Several segments of Pakistani society are discussing the option of a violent confrontation with the US to stop the drone attacks. An analysis of why this is not a viable option
There are several reasons why the rulers of Pakistan should avoid an armed conflict with any country:
(1) Pakistan is not a war economy in the sense that it does not have a military-industry complex and functional institutions that can sustain the nation during a violent conflict. Pakistan is mainly an agrarian economy which mainly exports raw material, staple food items, textile and sports products. It means we may be able to sustain a population with staple foods but we may not be able to sustain an armed conflict, which, in modern times, is a conflict of the capacity to produce machines. A conflict with an industrially superior country means we will not be able to match their fighting machines, especially with imported fighter jets. We do not have the assembly line to replace the fighting jets if they are consumed by a war.
(2) We have not invested in human capital to produce a happy, and, therefore, loyal citizenry. A large number of Pakistanis are illiterate, hungry, unskilled and burdened with the task of mere surviving (not living). The loyalty of our citizenry is evident in the sheer number of visa-seekers outside different embassies and visa centres. Some politicians call this mass exodus as 'voting with the feet'. If the number of citizens who want to leave this country is greater than the number of those who want to come in, we have already lost on many frontiers without fighting.
(3) Our civilisational and national story is fissured. We have not created a convincing national narrative of our past, present, and future. Our museums deny certain eras and our past is a sketchy contruction of ideological myopia (the Hindu past of South Asia is denied and the Buddhist/Gandhara period is privileged). Our future narrative, unlike that of the West, is uncertain. It means we do not provide anything as 'the object of our progress'. Hence, we will not be able to motivate a lot of people towards any goal. Even the State does not seem to have any tangible goals to achieve but to ensure its mere survival. Look at the recent statement of the Prime Minister: "Luckily, we are the first in the queue of loan seekers".
(4) Our courts serve the interests of only certain classes and our recent past shows that we believe more in the rule of might than in the rule of justice and due process. Without the respect for due process, institutions do not remain functional. Without functional institutions, even peace time progress becomes impossible, as is evident through the speed of industrialisation in the country.
(5) Because of ideological confusion, we have not prioritised which mode of survival we need to ensure first: biological, cultural, or technological. In the past, many civilisations have disappeared because of this problem. Vikings in Greenland, as studied Jared Diamond in his book Collapse, disappeared because of their cultural taboo against eating fish. They privileged their cultural survival over their bodily health. In the end, their bodies and culture both vanished.
(6) We do not have a system of critique. Critique and the freedom of expression are essential for a society to know about its malfunctioning institutions and the venality of its leaders. With the suppression of critique, the nation will not learn anything and will continue to labour under vain and self-congratulatory regimes until everything grinds to a halt.
(7) Our peace-time institutions are overshadowed by war-time institutions. The military has so often taken over the State in Pakistan that we are no longer a state for the welfare of the people but for the welfare of the military elite. When military institutions become more important than civilian institutions, most of the non-military segments of society and state become dysfunctional. An example is the condition of Pakistan Railways. In a recent interview, Qaiser Bengali has said that the National Logistics Cell, a military freight forwarding enterprise, has obdurately eaten into the freight business of Pakistan Railways. Because of its dwindling profits, Pakistan Railways cannot offer comfortable travel services. Because a very large number of people depend on public transport, we have sacrificed civilian comfort for the expansion of military profits.
(8) Our political parties are dynastic parties and, therefore, do not represent the people. An ordinary person cannot join a party and become its leader without the lottery of "being born privileged". It makes our peace time politics elitistic and, as a result, produces a large number of people who are disillusioned and alienated with the political processes. The disenfranchised people, then, have no way of seeking redress and may be seduced by a seditionist or invader who promises a relatively egalitarian system of political expression.
(9) Different state institutions are so dysfunctional that they are constantly in debt to the extent that different governmental ministries and departments cannot pay their own electricity bills. If several parts of the State are not viable in peace time, how will they survive a war? To win a war, peace time functionality has to be achieved first.
(10) The social contract in Pakistan is not valid. States enter into a contract with citizenry with the promise of providing them lifetime safety, security, health, and an environment conducive to the greatest good of the greatest number. This promise legitimises the extraction of tax from the people. If a citizen of Pakistan has to pay the taxes and still have to bribe different state officials to seek redress for any crime committed against his or her person or property, the social contract does not remain valid. By allowing this situation to continue, the State actually encourages tax fraud and corrupt tactics and also loses the loyal of citizens in war time. If the State wants citizens to honour the promise of national loyalty in war time, it has to keep its promise in peace time first by respecting the social contract it has with the state.
Because of the above salient points, Pakistan is not in a situation to engage in war with the only superpower in the world and, therefore, has to seek sovereignty through dialogue and diplomatic means.
Published in The News on Sunday
dated November 30, 2008