Possible Collapse of Pakistan: Quantifying the Fallout
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Issue Vol 23.1 Jan-Mar 2008 | Date : 27 Feb , 2008

The overall situation appears to be quite hopeless, and under these conditions, it is only the army that can keep the country together. A military state of emergency is therefore definitely on the cards. It is also very possible that Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif (together) may call in the International community (mainly the US) to help, once they realise that they will not be able to handle the militants. But before any of this happens, we will witness considerable policy confusion both in Rawalpindi and in Washington, as both sides desperately hunt for answers.

Expected Fallout

The Sindhis now have no stake left in the Union

With Benazir gone, the Sindhis, who are mainly into business, have no common interest with either the state of Punjab, the lawless north west (including the Peshawar area), Balochistan or Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Therefore it’s just a matter of time before they sum up the courage to demand a separate state. There are however issues of mental attitude here as Sindh is not Balochistan. Sindhis are traders , not warriors like the Baloch.

If Stratfors information is correct, it would mean that the US and Europe have no real interest or strategic rationale any more for keeping Pakistan together. They will let it fail as it will then allow them to independently target the militants in the various breakaway states.

Benazir’s killing in Rawalpindi has its own significance too. Rawalpindi is Pakistan’s military headquarters. It is also located in the Punjab and this has implications for near term Punjab-Sindh relations. Sindh has a lot of Punjabi settlers besides a huge Mohajir community. The Mohajirs are Bihari Muslims and the Sindhi’s hate them as much as they hate the Punjabi settlers. The recent chain of events therefore has made a civil war between these rival groups very likely.

If violence breaks out in Sindh, Musharraf most likely will send the (mostly Punjabi) military to Karachi to stop the killing. The military however will itself come under attack in Sindh, as being dominated by the Punjabis they will not be seen as a unbiased force. It could then turn out to be a Serbia/Bosnia like situation. Any military action by Musharraf in Sindh could thus create more problems than it would solve.

India’s immediate worry: Civil war in Sindh

For India the main threat is of millions of refugees crossing the international border as a result of the civil war in Sindh. This event that could be just six months or a year away needs to be planned for, and the Indian government will do well to plan the deployment of close to a million men of our armed forces on the western border to prevent a massive refugee problem.

Depending on the severity of the violence, between 4-5 million refugees could cross over the international border into India. They won’t go into Balochistan because it is a desert. Bhuj and Palanpur areas in Gujarat and Barmer in south-west Rajasthan are possible destinations for the refugees, and could be the worst affected. There is therefore an urgent need for a national plan for how to deal with the situation. We also need a clear understanding that refugees will have to return to Pakistan, and any Indian political party that tries to accommodate the refugees only for the purposes of getting their vote needs to be exposed as anti-national. We need to learn from the bitter experience we have had in Assam, and we need to have a proper identification and quarantine plan in place to ensure that foreigners do not get to other parts in the country. In light of the fact that we already have the shameful situation of Kashmiri Pundits being refugees in their own country, I am hoping that our law-makers in parliament see this note and do something to save the state of Gujarat, whose economy could be ravaged by refugees and the lumpen elements that secure entry into the state in the guise of displaced people.

Militancy in Pakistan … Raw Facts

With more hard core fanatics, than there were Nazis in Germany at the height of World War II (Germany had approximately 950,000 men in the Waffen SS at the end of 1943), Pakistan with close to three million Jihadis is far more dangerous.

There are 40 Jihadi publications in Pakistan with an active readership of one million people. This is an estimate of the literate militant following and excludes those who have extremist views but can’t read. Militant strength is also increasing every year as well with recruits coming from the nearly 30,000 Madrassas that exist all over Pakistan. It is a very different country from the one which was born in 1947, when there were just 2500 Madrassas. These numbers are telling us something.

If in WWII, the Germans with just one million hard core individuals could create major problems for the rest of the international community, can anyone guess what three million people are capable of? Can Parvez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif control these people ? The world needs to get real.

Pakistani Nuclear Weapons & The Military

A recent article in Stratfor, a top US journal on strategic matters and geopolitics has claimed that most Pakistani nuclear weapons are already under US safeguards. If this is true it means that Pakistan cannot launch a single warhead without US authorised launch codes. This was earlier reported by a prominent Indian defense analyst in an article on soon after the 13th December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. A few hours after the article was published on the Rediff website, it was taken off for some reason. So while there may be some truth in what Stratfor is saying, it is best to assume that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is still a major threat and needs to be secured.

If Sindh also simultaneously decides to pull out of the union, or if there is civil war in the province, there is no way that the Pakistani Military will be able to fight on two or three different fronts and still keep its troops on the Indian border.

The Stratfor article however has important strategic implications for South Asia , If Stratfor’s information is correct, it would mean that the US and Europe have no real interest or strategic rationale any more for keeping Pakistan together. They will let it fail as it will then allow them to independently target the militants in the various breakaway states.

Balochistan has been wanting independence for a long time now. It is a movement which has found renewed strength since last year when Musharraf killed the Balochi leader Akbar Khan Bugti. The most likely scenario then would be that sensing a weak central government, the Balochis, who are warriors, will make the first move and declare independence.

If Sindh also simultaneously decides to pull out of the union, or if there is civil war in the province, there is no way that the Pakistani Military will be able to fight on two or three different fronts and still keep its troops on the Indian border. This kind of scenario is not impossible. The Pakistani army is already demoralized after the defeat it suffered at the hands of the Taliban in southern Waziristan. In that incident the Taliban captured more than 200 regular army troops, and later released them in what amounted to a humiliating reversal for the army. This may have had a lasting impact on troop morale throughout Pakistan, and in any case, fighting on three different fronts is difficult for any army from a logistical standpoint.

Chances of a Jihadi Takeover

A Jihadi takeover of Pakistan is the single biggest worry for the rest of the world and for us in India. It is even worse than having to deal with five million refugees. The Islamic clerics and the militants based in the Peshawar/Waziristan area are all working towards this end. With Benazir gone, the Pakistan People’s party (PPP) is in disarray. It is to be noted that even when Benazir was alive , in the last election held nearly a decade back , neither she nor Nawaz Sharif could each get more than 17 percent of the total votes polled in Pakistan. The position of the PPP and the Muslim league is even more fragile today and this is what should keep decision makers up at night. It is for this reason, that the US and its allies within NATO, as well as Israel, will now be working overtime to figure out how to deal with the possibility of a militant takeover of Pakistan.

China has a huge stake in Pakistan. It is an important part of its strategy to encircle India.

If we assume for the sake of argument that the US has taken over all Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, there is always a chance that once a jihadi regime is in power in Islamabad, it can easily proceed with a weaponisation programme with material that is readily available in Pakistan or procured from the Chinese who will only be too willing to help.

Since the danger for the rest of the world is so great, it is to be expected, that the US and its European allies, would prefer an option that allows Pakistan to disintegrate, as it is easier to manage and deal smaller states.

If Pakistan survives Benazir’s exit and the current chaotic state of affairs, it will be even more dangerous, due to the ever present danger of a militant takeover, given extremely weak political institutions. In such a situation even Nawaz Sharif would prefer to rule Punjab alone, and not try to put together the Pakistani Humpty Dumpty. Nawaz is a smart fellow and he may do just that.

Strategic issues of Geography

Without Sindh and Balochistan, the current Pakistani province of Punjab will not have any access to the sea. The two ports near Karachi and the port of Gwadar in Balochistan are thus of strategic importance to the other provinces that lie to the north.

It can therefore be expected that these and a freight/passenger corridor south through Sindh, will be a bone of contention and an issue for negotiation, as without them, the possibility of trade for northern states would be rather limited. Also of concern to India’s military high command are issues relating to the new ownership structure of the present Pakistani navy which will be based in Balochistan and Sindh.

A Jihadi takeover of Pakistan is the single biggest worry for the rest of the world and for us in India.

Chinese Interests

China has a huge stake in Pakistan. It is an important part of its strategy to encircle India. The Chinese government has invested large sums of money to build a road to Pakistan through the Himalayas. They have also spent close to US $ 2 billion to develop the deep water port at Gwadar in Balochistan mainly with a view to develop a naval base there. The Gwadar naval base is the Chinese platform for future action in the Persian Gulf region where they view US influence as a threat. It is therefore not in the strategic interests of China to let Pakistan crumble. There is however little that they can do given the current state of affairs.

Implications for the Energy Business

  • Iran-India Pipeline: This pipeline will actually come up sooner, as an independent Sindh and Balochistan will be very keen to participate in a project that could yield them revenues of close to $ 300 million/year each in transit fees assuming a flow rate of 60 MMSCMD of gas. It is a sad thing but finally this whole game is about numbers and about money. It has been this way for thousands of years.
  • Oil Price: There will be no impact on crude oil price from a purely demand-supply perspective, as neither India nor Pakistan are oil consumers on a scale that matters. They also do not supply the global market with oil. Secondary effects however could affect price.

The above for now, constitutes a view and a framework for decision making. The full scale of the problem will be known only in the coming months. This like all other problems that India is faced with, needs to be planned for, and effectively managed.

The huge refugee problem that could soon be upon us needs to be highlighted. We need to have a plan to prevent five million people from crossing the international border, with military action if necessary. The continued well being of India depends on it.

First Published in 2008

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Ashish Puntambekar

is lead designer at the Design Lab in Mumbai. He is the chief planner of the Defence Economic Zone project with 23 years of experience in large Infrastructure project design.

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12 thoughts on “Possible Collapse of Pakistan: Quantifying the Fallout


  2. This is from Indian Defence. Of course they will do this wishful thinking for all Indians. They are paid for this. There are similarsuch negative observations in international media about India appearing almost daily.

  3. Old artical but still have relevance……during” Op Parakram ” this was the target and could have achieved that easily… the situation is different…..but not impossible to cut into four country . If it is done now we have also to see the impact on us as well as on other country. Example is Bangla Desh.

  4. I wonder what makes Indian authors go that far to talk about disintegration of Pakistan? Is that because of Bangladesh in 1971? The author or whoever shares the thought are advised to travel to Pakistan. If they are in a position of authority, should go and see some counter parts there. Americans have been doing that for quite a while now and so did other Western countries. I bet you are going to change your perception by 180 degrees and might start taking more interest in the unity of India. You actually know nothing, I am sorry.

  5. what the author hasn’t considered is that the fall of pakistan will probably destabilize and ruin the economy leading to unemployment in large sections of the population . terrorist organizations can easily recruit from these sections by blaming india for the breakup through their 40 or so publications . this will only compound problems for india . it is better to keep pakistan stable and united and have them fight the taliban for us . and china has invested far too much to let it all go to waste . they will try and stabilize the region through funding to the government and other unconventional ways .

  6. Though possible, the disintegration of Pakistan as envisioned by the author does not seem probable. The Pakistan Army would be able to keep the nation together, if possible, with political help. In any case, a strong Pakistan is always a better option for our country. So, we would hope that Pakistan remains united and is able to resolve it’s internal conflicts to the best of it’s abilities.

  7. This is an important article which drew my attention.
    The writer has not given the possible aftermath of Pakistan’s fall-out.
    In my opinion, a stable Pakistan is always in India’s best interest due to the reasons that if Pakistan falls out, it is certain that India would be divided into at least One Dozen states in a very short span of time due to its innumerable internal conflicts. This is a true picture which says in Urdu ~ ” Aa Bail Mujhe Marr “. Please never under-estimate the power of a sovereign state where the citizens are very emotional too. The story about Nuclear weapons is also vague. The author is very much impressed by the Pakistan Army’s capabilities & I appreciate it.

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