Review Article - Fletcher School, Tufts University
Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
The "Triple A" Theory in Pakistan's Drift to Extremism
Fletcher PhD candidate Hassan Abbas originally set out to disprove the popular “triple A” theory of Pakistani power and politics: that most events in Pakistan were attributable to either “Allah, the army, or America.” In the course of researching for his most recent book, however, he began to believe that aspects of the theory “actually have some merit.”
The result, Pakistan's Drift Into Extremism: Allah, The Army, And America's War On Terror, offers an in-depth analysis of the factors shaping Pakistan today. On February 4, Abbas presented his book at a reception sponsored by the Program for Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization and the Ginn Library Book Talk series.
In his remarks, Abbas recalled that within twenty-four hours of Pakistan’s 1947 inception, its leadership had announced a policy of religious freedom and equality.
“How, then” Abbas asked, “did such a transformation occur over the last 50 years?” He believes that five basic factors account for Pakistan’s “drift into extremism.”
The first, the most prominent element in Pakistani politics, is the army, which, explained Abbas, has emerged as the “strongest, most powerful, most resourceful of its institutions.” In 1947 Pakistan inherited a large army from colonial rule, which has been augmented over the years because of a perceived threat from India over the Kashmir region. Military dictatorships, which have ruled the country for nearly fifty percent of its existence, have allowed the army to become embedded into the political arena. The military has also diversified its support base by developing corporate infrastructure in a broad swath of civilian markets, ranging from heavy industry to toothbrush and corn flakes production. A final source of military power, Abbas highlighted, is the “Pakistan army-Pentagon relationship” which began in 1953 when US leaders became convinced that the Pakistani army was a crucial force against Communism. US support for radicalizing elements in Pakistan became a theme interwoven throughout Abbas’ presentation.
A second major factor has been the growth of religious parties and affiliated military groups. Abbas described that progressive entrenchment of religious hardliners into the Pakistani legal and political systems. It began, he said, in the first constitutional assembly of 1947 when clergy who had been opposed to the creation of Pakistan asked for the inclusion of one article in the new constitution: acknowledgement that sovereignty belongs to Allah. The eventual implication of this decision was that because sovereignty rested in Allah’s law, the clergy would define the law. A few years later, during another constitution-making attempt, the clergy asked that the educational system be reformed to focus on Islamic studies.
However, the watershed in the growth of religious parties and militias was the 1979 USSR invasion of Afghanistan, which prompted US intelligence services to financially support Islamic militias and madrasas – religious schools - along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in hopes of developing jihadists to fight against the USSR. Since 1977, the number of madrasas in the area has risen from 350 to nearly 30,000. Although US funding ended in 1990, a decommissioning of the infrastructure has never occurred. Militias originally groomed for counter-Communist efforts continued to be supported by Pakistani government because of their potential use against India.
Abbas described the Pakistani intelligence services – a third element in the country’s “drift” - as a “hydra” and a “state within a state.” Links between Pakistani intelligence and religious militant groups have spanned over the last ten to fifteen years, he said. Former intelligence officers have become “consultants” to these groups, and current officers who were once like “godfathers” to the groups have found it difficult to change mindsets developed over more than a decade of close contact.
The lack of a Pakistani civil society presents a fourth major impediment to national development. Bloated levels of military spending have resulted in a budget of around one percent of national GNP for education and precious little for healthcare.
“No civil society can develop and mature under such a situation,” Abbas said, adding that even in the 2002 elections, moderate political parties were sidelined by the military leadership. The failure to establish strong political institutions has meant that “there will be a vacuum if something happens” to current leader Pervez Musharraf. Abbas argued that the United States “must invest in democratic groups and civil society” or risk significant increase in the support of religious hardliners.
Another implication of under-funded school systems is that people have tended to send their sons to religious schools to receive adequate education - leading to a new generation of misinformed youth. Pakistan’s radicalization will continue, believes Abbas, “ as long as the madrasas are acting as factories producing jihadists.”
The fifth and final problem outlined by Abbas is a disconnect between the Pakistani elite and “ordinary Pakistanis”
“The people at the helm of national affairs do not represent the rest of the country,” he said. The “Pakistan army-Pentagon” relationship has nurtured this divide by treating Pakistan “purely as a strategic tool, first against Communism, and now against radical Islam.” Abbas observed that of a $3 billion grant to Pakistan from the United States, $1.5 billion has been earmarked for military use.
“The US,” said Abbas “ has lost sight of the people of Pakistan.”
Article by Anika Binnendijk, MALD '06