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Analysing events in Pakistan using Dr Kalim Siddiqui’s “flash in the pan” model

Perwez Shafi

How is one to explain the current fight between army chief and president General Parvez Musharraf and Mohammad Iftikhar Chaudhry, the chief justice of the Supreme Court within the nation-state system? Both have served the system well, along with serving foreign masters throughout their lives. Both have risen from the bottom to the top of their respective institutions; both cooperated until now. Does it matter who is right or wrong, who the oppressor is and who the “victim”? In such a scenario how is the fight actually fought and what outcomes can be expected? There are various theories and explanations, but one offered by the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui is by far the best and accurately describes the fight.

The late Dr Kalim Siddiqui – an intellectual giant, an institution-builder, and an activist until the very end of his life – wrote a penetrating analysis of Pakistani politics in 1984, “Islamic Revolution: The only possible future for Pakistan”. In it, he conclusively demonstrated that all political changes within the ruling elite are a result of factional in-fighting only to maintain the status quo. Since the beginning, events have been shaping and moving in that direction as explained by Dr Siddiqui, and unfolding events have been following that pattern.

The Pakistani model

Dr Kalim’s model describing the political model of a nation-state of Pakistan which highlighted three underlying factors -- social discontent with the present exploitative and oppressive system, foreign domination, and the deep political and religious consciousness of the masses -- which combine to bring about cosmetic changes in the system designed to maintain the status quo. He characterised the results as “flash in the pan” agitative politics:

They [the three factors listed above] may even be exploited and misused by other powerful elements to bring about minor upheavals and revolts against competing factions within the exploitative system. In Pakistan Ayub Khan called his 1958 military coup a ‘revolution’, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto used a similar technique to whip up hatred against the military rulers. Shaikh Mujibur Rehman used precisely this technique, first used by the Muslim League, to secure the support of the Muslim masses in East Pakistan, leading eventually to the breakup of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh. The Pakistan National Alliance (the PNA) did just this against Bhutto, during 1976-77. This ‘flash in the pan’ type of agitative politics leaves the society weaker, more exhausted, morally more corrupt, and more open to even greater external domination and for the emergence of even more tyrannical domestic rulers.

Like any neo-colonial nation-state, the entire political history of Pakistan revolves around a ruling elite trying to monopolise all political power. The components of the ruling elite normally work cooperatively to exploit, loot and plunder society’s resources for their personal benefits, maintain their class monopoly on power, and to perpetuate the status quo. The ruling elite consists of military, politicians, bureaucrats and judiciary, but among these groups by far the most powerful is the military. The bureaucracy and the judiciary are distant junior partners who have accepted their subservience to the military and have repeatedly condoned its privileged position in the hierarchy of power.

Though the elite’s components rule and hold onto power cooperatively, sometimes differences among them turn into an open fight. When in-fighting reaches such a level, each party tries to improve its personal political standing in the hierarchy of power by destabilising and eliminating the others. In their in-fighting, the dominating elite with much higher institutional power seeks foreign support to hang on to power, while the one that can claim to be a “victim” compared to the other has the opportunity to enlist and organise public support. At that stage the slogans, symbols and outcomes of a popular agitation are couched in terms of what benefits the people, hiding the actual goals of the fight. By bringing the people in, the elite also releases their pent-up energy of social discontent. The crisis, if co-optation and coercion fails, is resolved when an elite gives up the competition, accepting defeat; the status quo is maintained, perhaps slightly modified, while the people get nothing. Because of this cheating the people are naturally more frustrated, despondent and demoralised, and under more foreign influence. In extreme cases of in-fighting the country is weakened and sometimes suffers irreparable damage.

The accuracy of the model

Since the so-called ‘independence’ of Pakistan, the history of its political crises conforms almost exactly to Dr Kalim Siddiqui’s model of factional in-fighting and agitative “flash-in-the-pan”-type politics: no real change occurs in the ‘system’ and the status quo is maintained. In the 1960s, President General Ayub Khan and his foreign minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, both came up through the ‘system’ and served each other. But eventually in-fighting led President General Ayub to seek US support, while Bhutto sought the support of the people. Bhutto was temporarily defeated and jailed; later on President Ayub handed power to another military General Yahya Khan. Within a year the fight among Yahya, Bhutto and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, a popular politician from East Pakistan, led to the break-up of the country with the connivance of Indian.

The dismemberment of the country discredited the military; Bhutto assumed power at the beginning of the 1970s and ruled with an iron hand for seven years. In early 1977, after Bhutto was re-elected, the opposition cried foul. This time Bhutto was trapped; he could neither seek US support (because the US wanted to destabilise him anyway for starting and remaining defiant about the country’s nuclear programme), nor could he seek popular support because the US and the combined opposition (in the form of Pakistan National Alliance) captured and capitalised on their discontent. Eventually the people’s sacrifices were wasted: the military took advantage of the situation and overthrew Bhutto.

In the 1990s, during the era of so-called democracy, when the military were sent back to the barracks after the fiery crash of General Ziaul Haq when he was no longer needed because the Afghan jihad was over, the prime ministers were removed constitutionally every 2 to 3 years, as they quarrelled got with civilian presidents in an effort to acquire more political power. The current fight between Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and President General Pervez Musharraf is not unprecedented: in 1998 prime minister Nawaz Sharif, a businessman groomed in the 1980s by the army and security agencies, got into a fight with Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, and his party goons stormed the Supreme Court building. Chief Justice Shah was eventually dismissed, leaving the judiciary even more demoralised and more open to political interference.

In late 1999, the simmering fight between President General Musharraf and PM Nawaz Sharif came in the open after the Kargil fiasco, where Musharraf sent his forces deep inside Kargil in Indian-held Kashmir against Indian forces, mainly to destabilise Nawaz and his policies and to disrupt the budding India-Pakistan relations. The army chief’s position is paramount in the Muslim nation-state system. After minor fights with Chief Justice Shah and others, Nawaz was emboldened to such an extent that he planned to get rid of Musharraf. But Musharraf had already planned his counter-attack. Finally when Nawaz acted and deposed Musharraf as army chief, the army counter-attacked, overthrew him and installed Musharraf in power.

Since then Musharraf has not had any serious challenges to his rule. He also got a compliant and subservient judiciary, whose twelve judges not only validated and blessed his military takeover in May 2000 (including currently ‘suspended’ Justice Chaudhry), under the “doctrine of necessity”, but also gave him unprecedented power to amend the constitution as he pleases. All the judges of the Supreme Court were amply rewarded for serving the system: in 2002 six of the twelve were retired and given further perks and benefits as well as cushy jobs. The rest, including Justice Chaudhry, were given three-year extensions and pay-rises of 30 percent. They are also entitled to residence, all utility bills, officially-maintained car, cook, driver and a guard at his residence, all paid for by the government. After retirement they will continue to receive a significant portion of this package.

In June 2005 Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was made chief justice by Musharraf, superseding other senior judges and violating the rule made in the late 1990s, according to which the seniormost judge of the Supreme Court becomes chief justice. Neither Chaudhry nor Musharraf had any qualms about violating the seniority rules and usurping the rights of other judges. Justice Falak Sher, and others whose rights were violated, are expected to wait for their turn, otherwise their jobs, perks and benefits might be jeopardy. Justice Sher excused himself, pleading a conflict of interest, from the full court bench hearing 23 petitions challenging the president’s reference to the Supreme Judicial Council.

Like ordinary human beings, the Supreme Court judges are falling over each other to become the permanent or acting chief justice. Independence of the judiciary and rule of law does not come about due to defiance of one or two judges unless the concepts are institutionalised and part of the judiciary’s legal, cultural and political training. Any lawyers’ movement for independence of the judiciary and rule of law can be easily derailed if other judges are waiting eagerly in line to fill the position as soon as the top man is removed. In this elite fight, without taking any position in favour of or against Justice Chaudhry or army’s chief General Musharraf, Pakistanis should strive for the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law as a principled position and a high moral ground.

However, after serving a corrupt system all their lives, all of a sudden any isolated emphasis on these moral and legal values rings hollow and seems to be used only for popular consumption, to get the people’s support. These crises, as pointed out earlier, also act as a “safety valve” for the pent-up energy of social discontent

According to Dr Kalim’s model, however, more important than the events of elite in-fighting are the damaging effects of “pressure cooker” politics have left on society. He mentioned five particular debilitating effects:

1. The disintegration of society

Pakistan has suffered the disintegration of its society into much smaller units on the basis of different kinds of local identity. It is generally accepted that nationalism is kufr, but it appears that Pakistan is also fractured by similar un-Islamic forces such as sectarianism, tribalism, and ethnicity. The extremism exhibited by secular and religious groups operating on these bases seems to have no limits.

The Ayub-Bhutto fight in the late 1960s led to a complete breakdown of the consensus among components of the ruling classes, which led not only the break-up of the country but left more than 100,000 soldiers as prisoners of war. The social-psychological shock to the society was devastating.

In the early 1980s General Zia al-Haq, in order to strengthen his own rule, clearly appeared to follow the colonial policy of “divide and rule”. In his zeal to ‘Islamise’, the government imposed zakah but exempted Shi‘ahs from it, thereby encouraging the emergence of militant and extremist wings of both communities that are responsible for much of the violence in the country. General Zia killed two birds with one stone: he pretended to be enforcing Islam and expected people to support him on that basis; yet he was able to create division, hatred and violence in society where there had been little or none before.

In an oppressive system in which every group has grievances it is very easy to incite and exploit resentments. General Zia took advantage of the muhajirs (emigrants from India at the time of partition from India, and their descendants) and their feeling of being an exploited community, supported their ethnic nationalism in Karachi and the formation of the MQM (Muhajir Qaumi Movement), which then turned on other communities to wrest their ‘rights’ from them. He used the muhajirs’ hatred to cut down and debase Jama‘at-e Islami and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The cycle of violence started then has repeated intermittently, but the issues have not been resolved. Similarly the people of Malakand, who rose in a jihad against the nation-state with the slogan “Shari’at or Shahadat” in November 1994, were brutally crushed by the military. The uprising put all the religious political parties in the country on the spot, but no party took any action except to pay lip-service.

During the 1990s, Nawaz Sherif attacked the Supreme Court. Attempts to buy out or dislodge judges were made openly, further damaging the standing of the Court. Then in the Nawaz-Musharraf fight about blame for the Kargil debacle people lost most of what little confidence they had left in the government. The continuing effort by General Musharraf to forcibly keep Nawaz and Benazir Bhutto in exile prevents further popular participation, leading to even more discontent. Thus division among ruling groups causes society to become even weaker and more divided than before.

2. Society becomes exhausted

A “flash in the pan” political dispute leaves a society even more cynical, apathetic and alienated than it was before. In fact, in the history of Pakistan, almost every single ruler has been brought down by agitation and protest, although each time the details of the actual circumstances that generate the political crisis are different, the situation and actors vary, and each outcome is different. It all confuses only very few naive, inexperienced people, yet a little suspense and the subsequent letdown is always part of the drama.

To encourage an “everyone for himself” outlook, economic and political imperatives are deteriorated purposely. As a result social bonding with others, even among neighbours, is further broken down. Exhaustion and despondency set in after each ride on the emotional roller-coaster, with high expectations followed by anticlimax and disappointment. People become less and less able to cope with the material requirements of daily life, causing significant stresses that lead to mental and emotional difficulties and problems.

According to a 1996 study of Punjab University, “20 percent of Pakistan’s population was suffering from mental disorders”. The high degree of stresses and hopelessness is evident in people who are openly expressing their longing for a saviour that “God would send a Khomeini for us who would clean up this mess”. During General Musharraf’s decade of “prosperity and development” (supposed this decade, the first of the 21st century) suicide among unemployed young and middle-aged people is reaching epidemic proportions. Most people are expressing their despair of any meaningful change by peaceful means. Hence repeating the same process over as and over again only increases the people’s alienation, exhaustion, hopelessness and listlessness.

3. Society becomes morally more corrupt

So much has been written on corruption that anything additional seems redundant. Within the last generation alone, corruption has increased sharply. Measured by any yardstick the norms have not only deteriorated but almost completely reversed in the last two decades. One cannot escape a day without encountering corruption in every facet of life. The newspapers and electronic media are flooded with political and governmental scandals, misuse of authority, embezzlement and shady deals, without any accountability or penalty. Freedom without accountability is another form of oppression.

The moral foundations of society have been debased to such an extent that even the judiciary has had no qualms about equating the “sovereignty of God” with “sovereignty of man” in a case, Hakim Khan vs. Government of Pakistan (PLD 1992 SC 595). The constitutional dilemma was ‘resolved’ by declaring the “Sovereignty of Allah” to “become equal in weight and status as the other substantive provisions of the Constitution” (emphasis added). This is state-sponsored shirk of the highest degree. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that the constitution is un-Islamic, so those ‘ulama and intellectuals who consider this constitution “half-way” Islamic, and propose that complete “Islamisation” can be achieved by a flood of writ petitions (i.e. by reforms implemented within the system) or by ‘imposing’ the Shari‘ah, should think more carefully about the plausibility of this scenario.

The tragic events of May 12 in Karachi illustrate the state-sponsored terrorism perpetrated by the MQM -- which is an ally in the provincial government of Sindh -- against the citizens of Karachi by preventing the chief justice’s address to the Sindh High Court Bar Association. The chief justice was held captive for about eight hours at Karachi airport; the main arterial road, Sharah-e-Faisal, was blocked at many places, and ordinary people and workers of other parties were killed. All of this was broadcast live on several private TV channels: this angered the MQM’s supporters, who attacked Aaj TV channel for number of hours to stop its live coverage of the carnage. This sort of violence is far from uncommon in Pakistan, and further demoralises its people.

4. Society is open to greater external domination

The important point is that there exists a gulf between the rulers and their allies on the one hand, and ordinary people; such alienation always invites foreign influence and domination. The colonialists have ensured that the gulf is part of the structure of the of the supposedly post-colonial ‘system’. If the 1980s were the decade of “Kalashnikov and drug culture”, then the 1990s can aptly be called a “culture of loot and plunder”, and the 2000s can so far be termed a decade of foreign domination: foreign (particularly American) agencies can pick up any Pakistani without hesitation and transport him to secret prisons elsewhere in which torture and abuse are routine.

During the 1980s, US influence on Pakistani society increased enormously, partly because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the CIA-led efforts to contain it. At that time the US used to approve the promotion or appointment of any general or higher official; now the US is approving any promotion in the army from the rank of brigadier upwards. These individuals are identified as potential candidates for high office much earlier in their careers, during foreign training programmes and assignments. Another method of increasing foreign influence is through training, logistics, and incorporation of new weapons and other equipment from abroad into the fabric of the country’s infrastructure. During the 1990s, when the US imposed economic sanctions on Pakistan for daring to develop and build a nuclear weapon, a number of US Congressmen expressed concern that the US was damaging its own national security interests because it could not train the Pakistani army, which might therefore turn out more independent-minded soldiers and officers rather than US-sympathetic ones. Hence any association, training or socialisation between US and Pakistani groups is in the interests of the US, used to increase its influence and penetration in Pakistan’s society.

Similarly on the civilian side, by the 1980s the US was choosing ordinary heads of departments of almost all Pakistani universities, whereas before the US had been concerned only in the appointment of vice-chancellors and registrars. Similarly, promising young bureaucrats are picked out much earlier in their careers and given scholarships to pursue higher studies in the US. Upon completion of their studies, comfortable and high influential positions in government or semi-autonomous corporations await them, in which they can help the US to fulfil its own agendas.

The agitation of the PNA brought almost all heads of the opposition parties under direct US influence, including the ‘religious’ parties. Now the US’s grip on all these parties is much stronger than before. Almost all parties (especially the religious ones) approve of the US’s goals and methods, namely western democracy through corrupt electoral politics, despite anti-US and pro-Islam rhetoric.

After every upheaval, caretaker or lame-duck governments, each lasting from few weeks to few months, come into power to calm things down. The utility of caretaker governments to foreign powers is enormous: even more than that of an elected or even a military government, as they can make decisions of the utmost importance in seconds, without considering long-term implications or consulting anyone, without being called to account; even worse, their decisions are binding on later governments. Now the same act is in being played again. The whole notion of ‘caretaker government’ seems to be renting out management of the country to the World Bank or IMF for three months or more.

Since about 1980 the foreign influence and domination of the US and multilateral agencies in Pakistan’s policy-making and implementation and in electoral politics have increased significantly. Further control was slipped in by privatisation, when most profitable enterprises were passed into the domination of the US, zionists and western companies. The country’s foreign debt has increased by almost 30 percent in the last three years with no benefits to ordinary people, although they are the one who will have to pay back every penny. These foreign loans simply amount to payment for the services of the ruling elite and its allies. The political culture is such that no politician speaks of breaking relations with the World Bank or IMF, let alone advocating not paying back loans not spent on the welfare of the people.

5. Tyranny of domestic rulers increases

With each successive crisis, along with foreign domination, the tyranny of domestic rulers also increases. Unlike the tyranny of a despot or a dictatorship, as in other Muslim countries, such as the Shah in Iran, Saddam in Iraq, to Mubarak in Egypt or the Saudi kings in the Arabian peninsula, tyranny in Pakistan is more diffuse and not easily identifiable with any one despot or dictator. The overall moral environment has deteriorated significantly, to such an extent that life, property, respect, freedom to think and express opinions can be taken away at any moment by anyone -- political parties, state-sponsored terrorism, and on a daily basis theft and robbery at gunpoint in people’s own homes.

Mass-killings in mosques and other places of congregation are a way of demonstrating a group’s strength and power. Each successive crisis and division of society generates more ruthless splinter groups (defined by geography, language and the like); the new leaders of these new groups are even more oppressive and brutal than previous ones. Hence tyranny of small groups or parties is as severe as that of the state.

Anarchy in the name of freedom achieves the same results as coercion by the state. Tyranny is also ingrained in the rulers’ policies as well. The policies dictated by the foreign capitals, the World Bank and the IMF, leave an ordinary person more burdened and helpless by higher taxes and price increases, ‘creeping’ devaluation of the currency, corrupt and unethical practices, and cuts in social spending. It becomes more and more difficult for people to make ends meet and have a reasonable and acceptable quality of individual, family and social life.


From the brief description of events since 1984 the events in Pakistan can be seen to have progressed exactly as Dr Kalim Siddiqui predicted. His central point is that the factional infighting or “flash-in-the-pan” politics causes political upheavals and minor revolts: agitations are a constant feature of the political landscape, which in the end maintains a status quo without any real change in the system. In the process of in-fighting, the society further disintegrates, moral and ethical standards degrade; and corruption, loot and plunder become commonplace and acceptable as the norm of individual and collective behaviour.

Any intellectual is only as great as his ideas and works, and the proof is that they continue to be relevant and of interest long after his death. Dr Kalim was such a giant of contemporary thought and perception, who proposed a new consensus on the basic principles of Islam, and their applicability in modern societies, as an ideology that could be shared by all in the country, around which his people could rally to bring about meaningful and permanent change according to their hopes and Allah’s divine Will and Plan.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 4

Jumada' al-Ula' 15, 14282007-06-01

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