Category Archives: Historical Geo-economics

How history has repeated itself in areas of Geo-Economics.

200 YEAR OLD PATH OF IMPERIALISM

A strong military is a geo-strategic requirement for Pakistan, especially due to the fallout of the Afghan war.  The two hottest issues in Pakistan Are the operation that killed Osama bin Laden and the drone strikes which regularly kill people.  No matter if people blame the military for inaction till the cows come home, the fact is that Pakistan depends on others for its weaponry.  Be it China or US or France.  The US is militarily superior to China and Europe combined.  Pakistan a few weeks ago received an offer of 85 mini-drones used primarily for aerial photography.   We have no drones for aerial engagement and till we have them we can offer no resistance to any invader.  The first time our AirForce received UAVs was in 2007.  It is pathetic when on the one hand people diss the army for its budget allocation and then on the other hand they show anger at the weakness of the military.

Pakistan will spend only 17% of its budget on the military this year.  Arms penetration is quite deep within Pakistan and the rule of law is weak, additionally civil war has been rife in the northern areas.  In such a situation maintaining a high deterrence level is mandatory.  Pakistan cannot afford to be militarily weak.  The much touted argument of the social sector being neglected at the cost of the military budget is misplaced, given that debt servicing takes the biggest chunk of our budget.  Neglect of the social sector is due to a lack of political will to institute change.  Within the development budget the government can direct billions from road construction (primarily in Punjab) to education and public health in all provinces, especially Balochistan.

International donor loans have resulted in the phenomenon of the globalization of poverty.  The massive loans taken by Pakistan have not resulted in any socio-economic development.  Pakistan should declare a moratorium on taking further debt from IMF and other international lenders.  The infamous Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) promotes corporate interest at the expense of the poorest in the shape of shifting the service sectors of health, water and education from the public to the private domain.  Interestingly enough the electronic media moguls who never tire of bashing the military or the mullah are strangely silent on these issues.  Some of them are seen championing the cause of IMF conditionalities.

IMF loans have more than doubled from 23 bn in 1991 to 55 bn in 2011, a span of 20 years.  The Public Sector Development Program of the government which looks after public schools, hospitals and roads was halved from Rs 663bn in 2010 to Rs 385 bn in 2011, this has been raised to 730 bn (23% of the budget) for the current year 2011-12, which is heartening, but we have to see how its spent.  Defence spending is 495 bn (17% of the budget).  The biggest chunk of the budget however, is 790 bn to be spent on interest repayment and 243 on principal repayment.  This adds upto over a trillion rupees, more than one third of the budget.  Military expenditure remains less than half of the debt burden, a debt that lined the pockets of the ruling elite.  Yet no TV anchor or journalist or self-proclaimed intellectual raises a voice when the government keeps talking of the need for IMF loans.  Infact the fifth columnists within the media actually blame the ISI for hindering IMF loans through non-conformance.  Conformance as we have seen means privatizing water, healthcare and education amongst other lethal actions.

Pakistan should change its trajectory from the 200 year old path and focus on a unified long term economic vision, build a strong military and focus on furthering equitable and widespread socio-economic growth.  Currently the rulers are wealthy, the masses are poor and the military is weak.  Socio-economic issues are compounded by religion-which has been hijacked by fanatics or reduced to bizarre rituals.

We lament that the Muslim world is living through its dark ages etc.  Some of us blame colonialism for our ills.  Some sneer at those who look at the past and they cheer for democracy and a western style government.  Truth be told, we currently have a democracy but our socio-economic trajectory has not changed since the pre-colonial and independent era.  The fact of the matter is that we have followed the exact same path for 200 years.

Three great Muslim empires of Turkey, India and Persia ruled the world during the middle ages.  At the dawn of the modern world, they were in shambles.  Circa 1800 the fall of Nawab Sirajudaula at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and that of Tipu Sultan in 1799, sealed the fate of India for colonial rule.  The Qajar dynasty took over Persia from the Zand dynasty and within three years lost Georgia and the Caucuses to Russia in 1806 setting the stage for decline.  Contemporaneous Ottoman Turkey was the “sick man of Europe” and the reigning Sultan Selim III was deposed after the Janissary revolt.

Indian, Persian and Ottoman empires circa 1800 had some traits in common.  They were great patrons of high culture.  In Istanbul Sultan Selim III was known as “The composer” and he was also a member of the Mevlana order of the Whirling Dervish Sufis.  In India Shehenshah Akbar Shah II was a titular head but the pomp and glory of his seat was undiminished.  He too was a disciple of Hazrat Khwaja Quttubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki.   He started festival Sair-e-Gul Faroshan (Phoolwaalon ki sair)  and celebrated an annual “urs” of the deceased sufi saint.  In Persia Shehshah Fatah Ali’s reign was marked by deeply elaborate court culture, the upsurge of Persian arts and the famous Peacock throne.  He commissioned the Shahanshahnama to celebrate the battles with Russia- seemingly impervious to defeat.  He too was a great patron of Sufism-adorning shrines in Mashhad, Qum and Shiraz and reviving Sufism at large.

Sufism was a common thread that ran across the contemporaneous weak emperors of the three great Muslim empires.

Poetry, literature, music and the arts are the accoutrements of high culture.  All three empires displayed high culture but weak military capability, economics and statesmanship.  Their legacy has endured and hence literary culture in Persia and the subcontinent has flourished inspite of western imperialism.  Turkish culture was affected by policy decisions of Attaturk or else it would have been largely preserved.  Even today Iran and Pakistan create world class poetry and literature but are dependent on the western world for military and economic aid.  Statesmanship too escapes this region todate.  Shrines, urs and saint following continues unabated.

Direct colonial rule never existed over Persia and Turkey.  It ended in the middle of the 20th century for Pakistan and the former Ottoman colonies such as the Arab States.  However, neo-imperialism has very much been a painful reality for the Muslim states grappling with their new-found freedom.  Muslim imperialism over the Roman and Persian territories conquered circa 700 AD was relatively benign as it left the systems and structures intact.  It only exacted a poll tax from conquered territories.  Western imperialism destroyed the systems, structures and created proxy rule after independence.  The parting shot of our colonial masters was the creation of permanent faultlines through the Sykes Peacot Agreement in the Middle East and with Kashmir in Pakistan-nation states chalked out with tribes divided across territories creating permanent rifts.

Newly independent Muslim states thus inherited dysfunctional systems aimed to perpetuate a subject mindset as well as synthesized local elite with an obvious consequence of vested interests.  During the 1960’s when indigenous intellectuals were non-existent, economic planning was done with the help of USAID-an instrument of neo-imperial agenda.  Agricultural revolution included farm input revolution such as hybrid seeds, pesticides and fertilizers, as well as mechanical inputs such as tractors.  This paradigm shift in agriculture required greater financial strength to purchase these inputs.  Transportation mafias and loan sharks crippled the farmers.  Pre-partition Punjab provided food to the entire India but after the 1960’s reforms Pakistan has been food insufficient todate.  The agricultural base of our economy was destroyed hence.

Status quo in the form of a weak economy persists due to poor planning, a short term focus and political considerations ruling over long term national interest.  In India and the US, think tanks and policy institute shape the direction of economic and social planning, and a change in government does not drastically alter policy.  Pakistan lacks any such institutions and plans are employed and abandoned purely on political considerations, unmindful of the consequences.

Our ailments are centuries old.  History tells us to get military strong, make good economic plans of widespread growth and to employ religion for ethical conduct to become honest and scrupulous.  Without this, we would never break the vicious cycle of humiliation and subjugation.

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