Pakistan's Mercenary Elites

Category: Asia, World Affairs Topics: Pakistan Channel: Opinion Views: 14969

In Pakistan today we encounter a paradox crying for an explanation; it is a paradox, moreover, whose exploration can bring some clarity to the predicament of the Islamicate today.

In January 2002, when President George Bush defined his near-term agenda for waging wars, he fixed his sights on Iraq, Iran and North Korea: the 'axis of evil,' marked for regime change. These countries were targeted-we were told-because they were developing 'weapons of mass destruction. 'In the case of Iraq and Iran, this was only a cover. More likely, the two countries were targeted because they opposed Israeli hegemony. Perhaps, too, the US wanted their oil. 

Oddly, Pakistan was not targeted for regime change. Yes, Pakistan has no oil. But the US-Israel axis could find her culpable on several other counts, each quite damnable. Pakistan is the only Islamicate country to possess nuclear weapons; she was guilty of nuclear proliferation; she was the chief patron of the Taliban regime; she has been accused by India of supporting cross-border terrorism in Kashmir; and, on the first two counts, Israel could tag Pakistan as the most serious threat to her security. 

Why was Pakistan not being targeted?

This question has gathered even greater force over the past two years; and for two reasons. After being stalled for a while by the ferocity of the Iraqi resistance, US plans for war against Iran are once again gathering steam. In the past few weeks, Israelis, Neocons, Christian Zionists and assorted hawks have again been baying for Iranian blood. Now, the US Senate too has joined the chorus. On September 26, with an overwhelming vote, it virtually handed President Bush the license to wage war against Iran. 

At the same time, there is little doubt now that Pakistan is 'hosting' both al-Qaida and the Taliban. Now rejuvenated, both organizations are operating from 'liberated' territories in Pakistan's Waziristan. More ominously, last July, Pakistani allies of the Taliban dared to challenge the authority of the state in Pakistan's capital. And since their rout there, they have continued to mount deadly attacks on the Pakistan army.

Yet, even today there is no talk of adding Pakistan to the 'axis of evil.' Why is there no clamor in the United States or Israel to invade Waziristan, to attack Pakistan's nuclear facilities, to punish her for nuclear proliferation, or to launch covert operations to seize Pakistan's nuclear assets before they fall into the hands of Pakistani nationalists, the Taliban or al-Qaida? This is the Pakistani paradox.

This paradox has a simple explanation: simple but also indicative of the malaise that afflicts nearly all the Islamicate world. In Pakistan, the US effected regime change without a change of regime. There was no need for an invasion, no need to fire a shot, no need for covert operations. At the first American touch, almost overnight, a terrible beauty was born. Instantly, the US had drafted the Pakistani military, nay the Pakistani state, to wage war against Islamic 'extremists.' The US had gained an army: and Pakistan's military dictators had gained longevity.

The ease with which Pakistan's sovereignty was terminated, the speed of this transaction, and no less the completeness of the foreign take-over, speaks volumes about Pakistan's history, the nature of her ruling elites, the timbre of her 'national' institutions, and the alienation, degradation and dereliction of Pakistan's middle classes. Within a few years of her birth, the state was privatized by landlords, generals and bureaucrats: three factions created, nurtured and guided into positions of leadership by the British. 

Instead of mobilizing the people, instead of educating them in the values of citizenship, instead of enriching Islamic traditions, instead of building a national economy, instead of developing indigenous technologies, Pakistan's ruling elites built bridges to the United States, to the US military, to foreign corporations, and to US-dominated multilateral institutions to create a technologically weak, a debt-ridden, and financially dependent economy controlled from outside through local elites.

Pakistan today is the fruit, the logical culmination of the agenda of accommodation launched in the nineteenth century by the two Ahmads of India-one founded a college to produce clerks who would be loyal to the British, another fashioned a whole new religion to instill servitude. The glorious hope of the two Ahmads was to serve the Empire. They were Muslims for the Empire. More than a hundred years later, their spiritual progeny serve a different Empire. If they are still around fifty years from now, they will be serving new Empires risen from the east.

For sixty years, Pakistan has been managed by different factions of its ruling elites-the military, bureaucracy, landlords-taking turns to plunder the people, competing against each other to serve foreign masters, at first covertly, but of late more openly, more blatantly, more treasonously. So complete now is the alienation of the domestic elites from their own society that their bidding against each other, the domestic competition to sell the institutions of the 'state' is now conducted in open view.

In order to stifle resistance, this dependent state methodically creates a weak, alienated, demoralized, and corrupt society. By failing to provide education, skills, and jobs, the state forces people to look outward, to turn to foreign shores for education, for jobs, and cultural inspiration. For every person who leaves for foreign shores, there are ten who are forced to stay at home, and whose education, careers, and very lives are organized around the chance of leaving the country. Pakistani society increasingly consists of would-be migrants waiting for their chance to dash out of the country's airports, ports and border-crossings.

It is the middle classes now who ape the elites, who in turn have been aping their foreign masters for more than a century. As English increasingly becomes the passport to success, they are forsaking their native languages. In the colonial era, the elites sent their children to the grammar schools, the missionary schools, and then they were packed off to Cambridge and Oxford. On succeeding their white masters, these 'whitened' natives brandished their command of English as the visible symbol of their new elevation to power. It marked them off from the 'natives' over whom they now ruled. A new caste had emerged, the native 'whites' segregated from their 'backward' cousins by their alien language, their affluence, their Western loyalties and dress, their moral turpitude, and their Western vacations and honeymoons.

The most damaging product of this alienation has been a deepening intellectual sterility. Despite the proliferation of degrees, every new generation of Pakistanis is intellectually more sterile than its predecessor. Each new generation has eagerly surrendered the traditional virtues of its predecessor without acquiring the virtues of its masters, their scholarship, their energy, and the humanity, which they practice among their own kind. The aping and mimicking of the diseases of foreign masters is far easier than the cultivation of the virtues that distinguish them, that are the sources of their power over their dark subjects.

Yet, resistance revives in some troubled hearts. At some point, this wholesale degradation of a society, this prostitution of national institutions, this miscegenation of foreign and native elites, produces revulsion in a few sensitive hearts. It gives birth to anger, art, struggle, new theories, and hopes for regenerating society. 

But this regeneration is arduous. The mongrel elites have raised many barriers, they have strung barbed-wire fences with watch-towers across the country's landscape. They have trained a mercenary military and perfidious police, led by officers schooled in the arts of repressing dissent. However, it is not these overt forces of repression alone that weaken and deflect the resistance.

The resistance can stand up to repression if it resonates with the people, if it can engage, stir, and mobilize them behind the cause of justice. But the alienation in society is so deep, the demoralization and apathy so complete that the few sensitive souls who choose to resist are left to twist in the wind, unsupported, unshielded, to be singled out and decapitated by the mercenary military and police. 

Yet, Pakistan is not without hope. In one corner of Pakistan, that hope comes from the sons and daughters of the mountains, yet uncontaminated by 'civilization,' firm in their faith, clear in their conviction, proud of their heritage, and ready to fight for their dignity. Though unschooled, they are clear-eyed as the eagle of the mountains. Their poverty steels their determination. They stood up against the Soviet marauders: and defeated them. Today, they are standing up again to reclaim their dignity and their lands from foreigners and native mercenaries.

In Pakistan now, as in much of the Islamic world, the alienation of the institutions of the state has reached its climax. In Iraq, the United States could not have restored colonialism without planting her boots on the ground. In Iran too, they dare not dream of capturing the state without boots on the ground. In Pakistan, however, the task of regime change has been truly a cake walk: it was achieved with Pakistani boots on the ground. 

A US weekly, Newsweek, has written that the Pentagon "wants [Musharraf] to turn much of Pakistan's military into a counterinsurgency force, trained and equipped to combat Al-Qaeda and its extremist supporters along the Afghan border." There, you have it-dear Pakistanis-in clear, bold print. What is this if not a plan for plunging your country into civil war, into a carnage far worse than what the Algerians have gone through?

How is it that the Pentagon dares to make such outlandish demands on the Pakistani army? The answer is simple. They do it because they know for a certainty that Pakistan's elites are eager to deliver; they know that Pakistan's mercenary-generals compete for American patronage; and Pakistan's scavenger-politicians crawl to Washington begging not to be left out of the deals to sell the Pakistani state. Worse, until recently, Pakistanis have watched from the sidelines, or turned away, and let it happen. 

For the first time now, a tiny segment of Pakistan's middle classes, the lawyers-though still outfitted in the ridiculous black attire given them by their erstwhile English masters-have stuck out their necks against the mercenary-generals, against the mercenary military, against the commodification of their state. It is an auspicious turning point for Pakistan. 

It is a sign that the Iqbalian spirit stirs a few Pakistanis. And observe what it has already accomplished. A few hundred Iqbalians have put the mercenary-generals on notice. The mercenary-generals postured, they scowled, they threatened, in desperation they turned to their masters for advice, they called up the scavenger-politicians to provide civilian cover. In short, for a brief moment, there was panic in the top ranks of the mercenary military.

For a brief moment only. The mercenary generals will not surrender so soon, or so easily. Indeed, it does not matter if one batch of mercenary-generals departs the scene: many more wait in the wings to take their place. If Pakistanis wish to avert civil war-and a bloody civil war it will be-then they must steel their hearts, they must gather courage, they must plan, they must organize, they must mobilize to take back their country, their state, and their military: to take it back definitively and with a clear understanding of how to make this nationalist appropriation irrevocable. 

The lawyers alone cannot do it for them; when they become too troublesome, the mercenary state will start disappearing the lawyers. Nevertheless, change will come to Pakistan: for those who can read the signs, the writing is on the wall. Pakistan's mercenary elites have hitched their wagon to the US 'global war on terror. 'The United States will direct this war, and it will be a dirty war. As in Iraq, American experts in counterinsurgency will not hesitate to turn Pakistan into a Guatemala or worse. 

Will Pakistanis dare to exert to make a stand for the change they want? If they choose to stay unconcerned, unthinking, disengaged, impassive, change will be imposed on them by the mercenary state. They will find themselves being dragged through a dirty war: many will loose their lives. Disappearances, executions, arbitrary arrests, in short, state terror will become common: the order of the day. 

If Pakistanis dare to change themselves, they can choose the change they want: to make the state work for them not against them, to reclaim history, to become the historical force that produces change. However, this change demands a price, a price in will, values and sacrifice. Pakistanis must search their hearts to revive the fire they have smothered for too long: the will to struggle, to resist, to live in dignity, connected to their history, drawing on their best traditions to forge a future that they will control. If they fail now, the game is lost. It may be lost forever.

Pakistanis can learn from Latin America, whose oppressed peoples-in particular, their indigenous people-after five centuries of oppression are raising their heads everywhere. Together, they are throwing off the shackles of the predatory state, the mercenary state that collaborated with a succession of Empires to destroy their lives, their hopes, their struggles. Today, they are reclaiming the state in Venezuela, in Bolivia, in Ecuador, in Nicaragua, and they are getting ever closer to victory across the entire continent.

The United States today is powerless to roll back these revolutions. It is powerless because the struggles of oppressed peoples are interconnected, interwoven. When the dispossessed resist in Palestine, when Iraqis battle behemoths in their country, when underdogs make a stand in Lebanon, when Afghan peasants run circles around armies of occupation: in short, when the wretched of the earth tie down the Empire in West Asia, they raise hopes of liberation in every quarter of the world, even amongst the oppressed classes in the very centers of power. 

The struggles of the past six years in West Asia have quickened the pace of history: they have opened a window for the liberation of the oppressed peoples everywhere. Just when the Empire was hatching its Project for the New American Century, history decided otherwise. It will be a new century alright, but there is scarce a doubt six years later that it will not be an American century, a reality that Americans should have the courage to accept graciously. Instead, it will be multi-polar century, with many centers of power, scattered across all the continents of the world. Once again, power is being decentralized, and we can hope that this new round of decentralization will produce more enduring results than the last one. The men and women leading the new decentralization are a new breed; they have not been chosen by their erstwhile masters. 

It is for Pakistanis now to seize this historical moment, to join the forward march of history. The historic changes underway in Latin America, and the new forms of resistance being forged in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Palestine are delivering new hope, new ideas, and new inspiration to oppressed peoples everywhere. Global empires are too costly to be sustained anymore: that is the singular message that Iraqis and Afghans are delivering to the world.

Will Pakistanis dare to join this universal struggle, harness its power, and seize the scales of justice? Will they follow the lead of the brave lawyers so that the streets of every city, every town, every village in Pakistan reverberate with their cries for honor and justice? Or will they choose to lengthen their vegetative seance, embrace ignominious death, and become the litter in the graveyard of history, their epitaph written by the foreign masters they have served for so long and so well? 

These questions are historical: they are also urgent. The choices before Pakistanis are clear: it is life or death. If they fail to act now, they will concede the stage to the Taliban and the mercenary elites. May the Pakistanis ponder deeply for an answer: may they choose to walk in the paths of justice: and may their difficult journey be victorious.

M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University. He is author of Challenging the New Orientalism (2007). He may be contacted at [email protected]. Visit his website at: M. Shahid Alam.

  Category: Asia, World Affairs
  Topics: Pakistan  Channel: Opinion
Views: 14969

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Older Comments:
I felt so good reading sister Aisha Noors coment, I wish each and every single muslim girl from the USA think like her.
I am so fed up with islam and being a nice muslim doing good and getting worst in return. I never wanted to ready anything about Islam but her coment catch my eyes and was surprised how can there be girls like Aisha in USA and then there is my wife because of who i dont even like the religion of islam now.

I had the priviledge to spend time in Pakistan in August. Through my husband I met many Pakistan women from farm women to the daughters of middle and wealthy class. Every where I went I was welcomed. What I found was young women embracing Islam and their Pakistani roots. Girls being educated in Pakistan and planning to use their education to better Pakistan. I found that in Pakistan young women are veiling not for their husbands but for the sake of Allah and themselves. I found the freedom of wearing the niqab myself in Pakistan. I have great hope for Pakistan and her people. I would gladly give up western society to live in Pakistan.

Romesh is wrong. Dr. Alam account of the predicament of Pakistan is excellent and very much needed. Intellectuals have a role to play in a struggle and Dr. Alam is doing his share - and doing it well. According to Romesh what is happening in Pakistan is normal and that is how the elites rule everywhere--- that is bull. Can the citizens of US take the abuse ordinary Pakistanis are being subjected? Hell no!

I've always enjoyed reading Romesh Chander's. He's sharp and cutting. I look down on hypocrites and people trying to beat about the bush. Well done Romesh!

It is a rambling piece of rhetoric that ploughs through the same old same old religio-political analysis without adding much. Compared to his very last write-up, this was a disappointment. It's an artfully done rhetorical piece without any new substance. The only time Professor Alam gets close to anything substantive was when he raises the idea of two Ahmads. But he refuses to dwell on it or even divulge the names fully. Was it an intentional omission? Or was it a lack of courage? I think he forgot that hed had even alluded to them. And why not? The piece is so meandering that he could have forgotten all about it after a couple of paragraphs. The insinuation is half-true, anyway, if my guess about the identities of these personalities is correct.

The Muslim world has been filled with religio-political froth for so long that I would have expected an economist like Professor Alam to skirt away from it for the purpose of efficiency. But no! That did not happen. And what we got was a mundane and classically neurotic piece of quasi-journalism and quasi-scholarship.

I would suggest that the Muslims' problem in about 57 or so countries has been the failure to transition from an agrarian society to an industrial society. This failure is now further vitiated by the fact that the new generation of Muslims know, understand, respect and follow Islam less than ever before. So, we have the angry Muslims of the world trying to fix it by force. Neither will this new trauma get fixed in this manner nor will the old trauma of economic non-competitiveness with European states get fixed by rhetorical indulgence no matter how lucid the language and how fanciful the flurry of the pen.

Professor Alam should really be spending his valuable time identifying the path to industrialization and the necessary reforms (not in our Shari'ah) in our business practices, schooling system, urbanization drive, environmental context, etc.

An insightful commentary by the good professor. In order to change the situation one requires a "head" and a "body". It is natural that those who are not sympathetic to Islam seek to belittle anyone who is working for that change. Keep the the good work and let it stick in their bilious craw.

ZEUS FROM U.S.A. said:
Excellent!It's really time for oppressed people everywhere to fight for their survival.Your article is not only about Pakistan and Muslim countries but almost about all so called "third world countries"(a term i don't like to use).Enough of 500 years of colonial domination,oppression,human degradation.With all due respect to their contribution to civilization,Euro-centric nations are leading Humanity to destruction with all these wars.
May peace prevail everywhere on Earth!

The professor writes "It is for Pakistanis now to seize this historical moment, to join the forward march of history. The historic changes underway in Latin America, and the new forms of resistance being forged in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Palestine are delivering new hope, new ideas, and new inspiration to oppressed peoples everywhere. Global empires are too costly to be sustained anymore: that is the singular message that Iraqis and Afghans are delivering to the world.".

Well, professor, what are you doing by sitting safely in Boston, enjoying peace and a good salary? The usual arm-chair intellectual and revolutionary!

Well, people rule through Elites they create (or support). That is how Ottomans ruled; that is how Mughals ruled (by giving land); and the British ruled Indian subcontinent (land and jobs); and the French ruled Indochina and N Africa, and US ruled South America.

And that is also how the rulers rule their own countries. UK rules UK through its elites (Bankers), US rules US through its elities of Bankers, Defense Contractors, universities and think tanks.

So, there was nothing new or unusual in the article. The methodologies are as old as there have been rulers and people around.

And Elites care only for themselves and their supporters, and nobody else; they will change sides quickly if needed; that is the concept of ruling classes. Ordinary people? Well, they are ordinary and kept that way by the ruling elites.

I agree with all of your points on a popular uprise but as you mentioned the pakistani popultion lacks key resoures to organize one which comes to mind is education. keeping the population dumb is direct influence on the elites by the Empire/War mongers. The US also realizes pakistan is the only Muslim nation to posses Nukes so keeping the the elites which control them is a priority so we not act freely. (exp: Musharraf purged its military who oppessed him in supporting the war on terror) Pakistan can only come out of this when the people take control and again i think pakistanis are being pulled apart by competing camps and we in the middle will suffer the most. we neither have the clear vision nor another Mohammad Ali Jina to lead us to another independence. Power and Greed comsumes all.

Good article

Great analysis...also expresses the frustrations you feel. O hope Pakistanis in the diaspora that I hope assist in more positive future through groups like and

Yes, Pakistan has it shortcommings. Yes, Pakistan has been strugling since its independance. Yes, it even lost half of its country. Still, Pakistan is the last best hope of the Ummah!
Correction on the two Ahmed's:
One Ahmed (Sir Syed Ahmed Khan) wanted to educate Indian Muslims so they could demand their rights in the one only way the British colonial knew and accepted: the British way!

This is an excellent analysis and truly represents the Pakistani situation.