Pakistan: On a One-way Street to Failure

Canberra, Australia, March 2009

A little more than six decades is considered a brief time in the history of a sovereign nation. Therefore, it is difficult to imagine how a host of problems can bring a state down to its knees in such a short time. However, this is precisely what has happened in Pakistan in the past few months. From being labelled a possible failing state, the country now heads the list of states that will fail with catastrophic repercussions for the neighbourhood, and becoming a potential global hazard! Peace, stability and security have become words with their meanings almost totally not understood by a population pushed to the limit by a variety of factors. The saddest part of this saga of passage is that it has been brought on the nation by its own leaders—both political and military.

From being an independent state created in 1947 by the partition of the then unified British India, Pakistan now has the dubious distinction of being considered the centre for Islamist militancy and a safe haven for extremist insurgents from both al-Qaeda and the Taliban increasingly taking part in the already complex war in Afghanistan.

This is a paradoxical situation. The Taliban, that ruled Afghanistan for five years before being overthrown by US-led forces post the World Trade Centre attacks, is actually the creation of Pakistan. Without the sponsorship of both the Pakistani government and military the nascent Taliban movement would have remained yet another Afghan militia amongst a plethora of others. Islamabad provided weapons, training, funds and logistical support for the Taliban to seize power in Afghanistan and enforce an extreme brand of Islam on the nation. However, it is certain that even in their wildest dreams Pakistan did not envisage the same virulent militancy and fundamentalism to sweep across its own territory and swamp it. Currently the North-West Frontier Province is in the grips of a raging insurgency that is rapidly spreading to the cities and the country’s security forces—considered all powerful not long back—is impotent to stop terrorist atrocities even in the heart of Lahore. Pakistan is the new epicentre of global terrorism.

The Dichotomy

Pakistan is not at the proverbial cross roads, but has been pushed into the path, from which if it does not withdraw fast, will lead to its disintegration as a viable state. Other than the current Taliban led Islamic militancy, there are also historical reasons that have led to this unviable situation.

The first reason is the nation’s geography, which perhaps more than in any other nation, has influenced the flow of events throughout its independent existence. In fact geography had been a prominent factor throughout the colonial history of the region. Pakistan has only one commercial hub with a functioning port of any appreciable capacity—Karachi in the south. However, most of the country’s produce is from the north and central part in the Indus valley. The Indus is not navigable to Karachi and therefore, transportation of goods presents a challenge. Prior to partition the Indian part of the Punjab was a natural market, but the animosity between the two newly independent nations put a complete halt to any possibility of trade.

Independent Pakistan emphasised its geographical location to make it a geo-strategically important nation, playing the frontier state in the fight against expansionist communism from the Soviet Union. This situation was leveraged to the fullest extent during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It became the conduit for billions of dollars funnelled from the US and Saudi Arabia to the mujaheddin that fought and defeated the Soviet Union.

As a declared Islamic state, Pakistan has always played the Muslim solidarity card to curry economic favours from the oil-rich Arab nations of the Middle East. This is still one of the mainstays of Pakistani foreign policy, although with its recent descent into chaos its Arab benefactors do not seem to be as willing to bail out the sick economy. Pakistan’s economy is on the verge failing completely. The mis-management of the economy for the past six decades have left the nation with a huge debt and trade deficit with the prospect of bankruptcy within the next few months. The economic failure is further emphasised by rising unemployment, collapse of the infrastructure that at the best of times was in itself inadequate, rampant corruption, a below par local capital market, reluctance of foreign investors to enter the market because of security concerns and very few natural resources to tap.

With the realisation that Pakistan is the epicentre of the terrorist ripples that cause grave concern, the world is gradually shifting away from being supporters of the nation that was once viewed as an essential bulwark. Pakistani leaders have not helped the situation by their proclivity to deny any wrong doing on the part of the nation even in instances where the proof of Pakistani involvement is undeniable. This recourse to the denial syndrome and the immediacy with which the world at large is blamed for their home-grown woes has not made any friends Pakistan. Added to this is an ineffective and visibly corrupt leadership that verge on nepotism. The brew is bubbling and a wary world is shifting away.

Pakistan today is not in a pleasant situation and is already in a downward spiral—but like the proverbial ostrich, the nation is seeking solace in denial. The writing on the wall is clear—the hour to act has come and gone, but it may still be possible to retrieve some semblance of order by initiating concerted action. Everyone other than the state of Pakistan seems to know this. Survival by instinct??

The Imposition of Sharia Law: Implications

A few weeks ago (16 February 2009) the Pakistani Government decided to agree to the imposition of sharia law, the Islamic legal code, in the Malakand Division in return for what it hopes will be a stop to the violence that has engulfed this region for many months. This has only made the conflict in Afghanistan more complex for the western forces and added an unknown quantity to the stability of Pakistan as a viable sovereign state. It can be argued that the imposition of the sharia law had already taken place in the region several months ago when the Pakistani Taliban militants took effective control after comprehensively defeating government forces and so this is only a token acceptance of the inevitable.

The repercussions go beyond the formality of the acceptance of an already lost situation. The Government says that by this agreement the Taliban fighters in Malakand will lay down their arms, and justifies the agreement by insisting that this was only meant to pacify widespread frustration within the local tribal people of the area regarding the existing justice system. But both these justifications do not have any semblance of practicality in them and rings hollow, whichever way they are viewed.

The reality is something else.

First, The militants had only agreed on a 10-day cease fire, and they immediately disputed the Government’s announcement of a long-term agreement. Therefore, there is no assurance that stability will return to this troubled region any time in the immediate future. Second, this move undermines the already fractured nation by increasing the influence of the Taliban and is already being seen as an emphatic defeat for Government troops and the loss of control of one more part of the nation. It is noteworthy that the district that has been bargained away to religious extremists had voted overwhelmingly for the secular Awami National Party in the elections held just about a year ago.

Third, all previous accords with militants in the tribal areas have led to those areas becoming sanctuaries for Taliban and al-Qaeda militant fighters, and there is absolutely no assurance that Malakand will not follow suit. Further, this capitulation by the Government could embolden militants in other parts of the country to challenge state authority. Fourth, there seems to be disagreements within various levels of Government regarding not only the deal itself, but also the implementation details. This is complicated by the open hostility between the President (who is still to endorse the deal, at the time of writing) and the Prime Minister who supports the deal.

The imposition of the Sharia law will not lead to containment of the jihadist insurgency. In fact, the demonstration of the Government’s weak bargaining position will only further consolidate the Taliban’s influence and embolden them to further aspirations of broader control of the nation. Another fact of great import is that Malakand is not in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA)—the historically autonomous region in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border—but Pakistan proper. In fact the region is only 160 km from the capital Islamabad—a clear indication of the deterioration of the situation.

Any nation that officially acknowledges that there are two different laws that rule the land is in effect admitting its failure as a sovereign state. By agreeing to impose Sharia law as a sop to Taliban insurgents, Pakistan has clearly lost the right to any claim that it could have to being a state where the writ of the elected government runs. By capitulating to insurgent extremists the government has bargained away the nations sovereignty and thereby its own legitimacy to rule.

The Pakistani leadership—political and military—claim that they understand the threat of militancy in its border areas as a threat to the very existence of Pakistan as a state. However, they are even more eager to point out that there is an equal threat to the world at large emanating from the same source. There is stark cynicism in this attitude—the world will have to take care of Pakistan’s problems, otherwise it is willing to let the state break up and create greater problems within the region and globally! This suggests that the political elite of the nation does not have the will to defend the democracy that was hard won, slightly more than a year ago.

Doomsday Future

For a number of years Pakistan has followed a regional foreign policy enveloped in duplicity, overseen by the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). Its two arms encouraged rogue elements; one in Afghanistan and the other in Indian Kashmir; to carryout covert wars against the state forces. The al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and the Lashkar e-Taiba camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir are both funded, supplied and protected by Pakistan army and ISI, becoming over a period of time training institutions for jihadists from across the world. The overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the necessity to host the training camps in their own territory increased the militancy within Pakistan itself. The Afghan Taliban, mainly Pashtuns, found refuge in the Pakistani tribal areas and now there are more Pashtuns living within Pakistani territory than in Afghanistan!

In 2005 Islamabad declared a truce with the Pakistani Taliban commander in an effort to contain the militancy, but this only played into the Taliban hands, buying them time to consolidate their hold on the tribal areas. Since the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, which is blamed by many on the same Taliban group the government had made truce with, there has also been an increased level of public tolerance of these groups, further emboldening them.

The actual situation is that the Government, fractured and weakened as it is, has no real answers to the explosion of domestic terrorism. The sad truth is that even if the government was able to conclusively wipe out domestic terrorism, moving forward on the path to stability and growth would still remain an elusive dream for a nation riddled with economic, sectarian, religious and political strife. If there is a way to stop this inexorable slide into anarchy and failure, it is not yet apparent to anyone, least of all the blinkered leaders of a broken nation.

About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

One Response to “Pakistan: On a One-way Street to Failure”

  1. Well analyzed Sanu. Very Impressive!!!!

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