Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pakistan a 'failed state' ?

For me, the big item in today's news about the turmoil in Pakistan was the resignation of Sherry Rehman, the information and broadcasting minister in the government.

Given the sketchy reporting that, alas, has been all too common in the Indian print media, I had some difficulty making out what precisely had prompted the resignation. One paper said it was in protest against the ban on Geo TV. That is absurd because the channel continues to broadcast. Another paper said it was in protest against restrictions placed by President Zardari on the channel's coverage of anti-government protests. That sounds more plausible. Remember, Geo TV is the channel that lost a courageous correspondent to terrorists in the Swat region.

Rehman's resignation is an act of great courage and conviction. It is not that she herself is responsible for any lapse. She has resigned in the cause of freedom of the media. When was the last time any minister in India resigned on an issue of principle?

To me, Rehman's resignation shows how passionate the elite in Pakistan's civil society is about democracy. In the recent past, several sections of civil society have displayed such passion- the media of course, but also lawyers, the judiciary and various political parties. As I have noted earlier in my blog, Pakistan's media remains remarkably vibrant and varied in its expression of views. I used to marvel at the courage that columnist-turned- politician Ayaz Amir displayed in his writings in the Dawn in the regime of General Musharraf. To his credit, Musharraf gave plenty of latitude to the media although he brought about his downfall by showing an inability to tolerate similar independence in the judiciary.

I am also impressed by the vibrant literature that Pakistan has produced recently in the English language - Mohammed Hanif, Kamila Shamsie and Daniyal Moenuddin are some of the names that figure prominently.

All of which makes me wonder how much substance there is to the talk of Pakistan being a 'failed state'? Can a country with such a committed civil society be possibly regarded as a failed state? The international community would like to think so because Pakistan is a breeding ground for terrorists. Many in India would like to subscribe to this thesis because they find in it a refutation of the 'two nation' theory.

I am not persuaded. We do not regard India as a failed state on account of insurgencies in Kashmir and the North-East and the Naxalite problem in about a quarter of all districts. The key difference between the two countries is that India has managed to keep the army in its place whereas in Pakistan, the army calls the shots whether it is running the country or not. Another difference is that the Indian judiciary has come in the way of any attempts at amending the Constitution that change the character of the Constitution.

The judiciary in Pakistan is capable of asserting itself, as events in Musharraf's time showed. So the fundamental challenge in Pakistan is rolling back the pervasive hold of the army. Given the support of the international community, Pakistan's elite may be capable yet of putting democracy on a solid foundation.


Arby K said...

I was reading up on Pakistan history the last week and it was interesting to see what went wrong in Pakistan in its first ten years and what went right for India. India had a stable leadership, while Pakistan didn't. They needed to run a country while it ran the chance of breaking apart among Bengal, Pashtun, Baloch and the rest. Military rule has seen some stable times, though at a cost. It may have been a lot better for them had things been different the first ten years.

Ashish Gupta said...

One more thing that happened in Pakistan in recent times which never happened in its history is bringing the rulers on their knees simply on the basis of democratic protests and current Long March and earlier one against to a large extent i agree with you sir...but i still believe there is a great danger in long term from increasing radicalisation of the society

K.R.Srivarahan said...

The question is not whether Pakistan is a failed state or not. The question is rather whether it is a failed state or a failing state. The country is getting increasingly Talibanised day by day. Religion which was supposed to unite a nation is now tearing it asunder. A few articulate western educated leaders cannot save the country.

blackadder said...

Some of the reasons why it is being viewed as a failed state:

1. Economy in tatters, surviving on IMF handouts, inflation running at 26%

2. Ability of armed militants to fire a rocket launcher at a touring cricket team in broad daylight and then escape scotfree without so much as a broken nail

3. A humiliating peace bought about by signing away significant tracts of land to regressive militias

4. Assassination of a former PM as she traveled in her motorcade

Summing up all of these, Pakistan is facing significant problems on the socio, economic and military fronts. If that is not sufficient grounds to raise concerns of a failing state, I don't know what is. Pakistan today is what Beirut was in the 80s, a nation torn between multiple political factions, some of them armed and the gradual collapse of central authority. People who think this can be ascribed to standard frictions in a democracy are seriously deluding themselves.

Paresh said...

Active participation of civil society, courageous media etc. do not signal anything significant. It's as useless as the outbursts by the page 3 people after Mumbai attacks. If terrorists can strike at will and can roam around scot free in that land, there is very little doubt that it's a failed nation!

Parameshwar said...

TT Ram Mohan incorrectly compares India's problems with Pak's Chronic malaise. He should remember that Kashmir insurgency is a malignant cancer grown out of divisive politics espoused by sub-continent' muslims. Why were the Pandits driven out? Does Ram know how it is to be to be driven out of one's home and both the Centre and State Govt watching helplessly. We should have adopted the same policy that Pak has adopted in POK. Settle outsiders in Kashmir. Separate Jammu and Ladakh from the State similar to carving out Uttaranchal, Jharkhand etc.

Pak is a faield state and its unruly Taliban elements needs to be sent to their Jannat soon to rid of the World of a one of the worst types of Communal nation.