Pakistan’s tragic flaw -by Khaled Ahmed

One book that many people in Pakistan must be reading is Anatol Lieven’s Pakistan a Hard Country (Allen Lane 1011). Lieven is a sympathetic observer of Pakistan, visits it repeatedly and painstakingly interviews all stakeholders of the state. He doesn’t believe that Pakistan is a failed or failing state. Therefore, when he points to our flaws we should listen to him.

A British scholar with old family ties to the benign side of the British Raj, he comes with great credentials. He calls the Pakistan Army paranoid but notes that all armies are trained to be paranoid (but not to be in control), his book America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism (2004), proving the point. If anyone thought he was going after the US too much, he should read his Chechnya Tombstone of Russian Power (1998) for even-handedness. And he has advice to give to the superpower in Ethical Realism: A Vision for America’s Role in the World (2006).

Lieven is upset about the Pakistan Army. He writes: “The Pakistani military is in some ways an admirable institution, but it suffers from one tragic feature which has been with it from the beginning, which has defined its whole character and world view, which has done terrible damage to Pakistan and which could in some circumstances destroy Pakistan and its armed forces altogether. This is the military’s obsession with India in general, and Kashmir in particular. (Yet) Pakistani politicians share responsibility for encouraging ordinary Pakistanis to see jihad in Kashmir as legitimate” (p.185).

About ‘strategic depth’ he notes: “(Territorial narrowness and proximity of Lahore to India) led in the past to a frequent obsession with strategic depth in the Pakistani military, which has had particularly damaging effects on Pakistani policy towards Afghanistan — seen as a potential source of that increased depth” (p.177).

Lieven is sceptical of Pakistan’s liberals. He responds to liberal complaints about the media being too religion-oriented by saying: “a very considerable portion of the educated middle class is conservative and even Islamist by sympathy…. The media are therefore a microcosm of the Pakistani middle classes” (p.231). He continues to take liberal objections with a pinch of salt, as for instance, the revelation by someone in Multan that in the elite school Bloomfield Hall 75 per cent of the pupils sympathised with the Taliban (p.299).

Lieven trusts Mullah Zaeef’s word — that the Taliban were always sceptical of Pakistan’s patronage — more than Matt Waldman’s LSE report. He, however, accepts that the ISI encouraged and helped the Haqqani group to carry out the destructive attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008. He thinks that the Pakistan Army’s support to the Taliban is not based on Islam, but that “lower-level operatives engaged since the 1980s in helping the Afghan Islamist groups on the ground undoubtedly developed their own strong local allegiances” (p.407).

The army’s security fears are “kept alive by the support of the Kabul government and India — albeit very limited — for Baloch rebels in Pakistan; and by the Karzai administration’s refusal to recognise the ‘Durand Line’ between Afghanistan and Pakistan (p.408). Pakistan would prefer that Afghanistan be run by Pashtuns rather than by non-Pashtuns who are more hostile towards Pakistan” (p.412).

About a feared pro-Taliban tendency within the ISI, Lieven says: “Some of them must have such sympathies, given the public attitudes of retired senior officers such as former ISI chief Hamid Gul, and a number of retired lower-ranking officers with whom I have spoken” (p.413).

Lieven should be glad to know that ex-army chief Musharraf has accepted that those who hid Osama in Abbottabad could be from among the lower-ranks of the ISI.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2011.