Muddling along

Print edition : June 29, 2012

The book gives a good insight into the predicament of Pakistan.

Stephen P. Cohen is well known as the dean of Western scholars on Pakistan. His Idea of Pakistan (2004) is a seminal work. He has written on India, too. There are 16 other contributors, from the United States, Pakistan and India, to this volume. A good many of them got together in 2010 for a workshop at the Rockefeller Foundation's Conference Centre in Bellagio, Italy. The papers were written later and they broadly cover developments until the end of 2011.

Though the Indian and Pakistani points of view have been highlighted by some of the scholars, the predominant point of view is U.S.-centric. But that in no way detracts from the value of the book for the Indian reader. In fact, this book will be of absorbing interest to the entire South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) region and beyond.

For the Indian reader, this book is timely. India is seriously trying to improve its relations with Pakistan, and its efforts are to be consummated with an official visit to Pakistan by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. That he was born in west Punjab, now part of Pakistan, no doubt, adds the human element to inter-state relations.

Indians have a tendency to attach more importance to the textual than to the contextual. India has always attached much value to Pakistan's words, written or spoken. It has often failed to figure out the intentions and motivations of its Pakistani interlocutors. An outstanding example is how the thespian Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as Pakistan President, outwitted Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by signing an accord he had no intention of complying with. It is possible that the 40th anniversary of the Simla Agreement might witness a similar one signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

This book gives the reader a good insight into the predicament of Pakistan. It puts India's planned reconciliation and search for perpetual peace and harmony in proper context. If Pakistan faces an uncertain future, it might not make sense for India to enter into agreements that need to be implemented over a number of years with consistency and tenacity of purpose. Agreements have to be entered into with those who have the power and authority to agree.

In his Foreword, Bruce Riedel points out that Pakistan was born in great violence and it is becoming a more violent place. For years, Pakistan's friends had warned it that by harbouring terrorists, Pakistan risked being devoured by terrorism. This assessment is shared by most of the writers. The book is not meant to tell the reader categorically of Pakistan's destination. But it will tell the reader of the possible destinations Pakistan is moving towards.

Before we look at the possible destinations, it is necessary to understand the crisis-defined identity of Pakistan. According to Cohen, Pakistan has become a violent state, which saw attacks on its core institutions, notably the police, the Army, and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, and the assassinations of Benazir Bhutto, its most important politician; Salmaan Taseer, a serving Governor; and Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian Minister in the Cabinet. It is the most unsafe country for diplomats and journalists.

It is a nuclear weapons state with a very bad record of proliferation, and there are lingering questions about the security of its growing nuclear arsenal.

It has, as a matter of state policy, actively supported jehadis and militants in Afghanistan and India.

Its policies hamper international attempts to stabilise Afghanistan and have contributed to several crises some of them with nuclear overtones for India.

Pakistan's tolerance of or inability to control home-grown terrorists and those who come to Pakistan for terrorist training has worsened its relations with China and several European states, even as Pakistan continues to cooperate in identifying these groups.

The demographic indicators look bad, and they are worsened by a poor economy long gone are the days when Pakistan was knocking on the door of middle-income status.

Finally, Pakistan's economy is stagnating, exacerbated by the massive damage due to a recent earthquake (2005) and floods (2010); this has implications for education, internal migration, and the confidence of Pakistanis in the country's progress, especially when contrasted with India's rapid growth.

Cohen's listing is almost exhaustive. But he has omitted the tense relations with the U.S. and the drone attacks, which increased after Barack Obama took office. Of course, he does, later, refer to Pakistan having become a major foreign policy headache for the U.S. The reader will note the unstated assumption that it is probably all Pakistan's fault.

Cohen draws attention to the scourge of suicide bombings. There were only two in 2002, but the number grew to 59 in 2008 and to 84 the next year, before dropping to 29 in 2010, the lowest level since 2005. Yet in 2010, Pakistan accounted for more deaths caused by suicide bombing than any other country, one-fourth of the total for the whole world. The largest number of deaths occurred in the Pashtun belt in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), with Pashtuns killing Pashtuns, whereas the so-called Punjabi Taliban (consisting of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Jaish-e-Muhammad, and others) targeted Shias, Barlevis, Ahmediyas and Christians.

Cohen quotes with approval the strategic analyst B. Raman's assessment that neither the operations of the Pakistan Army nor the drone attacks by the U.S. have dented the motivation of the Pashtun, both Afghan and Pakistani, or of the Punjabi Taliban. He does not say anything more on the drone attacks.

Turning to the trends in 2011, Cohen notes that the Army's role is recessed but not reduced and that the Army remains the unelected centre of power with its own ties to each of the formal structures of government and foreign governments. Cohen lists the U.S., China and Saudi Arabia as the foreign governments with influence on Pakistan. The Indian reader should note that Cohen has correctly excluded India from the shortlist. Anti-Americanism grew steadily in the middle class and the elite during General Pervez Musharraf's reign and continues to rise, particularly among young people, politically important owing to their voting power.

For Cohen, those who make predictions about Pakistan's future fall into two categories: the pessimists, who believe that things will go from bad to worse, and the optimists, who believe that history is about to reverse itself. He concludes his essay, Pakistan: Arrival and departure, by assessing that it is hard to be optimistic that the West and the U.S. will get both Afghanistan and Pakistan right or that India will suddenly become generous, or that the Pakistani elite, especially the military, will undertake a programme of deep reform. Hope for the best, but at least think about the worst.

Possible futures

Kanti Bajpai, in his essay, Pakistan's future: Muddle along, examines six possible scenarios before concluding that the country, most probably, will just muddle along. State collapse, balkanisation, Islamic revolution, liberal democracy, military rule, and muddle along are discussed at length. Present-day Pakistan is a mix of state failure, regional balkanisation, Islamic fundamentalism, military domination, and liberal democracy.

Turning to the implications for India, Bajpai argues that a Pakistan muddling along is not all bad for India. The present uneasy balance between various entities in Pakistan is not ideal by any means, but it is a situation that Indian decision-makers understand reasonably well. India must remain patient and continue to engage in discussions. India should do what it can, though it is not much, to help the civilian government. India should show accommodation on Siachen or Sir Creek. India must expect a repeat of 26/11. India must try to work together with Pakistan on Afghanistan. Finally, India should develop a relationship with the Pakistani military. A deal on Kashmir might strengthen the forces of moderation. But, it is far from clear that any government can afford to make concessions to Pakistan. Without some concessions, there is no prospect of a deal.

Bajpai does not elaborate on the deal he has in mind on Kashmir. As far as we know, Pakistan wants the Valley as Bhutto told Swaran Singh during the talks after the 1962 war with China. The counsel that India should go on talking even if there were a repeat of 26/11 does not appear to be eminently practical. Should a 26/11-type attack be repeated, there will be no public support for endless talks. In any case, the advice on a deal on Kashmir shows the ambivalent approach of many in India to its own claim that Kashmir is its integral part. Such inconsistency weakens India's position.

C. Christine Fair of George Town University, in her essay Addressing fundamental challenges, argues that in the next 10 years, Pakistan will be unlikely to resolve its foundational issues. Most of the political parties are vertically integrated personality cults that aggregate localised interests. This description applies to the two mainstream parties, too. Pakistan's civil society institutions are weak in contrast to those in India or Bangladesh. The Army believes that it is and is believed by many Pakistanis to be the only institution capable of protecting the state. Few people are demanding a secular Pakistan.

India, according to Christine Fair, is appallingly short-sighted. India refuses to put forward any conciliatory policies. India's policy has only exacerbated Pakistan's existential crises and concomitant security challenges.

Other U.S. scholars do not seem to share her approach of blaming India to the extent she does. She concludes by saying that two Pakistans will exist in an uneasy and unstable equilibrium with each other: a forward-looking Pakistan and another that believes that Islam and Islamism are the only meaningful antidote to the pressure bearing on the state and its politics.

Ambassador Tariq Fatemi in his essay, Looking ahead, attributes Pakistan's present predicament to the circumstances of its birth. As there was a military threat from India, there was not enough money to spend in the social sectors.

Kashmir is crucial. Pakistanis cannot visualise their country without Kashmir. The non-resolution of differences with India over Kashmir and other matters provided an opportunity for the military and the intelligence agencies to assume the role of the protector of the nation. In other words, India should take the blame for Pakistan's predicament.

Muslim League workers in the Muslim-minority areas now outside Pakistan worked for the creation of Pakistan. They, known as Mujahirs in popular parlance, dominated the civil service and business. The locals' resented the domination by outsiders. But the Army was local'. The Army carved out a place for itself as the guardian of the national interest. The long spells of Army rule alienated millions of citizens and led eventually to the country's break-up in 1971. The alliance with the U.S. also contributed to the alienation.

We do not know when Fatemi wrote his essay, but his conclusion that far from viewing Pakistan as a failed state, the Obama administration favours a comprehensive, productive, and meaningful relationship with this important South Asian ally is dated. Perhaps Cohen should have exercised editorial care and not included such unpersuasive essays. The account given by Fatemi of Pakistan's 1998 nuclear tests is grossly misleading as it tries to give the impression that Pakistan developed the weapons entirely on its own without any external assistance. Mohan Guruswamy, in his essay, The China factor, asserts that the Xinjiang-Tibet highway across the Aksai Chin in the early 1950s also would not have gone unnoticed in Pakistan, considering that it also shared a border with China in the region. Is the writer assuming that Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir is part of Pakistan?

Six variables

There are a few more essays that deserve to be mentioned, but a review cannot do full justice to all the 16 essayists. But a word on William Milam, a former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, is unavoidable. There are six major factors or variables. The most important is the India-centricity of the Pakistani mindset and policy focus. This factor is the least amenable to change over the next six years or so.

The next variable is the outcome in Afghanistan. This factor is linked to the first one. Pakistan wants to preserve its strategic depth in Afghanistan by denying India any major role in that country. It might be possible to devise a scheme that offsets Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan by invoking a coalition of Pakistan, India, Iran and the Central Asian states that border Afghanistan and their political proxies in that country. But the writer considers such a coalition as no more than a pie in the sky.

The third factor is the evolution of the Army. The civil-military balance in Pakistan is not likely to change. The young men who join the Army and the jehadi organisations come from the same social milieu in the martial triangle in Punjab. Over time, the Army jawans might find it difficult to shoot at the jehadis. Another question is whether the Army would permit the civilian government to come to any arrangement with India that might reduce its role as the protector of Pakistan against Indian hostility.

The next factor is the lost generation by which the author means those born since 1980. They have been conditioned by religious fundamentalism. To regain that generation, Pakistan needs a spell of good governance.

This need takes us to the fifth factor, the imperative of economic growth and reform. The era of windfall remittance from abroad is over. The State Bank of Pakistan, in its report for the first quarter of 2010, asserts that the government cannot successfully stabilise the economy and simultaneously provide stimulus for growth.

The last factor is the U.S. factor an arranged marriage? It is for the U.S. to convince Pakistan that its long-term interests in South Asia are best served by a long-term, stable, and reliable relationship with Pakistan. However, the U.S. has a very poor record of managing assistance efforts that require flexibility, pragmatism, and some semblance of timeliness.

In his Afterword, Cohen traces the evolution of the academic assessment of Pakistan. Just before and after 9/11, the view was that Pakistan with external assistance would overcome its economic difficulties, take its rightful place as an ally of the West and become an anchor of the moderate branch of Islam.

It would serve as a bridge: the gateway to modernity for other Muslims and a gateway to Islam for the West. A 2004 study reaffirmed Pakistan's central role in the operations in Afghanistan and the need for increased U.S. support to Pakistan.

Jonathan Paris, an American based in Britain, in his study in 2010, came to the conclusion that Pakistan would muddle along. A similar conclusion was drawn by a team put together by the Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis and a few others. Cohen cites many studies but, disappointingly for the reader, does not come to any conclusion.

The Indian reader will form the impression that Pakistan is not moving in any serious manner towards being a normal democratic polity. Nor is it serious about being a normal neighbour. In short, Pakistan is abnormal.

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