: Which is that “India is an enemy, it is about to eat us up. We have to challenge it. Like a good, Muslim state we have to stand up to the Hindus and show the non-Muslims we are strong here.”
As long as we live with this mentality we will not have peace. I say this out of my concern for Pakistan. Even before the Taliban, we engaged with non-state actors and militants. Who fought the war in ’47-48 war? We got those tribal warriors from Waziristan [Northern, tribal region of Pakistan] primarily to fight. In 1965, again, we used jihadis. It just so happens militancy and jihad, and what it can do to a society and state, didn’t feature anywhere in the radar screen of international communities until 9-11 happened. This was all happening much earlier
A reason it’s been there is because we’ve wanted to use it as a defensive, or as a defensive capacity against India. Now, the fear is that what happens if NATO forces withdraw? What will happen to Afghanistan? We don’t want India to have influence, so Pakistan must have partnership, etc. So, some extremist assets are destroyed and some are kept. This policy is dangerous. We need to come to terms with our relationship with our larger neighbor. We need to walk away from that fear, so we can develop ourselves.
ALI: How can we repair our relationship with the United States? I’m assuming the United States now is so discredited in the eyes of Pakistanis.
SIDDIQA: It can be repaired. It all depends on what the United States does in the future. They are so careful when it comes to supporting people’s initiatives. In this point of time, it has become so institutional. Gone are the days the U.S. military would talk to people and individuals. Now it only talks to institutions. It’s a very schizophrenic relationship we have with the United States. The joke in Pakistan goes you can run Pakistan with the “3 A’s:” The Army, America, and Allah. (Laughs.) That still goes and it’s a popular perception. So, in the long term, it’s not just the responsibility of America, it’s also a responsibility of the Pakistani intelligentsia to tell the ordinary Pakistanis that, no, it’s not just America. It might be the Army and Allah, but not America. It’s time for Pakistan to take responsibility for what we do ourselves to ourselves.
ALI: Will a Western model of a secular democracy ever be implemented and accepted by the Pakistani populace? Can this “American” model succeed there?
SIDDIQA: Well, the United States doesn’t want democracy. They don’t want democracy in Iraq, they don’t want democracy in Afghanistan, they don’t want democracy in Pakistan. They want people to tow the line. Democracy is not even an issue as far as America as concerned.
Secularism? You’ve had non-religious, political parties, who are averse to implementing Sharia. We also want parties that will call the bluff of the religious parties. This election might take us in that direction. There is an amount of conservatism that has come in, which has entered our discourse. However, that element is in no way different in how it has happened in the United States. George Bush is far more conservative than many conservatives in Pakistan.
ALI: The poet laureate of Pakistan, Allamah Muhammad Iqbal created a motto for Pakistan: Unity, Faith, and Discipline. Up to now, how has Pakistan lived up to this motto and how do you see it implemented in the future?
SIDDIQA: So far none of these three have worked; neither faith, nor unity, nor discipline. The reason being the state has been captured by this elite and these centripetal forces which are unwilling to give any fiscal or political autonomy to the rest of Pakistan.
Pakistan belongs to the Pakistanis. That’s how it should be. Pakistan includes all four provinces. The problem is when you have a polity in which a homogenous military dominates; it begins to see things from its perspective. They are still afraid of nationalism.
Why is there still a problem with nationalism? Why can’t Pakistanis first be regional, such as Balochi, or Punjabi, or Sindhi, Pathans first? Once, they are consolidated comfortably in their [regional, provincial] identity, then connect with their second identity which is Pakistani. What’s the harm with that? Why must we say, “We are Pakistani first.” It will come. Why to develop and encourage such a tension between those 2 identities? It shouldn’t happen. Let there be provincial autonomy as was put down in the ’73 Constitution, but we still don’t have it.
We also don’t still have equal distributions of resources. So, we can have a brilliant kid from Balochistan region, but since he has not received a proper education and school system, his quality is poor. Same goes for some kid from the frontier or from Sindh. We need to reassess our priorities. We are fixated with is central intuitions: military. We say, “If something happens to the military, if we don’t concentrate on it, then Pakistan will disappear.” Pakistan will not disappear! This is a Western fallacy. It’s a fallacy of those who don’t know Pakistan. Pakistan will not disappear if we have a much smaller defense budget or a much smaller military. We need to cut down our non-development expenditure, and start building our regions and give them fiscal and political autonomy. Let the people own Pakistan, which they do! Let them decide.
For God’s sake, the military is not the only institution worth investing in. There are others as well, and that’s where the primary focus should be.
ALI: What do Pakistanis want? Tell me about the 40% of the pie: the poor guy below the poverty line. What does the ordinary Pakistani want?
SIDDIQA; He wants education, health for him and his child. You open up a school and you will have a queue line up for that. It’s not just in Punjab, it’s also in the Northern regions and tribal areas. I’ve seen mothers beg and say, “Please don’t even give my child a single day holiday. We want our children to be educated.” They want social mobility. They want access to food. They want security of life. All those ordinary things which any ordinary citizen anywhere in the world would want. Nothing else.
Wajahat Ali is Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and recent J.D. whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” is the first major play about Muslim Pakistani Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at https://goatmilk.wordpress.com/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org