Thursday, September 30, 2010

A review of M.B Naqvi’s "Pakistan at Knife’s Edge"

Naqvi’s book is indeed a good analysis about the internal struggles of Pakistan and her relation with other countries. This first hand narrative is indeed lively and concentrates on the ground realties instead of far-fetched imagination. A good book to get an understanding about the political activities of various parties of Pakistan; her numerous constitutions (which is always subjected to rework) along with the bizarre policies of politicians and army.

a) Lawyer’s movement:

Through out the book author give high importance to the lawyer’s movement. The book describes various situations in Pakistan’s history even if the prime focus (or over focus?)is on lawyer’s strike against Musharraf’s regime. Throughout the book he describes his doubts about the support for the now famous lawyer’s movement from various political parties. We will get a first hand taste of this when he describes,
“No leadership in any party, it appears, was wholeheartedly supporting the cause of lawyers; perhaps none of them really wanted a truly independent judiciary. While in power each party tends to want to do things that it doesn’t like the Supreme Court to look too closely into”.

It is another matter that he later gives much praise to former premier Nawaz Sharif for his support for the movement. He continued further and gave a detailed description about how the lawyer’s movement succeeded in removing Musharraf from power – leaving considerable portion of the book to explain this movement. At the same time it doesn’t give much information regarding to the support of common people to the movement apart from some sentences here and there. This leaves as to guess about what common people think about the lawyer’s movement? And if lawyers can accumulate so much strength, then what happened to them at the time of Musharraf’s take over?

a) Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy

Author also give us a birds eye view on what happened in Afghanistan, starting right after the Saur Revolution of April 1974, and US entered in to this western boundary of East Indian Empire. It become a lot more clear and somewhat satirical when he says,

“Military controlled Pakistan was the obvious beneficiary of Afghanistan’s political transformation in to a virtual satellite of Pakistan- which itself was, and is, a satellite of America”.

But he defies all the logic on issues of ‘peaceful’ conquest of Afghanistan by Taliban and not much mentioned much about the atrocities they did when they are in power (anyway this book is concentrated on Pakistan).

b) Pakistan’s nuclear program:

This book is good to have a bird’s overview of Pakistan nuclear program – ‘A thousand cuts on India’? From
A Q Khan’s announcement - Pakistan had mastered the technology of enriching Uranium in the Indo – Pakistan seminar at Islamabad in 1984 to that of the explosions in 1998. He also describes his interview with a noted Pakistani civil servant – Dr. R.H Usmani (former head of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, he also served in IAEA)- in the 1960. One of the answers in that interview force as to think about the effectiveness of IAEA safeguards.

“No matter how many secret cameras they install, we can always cheat them. They can’t be sitting all the time in a reactor control room. Wee will burn Uranium slowly at the cost of having less power than rated…. This will enable as to stockpile, slowly of course, enough Plutonium for a bomb and for more bombs. ”
This clearly reveals the ineffectiveness in IAEA safeguards. If things are always like this, safeguards are doomed to fail. Author didn’t mentioned much regarding to the question - whether Pakistan actually tested nuclear bomb in the beginning of 1990’s or not – as some people claims. His concerns regarding to the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence principle is indeed a valid point. For the question of whether the nuclear weapons will be able to stop the war? He quotes the former Indian Defence minister George Fernandes,
“Let Pakistan use its nuclear weapons first in accordance with its own doctrine. And then wait for India’s riposte: Pakistan’s seven or eight industrial urban centers will be wiped out by India’s second strike capability; Pakistan will have to revert to the Stone Age”.

Later he concludes that “While a certain amount of deterrence inheres in all atomic weapons, it’s not conclusive enough. As Fernandes said one nuclear bomb can be checkmated by another such bomb”.  Anyway now the bomb becomes vulnerability for not only Pakistan but also for the entire world because of the possibility of bomb falling in to the hand of terrorists.

c) Women of Pakistan:

The books don’t describe much about the situation of the women of Pakistan. Apart from the former premier ‘Benezeer Bhooto’, it hardly describes any other women. Why??

d) Agriculture in Pakistan:

Author is successful in describing the pathetic state of agriculture in Pakistan where large tracts of land is concentrated by a small group of people. In these lands, rich landlords and retired military generals reap huge benefits by the usage of modern machinery. He also explains - to some extent - necessity for the redistribution of land - a long time demand in Pakistan.  But after reading about the politicians of Pakistan, we can easily reach to the conclusion Land reforms will be a non-starter. How they are going for the redistribution of land when the legislators themselves are big land lords.

Trust deficit between Central Government and various Provincial governments and also among various Provincial governments didn’t help to make the things better - no matter whether the issue is regarding to greater autonomy to provincial governments or the Indus water sharing agreement. This statement indeed illustrates the point -

“There is a terrible amount of trust deficit among the provinces. Take any major issue like division of waters of Indus water system. Sindh complaining Punjab is stealing its water. Baluchistan accuses Sindh for not giving its share.”

e) Pakistan military:

Indeed the author is very open in his view regarding to the position of Pakistani Military and the pointless arms race with India.

“Requirements of the military that actually needs a minimum of $500mn to $600mn every year for current overseas payments may be considerably more on occasions when new weapon systems are introduced. The expenditure of 500mn $ doesn’t include the replacement of major ordnance”

“Unless the arms race ends, there would be little change in Pakistan’s circumstances”

His opinion regarding to the relation of Pakistani army vis-à-vis US is indeed a revolutionary one. May be even the most influential politician dare not express it.

“The earliest ruling politicians, or really bureaucrats in the early 1950’s, actually did what amounted to renting out the army to the Americans. The unwritten and even unspoken understanding was that let the armed forces foreign exchanges needs be met by American aid and it would be at their disposal for their geostrategic purposes”.

Like any other Pak citizen he also expresses his disappointment with Drone attacks and operations of US Special Forces inside Pakistani territory and civilian damage associated with it - a reflection of popular opinion in Pakistan.

f) Pakistan Economy:

We can get a basic but effective overview of Pakistan economy from the book. Concerns - regarding to the unequal development in Punjab vis-à-vis other Provinces, bad state of economy which requires foreign aid to float, alarmingly high debt to GDP ratio.

“Debt of $45bn to $46bn in 1998, and in 2009 after many rescheduling and considerable write offs still owes $50bn to foreigners and another $50bn in domestic debts; 95% of GDP“.

[The interesting thing to note here is that until 90’s Pakistan’s growth rate was higher than that of India]. He agrees that tis type of aid money will force Pakistan to submit themselves to the will of others. World politics is not the playground of angels; each and every nation will be more interested in securing their national interests. As the author rightly pointed out-

“This kind of aid to an indigent and satellite regime has created a predilection in US that it has somehow to interfere in Pakistan politics and realize its purposes by manipulating various political forces in Pakistan.”
The situation is much worse in International trade where, imports are many times bigger than that of exports - not at all good for a country. Even if he criticizes Musharraf everywhere else here praises him for the growth in economic activity and industrial production [it’s another matter that he goes back to his original views in the later pages.

g) Jihad:

Considerable space is allocated to explain Jihad and Taliban. The below mentioned extract is enough to explain this situation-

“The term jihad made the jihadis, as individual, to expect paradise if they died or some more money if they came back as Ghazis. In retrospect, this cynical exploitation of popular faith of simple Pushthoons for imperial ambitions of the US – and of some bizarre aims of Pakistani generals – has never been widely discussed much less emphasized”.

Just like any other person who is interested in the development and progress of motherland, terrorism is unbearable to the author also. The extract from the text given below is sarcastic and thought provoking one -
“Anyone with small money to recruitment a small Lashkar sets out to become a Taliban leader of his own area. Since the discourse in Pakistan has always been in the religious idiom, he now uses that idiom to a telling effect: he claims enforcing the Islamic Sharia”.

h) Relations with China

Just like any other Pakistani, author is also quite grateful towards the all weather friend China. He is wondering why China is helping Pakistan with out expecting anything in return!!! Later he concluded two reasons for that – to checkmate India, to act as a bridge between US and China. No explanation for ceding a portion of Pak occupied Kashmir to China in the sixties. What about the naval facilities Pakistan offering to China especially in Gwadar, and the non-transparent nuclear program?

Views about India:

In the beginning of book, author went out of his way and with out any logical reasoning concluded that Hindu communalists supported Hindi and Muslims were against Hindi; and this language controversy contributed to the growth of Hindu - Muslim communalism,which ultimately resulted in the partition!!! But he didn’t give any reason why India – which has hundreds of languages including the 23 officially recognized ones – remains as single entity.  If we are looking each and everything through the eyes of communalism then there is no doubt that everything will be connected to communalism in one way or another.

a) Kashmir – viewing through wrong mirror?

Regarding Kashmir also author seems to forget the ground realities. He agreed that Pakistan started a proxy war in Kashmir in 1989 by sending Mujahedeen to create Mayhem in Kashmir. But with out any evidence he declared that – “in the process thousands of Kashmiris, some say 70,000 to 80,000, were killed by Indian troops”.  No one knows who is this ‘some’. He simply put the responsibility on Indian side and easily forget what the militias send by Pakistan was doing. No were in the book he mentioned anything about the situation in ‘Pakistan occupied Kashmir’, in fact this is a black hole in the world. No one knows what is happening there; contrary to that J&K which is fully open to the public and media. It will be helpful for the Kashmiris- who want to join Pakistan - to know what is happening in PoK and why Bangladesh fights for freedom from Pakistan.

b) Comparison of Maoists and Taliban

It’s still unclear on what basis the author is comparing Taliban and Maoists. If it is regarding to the terror they are creating, then the comparison is justifiable, but in other cases both are totally different. Maoist activities are mainly concentrated on the jungles and tribal areas, it have no or very little effect in urban areas of India. And until now Maoists are not in the path of suicide bombing techniques, apart from that Maoists mainly targets security personals, Tribals who are opposing them, people associated with Police and class enemies. It’s another matter that anyone can become their class enemy. But suicide bombing is killing every one indiscriminately.

Author is also quite open and concerned about the socio-politic situation in Pakistan. Malnutrition, various diseases due to the uncleaned water still prevails. State is more interested in arms race with India and attaining their bizarre aims. What about the educational sector? Recently terrorists groups were blowing away the schools for admitting girls. We can easily make out what is happening in educational sector from this single statement – “State never provided enough schools, nor they ever been persuaded to send their children to schools”.

He went on to say that the solution for Taliban and militant Islam in Pakistan is political not a military one; giving social, economical and political rights to all the people, Jobs for young people, provisions for – education, healthcare and other infrastructural services. But certain amount of peace is necessary for all these things. No one can teach students in schools which can be blown away at any moment – and what about the education of girls? Recent activities of militants in Swat proved that they will allow education for girls. So will they climb down from that position? And what will be the price Pakistan will have to pay for these negotiations? But it is true that as far as any one can observe there isn't any better option than this one.

Author wishes that the new middle class will change the political scenario – they required more political space than feudalism and army ever conceded. More democratic freedom and more organized democratic dispensation to breathe freely and not feel ashamed of their leaders who have had best things so often and for so long and still achieved nothing. Indeed a quite a good book to read...


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