George Friedman once said that the first line of defence against Islamic radicals would be the Muslim states themselves. It could be believed that Pakistan quite accurately represents this fault line. As the second largest Muslim state, it is difficult to imagine how an acutely divisive and terror afflicted state can sustain itself in the long term. Given the continuing instability, internal unrest and political turmoil, it is imperative to determine as to where the state of Pakistan is headed in the foreseeable future.
While it may not be possible to precisely predict the future, but one can surely visualize the uncertainties and strategic discontinuities emerging in Pakistan. An exercise of this nature could be fraught with risk, especially when there are doubts already expressed on the viability of state. This chapter attempts to analyse some of the key uncertainties faced by Pakistan and the likely scenarios that may unfold over the next two decades or so.
In the current strategic discourse, the state of Pakistan is often referred to as the pendulum state, where the political reins of the country consistently change hands between the powerful army generals and the well heeled politicians. In recent times and especially ever since dismissal of General Mushraf’s regime, the domestic politics seems to have become even more fragile and unpredictable. The assassination of PPP leader Benazir Bhutto particularly plunged the country into one of the worst political crises in recent decades. Consequently, the federal elections which had raised high hopes of a vibrant democracy were soon belied by the irreconcilable differences between mainstream political parties. The balance of power it seems is again tilting in favour of the Pakistan military and their leadership.
The balance of power it seems is again tilting in favour of the Pakistan military and their leadership.
The future of Pakistan hinges on several critical questions. Where is the state of domestic politics in Pakistan headed? Would religion and radicalism continue to dominate the future of Pakistan? What are the key strategic uncertainties that lie ahead? Can the Pakistani establishment hold out against these fears and uncertainties in the long term? Is the revival of a viable democratic culture ever feasible in Pakistan?
In this context, one can arrive at a purposeful appreciation of the country’s future by constructing alternate scenarios based on a socio-politico and military understanding of the Pakistani state.
The Strategic Drivers
The key drivers which could play an important role in shaping the future of Pakistan are discussed at six broad levels:
Political Turbulence: In the post Musharaf period, there has been some revival of political activity in Pakistan. Though much was expected from the Zardari-Sharif duo, the strong mutual antagonism has led to a drift in domestic affairs of the state. It comes as no surprise that Pakistan’s polity and politics continue to be fragile. Some even apprehend that if the political establishment fails to deliver the mandate, the Pakistan army could soon step in. It therefore becomes important to examine if there are any indications that the pendulum may swing again. If yes, then how would the new dispensation contain the raging radicalism and fissiparous tendencies in the state. And what if it fails? The key issue here is that how long will these power swings between the political and military establishment continue. In the ensuing political and dissonance could the disparate radical groups emerge as new power centres, and in turn lead to greater radicalisation of the polity and political institutions in the country.
An array of radical groups rules the roost and their ability to strike at will clearly threatens the very foundation of the Pakistani state.
Religion and Radicalism: It is a matter of concern that religious fundamentalism rages unabatedly across the length and breadth of the country. Unprecedented acts of terror signal a sharp rise in radicalisation of the civil society. An array of radical groups rules the roost and their ability to strike at will clearly threatens the very foundation of the Pakistani state. The state’s political institutions seem to have corroded irreversibly and are under severe stress. And lately, its adverse impact has become a matter of concern for the Pakistani armed forces as well. The key aspect being that religious fundamentalism is impacting the pillars of the state – the political leadership, the civil society and the armed forces. It would have to be carefully watched if the Pakistani state ever succeeds in containing the tribulations of rampant religious radicalism within the country.
Cracks in Federalism: Ever since its independence in 1947, Pakistan has been characterised by a weak federal structure. The turbulent peripheries i.e. the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and Balawaristan today pose a serious challenge to the unity of the state. Sindh suffers from serious ethnic divide with Karachi being the hotbed of sectarian strife. In the west, the Durand line conundrum could intensify the demand for an independent Pashtun homeland. The Afghans in any case disregard the sanctity of any international boundary and have for several years demanded the right for free access and trade in the frontier provinces. Punjab too seems to be an emerging hotbed of radical Islam. The Seraiki influence in the South Punjab, and the demand to trifurcate the province into North, Central and South Punjab has been gradually gaining salience. Is the Pakistani state capable of holding out against these divisive tendencies will have to be carefully analysed. Is it possible for the Pakistani establishment to satisfy demands of greater federal autonomy in the provinces of Balochistan and Balawaristan. Some experts even argue that the instability and chaos prevailing among the peripheral provinces could lead to the fragmentation of the Pakistani state.