Writing earlier this week in the Express Tribune, Mr. Burki, a renowned economist and a former vice president of the World Bank, expressed concerns about Pakistan’s tarred reputation abroad. He warned that since the western media has taken up the cause of indiscriminate violence against Shias, especially the Hazaras in Balochistan, the negative press will make it increasingly difficult for Pakistan to either obtain concessions from the US government or to seek assistance from the World Bank or IMF.
He further argued that such stories of violence against minorities paint a negative picture that could discourage American consumers from purchasing goods made in Pakistan. Thus, there is a need to tell the world not to be alarmed because “Pakistan is transiting towards a political order in which conflicts will get resolved through discourse and legislation.”
I am rather disappointed to see that Mr. Burki waited for over three decades to realise that the veterans of the Afghan war (a high-risk adventure he admired in the past) have been busy killing Shias and others in Pakistan. I am particularly offended by his statement that the “only reason why so many people are being killed is that they [the victims] profess a different faith than the one to which the killers subscribe.” Is this a subtle attempt to brand Shias as non-Muslims, because no one doubts that the sectarian killers do profess Islam and use it to justify murdering Shias, Ahmadis, and those Sunnis who respect Sufis, such as Daata Ganj Bakshand Laal Shahbaz Qalandar.
I have known Mr. Burki through his writings and believe that he is a closet admirer of late General Zia-ul Haq’s Islamisation (read radicalisation) and also a supporter of the Afghan war. I am more troubled by not what he has written per se, but what he has omitted. His past praise for General Zia’s social and economic agenda is devoid of any criticism of how Pakistan’s Armed Forces took control of the civilian institutions and public assets, legislated laws curbing the freedom of women and minorities, and held the constitution in abeyance. Mr. Burki does not seem perturbed by Pakistan’s excessive defence spending, which is a significant contributor to Pakistan’s poor record in human development. And most importantly, he fails to see and acknowledge the link between the extremist violence in Pakistan today and General Zia’s policies that forced Pakistan into a war with its neighbour and at the same time made Pakistan economically even more dependent on the US and the IMF.
High risk adventure that did not pay off
Mr. Burki is alarmed at the widespread violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s economic hub. He is shocked to see Karachi being Talibanised. I would argue that instead of expressing concerns, Mr. Burki should instead take credit for Karachi’s Talibanisation, which is a direct result of the high risk adventure, i.e., the participation in the Afghan war, that he thought had paid off for Pakistan.
Writing in the journal Asian Survey in 1988, Mr. Burki praised General Zia for pushing Pakistan into a proxy war with the Soviet Union at the behest of the US. He mentioned General Zia’s successful negotiation of $3 billion in charity from the Reagan administration in 1981. In return, Pakistan allowed the United States to open a pipeline “through which sophisticated arms, including Stringer missiles, began to flow to the Afghan mujahideen. It is estimated that the United States alone supplied over $2 billion worth of weaponry to the Afghan resistance groups that operated out of Peshawar. Many more billions worth of arms and ammunition came from China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. For Pakistan this was a high risk adventure but it paid off.”
The weapons brought in for the Afghan war are now being used to kill innocent civilians in Karachi and other urban centres in Pakistan by the very veterans of the Afghan war and their descendants. The Afghan war was the high risk adventure that today is causing Pakistan to implode under sectarian and communal violence. It should come as no surprise that all independent assessments of Pakistan’s role in the Afghan war see it as a great misadventure. “Pakistan’s Afghan policies over the past 30 years, whether pursued for domestic, political or strategic reasons or under US and international pressures, have come at the expense of the country’s political stability and social cohesion," concluded Marvin G. Weinbaum & Jonathan B. Harder in the journal Contemporary South Asia.