Pakistan’s signs of weakness

Gulf News, February 28, 2007

Developments of the last fortnight can be seen as a sort of balance sheet reflecting the strengths and weaknesses of the Pakistani state. During this period, Pakistan successfully tested the latest version of its long-range nuclear-capable missile.

The Hatf VI (Shaheen II) ballistic missile, launched from an undisclosed location, is said to have a range of 2,000 kilometres and has the capability to hit major cities in India, according to Pakistan’s military.

For those who measure Pakistan’s success in terms of a military balance against India, this addition to Pakistan’s missile arsenal is a sign of the country’s expanding strength.

Other events, however, indicate that Pakistan’s supposed ability to externally project its power is not matched with the potency of an effective state at home.

Up to 17 people, including a senior civil judge, were killed and 30 wounded in a powerful suicide bombing in the Quetta District Courts compound on February 17.

The next day, two children were killed and three security force personnel were seriously injured in two separate landmine explosions in Balochistan. The same day, at least 68 people were killed and over 50 wounded in a fire that swept through two coaches of the India-Pakistan Samjhauta Express.

In the relatively sleepy central Punjab town of Cheechawatni, three suspected militants were killed when a bomb they were carrying on a bicycle accidentally exploded.

Shot and killed

On February 20 an Islamist “fanatic” shot and killed the Punjab provincial social welfare minister, Zile Huma Usman, in an open court in Gujranwala. The attacker said he wanted to punish the woman minister for not covering her face, which he considers obligatory under his interpretation of Islam’s concept of hijab.

Usman’s killer also revealed that he wanted to kill Benazir Bhutto, the Muslim world’s first woman prime minister, for offending him by keeping her face uncovered.

A couple of days later, at least seven people were seriously injured in two separate landmine explosions in Balochistan while unknown assailants blew up a gas pipeline in the restive province.

Several hundred female students from an Islamic seminary in the centre of Islamabad have been holed up for the last month inside a public library. The protesters’ supporters have threatened that a campaign of suicide bombings would follow if they are forcibly evicted from the occupied library.

Five private English medium schools providing co-education in Peshawar were forced to remain closed after they were told that suicide bombers might target co-education private schools.

A school for girls in Mardan was warned that its building would be bombed if teachers and students did not start observing hijab or wearing veils.

In other news with bad implications, an editor of an Urdu daily, Sohail Qalander, and his friend, Mohammad Niaz, managed to escape from captors who had kidnapped them almost two months ago.

Qalander said he and his colleague were held somewhere in the tribal areas along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and were tortured and threatened. The kidnappers demanded the journalists “stop writing against smugglers, kidnappers and mafia groups”.

The negative news stories of the last 15 days affirm what official Pakistan refuses to acknowledge, the gradual weakening of the Pakistani state. Notwithstanding the possession of nuclear weapons and missiles, Pakistan is far from being an effective state.

In fact, one can argue that in the process of building extensive military capabilities, Pakistan’s successive rulers have allowed the degradation of essential internal attributes of statehood.

An important attribute of a state is its ability to maintain monopoly, or at least the preponderance, of public coercion. The proliferation of insurgents, militias, Mafiosi and high ordinary criminality reflect the state’s weakness in this key area.

Discussion of Pakistan’s politics, especially its successes and failures, is almost always about the personalities rather than the issues. As the Pakistani state falters, it is time not to talk only in terms of whether one individual is better for the country or another. It is time to identify where the Pakistani state has lost its direction.

A modern state is distinguished by impersonal rule. Personalisation, corruption, familial dominance and re-tribalisation are considered signs of weakening of the state.

Failures of rule of law, weak judiciaries, failures of regulation and the dominance of a lawless executive, coupled with the failure to maintain public goods (education, environment, public health, electricity and water supply) are all considered indicators of state failure by political scientists.

Autonomists, secessionists, irredentists and vacuum fillers emerge wherever the dimensions of being a state begin to weaken.

Instead of focusing all their energies on maintaining military power, Pakistan’s rulers must recognise the weakening of essential qualities of being a state reflected in the general lawlessness and widespread violence in the country.

Adherence to the constitution, restoration of rule of law, normal contestation for power, and the rebuilding of civilian institutions are essential if Pakistan is to avoid a slide into anarchy.