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Soviet Union’s downfall: Lessons for Pakistan?

The 1973 constitution has been badly mauled as a result of the amendments incorporated into it by the previous governments. The constitution, as it stands today, no longer reflects a federal character but resembles more the constitution of a confederation - opines Saleem Akhtar Malik, a Pak Army veteran in an enlightening piece.

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During the period of its existence, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was by area the world’s largest country. It was also one of the most diverse, with more than 100 distinct nationalities living within its borders. The majority of the population, however, was made up of East Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, and Byelorussians); these groups together made up more than two-thirds of the total population in the late 1980s.

In the waning years of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a significant segment of the Russian intelligentsia had started considering the Central Asian republics as a drain on the Soviet Union. It needs a separate discussion to highlight how the Slavic races had dominated the Bolshevik movement, relegating non-Slavs, particularly the Turkic races of Central Asia, to a secondary role.

In the late 1980s, the period when the fighting in Afghanistan was at its peak, the inhabitants of the Soviet Union, Slavs and non-Slavs alike, were getting disgruntled from their government’s misadventure in Afghanistan. Being better educated, more prosperous, and holding greater power than the Central Asian Muslims, there was a general feeling among the Slavic races, which spearheaded the disintegration of the Soviet Union, that the sooner they got rid of Central Asia the better. This reawakening of Slavic consciousness was led by intellectuals like Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Read more: What role a ‘deep state’ plays in politics?

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Soviet dissident, after he was granted political asylum in the United States during the 70s, gave an interview which was published in the Time Magazine. In the interview, Solzhenitsyn had expressed concern over the rapidly increasing Muslim population in the Soviet Union. His solution: Get rid of the Muslim republics of Soviet Central Asia, but keep the Russified areas of the Caucasus within a cohesive, predominantly Christian, Russian Federation. Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. The Swedish Academy that sponsors the Nobel Prize has been accused of using the Nobel as an instrument for bolstering the West’s policy line. During the Cold War, the Soviets repeatedly criticized it for awarding prizes to dissidents like Boris Pasternak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Andrei Sakharov.

In 1990, Solzhenitsyn wrote an essay “Rebuilding Russia”, in Komsomolskaya Pravda. In the essay, Solzhenitsyn repeated his previous concerns and urged Russia to cast off all non-Slavic republics, which he thought were a burden on the Russian nation. He called for the establishment of a new Slavic state incorporating Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Russified Kazakhstan (during the 1960s, Khrushchev had colonized Kazakhstan by settling a large number of Russian farmers there under his agricultural reform policy). This rejuvenation of Slavic nationalism, exhorted by Solzhenitsyn and many others, can be regarded as a “benign ethnic cleansing”. The concept later inspired the more notorious ethnic cleansing that was unleashed by Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia.

On 8th December 1991 leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus secretly met in western Belarus and signed the Belavezha Accords, which proclaimed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and declared the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), leaving the Central Asian republics to fend for themselves. On the night of 25th December 1991, at 7:32 p.m. Moscow time, after Gorbachev left the Kremlin, the Soviet flag was lowered for the last time, and the Russian tricolor was raised, symbolically marking the end of the Soviet Union.

The tumultuous decades of Pakistan’s decline

Pakistan gained independence in August 1947 and unraveled in December 1971 as the result of a civil war during which India, Pakistan’s archenemy, abetted, trained, and launched Mukti Bahini- a militant outfit that stemmed from the Awami League separatists demanding outright independence from Pakistan behind the façade of regional autonomy.

Starting in 1947, the elite in both wings had gradually lost their romance with a united Pakistan and were looking for an excuse to get rid of each other. The separatist tendency in East Pakistan found open expression and was translated by the Bengali intelligentsia into a popular movement, strongly supported by India. We generally ignore that the West Pakistani centers of power, particularly the Punjabi and Sindhi feudal class, had also gravitated towards separating the two wings for the fruition of their separate empire building.

Almost half a century after the 1971 War, Pakistan has still not stabilized politically and economically. The 1973 constitution has been badly mauled as a result of the amendments incorporated into it by the previous governments. The constitution, as it stands today, no longer reflects a federal character but resembles more with the constitution of a confederation.

Read more: Behind the façade in Pakistan’s politics

After he became President of Pakistan, Zardari, during his address to Pakistan’s parliament, talked about “revisiting the 1973 constitution”. Zardari is a semi-literate person. He is clever but does not have the intelligence to understand the constitutional complexities. Surely, someone- a person, group of people or a country was behind him to suggest turning the 1973 constitution into a scrambled egg. By doing so, he positioned Pakistan for its eventual disintegration like the erstwhile Soviet Union.

Intense polarization in Pakistan

In case of the breakup of law and order in a province, the center no longer has the power to impose the president’s rule unless the provincial assembly requests it. Rangers – as the Federal Reserve Police is called, can only be deployed to restore law and order if, again, the provincial assembly requests the center. The center can levy taxes but has to transfer the bulk of the federal revenue to the provinces. In a nutshell, the amendments have made the center a limp entity. Such a constitution was demanded by Mujib Ur Rehman in 1970, but his demand was rejected by almost all the West Pakistani politicians. These same politicians now, wittingly or unwittingly, celebrate the rape of the 1973 constitution brought about by Zardari and his accomplices.

The civil-military differences have reached a point where they have started blaming each other for Pakistan’s ailments. The polarization has been such that some politicians do not hesitate to seek help from India. The trend, started by Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, has now influenced even some of Pakistan’s mainstream parties. Though the Cold War terminology of left, center, and right has become redundant, old affiliations die hard. It is in this context that some politicians to the left and center now question Pakistan Army’s threat assessment and accuse it of holding the nation hostage to the Kashmir dispute. They forget that the threat assessment was evolved by the civil governments. On the other hand, another group of politicians, with rightist leanings, openly, or tongue-in-cheek, have sympathies with the religious fascists.

Read more: Anatomy of Pakistan’s chronic political instability

The solution does not lie in switching over to the presidential form of government, as demanded by many people. The presidential system was tried during the 1960s but failed. A presidential form suits ethnically uniform societies like Turkey. Pakistan is a patchwork of nationalities and the presidential system, if reintroduced, will result in a deep sense of deprivation among the minority ethnicities, like in happened during Ayub Khan’s rule. To restore balance, the federal character of the constitution should be reinforced by doing away with the amendments. A functional center, with meaningful financial power and the ability to maintain law and order, is what we need.

Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.