Friday, October 02, 2009




    Given the state of affairs in Pakistan, and the fast changing geo-political situation, it is quite clear that Pakistan cannot continue with the 'business as usual' approach. Reform – political, economic, social, religious and strategic – is a sine qua non if the Pakistani state has to survive and thrive. If the Pakistani elite are able to undertake the necessary rescuing reforms, Pakistan and rest of the region will pull back from the brink. On the other hand, if the reforms are not ushered in, or if a half-hearted and non-serious approach is adopted on the issue of reforms then there is every possibility that Pakistan will fall off the cliff, and what is worse, drag rest of the region along with it into the abyss. Depending on the course Pakistan follows, two possible scenarios could come into play.

The best case scenario runs as follows: The political climate in Pakistan stabilises. Politicians no longer attempt to short circuit the political process by seeking to use intervention by the army to catapult them into power. Political differences between the ruling and opposition parties do not destabilise the polity. The army's continues to exercise a major influence over the policy on issues of national security, but its role in politics is greatly circumscribed. The sidelining of the army enables the development of a democratic political culture which gradually ushers in a more liberal, tolerant and moderate political atmosphere which in turn acts as an effective counter force to the growing influence of the Islamists.

Problems in governance and administration don't disappear, but serious and sincere efforts are made to improve the situation and bring about greater accountability. The economic situation remains precarious but a tentative recovery gets underway. Foreign assistance and aid floods the country and allows the government to provide some relief to the people. Trade concessions and investment flows help to kick start the economy and provide employment opportunities to a large number of people. Huge investments in infrastructure projects have a multiplier effect on the overall economic situation. The agricultural sector flourishes because of the infrastructural projects like canals, dams, roads, electricity. There is a greater public investment in the social sector and health and education are treated as priority sectors.

The war against the Islamic insurgents continues with the security forces notching up notable successes and scattering the insurgents. While terror attacks do not stop, the danger of Islamists acquiring control of the state recedes significantly. The Islamists no longer are able to run a parallel administration in vast swathes of territory. Law enforcement agencies are able to penetrate and break jihadi networks (not only in the western parts of the country but also in Punjab and Sindh) and degrade the jihadists' capability to strike against the state. At the public level there is a reaction against the Islamists which enables the political establishment to reorient state policy in a moderate and liberal direction. The Pakistan army and intelligence agencies end their patronage of jihadi outfits and no longer make a distinction between good and bad jihadis. While the process of extirpating the jihad culture will take a long time, there is no longer any confusion or duality on the issue of jihad.

With the winding down of the jihad factory, a serious and substantive process of engagement commences with India. Improved relations lead to a boom in trade, travel and investment between the two countries. The Kashmir issue remains unsolved but efforts to find a mutually acceptable deal on the issue gain pace. Both India and Pakistan are able to work together on stabilising Afghanistan. Greater autonomy is conceded to the provinces which gives all the provinces a stake in the system and effectively addresses the grievances in disaffected provinces like Balochistan.

Perhaps the best case scenario is too good to be true. It is equally possible that the worst case scenario in which everything that can go wrong goes wrong, is too bad to be true, or so everyone should pray.

The worst case scenario runs as follows: The war against the Islamists stretches the Pakistan army to its ideological and logistical limits. Despite notching up a few successes, the army is unable to contain, much less eradicate, the jihadi terror groups. Every time the army frees one area from the Islamists, the insurgency shifts to another area. A consensus within the security and the political establishment on combating the Islamists remains elusive. As a result, elements in the army and intelligence agencies work at cross-purposes to the stated policy of the top brass. Divisions within the security establishment on the issue of Taliban ensure that no effective action is possible against the jihadists. A few major setbacks break the resolve of the Pakistan army, and the army is forced to stop all offensive operations and enter into 'peace deals' with the Islamists.

The basic strategic orientation of the Pakistan army remains unchanged – India remains the enemy, the Islamists an asset. The army continues with its 'running with the hare, hunting with the hound' game with the Americans – partaking the dollars, but keeping the Taliban option alive. The Americans are eventually forced to exit Afghanistan and after a brutal civil war, the Taliban acquire control over bulk, if not the whole, of Afghanistan. With the Taliban in control in Afghanistan, the Islamists run riot inside Pakistan. Initially they extend their influence insidiously but within a few months they start to challenge the Pakistani state which is unable to resist their onslaught. There are two options before the Pakistani state: one, take the war to the Taliban, which means going into Afghanistan; two, succumb to the Taliban – neither of them an easy choice and both with horrendous implications.

The Islamists extend their operations into Punjab and Sindh. They use the networks of state sponsored jihadi organisations to consolidate their position in these areas. The law and order situation collapses. Widespread sectarian violence breaks out and this brings in countries like Iran into the fray.

All hope of economic revival dies. There is capital flight and trade and industry come to a practical standstill. Rising unemployment and economic distress levels create massive unrest in the country. International assistance flows in for some time, but then dries up because Pakistan is unable or unwilling to deliver on the wish list that accompanies the aid. As a result, the economy goes into a tail spin and the state becomes bankrupt and is unable to discharge even its basic functions.

The political instability only adds to the problems. The government and the opposition are daggers drawn and no effort is spared to pull the government down by hook or by crook. Corruption is rampant and all development activity grinds to a halt. The army once again plays the political power broker, making and breaking governments at will. The judiciary resists for some time but is utterly ineffective in enforcing its decisions. The political tussle prevents any attention being paid to the existential crises facing the state. Even as the state continues to recede (a redux of the Bahadur Shah Zafar syndrome) the politicians continue to conspire to attain high offices of the state.

The failure of politics to solve political problems leads to ethnic nationalism boiling over, especially in Balochistan. The movement for an independent Balochistan gains strength with the weakening of the state. International powers start backing the Baloch national movement. The Baloch however face the hostility not only from remnants of the Pakistani state but also from the Taliban. Up north, the Chinese try and insulate themselves from the fallout of a collapsing Pakistan through a forward policy which includes occupation of Gilgit-Baltistan. A Civil war like condition exists throughout the country. Attempts are made to convert Karachi into an independent city state which results in ethnic warfare and blood-letting.

The failure of the state raises questions about the safety of nuclear weapons. The international powers try to denuclearise Pakistan but this effort is resisted. Attempts to 'snatch', disable or destroy these weapons meet with limited success. The Islamists finally gain control over these weapons and use them as a currency for bargaining with India and with the West.

With chaos and anarchy reigning in Pakistan, there is a flood of refugees into India which imposes intolerable strain on the social and political fabric of India and an unsustainable economic burden on the Indian economy. The jihadists take advantage of the unsettled conditions and infiltrate in large numbers into India, unleashing horrendous acts of terror, which severely disturbs communal relations inside India and creating an unmanageable law and order situation.

Clearly, Pakistan's best case scenario is also India's desired scenario. The big question is whether India is even aware of the implications of an imploding Pakistan. Equally important, does India have the policy instruments required to ensure that Pakistan's best case scenario, or something close it, becomes a reality? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is in the negative at this stage.


    <1500 Words>                    24th September, 2009



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