Pakistan’s Decline

in Program

By Michael Krepon – It has become difficult to
identify positive trend lines in Pakistan, where growing nuclear
stockpiles provide no protection against bad governance and great misfortune.
Two positive indicators in recent years were a vigorously free media and the
lawyers’ movement that prompted the departure of the last military ruler who
stayed too long, Pervez Musharraf.  These
hopeful developments now appear in a different light.  Many media outlets constantly drip poison
into Pakistan’s
political bloodstream.  Progressive
voices are few in number and under great strain.  Lawyers do not leap to the task of
prosecuting Muslim assassins and those who plan bomb blasts in markets and
mosques. The central government fails badly at delivering public services.

The country’s founder,
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, rightly complained that England
bequeathed Pakistan
a moth-eaten state due to its odd geographical boundaries. Rampant corruption
eats away at what’s left of the state’s fabric, most evocatively in the
detention of the former Minister of Religious Affairs, Hamid Saeed Kazmi.  Kazmi, a member of President Asif Ali
Zadari’s party, is accused of ripping off pilgrims during the Hajj.

Pakistan’s strategic culture feeds
on grievances and threat inflation.  Its
political culture has devolved into little more than point scoring and
deflecting responsibility. The case of the recently released Raymond Davis,
alleged robbery victim turned deadly avenger, fuses all of the above.  U.S.-Pakistan ties are worst I can recall in
almost two decades of visits, and are likely to deteriorate further.

Washington is enmeshed in
counter-productive tactics in pursuit of a muddled strategy, as is evident by
the drone attacks on Pakistani soil along the Afghan border.

Will Pakistan go the way of Tunisia and Egypt? There is, after all, a
demographic time bomb happening in Pakistan as in other Muslim
countries. Young people have many reasons for bitter resentment.  And still, Pakistanis persevere. An
off-the-books economy keeps the country going, even though inflation is above
15% and rising, few pay taxes, and the avoidance of hard choices is foreclosing
economic growth and foreign investment.

Almost everyone consulted on
a recent trip (admittedly a very narrow sampling) dismissed the
possibility of a popular revolt.  The
only well defined unifying national impulse is dissatisfaction with the status
quo; almost everything else – including the role of religion in the state –
divides.  There are many outlets to let
off steam.

Stifling autocracy isn’t the
problem in Pakistan:
different governments, civilian and military, have been tried. Governments
change after failing, but familiar faces and terrible problems endure. Mass
protests in Pakistan
are usually not spontaneous.

Catalytic, nation-wide
protests would make it very hard for any government to keep the country
stitched together.

Pakistani military officers
told me that, like their Egyptian brethren, they would refuse to fire on
protesters. Presently, it seems unlikely that they would face this
dilemma.  There appears to be widespread
resignation, not anger, directed at the current government, and recognition
that there are no quick and simple answers to the country’s plight.  Pakistan feels to this outsider
like a country in depression, not on the brink of upheaval.  Then again, I’m in no position to sense a
bottom-up revolution in Pakistan.

Might this mood of
depression pave the way for a government led by religious extremists? Voting
blocks in Pakistan
tend to be very well defined, although as a result of the current rot, voting
preferences might change.  As is evident
from the current government’s back-peddling on reforming the blasphemy law,
religious zealots have less of a need to assume high office: even if religious
parties remain a distinct minority, they have good reason to believe that the
authorities will not push back against their favored causes.

Extremism in the defense of Pakistan is
becoming less of a vice.

Many groups are well armed
in Pakistan.  Some fight each other.  Some fight U.S.
and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Some fight and do deals with the Pakistan military.  Some, most notably Laskhar-e-Toiba, remain
linked to the security apparatus, serving as unconventional reserves in the
event of a war with India – a war that the LeT might spark by attacking iconic
targets on Indian soil.  With the renewal
of Indo-Pakistan dialogue and the possibility of modest agreements, the
likelihood of another high-profile attack within India grows, especially if the
Pakistan Army leadership opposes meaningful steps toward normalization.  India
is the proud possessor of three new airports in New Delhi,
Hyderabad and Bangalore. They are poorly secured, and there
are many other targets to choose from.

A longer version of this essay appeared on


Photo Credit: Pakistani civilians wait to board helicopter
during humanitarian relief efforts in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan (By USMC)




Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Choose Your Subscription Topics
* indicates required
I'm interested in...
38 North: News and Analysis on North Korea
South Asian Voices