Monday, July 26
Hakeemullah Mehsud, commander of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)
The revolutionary fervor that overtook Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista's regime is building in Pakistan. And the driving force is not religious fundamentalism but the plight of Pakistan's poor and their growing resentment of the country's military elite.
The Pakistan military's propaganda machine is so effective that observers outside the country still believe Pakistani civilians venerate the military. Times are changing fast, according to a startling report from Pakistani journalist Adnan R. Khan for the Canadian newsmagazine, Maclean's. In Land of the Generals Khan writes:
[T]he Pakistani military continues to target some Islamic groups, including Pakistan’s homegrown version of the Taliban in the country’s Tribal Areas. ... That none of this does anything to alleviate Pakistan’s deep-rooted social problems is something the militants have learned to capitalize on, and indeed use as a powerful recruiting tool.I have a bad feeling that parallels between Batista's Cuba and present-day Pakistan extend to the U.S. not appreciating the hatred building among the poor against the military class:
In a recent video message released by the Pakistani Taliban, its spokesman, Tariq Azim, referred to the “unholy army” and its wilful betrayal of Pakistan’s poor. Militants regularly point to government and military corruption as a basic reason for their insurgency.
“The militants have caught on,” says one foreign aid worker, requesting anonymity for fear of an army backlash. “Their arguments strike a chord with the poor and disenfranchised. To be honest, they sound like Che Guevara railing against the American-backed elites in Cuba. They’re revolutionary and it’s just too bad that they are the only ones speaking out against the injustices entrenched in the Pakistani system.” ...
“There is a fundamental disconnect here,” says Aasim Sajjad, an assistant professor at the National Institute of Pakistan Studies in Islamabad. “The army claims to be the protectors of Islam in Pakistan but then they receive money from the U.S. to fight fellow Muslims.”Khan goes on to explain another factor fueling resentment against the military: their image as the invincible protector of the people has been chipped away by the large number of terrorist attacks against Pakistani civilians. He also notes the huge government bailouts that the bloated military receives.
Pakistan’s military remains largely unchecked, in a country where democracy remains weak, and where a dominant ethos persists that places the defence establishment, which has ruled the country for half of its 63-year-existence, above all other political and judicial institutions.
According to Ayesha Siddiqa, author of the controversial book Military Inc., which digs into the Pakistan army’s burgeoning economic interests -- a consequence of the years they have spent in power -- Pakistan’s military leaders and others have internalized the perception that democracy can’t work in Pakistan, and the army is the only institution truly committed to ensuring the Pakistani interest.
“The generals genuinely believe they know better than anyone else what’s best for Pakistan,” Sajjad says. “They have become a social class unto themselves, the dominant social class in Pakistan, who possess an inordinate amount of power and money.”
In Gujranwala, locals refer to the top generals, the corps commanders, as “crore” commanders -- a reference to their accumulated wealth (one crore in the subcontinent is the equivalent of 10 million rupees, or $120,000). According to Siddiqa, a senior general’s net worth averages around $1.7 million.
I'd guess there are two additional factors that make Pakistani civilians less willing these days to tolerate the military's pashas:
* The military's business enterprises, many of which are unprofitable but are propped up by the government (see Khan's report) are coming up against stiff competition from the country's increasingly globalized business class.
* As modern types of businesses proliferate in the largest cities, the military is no longer seen as the only route to success for those outside the feudal high caste elite.
The first factor suggests that help for a 'people's revolution' against the military could receive support from many Pakistani businesspeople, as happened in the revolution against the Shah in Iran.
With regard to the second factor, caste designations in Pakistan pertain mostly to trades that were last updated in the Middle Ages. The explosion in the types of vocations brought about the modern era in technology and trade have opened up myriad business opportunities for the well educated in Pakistan.
Yet Pakistan's small tax base (small because the government doesn't enforce tax collection) combined with rampant corruption guarantee that country's poor stay at the bottom of the heap. If you saw the New York Times report on Pakistan's tax issues I linked to recently, you might recall that the refusal to pay taxes isn't confined to the elite. The article revealed that Pakistan's 'lawyer class' are also famous tax dodgers. Yes, those are the same lawyers who periodically march in the streets demanding more democracy and more help for the poor.
The situation is an oft-told story around the world; recall the large gap between Thailand's rural poor and urban middle class. But the difference is that Pakistan has a large number of poor people who are trained in insurgency tactics and suicide missions, and who are already veterans of guerrilla warfare.
So, with every other route to upward mobility closed off, revolution is the only available path and one that would have a good chance of succeeding in Pakistan.
I don't see the revolution happening tomorrow. But NATO's policy toward Pakistan's military since the Afghanistan War is accelerating conditions in the country that would make it ripe for revolution. This observation is particularly true with regard to U.S. policy.
Washington has gone all out to support Pakistan's military and, with an eye to tamping down unrest and anti-American feelings in the country, attempted to play the role of benefactor to Pakistanis. But the more Washington supports Pakistan's military, the more it reinforces the military's abuse of power, which fuels the very conditions in the country the U.S. is trying to ward off. This kind of situation is known as having a tiger by the tail.
How does one deal with a tiger once having gotten hold of its tail? The first step, which is often overlooked, is to let go of the tail.
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