WikiLeaks and Pakistan’s dysfunctional state

Raza Rumi

The WikiLeaks saga has reconfirmed the status of Pakistan as a client state. Its leadership — civilian and military — as a matter of routine, involves external actors in matters of domestic policy and power plays. We knew this all along but the semblance of documentary evidence confirms the unfortunate trends embedded in Pakistan governance systems. However, the orthodoxy that it is the West which interferes is not the full story. The inordinate influence exercised by ‘friendly’ Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, is also a sad reminder of how warped Pakistan’s way of living is.

India is the principal enemy; and our Saudi and Gulf friends wish the other neighbour, Iran, to be bombed. We are obsessed with “legitimate” security interests in Afghanistan. This is a dysfunctional state of being and has made us addicted to western aid, leveraging global great games and denying that regional cooperation is in our ultimate self-interest. Such delusional ways of looking at the world has made the state splinter and devolve authority to non-state actors, which can advance its security policies.

What is the picture that emerges from the cable-mess: A president lives in fear of being assassinated; the army chief ‘considers’ options to dismiss the elected president and then changes his mind because he “distrusts” the alternative — Nawaz Sharif — even more! The state benefits from American largesse and hates it at the same time. Civilian leaders regularly reiterate their support to the US — the second A in the power trinity of ‘Allah, America and the Army’. Sadly, nothing new. Yet, deeply disturbing.

Those who thought the lawyers’ movement has altered the course of Pakistani history, or that the re-emergence of civilian politics was going to shift the balance of power between the civil and the military, were wrong. Pakistan’s security establishment remains in charge of the country except that it no longer enjoys a monopoly. There are civilian allies of the non-state actors now who can adequately warn banned terrorist outfits of an impending crackdown.

The centre-province, civil-military and ideological fissures define the state of Pakistan in the 21st century. Of course, the conduct of Western powers does not help either. The US ambassador moves around the country reminiscent of the way a viceroy mediated warring domestic parties. The influence of the Saudi kingdom illustrated by their biases and sectarian worldviews dominates our policy considerations.

Pakistan cannot continue to function like this. It has moved to a situation where its dependent ruling elites are disconnected from an exploding population and embroiled in an intra-bourgeoisie conflict, thereby paving the way for short-term political instability and medium-term crisis of governance. Whether we like it or not, the world is rightly worried about a nuclear state unable to govern itself. It’s about time Pakistanis woke up and re-examined their obsession with outsiders destabilising the country. Who needs enemies when our ruling classes are playing the game so well?

Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2010.



Filed under lawyers movement, Left, Liberal Democratic Pakistan, movements, Pakistan, Pakistan-India Peace Process, public policy, secularism, south asia, Zardari

22 responses to “WikiLeaks and Pakistan’s dysfunctional state

  1. libertarian

    @Raza Rumi: is it possible to reform Pakistani polity through an evolutionary process? If so, could you provide an outline? Or is a messy, bloody revolution the only option for excising the cancer?

  2. Rabail Tariq

    Everybody knows it is not a fight of any nation it is the fight started against Muslims by the pronouncement of crusade by Bush and his accomplices engulfing all religions on the advice of the only self proclaimed terrorist nation of the world. Now the fact must be faced and said boldly. It is fault of our leaders that we allowed these criminals like Bush to do what he did. The present move through Wikileaks is a continuation of Bush policies. The release of these documents for Pakistan will do nothing other than to further undermine standing in the eyes of international community. It is just an attempt to create gross misunderstandings and diplomatic crisis between the Islamic countries; the dangerous dent inflicted to the relations between Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan being the worst part. I think Pakistan is capable and strong enough to handle all the foreign and internal influences. The King may have rightly said about President Zardari, but the question is, after this leak shall the sitting ruling party would be able to rely on this tested friend? But the impact of the horrendous remarks of the Saudi King can dissipate the existing warm relationship between these most important countries of the Muslim world. Wikileaks has launched a campaign to harm the relationships between Muslim countries which is condemnable.

  3. Bin Ismail

    @Raza Rumi:
    Your words, “…Who needs enemies when our ruling classes are playing the game so well…” remind me of Ghalib’s line:
    “huway tum dost jiskay dushman usska aasman kyoon ho”.

    Your words “…is it possible to reform Pakistani polity through an evolutionary process?…” remind me of Ghalib’s line:
    “kaun jeeta hai teri zulf kay sar honay tak”.

    Bin Ismail

  4. Rashid Aurakzai


    Anything is possible but at the moment, symptoms are of a civil war. Some argue it’s has hatched already.’Bloody Revolution’ is yet to take its first step.

  5. Caroline

    et tu Brutus?

  6. Caroline

    Sorry, was referring to Wiki Leaks!
    et tu Brutus!

  7. nourdu

    @Rabail Tariq,

    You are wise and speak well my friend. It is indeed the fecking Bush plan to destroy the ummah!

  8. PMA

    I am surprised that Raza Rumi is surprised.
    Pakistanis pay near to no income or wealth taxes. What ever tax is collected it goes straight into the pockets of corrupt officials. The public sector is run on loans and foreign aid, which means there is no public accountability of the funds. The government is answerable not to its people but to the donor states and banks. United States or Saudi Arabia or Gulf States will not be able to dictate and interfere in Pakistan’s affairs if Pakistani people learned to stand on their own two feet, paid taxes and held their government responsible for people’s money. Pakistani people particularly rich have to share part of the blame. Obviously Pakistan’s ruling elite prefer the present system. So what if they have to obey their paymasters. It is far easier to answer to the American ambassador in Islamabad than to the millions of angry tax payers. Americans are our global masters. Petro-Arabs are our local masters. Even our journalists and media owners are on foreign payroll. Presently India gets her way with Pakistan through her ally and our grand master America. Wiki Leaks have already shown that. But the day India will be able to pay our ruling elites the way Arabs and Americans do, they will start dancing on Indian tunes as well. We have seen it happen before. Our friends as well as our enemies must know that neither our friendships nor our animosities are permanent. Like a prostitute we are for the highest bidder. With coming decline of America the time to change masters is coming.

  9. lal

    I sound ridiculous even to me ,but in some perverse way I find PMAs post reassuring.It is always easy to predict a greedy and corrupt system than an a system based on a perverted ideology.

  10. no-communal

    “Presently India gets her way with Pakistan through her ally and our grand master America.”

    I was wondering exactly what way India gets with Pakistan through her ally America. The only “way” I can think of is acknowledging that AK was Pakistani. May be somebody sagacious can clarify this.

  11. @libertarian
    Yes evolutionary process is viable and lessons of contemporary history prove that..
    We need uninterrupted decades of democracy, a strong public opinion and strong institutions (including accountable political parties)
    More on that later

  12. Tilsim

    @ Lal
    “It is always easy to predict a greedy and corrupt system than an a system based on a perverted ideology.”

    Well put. But actually, Pakistan’s polity continues to move from a greedy and corrupt system to one also based on a violent perversion of Islam. This country is very different to the country I knew as a child and even that was different to the one’s my parents grew up in. PMA may be right about the old elites who are fading away but there is now more to this. The statist and lazy value system of the old elites is being replaced by a new activist outlook championed by the media, the courts and bureaucracy. Separate to this is the violent jihadist sub-culture that has taken hold of a certain section of the lower middle and middle classes. It’s not predictable any more. Some of us are as worried as the rest of the world, more so. We can do little individually but collectively we can try in our own ways to turn things around. It’s also not always about a conflict with modernity – Zaid Hamid is as modern as they come. It’s about the quest for a mythical religious purity, absolute certainty, power and the consequential efforts to homogenise a diverse culture and to iron out pluralism for a vision of a powerful Islamist state. Overarching all of these factors is a total crisis of ethics in society and a resulting sense of seige amongst ordinary people. Our entire culture is being transformed due to the violence of Islamists and the State’s dysfunctional response, including the role that the PML-N is playing as Raza alludes to. The PML-N is in charge of Punjab which is perhaps the next most advanced after KP-K in the quest for an Islamist transformation.

    Raza is right, the meteoric rise in terrorism is demonstrating that things cannot continue as they are any more. As things have stood for the last few decades, there is only one clear vision on offer to the populace and that is a militarist Islamist one to replace this weak and amorphous State. The only hope is that with the encouragement of liberals across all sections of society, a national party like the PPP somehow finds it’s bearings and delivers on a liberal vision, leadership and governance. The MQM has a role to play but only in urban Sindh realistically as things stand. For a start the PPP, MQM and ANP should stop fighting each other.

  13. libertarian

    @Raza Rumi: We need uninterrupted decades of democracy, a strong public opinion and strong institutions (including accountable political parties). More on that later

    Looking forward to it.

    @Tilsim: you seem to describe a largely political problem. Pakistani society – with allowance for Zia-isation – is still vibrant and largely rational. If the problem is indeed largely political, that’s easier to counter and roll back. A left-oriented political party – comprising credible people – would have that constituency all to itself.

    The allure of the MQM is baffling. Seems a large part of their popularity stems from effective governance. A party in the mould of the MQM – without the obvious drawbacks – promising and delivering good governance at the local level, should be a hit with large sections of the urban population. A party that can actually trust the people to correct it’s excesses.

    End of the day people need hope. Hope that tomorrow can be better than today. Hope that our kids will inherit a decent and just society, and something worth fighting for. Absent someone telling them about a glorious tomorrow, they’ll follow revisionist, triumphalist cranks like Zaid Hamid who only talk of glorious yesterdays.

  14. Tilsim

    @ Libertarian
    Indeed, people need not only a vision of a glorious tomorrow but need to experience it too. Certainly, the creative vision of Pakistan was fulfilled in it’s initial decades, in a big and transformational boost to the people’s material well being. In Adnaan’s article ‘Giant in the East’, it’s good to hear the voices of Indians describing how better governance and material prosperity has been transformative to their lives. In this difficult hour we do need a new political vision so that Pakistanis do not just give up on our country in a bout of collective depression. It’s an alternate populist vision and it’s practical implementation that seem so elusive. Musharraf muttered ‘enlighted moderation’, took some steps, but did not follow through amidst insitutional opposition. Still he managed to capture the imagination of a sizeable number of rational people who still support him even though he has been discredited. There is no one in the current PPP leadership who can do even that. That needs to change.

  15. fightingchance71

    Zardari should exact vengeance, get his generals to attack Saudi Arabia, get control of the sacred mosques and the oil wells…..will be the end of the world. Do it Zardari….finish it off.

  16. Parvez

    Now that Wikileaks has exposed and confirmed the fact that Pakistani elite is in cahoots with American global elite, let me lay out the reality for all, left, right and center.
    We the Pakistani elite are just doing fine. We are doing better than ever before. Global elite is fully supportive for our welfare by giving us cash even though we think that we are not fully compensated for our services. We are constantly working on this problem. Have you noticed how many high official visit us every year. They used to call us long distance telephone but now they have to come in person. We are making good progress. This is a long term relationship where now they can’t walk away and we won’t let them. This is marriage made in hell and not a thing for chicken heart.
    You can talk about evolution or revolution and now let me. Now let me talk to some of you book worms. Evolution occurs over millions of years in biological terms. Show me evolution in recorded history. Every empire or nation has degraded over time because they became soft and we won’t let that happen. The war on terror is perfect opportunity for us to produce perfect fighting organization and then we buy them off.
    Now we also know from history that revolutions do occur infrequently. We have multi-pronged strategy to deal with that. We are raising the food prices to keep people on leash. After a few years most people would be so weak that they would not have enough energy to come to the street. We learnt this from our esteemed to the east. Then we use democracy to discredit any revolutionary talk. You have any major issues with us, go talk to your elected representatives. We pay them good for these services. We are already evolved, and we do not discriminate based on ethnicity, religion or race.
    We make and break the rules as need. If you cooperate, you can get benefits of trickle down. Have fun writing a response.
    Devil’s Advocate

  17. Bade Miyan

    PMA has a hard time writing two sentences without launching into an anti India diatribe. After writing homilies about how Pakistani elites need to do this and that, he goes into a familiar troll or manufactured angst. He is also a part of the problem.

  18. no-communal

    I have come to realize that. Normally I avoid commenting on posts like these. The state of Pakistan wikileaks has exposed is really a matter for Pakistanis to discuss. And there are enough rational, intelligent, and smart Pakistanis in PTH who can do that. But take a look at the post above. Clearly the writer is an intelligent and smart Pakistani. The extremely fluid writing leaves no doubt about it. But note the following observation he makes in the middle:
    “Now we also know from history that revolutions do occur infrequently. We have multi-pronged strategy to deal with that. We are raising the food prices to keep people on leash. After a few years most people would be so weak that they would not have enough energy to come to the street. We learnt this from our esteemed to the east. Then we use democracy to discredit any revolutionary talk.”
    Now imagine we were debating an internal issue of India, massive corruption, Radia tapes, civil nuclear deal, you name it. How many times do you think Pakistan would be mentioned ? It’s amusing to see the almost compulsive reflex in some educated Pakistanis to at least once refer to India in a negative way.

    I probably shouldn’t have said this. After all, unless we engage constructively, we merely create distractions in posts like these. But this is a slow weekend for me, and the post above, which I was enjoying immensly because of the dry humor, threw me off a little by that reference in the middle. So I couldn’t help but make a light comment. Anyway, before I am rebuked, insulted, or told to mind my own business, let me just say that it’s no big deal, please carry on.

  19. libertarian

    @Tilsim: Still he (Musharraf) managed to capture the imagination of a sizeable number of rational people who still support him even though he has been discredited. There is no one in the current PPP leadership who can do even that. That needs to change.

    Waiting for the PPP to regain it’s ideological moorings is waiting for hell to freeze over. Waging political war against the insiders (PPP and PML-N) has to be asymmetrical. The use of technology – twitter, facebook, sms, blogs and internet-based fund-raising – could be the force-multiplier for political outsiders to menace the insiders. In a war of ideas everyone wins.

  20. Mustafa

    Funny some of these concepts are actually being spoken of here in PTH. Before when me and other people used to talk of our elite being with the Americans, when we said that Zardari and others were corrupt, when we said IK was the only leader outside American influence and the tons of toher stuff I mentioned before Wiki Leaks, the people at PTH called me conspiracy theorist, rightist, islamic rightist, zardari basher and other such names. Now Raza Rumi and others have just began to admit that Zardari and others are curropt and taking dictation from America. I wonder why people would not listen before, why does WikiLeaks have to confirm this? Wasnt this obvious from before?

  21. @ Rabail Tariq (December 4, 2010 at 5:25 pm)

    Wikileaks has only confirmed that Saudi Arabia is a rational political actor, which places its interests over other considerations, including religion, when pursuing policy options. Unlike your predictions, this exposure will not harm relations, between Saudi Arabia and other Muslim states, because those relations have never been predicated on the premise of religion in the past and such, religion will never play a role in future considerations impacting the interests of Saudi Arabia and Muslim states.

    In the similar vein, Pakistan communicating with Israel to coordinate a preventative response to a terrorist attack against Israeli interests was a result of the reality of international politics, which is based on the idea of secularization of sovereign interests and not on the basis of ideological conflicts. Ideoloical conflicts do exist in the international system, but as the former British Prime Minister Lord Palmerstone once said, nations have permanent interests and not permanent enemies and ideological reasons are always subordinated, or even exploited, by the realism of policy choices.

    nourdu (December 4, 2010 at 7:40 pm)

    Nourdu, Muslim ummah cannot be destroyed because it is a myth and you cannot destroy something that does not exist! Wikileaks has only proven this point that the whole idea of a Muslim ummah was a lie and not even the Muslim states believed in it. There is no conspiracy against Islam and to keep believing that there is a conspiracy against Islam, will not make it into a reality.



    One assessment of these WikiLeaks is, if the article is to be believed, that US diplomacy has been severely handicapped because it will be some time before the US rebuilds the level of trust to allow people to speak openly to it and it will make the US diplomats think twice before sending dispatches as the seal of confidentiality has been torn away by WikiLeaks.