Missing The State

Indian Express , August 1, 2007

Once again, extremist Islamist radicals in Pakistan have exposed the inadequacies of the state. Notwithstanding the state’s show of strength just a few days ago at Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, the radicals had the upper hand when the mosque reopened.

Supporters of the detained cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz took over the mosque again and rioted violently. The policemen deputed to tear gas the mob were attacked by a suicide bomber right in the heart of Pakistan’s capital, resulting in many casualties. The radical extremists showed such strength in Islamabad so soon after the much publicised and high casualty military operation of a few days ago. One can only imagine their capability in the mountainous parts of Balochistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

If events in Islamabad were not enough to highlight the dire straits Pakistan finds itself, the latest US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) pointed out the failure of Pakistan’s strategy in the war against terror. It noted that Al-Qaeda has reorganised itself from safe havens in Pakistan. The NIE could well be wrong, as US intelligence sometimes is, but its release has created the spectre of direct military strikes against alleged Al-Qaeda safe havens on Pakistani soil.

The challenge of terrorists within the country and the threat of a superpower ally using military force on Pakistani soil because it distrusts Pakistan’s own capabilities should have served as a wake-up call for the leadership. Instead, Musharraf is still dragging his feet over sharing power and allowing civilians with a popular base to help him, and Pakistan, out of its tough spot.

Several politicians and political commentators, too, are proving their inability to overcome their prejudice — for example, the dislike some have for the Bhutto family — in favour of a constitutional-institutional arrangement that allows elected civilians to run the country again without confrontation with the country’s army. The army leadership’s vision remains limited to balance of power concepts.

Pakistan test-fired the enhanced version of the nuclear-capable, low-flying Babur cruise missile, also known as the Hatf 7 last week — the second such test this year. The Babur, we were told by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), “has near-stealth capabilities, is a low-flying, terrain-hugging missile with high maneouvrability, pin-point accuracy and radar avoidance features.” The missile can hit targets at 700 km. “The latest test would consolidate Pakistan’s strategic capability and strengthen national security,” the ISPR said, without informing Pakistanis of its utility in dealing with rioting madrassa students, suicide bombers and restless citizens.

Pakistan may have the ability to project its power externally, but it lacks the strength of an effective state at home. And Pakistan’s elite appears oblivious to the country’s slow hemorrhaging.

Government economists cite increasing mobile phone use and sales of motorcycles and cars as signs of progress and speak of the privatisation programme being a regional success. Pakistan’s elite now drives around in Porsches, more of which have sold in the city of Lahore alone than the car’s manufacturer had envisaged for the entire country.

Pakistan reveals multiple realities. But, in essence, Pakistan has a high level of dysfunction and unpredictability. A former Pakistani Finance Minister and World Bank economist recently told a roundtable on Pakistan in Washington DC that in most countries 6-8 per cent economic growth should translate into reduction in poverty by 10 per cent. He said that trickle down does not seem to be working in Pakistan.

He estimated that 65 million Pakistanis live in absolute poverty while another 65 million live in poverty. The well-to-do often ignore the rage and anger brewing among the poor, who will be particularly vulnerable to extremist ideologies if political inclusion does not replace the current system of oligarchic rule.