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PROSPECTS FOR PAKISTAN


Jonathan Paris

This Report analyses the prospects for Pakistan over a one to three year time horizon. It looks at economic, political, security, and bilateral issues. There are three possible scenarios for Pakistan over this relatively short time horizon; Pakistan probably will avoid becoming a “failed state” and is unlikely to find a “pathway to success” but, as Pakistan confronts a myriad of vexing challenges, the most likely scenario is that it will “muddle through”.

1. Economy

Looking at the economy optimistically, in just over 20 years, Pakistan will surpass Indonesia and become the fifth most populous country and the one with the most Muslims. Its youth bulge provides it with a baby boom which, if educated and employed, could provide its economy with a demographic dividend long after the equivalent bulges in China and India have aged and retired. Pakistan has an opportunity to leverage its domestic consumer market to attract multinationals and build up competitive economies of scale in industries like food, electronics, autos and engineering for the export market. Peace with India would turn Pakistan into an energy transit point and geographic hub for a possible South Asian boom.

Looking at the economy pessimistically, one sees a persistent leadership and public management deficit, loss of credibility in the international markets due to political instability and the extraordinarily long period of sustained growth required for Pakistan to make a dent in its poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment. The lack of investment in education makes it difficult for Pakistan to emulate India in becoming a high-tech hub, and the growing violence does not make tourism a viable option in the short term. In meeting the developmental challenges ahead, it does not help that the population is growing at a high 2.7% and that the youth bulge in its demographic profile shows few signs of abating any time soon. This author finds the pessimistic economic view somewhat more likely, especially in the next one to three years.

IMF emergency funds together with tough prescriptive fiscal policies were needed initially to stem Pakistan’s rapidly eroding reserves. Going forward, the IMF might consider, to the extent possible, counter-cyclical policies that stimulate much needed economic growth.

Friends of Democratic Pakistan and other donor bodies can also seek ways to increase private sector investment and FDI as Pakistan searches for an exit from dependency on IMF emergency funds.

2. Civilian-Military Issues

Never in the history of Pakistan has a civilian government been able to complete its term.

Will the Zardari government be the first? There are three scenarios for the evolution of the civil-military relationship: increased military dominance, continuation of the status quo, or democratic consolidation. The military will likely continue the status quo and find ways to exert influence short of a coup. The public probably cannot easily support a military takeover now, and the current army commander prefers to remain behind the scenes. But even if civilians continue to fill the positions of President and Prime Minister, it is unlikely Pakistan will see development of sustainable democratic institutions beyond the family fiefdoms that lay behind the two main parties, the Zardari-Bhutto PPP and the Sharifs’ PML-N.

Pakistan is likely to remain a combination of autocracy and democracy, in effect, what

Aristotle called a mixed constitution. Given that the two main political parties have not produced any new leadership in over 20 years, one could imagine a future charismatic populist emerging from a new urban-based party with the mass support of the working poor flocking to the cities, and the adroit use of the largely unregulated media to forge a nationalistic, anti- American, blame-the-outside-world message. The fact that such a charismatic leader has not emerged since the rise of Zulfikar Bhutto nearly 40 years ago suggests an interesting paradox in Pakistani politics: not quite able to become fully democratic, Pakistan is surprisingly resistant to the totalitarian impulse. However, there is always a first time.

3. Islamist Trends

The fortunes of the religious parties in the political space will continue to wax and wane, but not approach anything like a takeover of the government, much less the state. Religious parties are more likely, instead, to pressure the relatively liberal tradition of the Pakistani legal system through their influence in future coalition politics (especially in any Nawaz Sharif government). Invocation of Sharia law, further marginalisation of Ahmedis and Christians, more public displays of piety, and pressure from religious parties – including street protests – to reject overt cooperation with the US are all likely in the future. Interestingly, despite Nawaz Sharif ’s support for Islamist groups and parties, he has a good record in preventing sectarian violence against the Shia and has, in the past, cracked down on attacks by Sunni extremist groups.

As for radical Islamists, Al Qaeda (AQ) remains the ‘outsider’ in Pakistan in that it has a relatively small presence, probably mostly in FATA and perhaps Karachi. Some experts believe that most AQ were picked up in Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) facilities or houses since 2001, which makes sense given the potential link in terms of social class and ideology, although not in terms of violence.

As Pashtun groups located outside of Punjab, the Pakistan Taliban are not as threatening to the state as those Punjabi militants located in the Punjab heartland of Pakistan. Punjab is also the dominant area from which soldiers and officers are recruited into the army.

The danger for the army, and for Pakistan generally, is not Talibanisation but Islamisation from Punjab-based militants and their allies. Nominally “apolitical” Islamist groups, such as the Tablighi Jamaat and, separately, the madrassa networks of the Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith, as well as Islamic welfare organisations, are positioned to continue to play a significant role in shaping the opinions of both the rural villagers and those newly urbanised and working poor who leave the villages, indirectly promoting extremism by providing cover for radical groups. The Tablighi Jamaat and Deobandis have allowed recruitment by the militants at their gatherings and none of the Pakistani Deobandis has spoken out against recent suicide bombings while India Deobandis have. Jamiat Ulema-e-

Islam (JUI) and JI also have stayed away from criticising attacks on mosques and civilians for fear of physical attacks on them by the militants. In sum, the trend in Islamism is for an increase in soft power without an overt Islamist takeover.

4. The Future of Pashtun Nationalism

Pashtun nationalism today is weaker than it has been in the past, and a Pashtunistan movement on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border does not threaten the territorial integrity and internal stability of Pakistan. The provincial government of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), where the Pakistani Pashtun are concentrated, is economically dependent on Islamabad for over 90% of its operating budget. They do not want to become part of a Pashtunistan with their brethren across the Afghan border who have a lower standard of living.

But that does not mean Pashtun ethno-nationalism is going to disappear. They will demand greater provincial autonomy for the NWFP and greater use of Pashto language in schools, etc. More broadly, one is struck by the antagonisms between the urbanised Mohajirs, who come from India and have settled mainly in Karachi, and those Pashtun who have also migrated to Karachi, as well as between the Baluch and Pashtun in Baluchistan. The Punjabcentredness of the army limits its ability to contribute to nation-building among these disparate groups, but the army does manage to exploit Mohajir-Pashtun-Baluch antagonisms to carve out an indispensable role as maintainer of the peace and thereby keep these distinct ethno-linguistic groups from breaking away. One of the reasons the Pakistani army is so worried about US cross-border or drone attacks on Quetta and elsewhere in Baluchistan is the precariousness of the Baluchistan insurgency. To be more precise, Pashtun support for the army in Baluchistan, which is so vital in the army’s attempt to contain the Baluch insurgency, would evaporate if the Pakistani army’s partner, the US, were to target ethnic- Pashtun Afghan Taliban in Quetta.

How likely is the Pakistan Taliban to take over the Pashtun narrative among the Pashtun in NWFP, Baluchistan, Karachi and elsewhere? The secular Pashtun are fighting uphill against Islamic momentum within Pashtun society. The Taliban have been able to change the conversation about Pashtun identity, making it more religious and less focused on traditional nationalist grievances such as provincial autonomy. One danger of a heavier US footprint in Pashtun areas on the Afghan side of the Durand Line is that it will allow the Pakistan Taliban to pose more convincingly as defenders of the rights of the Pashtun.

5. The Future of the Pakistan Taliban

There are at least six specific strategies that the Taliban have used, and will likely continue to use, as the basis for their expansion in the frontier. The advantage for the Taliban is that only two or three out of the six strategies have to work for them to make incremental gains.

The Swat and South Waziristan campaigns show that the army can carry out a policy of “forceful” containment. However, Islamabad tends to fall short in the follow-up civilian reconstruction, and one has the feeling that the Pakistan Taliban are biding their time and will return once the army loses interest. A war of attrition probably favours the Taliban in that its continuing suicide bombings will sap morale. How many suicide bombing attacks can Peshawar and other Pakistani cities take before conceding to the Pakistan Taliban? Already, there is anecdotal evidence that young officers are voicing criticism of the kinetic campaigns against the Taliban. That said, major Taliban advances in the frontier over the coming years are likely to come by way of a series of negotiated, face-saving government capitulations rather than an outright collapse of government authority.

6. The India-Pakistan Relationship

The prospects for a viable peace process transforming long time enemies into partners are not terribly auspicious. But there are signs of new thinking in India where there is a growing realisation that a failed neighbour will prevent India from attaining global power status. Kashmir, the Mumbai attack of November 2008, water and energy shortages,

Pakistan’s perception of India’s role in Afghanistan and mutual distrust of each others covert security services are all flashpoints for escalation as well as agenda items for negotiation.

Miscalculations and intelligence failures in all of the previous crises and the feeling among some South Asian analysts that a threatened Pakistan might escalate a future crisis into the unthinkable are not grounds for comfort.

The good news is that more Pakistanis are beginning to understand that the danger to

Pakistan is not from an invasion by the Indian army but from their own internal problems.

The recent British Council survey of young people in Pakistan found that more than five times as many identify themselves as Muslim than as Pakistani and that as many want Sharia Law as democracy. For Pakistan, this survey reconfirms the need to redistribute funds from defence to under-budgeted education, health care and jobs for its burgeoning youth. It is in India’s own interest to engage with Pakistan directly rather than leave it to the US to do all the heavy lifting, especially when the US has eclipsed India as being the most unpopular among the Pakistani public. India’s Prime Minister understands the problem but finds it difficult to gain the necessary consensus within Congress leadership.

7. China-Pakistan Relations

No country has been more central to Pakistan’s foreign policy and security interests than

China. In contrast to the US, whose relationship with Pakistan has been both episodic and heavily conditioned, that with China has been consistent, predictable and until recently without conditionality. The Pakistan-China relationship is described as an all-weather relationship, in contrast to the United States, which is perceived as only a fair-weather friend.

One new tension in the relationship is China’s increasing concern about Uighur protests and Islamic radicalisation in Xinjiang, which now colours China’s view of Pakistan-exported militancy. Given China’s increasing ties with India, its continuing close relations with Pakistan, and its expanding investment in and political links with Afghanistan, China is likely to emerge in the coming decade with significant leverage over the key countries in South Asia. As China grows more comfortable in discharging its responsibilities as a global power, it may be able to coax its ally, Pakistan, into stabilising regional arrangements. China wants stability in the Af-Pak area given dangers to China from Pakistan’s export of extremism into China’s own provinces. At the same time, China is uncomfortable with the US in its backyard.

8. US-Pakistan Relations

Both sides recognise there is a need to move away from the on-again, off-again fair-weather friend perception to something more permanent. It is not just a matter of the US consulting Pakistan on grand decisions but actually giving Pakistan a role to play in the execution of a regional strategy. For example, rather than wait the US/NATO out for another 18 months and then try to forge its own regional strategy without the US, Pakistan could work together with NATO now to forge a regional strategy. One possible place to start is to consider whether the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) might play a role in contributing to a political settlement in Afghanistan.

The difficulty is that Pakistan retains an immediate security interest in expanding the influence of the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis are fully aware that the Obama strategy could morph into a light footprint scenario in 2011 with the possible drawdown of US/NATO troops without a clear defeat of the Taliban, and this possibility serves to maintain the Pakistan army’s incentive to hedge its bets with their Afghan Taliban clients. Can Messrs. Holbrooke, Petraeus, Mullin, McChrystal and other Administration figures persuade Pakistan to serve as an altogether different kind of bridge between US/NATO and the Afghan Taliban, similar to the role Pakistan played in the US outreach to China in the early 1970s? Predicting the future of Afghanistan and its impact on Pakistan. It seems likelier that the Afghan Taliban will be neither completely defeated nor victorious, and that what may emerge in Afghanistan is a de facto partition of Afghanistan with a nominal central government in Kabul.

This is not necessarily bad news because the Afghan Taliban will not prevail over most of Afghanistan as they did in the late 1990s. Instead, they will be naturally contained by the internal balance of power dynamics within Afghanistan (i.e. fighting the Northern

Alliance and others), leaving Pakistan relatively free from their impredations. The impact of the eventual withdrawal of NATO in the face of a de facto partition of Afghanistan on the

Pakistan Taliban is not clear. By reducing NATO pressure on the Pakistan army to fight the

Pakistan Taliban, a stable modus vivendi might emerge between the Pakistan Taliban and the army. Or the army may decide to crack down on the Pakistan Taliban, whose Afghan Taliban cousins will be unable to help as they become preoccupied in intra-tribal-ethnic conflict inside Afghanistan.

In the near term, the Pakistanis are concerned about a widening of the war beyond the operations against the Pakistan Taliban as a result of US pressure to go after Afghan Taliban sanctuaries inside Pakistan. Pakistan sees its home-grown Taliban differently from the Afghan Taliban, who are not viewed as Pakistan’s enemy. US-Pakistani relations will progress only if the divergent objectives of the two sides can be resolved. US pressure on the Pakistan army to expand its war or else acquiesce in US direct attacks on Afghan Taliban leaders in Baluchistan may trigger dissension within Pakistani society and especially within its army that leads to serious destabilisation of the country. The overriding concern in the US is and will be to prevent the country and the army from fragmenting, which would in a worst case scenario threaten the security of the Pakistani nuclear programme.

The Kerry-Lugar-Berman Aid programme is a step in the right direction in targeting socio-economic development at the civilian population, but both countries need to ensure that the implementation of the programme does not disappoint either Congress or the Pakistani public. The hostile 2009 reception in Pakistan to Kerry-Lugar-Berman was most alarming to those who thought that it was the right thing to do; Pakistani opinion is so anti- American that sometimes it is hard to figure out what the US should do in Pakistan.

Download the complete report from BoxNet on this Blog.

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