Apr 25

Wither vs whether Pakistan

Posted on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

The Friday Times: Najam Sethi’s Editorial

The adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover is apparently not true in the case of Pakistan. Consider the following top ten recently published books on Pakistan: (1) Pakistan: Beyond the crisis state; (2) Playing with fire: Pakistan at war with itself. (3) The unraveling: Pakistan in the age of jihad; (4) Pakistan on the brink; (5) Pakistan: Eye of the storm; (6) Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the future of global jihad; (7) Fatal Fault Lines: Pakistan, Islam and the West; (8) Pakistan: the most dangerous place in the world; (9) Pakistan Cauldron: conspiracy, assassination and instability; (9) Pakistan: The scorpion’s tail; (10) Pakistan: terrorism ground zero. To top it all, The Future of Pakistan, which is a collection of essays by noted Pakistan-hands, makes bold to provoke the debate of “Whither” vs “Whether” Pakistan.

Pakistan is wracked by ten major crises. (1) Crisis of Economy – this is characterized by stagflation, dependency, resource scarcity and mass impoverishment. (2) Crisis of Education – this is characterized by the Madrassah challenge, jihad indoctrination, English-Urdu apartheid. (3) Crisis of Urbanisation – this is characterized by slum development, criminalization, ethnic warfare. (4) Crisis of Demography – this is characterized by a youth bulge, religious conservatism and class volatility. (5) Crisis of Foreign Policy – this is characterized by conflict, isolation and estrangement. (6) Crisis of terrorism and radicalization – this is characterized by Islamic extremism, violent sectarianism and ethnic separatism. (7) Crisis of Civil-Military Relations – this is characterized by military domination and civilian incapacity. (8) Crisis of Political System and Governance – this is characterized by corruption, incompetence and autocracy. (9) Crisis of Law and Order – this is characterized by state-organ failure and constitutional gridlock. (10) Crisis of Identity – this is characterized by tension between notions of Nation-State vs Pan-Islamism, being primarily Pakistani vs Muslim, and having South Asian vs Middle-Eastern roots.

The critical questions that need to be asked as factors shaping the future of Pakistan may therefore be noted. Will the National Security State based on an India-centricity that is defined, articulated and practiced by the prevalent military power continue to dominate the narrative of Pakistan as it has done for six decades with disastrous consequences? Will the blowback of civil war and foreign intervention in Afghanistan come to hurt and haunt Pakistan as a consequence of its regional policies and alliances? Will the Pakistan army’s evolution as a home-spun, religio-political, anti-American entity hurt the national interest? Will the economy’s stagnation and foreign-dependency deny the imperative of popular upward mobility and relatively equitable distribution of resources and incomes? Will India’s gain and Pakistan’s loss of American support in the future exacerbate the internal and external pains of Pakistan? Will Pakistan’s internal political dynamics lead to gridlock, instability, anarchy and progressive state breakdown?

In this context, various future scenarios can be debated and discussed. Will Pakistan begin to look like Somalia where the state has collapsed and armed, ideological, ethnic, separatist, tribal and sectarian non-state actors have seized local power? Will Pakistan be Balkanized like Yugoslavia into warring states wracked by civil war and foreign intervention? Will Pakistan be ripe for the plucking by Islamic revolutionaries? Will Pakistan slide into a fourth military take-over? Will Pakistan grope towards some sort of liberal and constitutional democracy in which all organs of the state and civil society play their defined roles with relative stability and equilibrium? Or will Pakistan continue to “muddle along” for the next three decades as it has done for the last six decades and learn to cope with its problems without keeling over into state-collapse or war?

Most thinkers are inclined to bet on the ‘muddling through” forecast only because they cannot build a “black swan” event of cataclysmic proportions and dire consequences into their equations. This could be a war with India precipitated by suicidal non-state actors in which nuclear weapons are eventually used. Or it could be global isolation coupled with economic sanctions as a consequence of Pakistan’s isolationist and honour-bound domestic and foreign policies. Or it could be another attack on US soil by non-state actors whose footprints lead to Pakistan’s urban or tribal areas. Any of these could exacerbate any of Pakistan’s core crises and lead to scenarios of state collapse, or anarchy, or implosion, or Balkanisation or a military coup by Islamist officers.

If the long-term prognosis is unclear, the short term forecast, unfortunately, is not. US-Pak relations are not going to improve significantly. The economy will remain in the doldrums, foreign investment will be shy, and energy will be scarce. Governance will continue to be poor. The military will dominate foreign policy. If elections are held, coalition politics will come to prevail, with emphasis on regionalism, ethnicity and religious conservatism. In other words, there will be no paradigm change. The greater tragedy is that the next crop of political and military leaders is no better than the current one.

Bring on the comments

  1. faraz says:

    Since its inception the people of Pakistan have been ‘governed’ by a ruling elite class. We are a nation of kingdoms where our ‘kings’ maintain their status quo by accumulating wealth through any possible means and keeping the people illiterate- especially the majority rural class. All in the name of democracy.

    This is a paradox at a very fundamental level. How can we possibly expect good governance in such a scenario? The objectives of such a scheme can never be in line with what a democracy promises to deliver and hence will inherently be unable to govern a nation effectively.

    Do you see any end to this? Is there a solution? Please comment.