Pakistan bristles at failed label
By Dinesh Sharma
Pakistan may be taking a deleterious turn, especially as the United States
plans to pull out of Afghanistan by 2012 and threatens to withdraw military aid
from the country, but its media has reacted indignantly to claims that put it
on the same scale as the poorest African countries.
Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace declared Pakistan a near failed state
(translated in Urdu "nakam riyasat"). In a June 21 ranking, Pakistan was
placed 12th after many African underdeveloped nations (eg, Somalia, Chad,
Sudan, Congo, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast and Guinea),
disaster-prone Haiti, and the war-torn countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.
On a whole host of measures - demographic pressures, flow of
refugees, ethnic group conflict, human flight, uneven development, economic
decline, de-legitimization of the state, lack of public service, human rights,
security, external intervention and factionalized elites - things are going
from bad to worse in Pakistan. But the local media has reacted defiantly to the
country being lumped together with some of the poorest, tribal African nations
carved out by the West at the end of colonialism. Pakistan nakam riyasat nahin
(Pakistan is not a failed state), declared a popular Urdu-language blogger.
According to Policy Matters on the Urdu language Awaz-TV, Pakistan is a
"functioning state", notwithstanding all of the mounting global challenges.
"Pakistan is a melting pot of global fault lines," claimed Sartaj Aziz, vice
chancellor of Beaconhouse National University. The negative undercurrents of
the "war on terror" conspired to produce security threats both within and
across the AfPak border, obstructing the daily functioning of the state, Aziz
Likewise, news on July 10 that US will suspend US$800 million of military aid
to Pakistan was received with indifference and defiant resolve in the Pakistani
media. Major General Athar Abbas, the chief spokesman of the Pakistan military,
reportedly received no formal notification of any cuts. He further noted that
army chief General Ashfaq Kiani had already made it clear that the
reimbursements in cash from the US, known as Coalition Support Funds, must be
directed to the civilian government where the need is greater.
"We have conducted our [anti-extremist] military operations without external
support or assistance," the Pakistani military authorities said on hearing the
news. Pakistani authorities also believe that the reports coming out of the US
are intended to undermine Pakistan's military organizations. Pakistan may have
suddenly felt orphaned by the US, but only momentarily, before lapsing into a
A recent report from the New York-based Asia Society, Pakistan 2020: A Vision
for Building the Future, suggested that the cutting of foreign aid might be the
best course of action for creating more transparency within the Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI) and the military. Headed by Hassan Abbas of Columbia
University, the report documents how most of the aid has rarely reached local
populations who need it the most.
India immediately accepted the news with praise that America was tightening the
foreign aid noose around Pakistan. "It is not desirable that this region had to
be heavily armed by the US, which will upset the equilibrium in the region
itself ... To that extent, India welcomes this step," said India's External
Affairs Minister S M Krishna.
The Pakistani military may now turn to China, its long-term partner and
neighbor in military strategy. According to a report in the International
Business Times on July 11, this is indeed the case: "While China's relationship
is very different from that of the US - it is the single-largest arms supplier
to Pakistan - having another powerful ally may only benefit Pakistan from a
geopolitical point of view ... As the relationship now deteriorates and
suspicions are increasing, China can help support Pakistan and at the same time
as it enlarges its sphere of influence in the Asian Pacific region."
The increasingly tense relationship between the US and Pakistan became even
more contentious as US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen disclosed in a
Pentagon briefing on July 7 that the ISI and the military had a hand in the
killing of the Asia Times Online journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad.
A few days later, the Pakistani government issued a strong rebuke, calling it
an "extremely irresponsible and unfortunate statement". Clearly, the level of
cooperation between the two countries seems to have hit a roadblock as both
countries are trying to figure out their private and public postures in the
post-Osama bin Laden world.
The news seemed to take an Orwellian turn as Pakistan asked the US to share
intelligence on the whereabouts of new al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri after
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he believed Zawahiri was hiding in
Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Then we learned that the Central Intelligence Agency ran a vaccination program
in Abbottabad as a covert means to prepare for the raid that hunted Bin Laden,
with the hopes of capturing genetic material to confirm his identity.
Which direction will Pakistan take as the US assumes a less active role in the
AfPak region? Will it go the way of Somalia, as a Pakistani-American friend
suggested to me recently? Somalia ranks at the top of the failed state index.
Or will it try to emulate Bangladesh, a people's republic with a vibrant Muslim
population and a civil society?
When I discussed these future scenarios with Dr Arturo Munoz at RAND, he
suggested that civil society in Pakistan was still not strong enough to take
head-on either the military establishment or the clerical mullahs. The
confluence of these two forces - religious and militaristic - within the ISI
may define the rogue elements of the Pakistani intelligence community.
According to Munoz, Pakistan will not become another Somalia. The West will
hold Pakistan back from sliding down that treacherous path. Pakistan, after
all, is a nuclear state, something the government has used as a bargaining chip
to elicit more support and aid over the years.
Furthermore, the history of Pakistan has shown that the military intervenes at
the eleventh hour to take the law into its own hands. Perhaps, this is the most
likely scenario if the situation deteriorates. The military will step in and
put in place a curfew or institute a shoot-on-sight order, as it did in the
city of Karachi last week when violence broke out between political factions.
On July 10, the Rangers, a type of paramilitary force, took control of several
colonies within the city.
As former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has said, the three
As that run Pakistan are: Allah, America and the Army. Allah is far away.
America is far away too, and often ignorant. Thus, the Army must hold the
country together for the foreseeable future.
Pakistan will most likely become a client state of China to meet its security
and infrastructure needs. The power vacuum left by the US and foreign forces in
Afghanistan will be filled by regional powers vying for greater leverage in the
AfPak region. It's an open question whether China can match the financial and
technological aid provided by the US.
According to Arif Jamal, the author of Shadow War, if Americans
completely withdraw support, which is highly unlikely, the West will follow
"Pakistan has many avenues for growth through China, Russia, India and Iran,"
said Shaikh Rasheed, a Pakistani politician. The Iran-Pakistan pipeline is the
latest example of this development, as recently described by Pepe Escobar in
Asia Times Online. (See
Pakistan 'punished' in Pipelineistan July 13.
For almost 40 years, China has transferred to Pakistan a whole set of nuclear
technologies as it has now begun to transfer green technologies, according to
David Sanger, the author of The Inheritance.
"Pakistan is already exporting technology to many parts of Africa. How can we
be declared a failed state next to them?" asked Shaikh Rasheed, who takes the
patriotic view of the state or watan, overlooking many internal
As Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution suggested in January, Pakistan is
crucial to the continuing stability and growth of the Asian hemisphere for
several reasons: threats of nuclear proliferation, state sponsored jihadi
groups, identity disputes with India, a stagnating economy and poor demographic
Jamal agrees that due to these lagging social and economic indicators, Pakistan
is on its way to becoming a failing state, where the economic future looks
bleak. Most Pakistani politicians and academics may not publicly admit this as
they are in a state of denial and defiance, said Jamal.
The world cannot afford to have two contiguous, near failed states, Pakistan
and Afghanistan, turning into defiant orphan states and becoming safe havens
for terrorism again.
"Before writing Pakistan off as the hopelessly failed state that its critics
believe it to be, Washington may have one last opportunity to ensure that this
troubled state will not become America's biggest foreign policy problem ..."
warned Cohen. As Washington is beginning to lose its patience, that window of
opportunity may be closing.
Dinesh Sharma is the author of Barack Obama in Hawaii and
Indonesia: the Making of a Global President (ABC-CLIO/Praeger, 2011).
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