Saturday, September 19, 2009




One year after Asif Zardari ousted Gen. Pervez Musharraf and became President of Pakistan, certain trends have emerged which seem to indicate the basic approach that the current dispensation is likely to follow and the trajectory that the country is likely to take. The phrase 'business as usual' aptly describes this approach. In other words, it is highly unlikely that there will be any major change in the policy framework on any of the critical issues that confront Pakistan. This is to be expected from any political government, which having a stake in the system cannot be expected to bring about revolutionary changes in either the system or the structure of government and the state.

The problem in the case of Pakistan is that unless there is a paradigm shift in the policy framework of the state on issues like the ideological foundations of the state, internal security, foreign policy, relations with neighbours, economic management, constitutional reforms, prioritising social and public goods sector, and there evolves a political culture that enables and facilitates this change in policy orientation, the 'business as usual' could end up pushing Pakistan over the abyss. The reason for this is simple. While maintaining and preserving status quo is generally the name of the game for governments around the world, change is constant, even inevitable. Ultimately even the status quo tends to change as a natural consequence of the policies being adopted and the reforms being effected or resisted to keep status quo. Given below is one possible scenario of how things could unfold in Pakistan if 'business as usual' continues and the necessary reforms are not undertaken.

There is continuing drift on issues of governance. Political governments are unable to address the issues of the people. Corruption and maladministration rob the government of legitimacy in eyes of people. Efforts to evolve a working relationship between the ruling and opposition party and avoid a destabilising clash between them come to nought. Political unrest increases with the opposition baying for government's blood and raising the temperature on the street. The army's concerns over the political impasse grows and forces the military to start manipulating the politics to bring about a change in the government, or at the very least, push the government in the direction of good governance. An increasingly interventionist judiciary makes life difficult for the executive by interfering on issues of governance as well as by passing judgements on legal and constitutional issues that adversely affect the government.

The economy continues to be anaemic despite the massive infusions of external aid. The deteriorating law and order situation, high energy costs, lack of domestic and foreign investments, continuing spectre of Islamic terrorism, weak export markets because of global recession and because foreign buyers are skittish about doing business with Pakistani businessmen, all have a deleterious impact on the economy. Unemployment rises, economic distress levels remain high, inflation remains a problem, shortages of food stuffs become rampant (partly because of production constraints, partly because of inability of government to import food and partly because of distribution bottlenecks, profiteering and corruption). Agricultural growth stays weak on account of chronic water shortages, high input costs, low productivity.

The fiscal position remains totally messed up with debt servicing, defence and general administration taking the away Lion's share of the resources leaving very little for education, health, infrastructure and other social and public goods. Low confidence in the economy leads to capital flight as also brain drain. All this impacts on the value of the Pakistani Rupee which depreciates further, making debt servicing close to impossible, fuelling inflation, and badly affecting growth. Under these circumstances, the religious right-wing and radical Islamist parties will increase their rhetoric and find greater resonance in the public especially since they are likely to focus on the issues confronting the common man.

The Islamist insurgency will continue to act as a major drain on the economy. Under intense international pressure the Pakistan army is likely to persist with efforts to make the Islamist revolt more manageable. But since the army is unlikely to succeed in completely cleansing the country of the menace of the Islamists, a sort of cat-and mouse game will continue. The army will establish control in one area only to find the Islamists take control of another area. The war of attrition will have an impact on the army and is likely to extend it to the limits.

In order to forestall the threat from India, the army might ramp up militancy inside India in order to keep the Indians occupied at home. But this is a ploy that can easily backfire because rising tensions with India will force the army to stay deployed in large numbers on the eastern border, something that will have an impact on its operations against the Taliban and other Islamist groups. In order to counter the Indian threat, the Pakistani will increase their reliance on their nuclear arsenal and invest ever larger resources to build up their nuclear arsenal and refine their delivery systems.

Despite the apparent success of the Pakistan army against the Taliban in Swat and other parts of Pakistan, the Islamists will continue to expand their political influence inside Pakistan through militancy as well as through the use of Islamist symbols. The Pakistan army operations are at best a sort of holding operation. Without any worthwhile effort being made by the Pakistani state – the political parties or the army – to effect a paradigm shift in the ideological underpinnings of the state that led to the mushrooming growth of Islamist militias, the military operations will only end up providing symptomatic treatment to the virus of religious extremism that is spreading through the country. Under international pressure, half-hearted measures are taken to shift the ideological and religious orientation of the people towards a more liberal, syncretic and moderate version of Islam. But these measures fail to make even a dent in the growing influence of the Islamists on the Pakistani society.

The steady deterioration in the security situation inside Afghanistan will have a major impact on Pakistan, which will come under increasing international pressure to 'do more' against the Taliban. Although the increasing dependence of the US and other Western powers on Pakistan will lead to lot of aid inflows, these will not be enough to take the Pakistan economy out of the pit in which it finds itself. At best these aid inflows will serve the purpose of keeping the Pakistan economy on a drip – barely alive. The demands imposed by the Americans will only add to the problem of legitimacy and credibility of the government in the eyes of the people. The army is also likely to resist the unending US demands that will only end up pitting the army to enlarge its operations against its own people.

The US will face two stark choices: one, stay the course in Afghanistan and do what it takes to clean up the place; two, cut losses and run, outsourcing Afghanistan to Pakistan. There is also a possibility of the US splitting Afghanistan along ethnic lines to limit the Taliban spread to only the Pashtun belt in Afghanistan, which the Pakistanis can then control through their Taliban proxies. But any US exit is likely to give a shot in the arm to the Islamists worldwide. This would be seen as the reaffirmation that Allah is the only superpower and that the Afghans have forced the withdrawal of the British in the 19th Century, the Russians in the 20th Century and the Americans in the 21st Century. Chances are that an American exit will lead to an Islamist upsurge that could sweep Pakistan. Even if this doesn't happen, a Taliban victory in Afghanistan will almost certainly have a telling impact inside Pakistan where the Islamists will get emboldened enough to increase their operations against the Pakistan army and try and take over the state. In the event, Pakistan will be severely destabilised and a civil war like situation could engulf the country.

The deteriorating security situation coupled with unstable political situation will impose intolerable strain on the Pakistani state. Ethnic nationalist groups disaffected by Pakistan could use this opportunity to declare their own war of independence and separation from Pakistan. The combined effect of all this could be utter chaos and anarchy inside Pakistan, the impact of which will be directly felt inside India.


    <1415 Words>                 10th September, 2009



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