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71 tumultuous years

Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq

Tumultuous existence of 71 years of our nationhood has witnessed many upheavals— a journey from crisis to crisis has at its core the struggle for establishing a true democratic polity and a welfare state. The way united opposition is agitating alleged pre and post poll rigging in the aftermath of 2018 elections testifies that inclination to evolve a national consensus for people’s rule is still a distant dream after seven decades of independence. Liberation from colonial masters in 1947 to continuous subjugation in the hands of powerful classes—militro-judicial-civil complex, businessmen-turned-politicians and absentee land owners—remains the real and painful dilemma for the masses.

The failures on political, economic and social fronts during the decade of democracy (2008-2018) once again confirm lack of determination on the part of politicians to act collectively and resolutely to defeat the de facto power—thus the apprehensions of strengthening of ‘garrison state’ are proving true. The significant achievements in many areas during the last 71 years have been dampened by the non-existence of national cohesion and people’s rule where masses can get real benefits of growth and resources.

Despite all odds—indifference and apathy of political leadership, learned helplessness of masses and long military rules—the nation has showed resilience and unshakable faith in electoral process whenever they got a chance. They did it on July 25, 2018 as well by giving unequivocal verdict against the forces of obscurantism (fooling the masses in the name of religion). It is now the collective responsibility of all democratic forces to galvanise and mobilise masses for consolidating democracy and countering forces bent upon “controlling” elected institutions. Legislators should send a clear message to courts to interpret the laws and refrain from indulging in real politik. Enforcing the will of people is essentially a political question that cannot be resolved in the courts. Since our leadership has failed in the past on this account, the entire society faced devastating effects of unrepresentive rules—approved by higher courts.

Genesis and evolution of Pakistan remains a challenging enigma for historians and political scientists. Voluminous work, produced on the subject since the partition of Subcontinent in 1947, seeks to explain the interplay of two interwoven and interlinked factors behind the turbulent State—religion and militarism. The political use of ‘religion’ in demanding a separate homeland for Muslims and its later abuse by military establishment with the help of clergy to capture power and establish a ‘Garrison State’ is in a nutshell, the sad story of Pakistan. It is elaborate intensely by political scientist, Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed, in his book, Pakistan: The Garrison State: Origins, Evolution, Consequences 1947-2011. The book presents and analyzes historic record—largely shrouded in mystery and distorted by vested interests—to show what actually ails Pakistan—the fifth most populous (207.8 million) country in the world, and having a geostrategic position that is not ignorable for global and regional powers.

Dr. Ishtiaq, in his meticulously-researched and thematically focused work has explored the evolution of Pakistan from a weak state to a self-acclaimed “fortress of Islam”—the concept that proved fallacious in the wake of its dismemberment in 1971, yet insisted upon by many. This work, unlike others, is based on a conceptual and theoretical framework combining the notion of a post-colonial state and Harold Lasswell’s concept of a ‘Garrison State’. In the very first chapter entitled, ‘The Fortress of Islam: A metaphor for a Garrison State’, the author has shown how a State famished at the time of its birth transformed into a nuclear power, though engulfed by multiple crises—political, economic, social, religious, etc. 

Dr. Ishtiaq explains that Pakistan emerged as a ‘Garrison State’ during the Cold War and dominance of army over all other institutions since then. The rise of military to this level has both internal and external factors. Historically speaking, its roots go back to military interests of the United States in this region on the fall of British Empire. Branding and marketing of Pakistan as a ‘frontline state’ have been documented by the author creating a furore in some circles that would never accept the truth. History of the Garrison State, as analysed by Dr. Ishtiaq, explodes many myths, depicts the true events and exposes many faces that ultimately rendered the “fortress of Islam” to a “CIA Headquarter” during the so-called Afghan Jihad, making it a “breeding ground of terrorism.” Once allies and holy warriors, are now dangerously poised against the United States and her allies, neighbours and democratic societies, which are under threat from fanatics who ruthlessly resort to deadly terrorist attacks.

Pakistan: The Garrison State: Origins, Evolution, Consequences 1947-2011 skillfully presents the bizarre twists and turns of events in a straight forward manner. The story of mythical ‘fortress of Islam’ has many bitter lessons. Dr. Ishtiaq has remarkably traced the journey of the Garrison State that started from falling in the laps of United States to armed conflicts with India, from martial laws to birth of Bangladesh, from follies of political leaders to brutal “Islamisation” of Zia and from corruption of elected governments to proliferation of terrorism. This, he rightly adjudges is path of self-deception and self-annihilation. He justifiably deplores the attitude of conspiracy-mongers that shift blame on outsiders rather than admitting their own faults and mistakes.        

While succinctly highlighting future challenges after exit of United States from Afghanistan and growing religious fanaticism and terrorism in and around Pakistan, Dr. Ishtiaq realistically conveys that nothing will change unless the Garrison State paves way to a secular and democratic State.

It is an incontrovertible fact that in Pakistan, either directly or indirectly, political power has always been with the army. A handful of generals decide what is in the “best interest” of the country—Balochistan is the case in hand. From economic matrix to foreign policy paradigm they are the real decision makers. This is the real malady of being a Garrison State. Dr. Ishtiaq has painstakingly traced the roots and causes of this malady in an objective and unbiased way. Unlike many other writers, he has not entered into blame game—fixing responsibility of debacle on a particular institution or a political party or a class. However, in the final analysis, facts show that it is a collective failure in which, no doubt, the ruling classes—controlled by custodians of Garrison State—committed blunder after blunder. They are mainly responsible for the present pathetic state of affairs more than anybody else. For many, it is but logical as what else can one expect from them—any contrary hope would be like living in a Fool’s Paradise. To overcome this dilemma, the author in the end has reached the conclusion: “It is, therefore, imperative that the stakeholders in the Pakistan power equation—especially the military—work out a long-term policy and strategy that can create stability, peace and prosperity within Pakistan as well as help normalize relations with its neighbours—provided they, too, nurture similar aspirations” [p. 470].  No one would disagree with Dr. Ishtiaq. His work holds a hope for Pakistan, provided the forces that matter come out of their self-assumed notions like “custodians of ideological fronts” and “fortress of Islam”. 

It is high time that all the stakeholders should initiate a meaningful dialogue for converting the Garrison State into a modern, democratic country that is the only road to salvation. The tragedy of Garrison State is that its de facto rulers and cronies working for them give a damn to the aspirations of people and have done nothing worthwhile for the less-privileged. This lamentable attitude of the beneficiaries of the Garrison State is a suicidal path. It is hoped that the new government will steer clear of this and learn the necessary lessons from history.


The writers, authors of many books, are Adjunct Faculty Members at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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