It is not easy to ‘understand’ Pakistan, a country full of contradictions. As pointed out by Ayesha Siddiqa, who has written the foreword, the country which was known for honour killings in some parts, had also managed to elect a female Prime Minister. Ayesha also points out that there have been changes in the political system of the country ever since the time of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founding father. Unfortunately, Jinnah did not leave a clear direction on the fundamental ideology of the nation state.
The permanent establishment dominated by the military managed to keep the government fairly destabilized. Both civilian and military leaders did not think of the long term interests of the country or, beyond their personal or institutional interests. The authors, who have been in Pakistan as journalists, point out that the country is paying the highest price for its counter-terrorism policies and for it double-dealing in search of political support in Washington and in its relations with India. This policy boils down to supporting militants abroad in Afghanistan and India and hunting down the domestic Taliban. The strategy is seen by many Pakistanis as handing over the country to the Americans. The policy followed by Pakistan has seriously damaged the economy of the country, and today, as the authors point out, it resembles the ballroom of the Titanic before the ship sank in 1912.
Going back, the authors point out that Pakistan, the ‘land of the pure’ was born as a geographical aberration, with its left wing made up of a part of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province, a wild region bordering Afghanistan, and its right wing, the geographically and culturally distant Muslim Bengal. It paid a heavy price in 1971 when the eastern wing was lost, and a new nation of Bangladesh emerged. It also saw the emergence of the Bhutto dynasty, though Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the dynasty, did not last long. The then army chief of staff, General Zia-ul-Haq , an apparently harmless religious zealot from Punjab, whom Zulfikar Bhutto had personally chosen for the post, deposed and arrested Bhutto on July 5, 1977. General Zia-ul-Haq had then said: “I am sorry Sir, I had to do it.” Fearing vendetta, General Zia decided to eliminate Bhutto. He packed the judiciary with his choice of judges, and filed a case against Bhutto, accusing him of killing Muhammed Ahmed Khan, the father of his political adversary, Ahmed Raza Kasuri.
Bhutto was found guilty and executed on April 4, 1979. General Zia ruled Pakistan for eleven years. His rule ended when the plane in which he was travelling blew up in the air on August 17, 1988. It was suspected that explosives were hidden in a crate of mangoes. During General Zia’s rule, madrassas financed by Saudi Arabia sprung up across the country, and this, has left a long-term impact on the country.
General Zia was followed by Benazir Bhutto. Supported by the United States and tolerated by the military, Benazir won the elections and formed a government, raising hopes of a final, definitive turn towards democracy. She, however, did not last long and was deposed in 1990, and Nawaz Sharif was chosen her successor. Nawaz Sharif too did not last long. His chosen army chief, General Musharraf, authored the Kargil adventure in mid-1999, which resulted in a conflict with India, that too after a visit to Pakistan by the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in February. Hopes were high that relations with India would improve.
Both India and Pakistan had become nuclear powers by then. Sharif accused Musharraf of not informing him before about the attack on Kargil. The Kargil attack strained relations between United States and India. Nawaz Sharif planned to replace General Musharraf when he was away in Sri Lanka, but himself became a casualty. The coup that placed General Musharraf in power was organized by his staff in a swift and bloodless manner. Sharif was sent into exile in a pact brokered with Saudi Arabia. The authors have described General Musharraf as ‘the democratic dictator’.
After the September 11, 2001 terror attack on the eastern board of the United States, General Musharraf joined the American-led coalition’s ‘War on Terror’. Musharraf claimed that had no choice but to collaborate with the international coalition, although Pakistan had until then actively supported the Mullah Omar-led Taliban regime that taken over Kabul.
But Talibanization had started within Pakistan itself. Hamid Gul was the director of the ISI for several years, and was considered one of the ‘inventors’ of the Taliban, and one of the master strategists in the mujahideen war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
The combined strategy of the CIA and ISI had worked well in the 1980, but the situation changed following 9/11 and the decision of the United States to eliminate Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Supporters of the Taliban had to take shelter in Pakistan. On the face of it, Musharraf’s troubles started when he dismissed Supreme Court Chief Justice Mohammed Iftikhar Chaudhry, which resulted in mass protests.
“In addition, there was the episode which is generally held to be the critical turning point in marking the decline of history’s ‘ most democratic dictator’: the Lal Masjid affair,” point out the authors. The book also has a chapter on the activities of the ‘procurement gang’ and their activities, which converted the nation into a nuclear power.
The authors point out that “Nuclear experts believe that by the end of 1980s, Pakistan was capable of producing dozens of atomic bombs, using the technology stolen by A.Q. Khan from Europe.” Pakistan’s first atomic explosion was carried out with Chinese help in the nuclear testing facility of Lop Nor near the Taklamakan Desert on 26 May 1990.
The estimate is that today Pakistan has around 200 atomic weapons. The authors indicate that collaboration in the nuclear sector between China and Pakistan, with North Korea providing missiles in exchange for Pakistani technology began in 1965. According to them today, Pakistan’s passage from America’s sphere of influence to China’s is almost complete.
In the war to wrest Kashmir from India, the authors point out, “Beijing seems serious in its interest to support Pakistan in its efforts.” Meanwhile, according to the ‘Apocalyse’ Balochistan is developing into a new Bangladesh with ‘250, 000 refugees, several thousand dead, carpet bombing, executions without trial, torture, the disappearance of students and activists, families threatened and victims of episodes violence, had the effect of convincing even the diplomatically inclined that armed revolt and independence from Pakistan was the only solution.’
The final chapter ‘Apocalypse Now’ has the details of the attack by the U.S. Navy Seals on May 2, 2011 on a compound in Abottabad, few dozen kilometers from Islamabad, where, Osama Bin Laden was living. The authors doubt the veracity of the story ‘revealed in bits and pieces’ by the White House and Islamabad Apocalypse Pakistan narrates the story of Pakistan from the point of view of journalists from the West.
One hopes that Pakistan ‘the world’s most dangerous nation would reverse the trend and change its anatomy. Book Review: Apocalypse Pakistan, by Francesca Marino and Beniamino Natale Published by Niyogi Books, pages 180. price Rs. 395. ANI