At war within


Imagine a scenario. US Special Forces raid a target in India, complete the operation and successfully extricate. What would the discussion be like? Would you have Indians arguing that there is no point in invoking sovereignty against the US because India’s sovereignty has been undermined in every third district by the Naxals every day for decades? I don’t think so.

Yet, in this country, this very argument has been trotted out by sections of society that are educated and liberal, and by being so are best placed to advance the interests of this country. Why would educated people make such error of conflation?

Somewhat simple, and here we get into the definitional problem of what is best for this country. These sections do not think that the manner in which the idea of security has been conceptualised traditionally in Pakistan is the right one. They aren’t too wrong in this but given the sharpening of the fault-line(s) they tend to move away entirely from realpolitik.

But this is not the only problem with their approach. The bigger problem is that even in trying to reclaim the state, even if conceptually, they end up mixing up the concept of the state and how it has to operate in an anarchic world with the “establishment” that remains in occupation of the state and which they oppose for its worldview. And such is this opposition that they are prepared to accept the violation of state sovereignty by another state, putting a moratorium on the fact that sovereignty is a core concept for the very existence of a state entity.

In his 1937 essay On Contradiction, Mao Tse Tung, explaining the principal contradiction, the principal aspect of a contradiction and secondary contradictions argued that “In a semi-colonial country such as China, the relationship between the principal contradiction and the non-principal contradictions presents a complicated picture”. He wrote:

“When imperialism launches a war of aggression against such a country, all its various classes…can temporarily unite in a national war against imperialism. At such a time, the contradiction between imperialism and the country concerned becomes the principal contradiction, while all the contradictions among the various classes within the country (including what was the principal contradiction, between the feudal system and the great masses of the people) are temporarily relegated to a secondary and subordinate position.”

But then he presents another dimension – i.e. that of indirect imperialism:

“When imperialism carries on its oppression not by war, but by milder means – political, economic and cultural – the ruling classes in semi-colonial countries capitulate to imperialism, and the two form an alliance for the joint oppression of the masses of the people. At such a time, the masses often resort to civil war against the alliance of imperialism and the feudal classes, while imperialism often employs indirect methods rather than direct action in helping the reactionaries in the semi-colonial countries to oppress the people, and thus the internal contradictions become particularly sharp.”

The problem for us becomes sharper. The liberals, especially the left-liberals, have always accused the establishment, primarily the military, of renting itself out to the United States in combination with the reactionary rightwing. But we have had an about-face which has turned the rightwing against the state represented by the traditional security policies. Sections of the liberals are fairly happy with the current round of renting out that beats up the rightwing. Seen from this perspective, it is not the rentier approach itself but who the military should rent itself out to which matters. But then the military presents another problem. While it has evidently been allied with the US, it has also, equally evidently, pursued policies which diverge sharply from those of the US. The raid in Abbottabad is the starkest manifestation of that.

At this point the liberals feel unhappy again and argue that the military secretly remains allied with the rightwing. In fact, some go to the extent of arguing that the military is callously happy to get its own men, officers and soldiers, killed to advance its concept of security. At this point, the principal contradiction for the left-liberals and the liberals shows itself again to be between the civilians and the military rather than between Pakistan and the US, what Mao would have referred to as “imperialism”.

The state at this juncture is hanging in a limbo – the right and the left do not consider it legitimate, nor do the liberals. In fact, at this point, while the right wants to attack and kill military personnel because the military is fighting America’s war, the left and the liberals want the US to bring enough pressure to bear on the military to ensure it buckles under, is weaned from its traditional security paradigm, and helps decimate the rightwing. The hidden assumption in this is that if the US could force the Pakistani military into cleaning up its act, that would also indirectly lead to civilian supremacy in this country.

These sharp fault-lines are the biggest threat to Pakistan, more formidable than anything the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine on the one hand and the US juggernaut on the other can pose. Both entities, the extremists and the US, are in the process of exploiting these fault-lines and the contest is unfolding to the detriment of Pakistani state and society.

And these contradictions are only going to sharpen further. I wrote two articles, one on the civil-military divide, the other on the need for Pakistan to take the issue of the American incursion to the UN. At a dinner, my host, a sharp, young economist and entrepreneur, said to me: “I really loved your article on the civil-military divide but then I read your other piece and it was more tilted towards the establishment.”

His formulation left me wondering and I asked him: “How can my insistence that the military bow to the civilians contradict my argument that the state should protest the violation of its sovereignty unless you conflate the military with the state?”

But that is precisely where we are. The situation has reached a point where many would be happy to have the military bludgeoned and humiliated by an external power even if the state loses its sovereignty in the process. Would we even be viable as a state after that considering that we are not a nation anymore?


The writer is Contributing Editor, The Friday Times.



  1. There was no need for you to pick India as an example. They have democracy and we have other way around. Someone very wisely said that Pakistan is for Army and not for civilians.. The day civilians are given the reigns of all institutions the whole picture will change. We must accept our failures and approach towards our "Strategic Assets".

    • What kind of silly argument is this? Naxals are natives. They are not Al-Qaeda of India. I expected a better example from Ejaz. Al Qaeda are foreign elements, Naxals are not! Get a grip Ejaz!

      • I agree with your comments and would suggest to our countrymen to look within and then come up with solid analysis.

  2. Ejaz,
    Imagine another scenario where the ruling junta in India allowed the target killing of its civilians(innocent or otherwise) in a certain vaguely defined area. That permission was granted and renewed by the powers that be on a verbal basis in a highly opaque manner. The quid pro quo being that 1)the junta will assume monopoly over all hue and cry when the Americans struck 2)The compensation will be pocketed by the same junta and, after taking their obligatory cut, spent on “toys for the boys”. At this point, the ‘liberals’, as you characterize them, then, would just be at fault for thinking that the Americans loosely interpreted, of course to their own advantage, the said verbal agreement. If such agreements were only with the Americans, the ‘liberals’ could sleep easy but the same set of agreements, this time offering protection, were stuck with the guys that the Americans wanted to kill; and not in so many (written) words. This was in pursuit of some hedging strategy which, by the way, only had value visible to the twisted minds of the junta and which the populace and (‘liberal’) intelligentsia were too blind to behold . And so who could blame the ‘liberals’
    in India for capitulation when no one knows orunderstands the bloody agreements. Unluckily(for the junta) the Americans can also play both sides and realize , as the same ‘liberals’ would say, that everything is for sale at the right (under the table) price.

    Returning to reality in present day Pakistan, we see that this is what has happened and the ‘liberals’ can only suppress their smirk before saying ‘I told you so’ . Since it was a bilateral(or should I say personal) arrangement , UN does not come in and no one followed up on the suggestion that you put forward. This , as you rightly point out, only makes sense if the ‘liberals’ confuse the state with the military, which I may add has graduated from a mere ‘confusion ‘ to reality, at least for those of us who you label as liberal. Most likely, another arrangement has been agreed upon as indicated in the latest developments. We (military) has given access to the raid’s survivors (widows and all) and furthermore, we have agreed agreed to entertain Kerry by returning the unfortunate helicopter’s wreckage. This is what I call giving someone a bloody nose and then blaming the same nose for hurting my hands. The unfortunate thing for us is we don’t know what the new agreement is. So, for us ‘liberals’, onto the next crisis which will be perceived to threaten our sovereignty. At least we will know what was decided this time around!

  3. Ejaz:

    How does India thing parallel to Pakistan's?

    And please don't hide behind the long Mao theory to say what you are trying to say. If your discussion is about 'a power balance between civilian and military, say it in plain english.

    Labeling certain positions as 'Liberal' or 'rightwing' does not earn you any extra credit. Explain the positions on their own merit. Like, 'traditional security policies'. What is that goddamn thing? Is it good or bad? Did it work? Where did it go wrong? Are 'People' better-off with it?

    Your last paragraph of your article really sums up your sentiment! Well, don't worry: you got fifty more F-17 (freebee).

  4. Naxals are Indian nationals who challenge the state or the current order. There is no parallels of that to the American raid or sheltering Laden.

  5. Naxals aren't that much different from the TTP. They both espouse a different kind of present nation-state, with a new structure.

    Speaking of heads in the sand, one paradigm that needs to be dispensed of is the constant harping on the Taliban being 'foreign' elements. They're Pakistanis who want a different Pakistan. If they were seeking to cede from Pakistan they'd call themselves something other than TTPakistan. They're a reality that needs to be accomodated politically one way or the other. Or else the left-liberals will go the way of the Shah and his minions. Your 'sharp' and dimwitted host will not know what hit him. In a way that might be a good thing. Popped bubbles always are. The 'establishment' will still live. He will not.

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