By Scaliger, Charles
The New American , Vol. 24, No. 3
Whatever Pakistan's founder Muhammed Ali-Jinnah may have envisioned for the future of his country, it certainly was not this. A proverbial land of contrasts, Pakistan boasts some of the world's loftiest mountains as well as vast stretches of hot, parched desert; teeming cities as well as sparsely populated frontier regions where the forces of law and order seldom venture; a government organized along British constitutional lines but enshrining Islam as the state religion; and a remnant of forward-thinking, Western-leaning intellectual and political elites hard pressed by widespread Islamic radicalism. The recent assassination of Pakistan's grande dame, Benazir Bhutto, has focused the attention of the world on the desperate plight of the world's second-largest Muslim state (after Indonesia), but the deepening crisis there transcends the current partisan violence.
What is surprising about modern-day Pakistan is not that the country is lurching toward collapse and civil war, but that it has taken so long to happen. For Pakistan was birthed in blood, and her history since 1947, the year of her founding, has featured four major wars, numerous military incidents with archrival India, and a government that has oscillated between popularly elected prime ministers and military dictatorship.
Originally part of the Raj, or British India, the territory that became Pakistan (including modern-day Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan) was the subject of a bitter tug of war between India's Congress Party, led by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, and the Muslim League, led by the intractable Jinnah. It was Gandhi's hope that India after independence would remain a single country and that Muslim and Hindu would be able to set aside religious differences in the interest of national unity. But it was not to be. The so-called Partition of India at independence brought about one of the largest migrations in human history, with millions of Hindus leaving Pakistani territory to settle in India, and millions of Muslims departing India for what at the time were deemed the greener pastures of the "Land of the Pure."
Yet subsequent history has decided the issue in favor of Gandhi's vision. India, itself home to a Muslim population only slightly smaller than Pakistan's, has made steady progress, especially during the last decade and a half or so, and is rapidly being transformed into another Asian economic success story. While religious tensions have occasionally flared into full-blown bloodletting, India has held together and managed to sustain, with the exception of a single notorious interlude of dictatorship (Indira Gandhi's "Emergency"), an elected, secular government, religious freedom, and a robust free press--this in a neighborhood also featuring the likes of Communist China and Burma.
Pakistan, by contrast, remains one of the poorest countries in Asia, with little or no economic growth to be shown for decades of misrule. Brutal military dictatorships have generally been the remedy for corrupt popular government; the latest, Pervez Musharraf's corruption-ridden autocracy, has run roughshod over Paki stan's constitution for nearly a decade and enriched Pakistan's military at the expense of everybody else.
When Pakistan embarked on an ambitious nuclear program in the 1970s, then-Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (father of Benazir) famously and callously remarked that, rather than let India monopolize nuclear weapons in South Asia, his people would even "eat grass" if the transfer of resources to the nuclear program demanded it.
And so the people have, almost literally. By current estimates, Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal of around 100 warheads, developed after decades of expensive research, nuclear espionage, and the construction of multiple enrichment facilities. Her military bristles with an impressive array of state-of the-art strategic missiles and other modern weapons. …