South Asia・s Escape From Freedom


                                                                Hassan N. Gardezi


Watching the rise of fascism in Europe, eminent psychologist Eric Fromm raised the question :Why then is it that freedom is for many a cherished goal and for others a threat?;[1] The answer to his question he found in the character structure of modern man fostered by the capitalist system. Under this system, he argued, relationship of one individual to the other has to be based on mutual human indifference, otherwise any one of them would be paralysed in the fulfillment of his economic task, that is to compete with each other and destroy each other economically if necessary. On a social psychological level this human indifference  produces pervasive feelings of being driven by forces outside one・s self, isolation and insecurity which make fertile ground for the rise of authoritarian leaders and ideologies. People with feelings of powerlessness, loneliness, and insecurity tend  to follow a strong leader and submit to a powerful state in order to overcome their own sense of insecurity and to acquire the strength they lack. This was the phenomenon that gave rise to fascism in Germany and Italy and it could also happen in  democratic United States under capitalism, warned Eric Fromm . If he was alive today he would indeed marvel at his foresight to see the willingness with which Americans have given up their fundamental freedoms under President George W. Bush.


              The trajectory of escape from freedom in South Asia is somewhat different. It is a more direct outcome of political and economic developments in which expansive Western imperialism has played a significant role, and not so much due to the appeal of fascism mediated by social psychology.


India, united Pakistan and Sri  Lanka acquired home rule in 1947-48 when fascism was defeated in Europe and the British empire had become unsustainable. These new nations,  along with the anachronistic kingdom of Nepal, had yet to translate their independence into freedom from poverty and powerlessness which was the lot of all but a few of their citizens. That required charting a course of economic and political development free from both the structures of internal repression and external control. 


 Some six decades later today that plan of independent development appears farther from sight than ever before, as illustrated by the post-colonial history of the two rival subcontinental states. Pakistan was the first to submit to a reconfigured  imperialism led by the United States after the Second World War. The main features and instrumentalities of this new imperialism included the Cold War defence alliances, economic and military aid, World Bank and the IMF, giant multinational corporations and eventually the  global sweep of the neo-liberal agenda of free trade, privatization  and structural adjustments.


From early 1950s Pakistan・s ruling elite opted to enter a decade of U.S. sponsored military alliances aimed at fighting the :threat of Soviet communism,; over India・s objections. While these defence alliances fully bureaucratized and militarized the state of Pakistan, they also greatly enhanced the propensity of the state to use physical coercion to suppress popular movements for social justice, democracy, and ethno-national autonomy, the worst example being the brutal military action in East Pakistan which resulted in the break up of the country and creation of Bangladesh in 1971.


India itself was not able to resist the U. S. Cold War military  infiltrations. While Pakistan・s ruling oligarches were busy enlarging their  defence establishment and pretending to take on India one day over the Kashmir dispute, there occurred a shift in U. S. foreign policy. The election of John F. Kennedy to the U. S. presidency prompted a reevaluation of America・s global defence alliances against the Soviet Union. Kennedy favoured a greater involvement of India in the pursuit of his country・s geo-political interests.


When the Sino-Indian border clashes erupted in 1962, Washington jumped at the opportunity to penetrate India both militarily and economically. Along with Britain it dispatched high-powered missions to India to negotiate long term military and economic aid to the South Asian giant. The main barrier to the penetration of U. S. military aid into India was Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru・ non-alignment policy. With the brief Chinese border offensive  that policy evaporated quickly as Nehru himself made an urgent appeal for U. S. military assistance. The united States responded with immediate air lift of arms and military personnel to India,  making  sure that the Soviet Union will not cease the initiative in the matter. That doyen of North American liberalism, John Kenneth Galbraith , U. S. Ambassador to India at the time, noted with much glee that :the word non-alignment has disappeared from everything except the Prime Minister・s speeches and the left wing press.;[2] The client state of Pakistan was now sidelined by the United States to pursue its :overriding Cold War objective which was to build up India・s military strength as a bulwark against Red China.[3]


Frustrated at this turn of events and anticipating increase in India・s future military buildup  Pakistan・s dictator, Ayub Khan and his advisors launched a last ditch, miscalculated operation inside Indian held Kashmir to stir up  a rebellion against New Delhi which triggered the 1965 full-scale Indo-Pakistan war. Both countries made liberal use of U. S. supplied weapons against each other and Washington reacted by cutting off its aid to Pakistan. Internally, the war intensified the simmering discontent against Ayub・s authoritarian rule in Pakistan, a factor in his downfall a few years later.


Parallel to the militarization of Pakistan・s political sphere there was  unfolding an dependent  model of economic development, It was designed by a team of Harvard University experts working with Pakistani technocrat apprentices and  was  narrowly focused on boosting the Gross National Product (GNP) under a regime of low wages, high profits and generous state subsidies to private entrepreneurs. The implementation of the model over a decade resulted in remarkable increases in GNP from a growth rate of 6.8 percent in 1960 to 10 percent in 1969-70, accompanied by gross social and regional inequities. Just as this performance was officially being celebrated as an :economic miracle; a popular uprising throughout Pakistan brought an end to the regime.


When Ayub Khan・s military rule fell apart the country・s Punjabi dominated army finally allowed general elections to take place on the basis of universal adult franchise, twenty four years after the creation of Pakistan. The result of these elections required transfer of power to Awami League, for having won a majority of seats in the proposed parliament with its landslide victory in East Pakistan. But instead or relinquishing rule to a party with an exclusively Bengali constituency  the Army establishment tried to block the implementation of the election results by launching a brutal military action against the Bengali citizens of East Pakistan.


Thus the fiasco of  militarization of the state, pursuit of a development strategy wich bypassed any notion of distributive justice  and brutal repression unleashed on the people of  East Pakistan came to a head in another war with India, fall of Dhaka to the  Indian army, and breakup of the country in 1971.


Whether Pakistan・s ruling oligarches realized that the loss of the country・s eastern half was an awful price to pay for denial of genuine freedom to their people is hard to say. However, the army high command had no choice now but to allow Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the leader of Pakistan Peoples Party which had won the largest number parliamentary seats in West Pakistan to take over as head of the diminished  state of Pakistan. Bhutto, the scion of a landlord family of Sindh with an egotistic streak in his character, played Bonaparte by tantalizing the masses of peasants and workers with his rhetoric of socialism while at the same time catering to the sectarian demands of the right wing religious parties, humiliating the old oligarches while rebuilding their power base in the army and centralized state bureaucracy. In the end he was able to do little more than excite much hope among the common people for a life of freedom from poverty and political oppression, before falling  victim to another coup de・etat by his hand picked and obsequious army chief, Gen Ziaul Haq.in 1977.


Having overthrown and executed a populist prime minister Zia proceeded to cultivate still closer ties with American imperialism, and at the same time manipulate Islam to consolidate and legitimize his rule. In order to gain financial and military support of the United States and its Western allies for his regime he allowed the American CIA and the British M16 to use Pakistani territory and army personnel to aid and abet a holy war against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan which had entered that country ostensibly to reconcile the two communist party factions which  had overthrown the remnants of the Afghan monarchy in April, 1978. In return for his services the United States opened up the doors of economic and military aid to a compliant Zia which were closed on Bhutto for his transgressions.   

The political use of Islam and Islamist parties had been a common practice of all previous political regimes in Pakistan. It served the purpose of repressing the leftist parties and victimizing their workers on charges of spreading godless communism, countering demands for social justice, and attacking ethno-nationalist movements as subversive of Islamic solidarity. In Zia・s hands Islam and Islamic ideology became an unprecedented tool of  repression. He ingeniously introduced a patriarchal, medieval version of Islamic sharia law borrowed from the books of the country・s vanguard Islamist party, jamat-e-Islami, to cloth in Islamic piety his gross violations of civil and human rights of the people, specially those of the female half. He is  also to be credited with creation of the Hydra of Jehadi Islam in collaboration with his benefactors, the United States and Saudi Arabia, the beast that has turned on its own creators and has paralysed the United States・ imperial ambitions in the 21st century.


Zia was physically removed from Pakistan・s political scene in the fiery crash of his military plane in 1988, but not before leaving behind an all powerful army, and a greatly weakened institutional structure of democracy. Confident of its control over state power, the army high command allowed the return of civilian rule for the next 11 years during which Benazir Bhutto  and  Nawaz Sharif  were alternately elected civilian prime ministers. But working under the shadow of the army while  trapped in the constraints of a polarized society and external compulsions they were unable even to guarantee the basic livelihood and physical safety of the people.


To make matters worse for both Bhutto and Sharif, the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1988 coincided with the rise of a new stage of economic imperialism popularly known as globalization. It posed new and more serious problems for Pakistan・s pursuit of economic development. The IMF and World Bank loans now came with new conditions, the brunt of which was to be borne directly by the poorand not so poor. Euphemistically called structural adjustments or simply reforms these loan conditions required as they do the privatization of  state assets, deregulation of  production and commerce, downsizing of  labour, introduction of  regressive sales taxes, and elimination state subsidies to essential public services and utilities. The adoption of these conditions increased the misery of low income and subsistence workers in Pakistan as jobs disappeared, wages declined, prices rose, union membership dropped, and state supported essential services were further trimmed.


The implementation of these structural reforms continued during the last tenure of Nawaz Sharif, during which he also decided to test explode Pakistan・s nuclear bomb to rival a  similar explosion  by India in May 1998, despite warnings from the international community. When these tests brought Pakistan immediately under international sanctions the  Sharif government imposed further austerity measures on people which touched off a spate of economic suicides.


 Still confident of his popularity, Nawaz Sharif tried to replace his army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf following the 1999 debacle of Pakistan・s military action in the Kargil sector of Indian held Kashmir. But the General struck back, imposed martial law and exiled the prime minister to Saudi Arabia.

For a short while Washington made some noises deploring the military takeover of yet another democratically elected government in its client state of Pakistan but all that changed after the events of 9/11. George W. Bush decided to unleash America・s awesome fire power on luckless Afghans and coopted Gen. Musharraf and Pakistan army in his war on terror employing the proverbial carrot and stick approach.


It is Ironic that  while a  pervious dictator was rewarded for collaborating with the United States to create Islam・s holy warriors or Jehadis in Afghanistan, the new one was  being forced to   hunt them down. The ultimate victims of this treacherous game, still in progress, are the  countless innocent Afghan civilians who continue to be killed by America・s Operation Enduring Freedom  and  also ordinary Pakistanis being blown up in their bazars, mosques and Churches by the explosives of  angry jehadis who vent their misplaced anger on soft targets identified by them  as members of wrong sects and faith groups.      




One might say that genuine freedom eluded Pakistan because it had few prerequisites of a nation state at independence in 1947 and could only survive as a political entity by serving the imperial and geopolitical interests of the  United states as a post-war superpower. But what about India, the largest South Asian country? If there was any post-colonial state in South Asia with a better prospect of genuine freedom and independence from imperialist domination after the end of British rule, it was India. The governance of the new state was transferred to the Indian National Congress, a well established political party with a long experience of anti imperialist struggle at a certain level. Reliance on foreign  capital was minimal and one frequently heard of socialist road to development from Prime Minister Nehru. There was  a sizable presence of national bourgeoisie both inside and outside the Congress. Under these circumstances there was a conscious attempt made to develop India into an independently industrialized society with a strong public sector. Unlike Pakistan the framework for this development was internally designed and came to be known as Nehru-Mahalanobis strategy aimed at the core objective of accelerating  growth of heavy industry in the public sector and freeing India from foreign dependence for capital goods. The state was to serve as the engine of economic growth, investing in high risk areas, regulating production and setting priorities in the national interest, or at least in the interest of the national bourgeoisie.


Although this strategy of economic development has been blamed endlessly by Western and many Indian economists  for India・s slow, :Hindu,; rate of growth in GNP in the past and other socio-economic problems that the country ran into,  it was already being abandoned, if not sabotaged, as the framework of Second Five Year Plan (1956-1961). As soon as this Plan ran into financing difficulties the strategy of developing a self-reliant economy was set aside and the process of development became increasingly dependent on Western loans, technical assistance and advice. From 1958 onwards, the Aid to India Consortium began to meet annually under the auspices of the World Bank to determine the  amount and conditions of aid. By mid 1960s, after the episode of Indo-China border clash and Nehru・s acceptance of U. S. military aid, the World Bank was providing assistance to India at levels reaching $1.5 billion annually conditional on India・s acceptance of its policy recommendations which :represented a fundamental departure from basic principles of planning laid down by Nehru.;[4] The net inflow of foreign capital into India rose from 6 percent in 1954 to almost 23 percent in 1964-65, most of it originating in the

 United States.[5]


In the 1970s and 1980s under the governments of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi the liberalization thrust of the Word Bank/IMF policies was further increased  and India became a preferred recipient of loans from these sources. External loans received just in one decade of 1980s quadrupled the country・s external debt pushing India to the brink of default. The Western credit monitoring agencies promptly downgraded India・s ratings and the international commercial banks put a squeeze on further lending.[6] As the familiar story goes, in this situation stepped in the World Bank and IMF with emergency financing and their latest package of structural adjustments and neo-liberal medicine.


These were not exactly the shock therapies that were administered to Russia by Western agents of capitalism after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but they did achieve  the desired effects. India・s stigmatic rate of growth in GNP began to climb to match Pakistan・s growth rates of 1960s. By late 1990s Indian state・s full and final embrace of the latest creed of neoliberalism and its :benefits; were attracting a chorus of acclamations in the western media, think tanks, and the statements of political leaders, as if it was the next major victory of Western capitalism over socialism after the dismemberment of Soviet Union. :Nehru had it wrong ,; declared The Economist in the lead article of its issue marking the 50th anniversary of India・s independence from colonial rule.[7] The same article noted admiringly that India now has a :new breed (of)  bright young official ... more likely to have an MBA from Stanford or Chicago then a Ph D on Marx・s theory of value from London School of Economics.;


Despite The Economist・s illusions, one cannot help but note some eerie similarities between the unfolding of India・s :economic boom; at the turn of the century and Pakistan・s :economic miracle; of 1960s. Pakistan・s president Ayub Khan was overthrown  as a result of popular uprising in the year 1969 when the growth rate of GNP had peaked at 10 percent. Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost his prime ministerial office in may 2004 when he called elections claiming credit for :India Shining,; a watchword referring to a GNP growth rate that had hit 8 percent per year, accompanied by record levels of foreign investment and :unprecedented prosperity; of urban upper classes. Political pundits at home and abroad were so impressed by the Vajpayee years of economic progress that they were predicting a landslide victory for him. But to their surprise  masses of poor and marginalised  rural and urban dwellers turned out  in large numbers and voted to trounce the incumbents in favour of a shaky Congress Party and its leftist allies.


However this does not mean that the new prime minister Manmohan Singh is going to give up the :India Shining; model of development of which he was an influential architects as a past finance minister and the :bright young official,; although he is an alumni of Cambridge and Oxford, and not Harvard or Chicago and admirer of Margaret Thatcher and not Ronald Reagan. He is quite content with the crumbs India・s :largest middle class in the word; receives as a platform of cheap educated and flexible labour in the globalized economy. As an unelected prime minister picked from the nominated members of the Indian Senate, he does not have to worry about the fact that the people of India living in poverty far exceed the  world・s largest middle class that is supposed to have emerged in  India. Economic growth as measured by the rate of increase in GNP is now approaching the magical figure of 10 percent under his watch. Relentless implementation of structural adjustments based on the  :Washington Consensus; is the order of the day in India as it is in  Bangladesh and Pakistan. In the process the strength and mobility of capital has been enhanced,  the role of the state as a key player in promoting distributive justice has been undermined and relegated to the market, and working classes have turned out to be the big losers under the burden of :comparative austerity.;                                     


India・s farmers have perhaps been the hardest hit by liberalization of imports and laissez fair policy of the state. Since 1997 there has been a spate of farmer suicides. According to official statistics between 2001 and 2006 there were 8,900 farmer suicides in just four states of Andhra Paradesh, Karnatika, Kerala, and Maharashtra, all of which are among the agriculturally more developed states.[8] With the influx of agribusiness multinational corporations into the country,  dismantling of import Tarriffs and farm support programs required by WTO Indian farmers have lost whatever gains they had made in the past under the introduction of land reforms and Green Revolution.


The contradiction between the policies of the Indian ruling class and Indian peoples・ needs and aspirations became once again quite clear during the March 2006 visit of George W. Bush to India. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was obeisantly courting the U. S. president and putting his signatures on the controversial United States-India nuclear accord, people in the major cities of India turned out on the streets by tens of thousands to tell Bush to go home. The accord and vote earlier by India in favour of a resolution sponsored by the United States in IAEA meeting to report Iran to the UN Security Council for pursuing its uranium enrichment progrrame, serves no purpose other than binding India more closely to the U. S. interests to sabotage the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, harm India・s relations with Iran, an old ally, and seek to counterweight China in Asia. In the process India also undermines the role it could play as a major South Asian power to promote peace, self reliance and stability in the South Asian region. Staying the course with the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, not only had the potential of meeting India・s need for cleaner fuel, it could also  have locked India and  Pakistan into a relationship of interdependence thereby minimizing conflict and competition.                        


Most pathetic was India・s role in the April revolution of Nepal. When the people of Nepal, after a long and bloody struggle,  were able to overcome the brutal repression of  king Gyanendra, they expected support from the world・s largest democracy next door. But when India finally decided to intervene, it was in the incredible form of dispatching  Maharaja Karan Singh to meet with the Nepali King to negotiate his confirmation as a :constitutional monarch,; knowing fully well that the democratic struggle of the  people of Nepal  was for  the end of monarchy.  India・s ruling class of course does not want to see an unfettered democracy in Nepal where power is likely to be shared with Maoist rebels, for fear that it might give impetus to the spreading Naxalite movement within its own borders.        


This fear of India・s ruling class is symptomatic of a deeper socio-political problem which it shares with practically all its neighbouring South Asian states. The problem originates in   reliance on institutions, economic and energy policies, trading frameworks and armed forces outside the region, a heritage from colonial times. While this reliance ensures the survival of the ruling classes, it severely limits their capacity and willingness to adopt internal strategies of development and foreign policies aimed at creating conditions for the freedom of their people from the shackles of poverty, powerlessness, and repression on the basis of caste, class and gender.


It is the absence of these fundamental freedoms that over time and under certain conditions generate mass discontent wich takes the form of armed struggles as we see today in many parts of South Asia, albeit in some cases deformed and distorted into ethnic and religious violence. To return to the question raised by Eric Fromm,  why  is it then that freedom remains for many a cherished goal and for others a threat? In the case of South Asia, with a history of capitalism very different from Europe the answer may lie in a candid confession made by Jawahilal Nehru just before India became independent from direct British colonial rule.


The present for me like many others like me, was and odd mixture of medievalism

appalling poverty and misery, and somewhat superficial modernism of the middle

classes. I was not an admirer of my class or kind. And yet inevitably I looked to it

for leadership in the struggle for India・s salvation. That middle class felt caged

and circumscribed and wanted to grow and develop itself. Unable to do so in the

framework of British rule, a spirit of revolt grew against this rule, and yet this           

            spirit was not directed against the structure that crushed us, It sought to retain

it and control it by displacing the British. These middle classes were too much

the product of that structure to challenge it and seek to uproot it.[9]             

[1]Eric Fromm, Escape from Freedom, Rienhart, Toronto, 1959

[2]Francine R. Frankel, India・s Political Economy, 1947-1977: The Gradual Revolution, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1979, 215.

[3]Sir James Morice, Pakistan Chronicle, London, Hurst and Company, 1993, 102

[4]Francine R. Frankel, India・s Political Economy, 1947-1977: The Gradual Revolution, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1978, 271.

[5]Paresh Chattopadhyay, Some Trends in India・s Economic Development, in Kathleen Gough and Hari Sharma, (eds.) Imperialism and Revolution, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1973.

[6]Ajai Chopra and Charlse Collyn, The Adjustment Program of 1991/1992 and its Initial Results in India, Economic Reform and Growth, Occasional Paper No. 134, Washington D. C., International Monetary Fund, 1995, 15.

[7]The Economist, August 16, 1997.

[8]Economic and Political Weekly, April 22, 2006.

[9]Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, New York, Anchor Books, 1960, 26