International Herald Tribune, May 25, 2007
With nuclear weapons, the seventh largest standing army in the world and impressive economic growth rates, Pakistan projects a powerful image. But the country lacks the strength of an effective state at home.
Attacks by armed supporters of the government against opposition activists in Karachi and frequent terrorist bombings raise fears about Pakistan’s future. The country faces increasing demands from religious extremists, and doubts are growing among Pakistan’s Western allies about the regime’s ability to handle these pressures.
Paradoxically, Pakistan has turned out to be a hot destination for investors from the Gulf, encouraged by business-friendly government policies and annual GDP growth rates of 7 percent over the last four years. Pakistan’s privatization program is regarded as a regional success.
Pakistan’s elite now drive around in Porsches, more of which have sold in Lahore alone than the car’s manufacturer had envisaged for the entire country. The pace of construction for new country clubs and luxury hotels also reflects growing prosperity of a select few.
Internationally, Pakistan is viewed as a critical Western ally in the global war against terrorism. Relations with arch-rival India have improved markedly over the past four years.
The temptation to let optimism prevail is great. But, in essence, Pakistan has become a dysfunctional state, a tinderbox that may not light up for years, but could also go up in flames in an instant. The military’s ability to keep a lid on dissent has diminished with the emergence of well-armed militias, both Islamist and secular, in various parts of Pakistan.
At least 1,471 people were reported killed in terrorist incidents in Pakistan during 2006, up from 648 terrorism-related fatalities during the preceding year.
Vast parts of Baluchistan, the sparsely populated southwestern province bordering Afghanistan and Iran, are virtually ungoverned. A secular, tribal insurgency in Baluchistan has been overshadowed by the resurgence of the Taliban in the province’s north.
A recently released video of the Taliban using a boy of about 12 to behead a man took place in Baluchistan. It involved the ethnic Pashtun Taliban punishing an ethnic Baluch for allegedly spying on behalf of the Americans and their allies. The Taliban also control tribal areas in the Northwest Frontier province and are gradually expanding their influence into the adjoining non-tribal districts.
In addition, at least 200 people died in sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni militant groups across the country during the last year.
General Pervez Musharraf, who came to power in a coup in October 1999 and remains a clear favorite of the Bush administration, has made no effort to encourage democratic institutions. Musharraf’s decision to marginalize Pakistan’s secular political parties to avoid sharing power has further strengthened Islamist groups.
Lately, Pakistani civil society has been stirred to action by the removal of the chief justice from office. For the past two months, lawyers have joined opposition activists in demonstrations.
But the military has held the reins of power for most of the country’s existence and continues to see itself as the final arbiter of Pakistan’s national direction.
In the midst of widespread disorders, Pakistan successfully tested the latest version of its long-range nuclear-capable missile in February. According to Pakistan’s military, the Hatf VI (Shaheen II) ballistic missile, launched from an undisclosed location, has a range of 2,000 kilometers and the ability to hit major cities in India.
In the process of building up such capabilities, Pakistan’s rulers have allowed essential internal attributes of statehood to deteriorate, as reflected by the proliferation of religious vigilantes, insurgents, militias and organized crime.
The country’s institutions – ranging from schools and universities to political parties and the judiciary – are in a state of general decline.
Many Pakistanis, moreover, view the United States as the Pakistani Army’s principal benefactor and hold it partly responsible for weakening civil institutions. The three periods of significant flow of U.S. aid to Pakistan have all coincided with military rule in Pakistan.
Much of the Western analysis of Pakistan since 9/11 has focused on Musharraf’s ability to remain in power and maintain the juggling act between the United States and various domestic forces, including the military and the Islamists.
Pakistan’s problems, however, run far deeper. It is time to set aside the with Musharraf’s future and examine the fundamental conditions of the Pakistani state.
This article was earlier printed on Yale Global Online Reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal Online.