Report card for Pakistan

March 10, 2011


STEPHEN Cohen, a friend of Pakistan and one of the most knowledgeable researchers on the country, presented in January a report titled . He was assisted by a group of scholars who examined various aspects of the problems facing the country.

The security aspects of the report are pessimistic. He says, “…it seems that a revival of the insurgency will take place, given the absence of real economic growth and the weakness of political institutions. Absent police reform and a new attitude towards domestic jihadis it is doubtful that the law and order situation will improve in Punjab, and it will certainly worsen in KP [Khyber Pakhtunkhwa]. Balochistan could again see a revived separatist movement, perhaps with outside assistance.”

Cohen added, “There is ample evidence that Pakistan is turning a decisive corner that the original idea of a moderate, reasonably secular and competitive state is out of reach, and that some other kind of Pakistan will emerge.” The question that arises is — will Pakistan survive and is the future of the country ensured?

Cohen enumerates five drivers forcing Pakistan into fast decay. First, Pakistan is a nuclear state with a bad record of proliferation.

Secondly, it follows a policy of actively supporting jihadists and militants among its neighbours and has either turned a blind eye or professes incapacity when it comes to opposing militants active in Europe and even in China.

Thirdly, the identity-based dispute with India continues, and very likely new crises between the two will erupt over the next several years.

Fourthly, Pakistan's economy is stagnating, complicated by the massive damage of the earthquake in 2005 and last year's floods. Last and more serious is its “demographic indicators [that] look bad and are worsened by a poor economy — long gone are the days when Pakistan was knocking on the door of middle-income status”.

There couldn't have been a worst assessment of performance by Pakistan's civil military ruling elite who have collectively failed to make Pakistan a growing concern. While Cohen looks at the objective results that have emerged they could not have happened without the tacit nod of many of Pakistan's 'friends' both in the West as well as in the Muslim world; especially the proxy sectarian war that is devouring the state.

So what are the possible scenarios emerging from this study? The report lists seven possible scenarios ranging from the more probable to the less likely. The most likely future projected for Pakistan is the continuation of “more of the same”, for another five years.

According to this eventuality, it assumes that the establishment-driven Pakistan, with the military playing a key role, will decline as a state and a nation since it has ignored providing solutions to the most volatile threat facing the country: its expanding population. This demographic time bomb is heading towards an explosion.

In the meantime, Pakistan will witness an increase in the insurgency in Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab and a heightened separatist movement in Balochistan. While the world including our putative 'enemy' India is genuinely worried about a fragmenting Pakistan and would like to help, our foreign and internal policies prevent us from breaking out of a decaying orbit. It is as if we are proving Euripides' 2,400-year-old dictum correct when he said, “Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.”

Cohen's second possible scenario is also a possibility and he calls it, “parallel Pakistans” where the federation becomes ineffective and some provinces like Punjab begin to provide sounder outcomes in the social sectors and private investment creates fiscal space for delivery of services. The other provinces begin to decline because of the insurgency and lack of capacity to undertake more responsible governance under the 18th Amendment.

The report predicts that over time the weakening federation will cause the collapse of the military and remove the pivot in Pakistan. It will cause erosion of its infrastructure, indicators in the social sectors will drop, poor governance will increase, law and order will weaken and the growth of sectarianism will accelerate, pushing the country into an abyss.

Before that happens the report foresees the emergence of well-organised militias like Hamas or Hezbollah which would provide social services and compete with a decaying state as has happened during the recent earthquake and floods.

Clearly, Pakistan is heading towards the precipice. Essential security and financial reforms are postponed because of weak governance. Our ruling elite fails to realise that state management cannot be achieved by leading like a kind 'uncle'. The state must implement those policies that are essential. Such policies should shift benefits from the rich to the poor.

If the only objective of the government is to extend its tenure in office and to make personal profit then the predicted decline is a certainty. The West can help by publicly notifying the size of bank accounts abroad held by Pakistan's political elite. Such money should be returned rather than being commandeered.

Finally, the Pakistani civil-military leadership must shift Pakistan's paradigm from a security state towards a state based on human protection and human security. The lead in changing the narrative must be supported by the military. Without its concurrence this transformation cannot occur. If everything else remains the same, I foresee a fulfilment of Cohen's worst-case scenario within the next two to three years.

Very painfully, the grade in the report card for Pakistan today is an abject 'F'. One hopes that six months from now the position improves.

The writer is chairman of the Regional Institute of Policy Research in Peshawar.