The world's next failed state?
By Sreeram Chaulia
A Review of "Pakistan: In the
Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan, by Mary Anne Weaver
Since September 11, 2001, no country has
captured the attention of US policymakers and news analyzers as much as
Pakistan. A plethora of current-affairs pundits in the United States,
whose visions rarely crossed the Middle East, rediscovered forgotten
Pakistan as it turned overnight from a "peripheral" state, in Richard
Haas' foreign-policy priority classification, into a "vital" state for
the conduct of the war on terrorism. Unlike these opportunist "experts",
Mary Anne Weaver has written on Pakistan and its surrounding region for
more than 20 years. She is rightfully a South Asia specialist, immensely
experienced, possessing access to the most important movers and shakers
of the region.
In the mold of CNN's Anita Pratap, she has covered Pakistani and Afghan
politics for The New Yorker with a blend of professionalism, courage and
compassion, qualities on display in this new book that asks troubling
questions about Pakistan's stability as a state and reliability as a
bulwark against militant Islam.
Profusion of drugs, arms, private militias, fundamentalist ideologies
and sectarian violence has led to an "accumulation of disorder in
Pakistan such that it could well be the next Yugoslavia" (p 7).
Whichever place in Pakistan Weaver visited in 2001, "there was a
tangible fear that Pakistan was drifting, perhaps inexorably, toward
chaos ... one of the most frightening places on Earth". Weaver's gut
feeling expressed in the preface is that Pakistan's structural
weaknesses are so advanced that it "could well become the world's newest
failed state - a failed state with nuclear weapons" (p 10). The next
major day of terror in the United States could also come from this
combustible and volatile country, whose military rulers halfheartedly
agreed to assist Washington against the Taliban when cornered with
implied threats of diplomatic and aid embargo.
Weaver's first chapter sketches President General Pervez Musharraf, the
man who sits uneasily astride a "country that is angry and out of
control". His dispute with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif centered on
Pakistan's Kargil intrusion of 1999 into Jammu and Kashmir, which led to
a quasi-war with India. Army chief Musharraf considered the misadventure
a "major tactical coup" and was sore that Sharif ordered a withdrawal
under US pressure. Musharraf's hawkish anti-India tendencies were also
revealed when his airplane was disallowed from landing in Karachi on
Sharif's order (October 1999), and the pilot informed him that the
Indian city of Ahmadabad was open for an emergency stop. The
ex-commando's reply was brusque: "We're not going to India! Over my dead
body will we land there!" (p 15) According to one old Musharraf
colleague, "when India and Kashmir come up, he's transformed into a
hardline table-thumper". Working his way up the army ladder, Musharraf
spent his "entire adult life battling India" (p 28).
On the domestic front, his "western cowboy" image notwithstanding,
Musharraf has been unable or unwilling to rein in the state-nurtured
Islamist terrorist networks fanning jihads around the world. Weaver
thinks it is the result of his power base, an army that is increasingly
anti-American and fundamentalist. In his three-year reign, Musharraf has
acquiesced recurrently to the pressures of the religious right. The
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan labels him a "silent spectator in
the rise of the orthodox clergy and militant Islam" (p 36). Before
September 11, under Musharraf, Pakistan's backing of the Taliban had
risen to client-state proportions. In a face-to-face interview,
Musharraf parried Weaver's questions about the rise of fundamentalist
forces, saying "all this talk about madrassas teaching militancy
is just hearsay". Musharraf's responses on squeezing Islamist extremism
in Pakistan were "unforthcoming, even misleading at times" (p 39).
Chapter 2 recalls the fatal swing Pakistan took toward Kalashnikov and
jihad culture under Musharraf's mentor, General Zia-ul-Haq. Pakistan's
role as a frontline state in the first Afghan jihad, starting in 1980,
resulted in a profligate slippage and diversion of arms, opium and oil
from the US Central Intelligence Agency's pipeline by the Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI). Fifty percent of US arms (including 500 Stinger
missiles) never reached the battlefields of Afghanistan. The US
"intentionally or not, launched Pan-Islam's first holy war in eight
centuries" by massively aiding the ISI and its favorite Islamists. The
lethal formula of parlaying popular unrest into holy wars, tested in
Afghanistan, went on to be applied by the ISI in the Kashmir proxy war
Zia's militarization and his focus on jihad deepened anti-Punjabi
fissures in Pakistani society. Weaver recounts a 1983 meeting with the
leader of Sindhi separatism, G M Syed, in house prison. Question: "Why
are the Sindhis so angry?" Answer: "Because we are dominated by Zia's
Punjabis." One encounter with the powerful Khan of Kalat in Balochistan
reinforced this deep sense of insecurity felt among minorities in
Pakistan. "Pakistani Army raided this very house. They took away my
father. There were many more army operations - and then you ask us why
we are anti-Pakistan" (p 100).
Chapter 3 sojourns into the tribal areas of Balochistan, a fiercely
independent and Islamist province of Pakistan. Of the 5,000 or more
Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters who had slipped into Pakistan by March
2002, the majority sneaked in from Balochistan, adding to the
"returnees" from the anti-Soviet jihad. The mass influx of Osama bin
Laden supporters transformed Balochistan and its adjoining North West
Frontier Province "the world's next Afghanistan" (p 87). In Quetta's
Smugglers Bazaar, Weaver found dealers selling anti-tank rockets,
launchers, AK-47s, light cannon, landmines and grenades. "A bullet costs
only one rupee; an egg costs two" (p 118).
Anti-Pakistan secession movements are benefiting from the open
availability of deadly arms. The leader of the rebellious Marri tribe,
Humayun Khan, told Weaver, "We're being exploited and neglected. We're
bitter, we're angry, we're armed" (p 106). Baloch music in the remote
town of Turbat carried chants of "May Allah curse the Pakistani
government and martial law". So suspicious are Baloch youth and nomads
of Pakistani rulers that road-building personnel of the central
government are pelted with rocks as an alleged part of a plot by
Musharraf and the United States to take over the Makran coast.
Chapter 4 is an account of the Wahhabi Saudi Arabian sway over Pakistan,
cultivated by both military and civilian governments in Islamabad.
Through the medium of the houbara bustard bird, which is hunted
rapaciously by Saudi elites in Pakistan, Weaver goes to the heart of
Pakistan's Arabic orientation.
Billionaires from Riyadh, Doha, Manamah, Dubai, etc entered Pakistan
from the 1970s to shoot the endangered houbara to near-extinction. Agha
Abedi, the Pakistani founder of Bank of Credit and Commerce
International (BCCI), arranged hunting outings for the sheikhs in return
for walloping bank deposits. When the BCCI collapsed a few years ago,
the question cropped up: "How did Pakistan become so enmeshed with the
interests of one bank?" (p 134) Arab dignitaries who pumped wealth into
the bank and greased the palms of Pakistani generals were given
diplomatic immunity even when less powerful Pakistanis got arrested and
prosecuted for houbara poaching. Conservationists view the
non-application of environmental regulations on Arab guests as a case of
sheer hypocrisy on the part of the government.
But there are profounder reasons for the exalted treatment of Arabs in
Pakistan. As they have been doing in the rest of the Muslim world,
Saudis are the primary financiers of Pakistan's Sunni supremacists and
Islamist terrorists. Besides funding the thousands of mujahideen and
madrassas, they bankrolled the government of Pakistan with about
US$3.5 billion in annual military and economic aid in Zia's time.
Pakistan's emergence as the leading figure in the world of militant
Islam owes a great deal to the oil wallahs from the Persian Gulf.
Chapter 5 takes a close personal look at Benazir Bhutto, the former
prime minister, who now lives in exile in London. Weaver sees Benazir,
the avowed secularist, as the incubator of the Taliban during her tenure
in power. Musharraf, as Benazir's director general of military
operations, had helped her spawn the Taliban in the mid-'90s. Her
inability to improve Pakistan's appalling human-rights record on women
and her reliance on religious motifs to survive in a highly conservative
Islamic polity doomed her prime ministership. She had to cede control of
Pakistan's nuclear program, its high-risk policy in Afghanistan and the
anti-Indian war in Kashmir to the generals. Her influence on the ISI was
minimal, as the latter intervened in fundamentalist movements across the
Weaver remembers Benazir's election rallies in Rawalpindi where her
supporters fired AK-47s with gay abandon and sang, "Listen, all you holy
warriors." Benazir's failure in politics is summed up in one sentence:
"Pakistan is not an easy country for anyone, let alone a woman, to rule"
(p 179). Her promise of "breaking the stranglehold of the Islamic
clerics" never materialized.
Chapter 6 discusses the growing Talibanization of Pakistan, a process
Weaver denotes as Afghanistan moving farther east into South Asia.
Musharraf's public rhetoric on dealing firmly with homegrown Islamist
terrorists has not been accompanied by concrete actions, leading many in
Washington to doubt how dependable and ally Pakistan can be.
Weaver reports seeing shops in Miram Shah, a tiny town of the Waziristan
area, where for only $100, Taliban and al-Qaeda escapees were shaved,
issued new sets of clothes and sent into major Pakistani cities with
false identity papers. A few miles from there, in Parachinar, "the
mullahs announced to everyone assembled that they should kill Americans
on sight" (p 221).
Weaver personally received e-mails from publicly banned Pakistani
terrorist claques "informing us that they were going underground to
regroup and that we would be receiving their new e-mail addresses and
websites" (p 222). Osama bin Laden underwent dialysis treatment in a
military hospital in Rawalpindi and, according to Afghan intelligence,
was under the protection of Maulana Fazlur Rehman of Pakistan's
Jamiat-ul-Ulema-I-Islam in December 2001. Most frightening, a Pakistani
official told Weaver that the maverick nuclear scientist Bashiruddin
Mahmood, who is a proponent of Islamic science, "failed six or seven
lie-detector tests" when interrogated on his meetings with al-Qaeda top
brass. Peace envoy Anthony Zinni reckons, "in a few years, Pakistan's
nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of religious extremists" (p
Musharraf himself has a queasy past regarding bin Laden. In 1999, before
his coup, Nawaz Sharif was asked by Washington to set up a special
commando unit to capture or eliminate the man responsible for the
Kenya-Tanzania bombings. The project was "scuttled by the ISI" upon
Musharraf's nod. Even earlier, in 1998, Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia
sought Islamabad's intervention with the Taliban to extradite bin Laden.
Musharraf "opposed the Saudi move" (p 247).
Weaver's final chapter delves into Kashmir. The same policies of holy
war against India that Zia, Benazir and Sharif followed are today being
applied with renewed vigor by Musharraf. The seemingly unlimited funds
that Pakistan allocates to the jihad in Kashmir come not only from its
own coffers but also Libya, Saudi Arabia, Europe and North America. By
2000, Pakistan's military spending alone was greater than all of its
development spending combined. Much of this goes into helping mujahideen
infiltrate across the Line of Control. Weaver witnessed Pakistani
soldiers giving these irregular troops "rations, weapons and ammunition,
and even air cover, if need arose" (p 258).
US intelligence estimates that 300 or more al-Qaeda Arabs are active in
Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control, besides participating in
Sunni-Shi'a battles and attacks on Westerners inside Pakistan. Against
the overwhelming evidence, Musharraf remonstrated to Weaver in an
interview: "All this talk of private armies is total nonsense. These men
are freedom fighters, not terrorists!" One prominent Pakistani liberal
put Musharraf's stand on militant Islam thus: "He's got this agenda in
Kashmir. And he is using the Islamists' fervor for the battle of
Kashmir" (p 271). In the process of exporting battles all over the
region, Pakistan itself has been converted into a battleground. The
jihad has come home.
Weaver's book suffers from a few factual and descriptive inaccuracies.
Musharraf is wrongly absolved of any role in Zia's Afghan jihad and
Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is oddly termed a "strident
Hindu nationalist", a representation neither his foes nor his friends
would agree with. The narrative of the book is also disconnected, with
plenty of non sequiturs between chapters.
To Weaver's credit, she has packaged plenty of anecdotal evidence that
many are not familiar with, especially not in the West. Readers are left
pondering whether Pakistan will indeed fall deeper and deeper into the
quagmire of lawlessness and state failure and whether more Ramzi Yousefs
and Aimal Kansis (both came from Balochistan) are going to hit the
United States hard in vulnerable spots.
[Pakistan: In the Shadow of
Jihad and Afghanistan, by Mary Anne Weaver, Farrar, Straus and
Giroux, November 2002, New York. ISBN: 0-374-22894-9. Price: US$24. 285
works for the International Rescue Committee, New York.]