Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Pakistan: a national army, a ‘gora’ president and the New Raj

At Pakistan's independence in 1947, the officer class of the newly formed Pakistan army were as anglicized as they come. Orders were issued in English, whisky was drunk in the officer's mess and orderlies and privates were just that: ordinary people.
Officers were privileged and came from the landed gentry. The reasons for this condition are complex but suffice it to say that the British colonial master found it easier to rule by cultivating a group of loyal benefactors.

Anyone examining today's Pakistan Army sees a different demographic altogether. Along with the rise of the middle class, the army has also lost its 'elite' quality.
The change in the character of the military's officer class reflects the social changes within Pakistan. The 'awami' or national army is a reality. Surely, there are military families with three or more generations of soldiers but being a 'gentleman' is no longer a prerequisite to becoming an army officer. (Nor is the ability to imbibe whisky without showing signs of inebriation!)
The army draws soldiers from ordinary Pakistanis. These same Pakistanis are then provided an institutional character, through training and educational programs.
Pakistan's politicians, however, seemed to have missed the train. They are drawn from the same pot as their forebears 60 years ago.
Unfortunately, the pot is as black today as it was in Pakistan's early days.
With some exceptions, the average politician still represents the lands granted to them by the British in return for loyalty to the Crown. Only that the Crown has been replaced by the Pakistani state.
Here's the problem: the British were colonial rulers explicitly pursuing selfish national interests with little regard for the 'natives,' except to the extent the natives adversely affected governance. Pakistan, however, is a free post-colonial nation and its politicians, theoretically, have interests intertwined with the population.
If Zardari, Pakistan's accidental President, is representative of the broader class Pakistanis call politicians then something is terribly wrong.
Zardari's recent behaviour has been disgraceful.
First, contrary to the advice of many in Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, he refused to cancel his state visit to Britain. That would have been the normal reaction to Pakistan being unceremoniously slapped in the face by the new British leader during a state visit to India. Subsequently, when the extent of the disastrous flooding became known Zardari still refused to adjust his official schedule and return to Pakistan. (Let's not even bring up the many allegations of his corruption.)

In reality, Zardari reflects the 'New Raj:' a class of politicians who view themselves as the Rulers and the huddled, dirty masses as the Ruled. The New Raj does not identify itself with national problems – they are 'above' such petty matters. Even worse, the New Raj does not care about the Ruled.
Is it any wonder that the Ruled are slowly turning to Islamic parties for salvation?
Frustrated desperation leads people to do silly things. And silly is exactly what support for Taliban inspired ideological tyrants means for a population used to praying at Sufi shrines and living peacefully with Shias and other 'deviants' in their midst. A population which enjoys colours, music, singing and dancing, not forced to remove all enjoyment from daily lives.
When the gap between the Ruler and the Ruled is wider than an overflowing Indus River it is hard to stem the tide of nature. Even the 'Awami Army' appears to be getting tired of playing house and cleaning up after the politicians once every decade.
Now if I were General Kayani, the humble son of a Junior Commissioned Officer, I surely would not be too upset that people are throwing shoes at Zardari. Nor that the motorcades of Parliamentarians visiting flood affected areas are being pelted with stones by ordinary citizens.
The people of Pakistan deserve better than the New Raj and I don't mean the Mullahs.
NB – 'Gora' is a slang Urdu term for white people. In some ways, it can be likened to 'ang moh' as used in Singapore. 'Awami,' loosely translated, means national.

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