B. Raman

Date: 10/18/2000



Since the 1950s, the fate of Pakistan has been determined largely by an undeclared alliance between two coercive forces--the religious Ulema and the military.

The provision in the Objectives Resolution adopted by its founding fathers that the State would be governed in accordance with the precepts of Islam gave the Ulema, despite their lacking popular support, the right to determine whether laws and governmental decisions/actions were in accordance with these precepts and to apply the coercive power of religious medievalism against those who had, in the eyes of the Ulema, deviated from these precepts.

The Pakistani Constitution, inter alia, defines high treason as the subversion or abrogation of the Constitution through the use of force. A compliant judiciary has repeatedly exempted the military from this definition, by upholding its seizure of power and suspension or abrogation of the Constitution under the doctrines of "civil necessity" and "unavoidable act of military revolution" to save the State from collapse.

This judicially-sanctioned extra-constitutional coercive power has been repeatedly used by the military against duly-elected political leaderships in violation of another Constitutional provision, which subordinates the military to the elected political leadership.

The Pakistani society, its political leadership and large sections of its elite cannot escape their share of the blame for the steady growth of this coercive axis. While ready to express themselves against the coercive power of the Ulema whenever they had an opportunity of doing so anonymously as during the elections, they refrained from doing so publicly lest they be dubbed anti-Islam.

While criticising the repeated military intervention in politics, they did not hesitate to seek its complicity in their campaigns against their political opponents as sections of the political leadership did in seeking the intervention of the military against the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto in 1977, against Ms.Benazir Bhutto in 1990 and against Mr.Nawaz Sharif in 1993 and 1999.

For Mrs.Benazir Bhutto, the army was a saviour when it arrested and prosecuted Mr.Sharif in October 1999, but became a curse and anti-democratic only when it refused to drop the corruption proceedings against her.

Till 1970, these two coercive powers acted in parallel and not in concert. The first signs of a concert became evident in the then East Pakistan in 1971 when the military and the Jamaat-e-Islami acted in tandem in suppressing the Bengalis, despite their being as pious Muslims as the people of the then West Pakistan.

Zia-ul-Haq institutionalised this coercive axis. He used the Ulema and the religious parties, in support of the US objectives, in Afghanistan and prepared the ground for using them later against India in Kashmir and elsewhere. He promoted a new brand of Ulema, the jehadi kind. Till his advent to power in 1977, the Ulema still had a large number of genuinely pious, well-read and highly respected religious scholars.

It was Zia who had them marginalised and replaced by the Jehadi variety consisting of people like Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the present Amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami, and Maulana Fazlur Rahman, of the Jamaat-ul-Ulema Pakistan. The Ulema promoted by Zia were known more for their knowledge of the Kalasnikov and the RDX explosives than for their religious piety and Islamic scholarship.

Zia did more damage to the Pakistani society and economy than any other Pakistani ruler. Weaponisation, heroinisation, sectarian brutalisation and medievalisation were his legacy to the people of Pakistan.

The Pakistani people are haunted today and will continue to be haunted for years to come by the devastating impact of his action in practically handing over the country's education system to this jehadi brand of Ulema. He inducted them in large numbers into the Education Department, let them exercise their coercive power in deciding the syllabus and abdicated the responsibility of the State to provide modern education to the children, particularly in the rural areas, who cannot afford to go to private schools.

Pakistan is one of the very few countries in the world where Government expenditure on education has been steadily declining. If this has not resulted in a deepening unalphabetisation of the society, it is largely due to the network of madrasas set up by the Ulema, with Saudi and heroin money,in the rural areas.

The rural youth of Pakistan, who have grown up during the last 20 years, do not know the world outside the world of the Ulema and are strangers to the new frontiers of knowledge. Their knowledge is confined to the Holy Koran as interpreted by these bigoted Ulema and to the glories of so-called martyrdom in the cause of Islam.

The Ulema painstakingly excluded from the curriculum humanities, Western history and thought, logic, science or any other subject which might have made the youth develop the capability for independent thinking and start questioning their medieval mindset and teachings.

In no other Islamic country of the world---not even in Iran-- has the Ulema acquired such a stranglehold over the education system as in Pakistan. It produced willing cannon fodder for the "jehad" in Afghanistan, Jammu & Kashmir in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, southern Philippines, the Xinjiang province of China, the Central Asian Republics, and the Chechnya and Dagestan areas of Russia and little else.

Pakistan inherited from the British a three-commodity (textiles, sports and leather goods) and one-port (Karachi--excluding East Pakistan) economy. More than 50 years after independence, it has become just a four-commodity economy, with heroin being the only, but the most lucrative addition.

How can there be a diversification of the economy without skilled manpower due to the shambles in the education system? Which foreign investor will be interested in a country, which produces more Kalashnikov-wielding bigots than computer-savvy professionals and more heroin power than brain power and in which one is tranported in the time machine from the modern to the medieval or even pre-medieval?

The greatest threat to Pakistan's future as an independent nation-State is not from India as its people are repeatedly told by the Ulema and the military, but from this coercive axis of the two. Its nuclear weapons may be a deterrent against India as perceived by them, but it will not be a deterrent against this creeping medievalisation of the society by the Ulema with the complicity of the military.

Zia made this coercive twosome into a triumvirate, with the cooption of the narcotics barons. It is now the coercive power of the Ulema and the military, supported by the money power of the narcotics barons, which stands in the way of Pakistan taking its place in the comity of modern, democratic nations.

Even, in the pre-1977 period, when the Ulema's malign influence was not as strong as it is today, the military did not produce many enlightened, far-seeing officers. It is even less likely to do so today due to the creeping mullaisation of not only the lower and middle, but also the senior ranks.

For the first time in its history, the Pakistani Army has three veritable Mullahs in uniform as Lt.Generals-- Lt.Gen.Mohammad Yousaf Khan, the Chief of the General Staff, Lt.Gen. Muzaffar Usmani, CO, 5 Corps, Karachi, and Lt.Gen. Mohammad Aziz Khan, CO, 4 Corps, Lahore. All of them, along with Gen.Pervez Musharraf, the self-styled Chief Executive, won their professional spurs under Zia.

They are the progenies and the beneficiaries of this coercive triumvirate. Will it be reasonable to expect them to act against it?

The USA's Pakistan experts can be very simplistic in their analyses and assessments. Many of them shared, with the thousands of Pakistanis who hailed Gen. Musharraf as the saviour last year, fond hopes that this Scotch-gulping, dog-loving and Bangkok-massage-parlour-frequenting blue-eyed boy of Gen.Anthony Zinni, former CO of the US Central Command, might pull Pakistan out of the medieval vortex in which it has been caught.

Instead of doing so, he has added to the coercive power of the Ulema by conceding its demands one after the other and by proclaiming his public support of their jehadi madness. Even Zia did not make so many concessions to the religious extremist groups in his first year in office as Gen.Musharraf has done. The Ulema, consequently, feel stronger today than ever in the past.

What is the state of Pakistan today, one year after this self-proclaimed saviour assumed office on October 12,1999?

The highly-respected "Friday Times" of Pakistan wrote as follows: "The Army is in power, full stop. The Ulema are also partly in power because of their armed militias and their contribution to the Army's crucial agenda of keeping the Kashmir issue alive. They exercise considerable coercive and ideological control over civil society. Their leverage on the Government is far more palpable than that of the politicians. It is no surprise, therefore, that they have asserted their agenda very aggressively. They have an economic programme that scares even the Army with its radicalism. They want a change in foreign policy that even the hawkish establishment in Islamabad cannot implement. And all of them have announced their decision not to contest elections, but to gain power on the basis of militant Islamic ideology. The politicians, in the meanwhile, are nowhere on the scene…. While both are allies in jehad, they differ in their approach to the political system. The Army wants to re-establish guided electoral democracy in the country, while the Ulema want a more utopian order in which a Western-type representative system is simply not permitted. Add to this the confusion generated by Constitutional provisions that favour the Ulema, but not the politicians, like the Council of Islamic Ideology and the Federal Shariat Court, and you have a situation that is primed to tilt in favour of anarchy."

Who can save Pakistan from its 'saviours' and how? That is the question every right-thinking and forward-looking Pakistani must be asking himself or herself as they watch on their TV screen moving scenes of how the people of Yugoslavia rose like one man against another self-proclaimed saviour---Slobodan Milosevic. (10-8-00)


(The writer is Additional Secretary (Retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.