ISSN 2330-717X

Pakistan’s Strategic Stability – Analysis


By PR Chari

No issue causes as much clamour in New Delhi’s seminar circuit as whether Pakistan is a failed or failing State or for that matter a ‘crisis’ State. Pakistan ranks tenth in the list of 177 countries comprising the Failed States Index (2010) drawn up by the US Fund for Peace. It delineates that Pakistan is weighed down by problems like: its security apparatus operating as a “state within a state,” criminalization and/or delegitimization of the state, the rise of factional elites, and legacy of vengeance-seeking groups. And though no State has ‘failed’ in the international system in recent memory, Pakistan involuntarily halved itself in 1971 following the secession of East Bengal and the birth of Bangladesh, and is therefore, a unique phenomenon.

The seeds of Pakistan’s demise were sown at its birth. The ‘truncated and moth-eaten’ Pakistan, which emerged after the Partition of British India in 1947, was a geo-political monstrosity with its two ethnically disparate wings being separated by India. Additionally, there were four other factors inherent within the Pakistani polity that portended its future instability, which have continued to fester.

First, Pakistan’s governance continues to vacillate between civilian and military rule. No doubt, its citizens tried to shrug off military rule twice in the recent years. For instance, Bhutto came to power in 1971 and the discredited Pakistani Army returned to its barracks after losing East Bengal (Bangladesh). Thereafter, a popular lawyers-civil society movement overthrew President (General) Musharraf in 2008 when he sought to gag the judiciary. The tragedy is that on both these occasions the civilian leaders revealed such remarkable incompetence, disunity and malfeasance that Pakistani citizens welcomed back military rule in 1971 and the current Zardari-Geelani combine teeters on the brink of ouster.

Second, Pakistan remains unable to decide what kind of a state it wishes to be. Its dilemma of choosing between a state pursuing moderate Islam with its South Asian characteristics and a state adhering to the Wahabi code of Islamic orthodoxy linked to external Saudi roots continues unresolved. Indeed, this contention has worsened with Pakistan becoming the target for bomb attacks by radicalized Islamic militants, suicide bombers and other extremists equally along with the NATO and American forces in Afghanistan.

Third, Pakistan has essentially become a closed society; its governing elites comprise the land-owning classes, large business houses, armed forces and civilian bureaucracy with no space for entry by aspirants from the middle classes. The result is an atrophied feudal society, ill-equipped to deal with its problems in a rapidly changing international system. This is clearly reflected in the rentier Pakistani economy, which is permanently dependent on external assistance. In consequence, Pakistan’s foreign policy choices have become hostage to its need for external sustenance, which translates into ‘cleverness’ substituting for either principle or consistency.

Fourth, Pakistan’s foreign and defence policy have also become hostage to the Pakistan Army – the real ruler of Pakistan – which ensures it relevance by casting India in the permanent role of an adversary. This in turn guarantees the Pakistan Army preemptive access to large budgetary allocations, despite the parlous state of the national economy. Further on, the evocative Kashmir issue is being kept alive by the Pakistan Army to continue its hostility towards India, and ensure its preeminence in the national polity.

These fault lines in Pakistan’s political system are well recognized and have been elaborated by scholars and critics for several years. The tragedy is that though Pakistan has undoubtedly shown some capacity for self-introspection but none for self correction, since the civilian leadership is excluded from national decision-making in critical areas like defence and foreign policy – especially regarding India and Kashmir – defence allocations, nuclear weaponry and so on.

These areas lie within the exclusive purview of the Pakistan Army, which disapproves of the civilian leadership ‘interfering’ in its domain. It might be recollected that President Zardari offered to send Pakistan’s ISI Chief to India after the Mumbai attacks. His well-in the President had to reverse his decision within a few hours of his announcement. No marks for guessing why this happened.

In sum, the Pakistan Army is the sole arbiter of Pakistan’s stability and it will be unfair to assume that it is unaware of these problematic issues eroding Pakistan’s stability. However, whether it has the capability or intention to grapple with these issues is another matter. For example, Pakistan’s competition with India in the sphere of conventional defence, which has now acquired nuclear dimensions, is not sustainable. Pakistan’s economy is only around 10 per cent of India’s; hence this competition in conventional defence will only end either in Pakistan’s economic collapse or its greater dependence on external largesse. The support from the US, it is conjectured, might end after its withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014.

Enter China? Will it be able to stabilize Pakistan?

PR Chari
Visiting Professor, IPCS

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IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

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