When a blessing becomes a curse
Book Title: The Warrior State Author: T.V. Paul Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA Pages: 272 ISBN: 9780199322237
Pakistan has always fascinated and baffled observers. Born with much fanfare and a lot of promise, it lost half of the country within less than 25 years of its existence so analysts like Tariq Ali, Z.A. Suleri and Khaled Ahmad began questioning whether it “can” or “will” survive.
Its location at the mouth of the Arabian Sea was a geostrategic blessing that gave it a pivotal position on the big power chessboard in the Cold War. Yet, today, despite its well-oiled war machine and its position as the “fifth largest nuclear weapon state”, it is one of the “weakest states globally.” It was ranked 12th in the Failed States Index in 2011 and stood at 124th among 144 in the Global Competitiveness Index in 2013. Why is it in such a mess, mired perpetually in a mélange of domestic conflicts? And why does it remain constantly on life support from the World Bank, IMF, ADB and other donor agencies, particularly the United States?
Scholars are trying to find answers to these questions. Babar Ayaz in his recent book, “What is
wrong with Pakistan” attempted to answer some of them. Now, Prof. T. V. Paul of the McGill University in Canada deals more comprehensively with these questions in his new book, The Warrior State.
Paul argues that Pakistan’s geostrategic location is the principal culprit responsible for its economic decadence. Pakistan’s leaders had realized its potential very early. Barely a month after independence, Jinnah was self-confidently boasting before Margaret Bourke-White, an American journalist, that, “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America.” In the Cold War context this assumption proved correct. America swallowed the bait and Pakistan’s policymakers, including the army, politicians and bureaucrats, whom the author calls the “elite,” went berserk to capitalize on this advantage. But the ensuing deluge of dollars it ultimately turned Pakistan’s geostrategic blessings into, what the author calls, its “geostrategic curse.”
Like countries suffering from the resource blight, whose ability to generate revenues from the sale of minerals such as oil, impedes generating domestic taxation, Pakistan also suffered the same problem. Massive foreign aid made the “elite” indolent. They settled for the status quo and became indifferent towards long-term development and reforms, both political and economic, that could make the country “more democratic, egalitarian and accountable.”
For example, where any mention of creating a new province in Pakistan is heresy, India today boasts 29 states and seven Union Territories (and more are contemplated) though it started with 14 provinces at the time of independence. Similarly, India abolished zamindari, limited the size of individual landholding and levied tax on agricultural income, But Pakistan remains a semi-feudal state, where powerful landlords own thousands of acres of land, enjoy many of the trappings of classic feudalism in their relations with their “serfs” and yet pay no income tax on agriculture. No wonder “Pakistan is one of the world’s least effective tax-collecting states,” where the rich often pay no tax.
From the very start, the “elite” worked themselves up into paranoia about the threat to the country’s independence from India and went zealously into the business of warmaking. This led to the emergence of a strong military apparatus that managed to dominate the state and the national security narrative besides exploiting Islam to justify its anti-India policy.
The author blames this kind of war preparations and Pakistan’s continuous obsession on the external threat for the country’s “present predicament.” But, neither war-making, nor the appeal to Islam has been able to achieve national unity. On the contrary, the latter has fuelled extremism, sectarian conflict and anti-minority violence.
The author recapitulates the history of Pakistan from its concept and achievement to the 2013 election, to pursue his thesis and lists some basic factors that have