Monday, March 23, 2009
Pakistan's Demise Imminent?
"We're now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state, also because of the global financial crisis, which just exacerbates all these problems. . . . The collapse of Pakistan, al-Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons, an extremist takeover -- that would dwarf everything we've seen in the war on terror today", said Bush Iraq adviser, David Kilcullen, on the eve of Pakistan Day commemorating Pakistan Resolution of 1940 that started the Pakistan Movement leading to the creation of the nation on August 14, 1947. Kilcullen is not alone in the belief that Pakistani state is in danger of collapse. Others, such as Shahan Mufti of the Global Post, argue that Pakistan is dying a slow death with each act of terrorism on its soil.
Appearing to give credence to the latest dire forecast of Pakistan as a "failed state" or a "proud nation" in "slow demise", Pakistan's TV channels showed live pictures of Pakistan's founders' shrine in Karachi plunged in total darkness on the evening of Pakistan Day 2009. The failure of a nation to keep the lights on at its important monuments on its National Day is symbolic of the serious crises the country faces today. But does it mean that the state is about to collapse? Let us examine this forecast in a little more depth.
While the extraordinary failures of Pakistan's ruling political-feudal-military elite are largely responsible for the multiple crises of food, water, electricity, militancy, economy, overall governance and public confidence, the last three decades (1980s, 1990s and the current decade) have been dominated by a series of disastrous foreign interventions in the region that have contributed to such failures.
In late 1970s and most of the 1980s, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan brought the United States CIA into the region, which put together a US-Saudi-Pakistani coalition to arm, train and indoctrinate an entire generation of Pashtoon men along the Pak-Afghan border. The rallying cry for Afghan resistance was Islamic Jihad against the infidels and the fighters were honored by Americans, Saudis and Pakistanis as Mujaheddin. The Islamic madrassahs in Pakistan's tribal belt rapidly multiplied as the anti-Soviet coalition invested in organizing a powerful insurgency that eventually brought down the Soviet Empire. By the end of the decade of 1980s, Afghanistan became the graveyard of the Red Army and caused the collapse of the Soviet Empire. The American-Saudi-Pakistani victory, however, could eventually turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory.
As the Americans and the Saudis ended their involvement in the region in late 1980s and early 1990s, a very large number of armed Mujahideen became unemployed. Afghanistan was left in ruins by a decade of conflict, and Pakistan was heavily sanctioned by the United States. No effort was made in rebuilding the region. The Afghan fighters had no other skills or opportunities and received no help in finding useful employment. Some of them started fighting among themselves for control of Afghanistan, while others went to Pakistan to settle and find unskilled jobs. Some were used by Pakistan's intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to support an insurgency in Indian occupied Kashmir.
As Afghanistan became increasingly chaotic and total anarchy prevailed for most of the decade in 1990s, the Afghans got tired of the lawlessness of the war lords and yearned for restoring some semblance of law and order. It was under these circumstances that, with the help of Pakistan, the Taliban emerged as a force from the remnants of the Mujahideen and their offsprings, many of whom grew up in refugee camps in Pakistan and attended madrassahs in the border region. Though they enforced draconian laws and imposed rough justice, the Taliban did succeed in bringing relative peace to the war-torn nation. Unfortunately, they also became unwitting hosts to al Qaeda, consisting of mostly Arab Mujahideen led by Osama Bin Laden, who claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (known as 911), in the United States, killing nearly 3000 Americans in New York and Washington.
In retaliation for the 911 tragic attacks, the Americans intervened yet again with deadly force, and drove the Taliban and al Qaeda into the border region of Pakistan known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas(FATA). As expected, the presence of large numbers of insurgents in Pakistan is now threatening the stability of Pakistan and the entire region. The situation has been further exacerbated by the unilateral and heavy-handed actions of the US military, causing large numbers of civilian casualties on both sides of the border. These increasing civilian casualties are fueling a rage in both Afghanistan and Pakistan against the US presence and against Pakistan government's support of it. And, according to media reports, the US is preparing to expand air strikes to Pakistan's major city of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province. Such an escalation will make Kilcullen's dire forecast more plausible. It will also increase the chances of the region becoming the graveyard of yet another empire and its military.
Is Pakistani state on the verge of collapse? Will Pakistan become a failed state within the next six months? Such dire prognoses are not new for Pakistanis. But, in the unlikely event that it does fail, Pakistani leadership's monumental failures will be the main contributors to such a catastrophic development. But the real answer to these questions will depend largely on what policy the Obama administration chooses to pursue in the region. If American military continues to be seen as a foreign occupation force by the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is destined to suffer the same fate as the Greeks, the British and Russians before it, unless President Obama changes course dramatically. Even if America does miraculously achieve a military victory in Afghanistan, it will likely be another Pyrrhic Victory in the absence of a more enlightened U.S. strategy. As Kilcullen says in his latest interview, the stakes are much higher than ever: "The collapse of Pakistan, al-Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons, an extremist takeover -- that would dwarf everything we've seen in the war on terror today."
To quote an unknown Urdu poet, Hum to dubaiN gay sanam, tum ko bhi lay dubaiN gay.
Loosely translated, it says: As we drown, we'll take you down with us.
In other words, it's a cry for help: Please save us from ourselves.
Here's a video clip from Intelligence Squared debate about Pakistan:
The Accidental Guerrilla by David Kilcullen
Can President Zardari Survive?
Jinnah's Pakistan Booms Amidst Doom and Gloom
US Escalating Covert War in Pakistan?
20th Anniversary of Soviet Defeat in Afghanistan
Growing Insurgency in Swat
Afghan War and Collapse of the Soviet Union
US, NATO Fighting to Stalemate in Afghanistan?
FATA Faceoff Fears
Pakistan's Feudal-Political-Military Elite