Saturday, September 25, 2010
Time to throw away the old text-book on Pakistan
In an interview with the Washington Post in March 2009, counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen declared that “We are now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state.” In June that same year, Bruce Riedel, wrote an article suggestively titled “Armageddon in Islamabad” in The National Interest pointing to the emerging possibility of a jihadist, nuclear armed Pakistan.
Fortunately today Pakistan is no nearer to collapse, nor further from it. But, the situation has, if anything, become more complicated. A cataclysmic flood has broken even the tenuous link that the people have had with their wayward government. This is alarming because some of the worst affected areas are in southern Punjab which has been on a watch-list for a while because of the growth of Punjabi Islamist militias there. This is but a newer layer of volatility upon the older problems of Pakistan—the expansion of the Taliban in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, the vicious sectarian strife and its non-functioning government.
When it comes to the health of states, nothing is foreordained, especially something as rare as state failure. There are two ways in which a state can fail—a catastrophic collapse arising from defeat in a war, an internal coup d’etat or mutiny in the army, or, in an even more far-fetched scenario, a decapitating nuclear strike. Actually the other way is the more likely—a slow collapse of institutions, the loss of control over territory due to civil war or external aggression, a loss of legitimate authority because of the failure of governance institutions, financial atrophy, along with collapse of the business climate, accompanied by an inability to provide public services.
Many of these criteria could well fit parts of India, as much as Pakistan. But there are two important differences—first, India’s size which allows failure to be localised, and second, a flourishing economy. Since 2008, Pakistan has gone steadily downhill and there are few positive prognoses for its recovery.
Alarmingly, the Pakistani establishment’s reaction seems to confirm the failure of state institutions. On Thursday, the government announced that they were revising the federal budget —the defence expenditure was being hiked by Rs 110 billion and that for development reduced by Rs 73 billion. According to Dawn, the money is being allegedly appropriated for a new operation in the tribal area. This doesn’t wash because the US reimburses Pakistan the money for its tribal operations, and don’t the worst floods in the century have the absolute priority?
Another pointer came earlier this week, when the Public Accounts Committee of the Pakistan National Assembly were told that the government had made a one-time release of Rs 5.55 billion to the ISI for unspecified reasons in the 2007-8 period.
Spending money to expand its geo-political footprint—clearly the ISI and Army got the money for their India and Afghanistan operations—is folly given the domestic political and economic realities. Pakistan’s economic growth is around 2 per cent, its inflation at 13.5 per cent. Some years ago, Pakistan used to argue that it could not open its economy for fear that Indian industry would swamp it. Today, it has been swamped by the Chinese. Most of its textile mills have been mothballed and there is little other industry functioning. Significantly, the years of détente with India, 2000-2007, were years of high economic growth.
Senior Indian officials argue that in many ways, they are already dealing with Pakistan as a failed state. The Indian experience is that it is no longer possible to deal with a Government of Pakistan—you need to deal with different institutions of Pakistan at their own level—the military, the prime minister, the presidency, the judiciary, civil society, various provincial governments and parties and so on. This itself is not a new development because in the case of Pakistan, successor governments do not automatically uphold the decisions of the predecessors, especially if the latter happen to be military dictatorships.
What can you do to deal with a failing state? The most important thing is to remain engaged. But that, as experience shows, is easier said than done. Pakistan has steadfastly refused to allow India most favoured nation status for trade, neither will it permit Indian goods to transit to Afghanistan. To top it all, it also refused Indian aid in the wake of the floods, accepting it finally with bad grace in the form of a cheque in New York, instead of readily available and much needed materials across the common border in Punjab or Sindh.
The Ministry of External Affairs is trying its best to resume the stalled dialogue with Pakistan, but to little avail. It would seem now that far from feeling the continuing Indian pressure over its indifference, if not culpability on the 2008 Mumbai attack, Pakistan is the one posing as the injured party and is stalling the resumption of the dialogue and playing hard-to-get on the proposed meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.
On Thursday, its official spokesman declared that no decision had been taken on the New York meeting as yet. He then excoriated India over Kashmir, and declared that Qureshi’s return visit to India would depend on whether or not India was agreeable to a “comprehensive and sustained dialogue with Pakistan.” The hardened Pakistani position is based on its belief that India is on the back foot because of the developments in Kashmir and the embarrassment over the Commonwealth Games arrangements.
But Pakistan cannot see that Indian self-correction mechanisms are already at work. The Indian political class and media have compelled the government to introspect on its tactics in Kashmir. But that is not the case in relation to terrorism and Pakistan. The long denial of the Pakistani establishment continues, even as the Islamist threat expands.
In trying to arrest the free fall that Pakistan seems to have entered New Delhi has shown that its heart is in the right place. The problem, however, is the head. What seems to be evident from the knee-jerk responses that we are seeing in South Block is that no one is really thinking through the Pakistan policy.
The issue is not the composite dialogue, or Kashmir and terrorism. The situation has qualitatively changed. We are dealing with a failing/failed state and need to throw away the old text book. India needs to focus on trying to engage the Pakistan Army in a dialogue whose aim will be to convince them that the last thing we seek is a broken or breaking Pakistan.
This is not an easy task, not only because the Pakistan Army is not particularly eager to enter into a dialogue. The problem is that the Indian political class which disdains its own army when it comes to policy-making, cannot quite figure out how to deal with the army of another country, one that plays so much of a role in that country’s policies.
Another issue is China’s nuclear assistance to Islamabad. It makes little difference to India strategically, yet we insist on making an issue of it instead of trying to deal with it head on and negotiate a solution to a dangerous problem.
As we noted earlier, when it comes to states, nothing is pre-determined. There are things that can be done with a failing Pakistan that can prevent state collapse; on the other hand, it should be quite clear that should state failure occur, we won’t have too many options to deal with it.
Mail Today September 25, 2010