Unhappy Birthday: The Meltdown in Pakistan

That hardy purveyor of stone-cold truths, Winter Patriot, has the low-down on the alarming events unfolding in Pakistan, the nuclear-armed basket case whose regime is being held together by baling twine and Bush largess. WP skillfully weaves together reports on mass slaughters of civilians carried out to please Washington, and on sleazy backroom political deals carried out to please Washington: all of which is exacerbating the chaos in Pakistan. This is outstanding work; you should read the whole thing, now.

Meanwhile, Tariq Ali gives us some of the deeper background, painting a disspiriting picture of Pakistan on its 60th birthday. This too is an important piece, going behind the cartoon image of this Terror War ally that prevails in the "conventional wisdom" of America's movers and shakers. So scoot on over to LRB and give it a look, too. But a few passages are worth highlighting.

First, I was particularly struck by following description, which, with the exception of a couple of details, reminded me of a certain country located between Canada and Mexico. See if you can guess which one it is.  

During periods of military rule…three groups get together: military leaders, a corrupt claque of fixer-politicians, and businessmen eyeing juicy contracts or state-owned land. The country’s ruling elite has spent the last sixty years defending its ill-gotten wealth and privilege, and the Supreme Leader (uniformed or not) is invariably intoxicated by their flattery. Corruption envelops Pakistan. The poor bear the burden, but the middle classes are also affected. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, small businessmen, traders are crippled by a system in which patronage and bribery are trump cards. Some escape…but others come to terms with the system, accept compromises that make them deeply cynical about themselves and everyone else.

The resulting moral vacuum is filled by porn films and religiosity of various sorts. In some areas religion and pornography go together: the highest sales of porn videos are in Peshawar and Quetta, strongholds of the religious parties.

This however, is not reminiscent of any country between Canada and Mexico:    

[After nationwide protests forced Musharraf to reinstate the illegally suspended Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry], a reinvigorated court got down to business. Hafiz Abdul Basit was a ‘disappeared’ prisoner accused of terrorism. The chief justice summoned Tariq Pervez, the director-general of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, and asked him politely where the prisoner was being kept. Pervez replied that he had no idea and had never heard of Basit. The chief justice instructed the police chief to produce Basit in court within 48 hours: ‘Either produce the detainee or get ready to go to jail.’ Two days later Basit was produced and then released, after the police failed to present any substantial evidence against him. Washington and London were not happy. They were convinced that Basit was a terrorist who should have been kept in prison indefinitely, as he certainly would have been in Britain or the US.

Even in an openly declared military dictatorship, the Pakistani judiciary shows more courage and commitment to due process of law than their counterparts in the ostensibly democratic republic of the United States.

Ali points out that the massive secular protests in Chaudhry's support dwarfed those denouncing the bloody crackdown on the extremist Red Mosque:

Only a thousand people marched in the demonstration called in Peshawar the day after the deaths. This was the largest protest march, and even here the mood was subdued. There was no shrill glorification of the martyrs. The contrast with the campaign to reinstate the chief justice could not have been more pronounced. Three weeks later, more than 100,000 people gathered in the Punjabi city of Kasur to observe the 250th anniversary of the death of the great 17th-century poet Bulleh Shah, one in a distinguished line of Sufi poets who denounced organised religion and orthodoxy. For him a mullah could be compared to a barking dog or a crowing cock. The fact is that jihadis are not popular in most of Pakistan, but neither is the government...

Despite these bright spots, prospects are grim for Pakistan, says Ali:

Back in the heart of Pakistan the most difficult and explosive issue remains social and economic inequality. This is not unrelated to the increase in the number of madrassas. If there were a half-decent state education system, poor families might not feel the need to hand over a son or daughter to the clerics in the hope that at least one child will be clothed, fed and educated. Were there even the semblance of a health system many would be saved from illnesses contracted as a result of fatigue and poverty. No government since 1947 has done much to reduce inequality. The notion that the soon-to-return Benazir Bhutto, perched on Musharraf’s shoulder, equals progress is as risible as Nawaz Sharif imagining that millions of people would turn out to receive him when he arrived at Islamabad airport last month. A general election is due later this year. If it is as comprehensively rigged as the last one was, the result will be increased alienation from the political process. The outlook is bleak. There is no serious political alternative to military rule.

No alternative; yet, as Ali shows throughout the piece, military rule is becoming increasingly intolerable and untenable. The result will be more dangerous chaos, with American meddling -- based on the ignorant cartoons that guide Establishment thinking -- exacerbating the problems...while, as always, the war profiteers circle like vultures, eager to feed on death and suffering.