Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pakistan Is Not Falling

Top US officials, analysts and media have been making dire predictions about the imminent collapse of Pakistan in the last few days. Peter Bergen, a long-time Pakistan watcher and CNN security analyst, disagrees with the doomsayers in the following opinion piece carried by the CNN website:

In the past few weeks as the Pakistani Taliban have marched ever closer to the capital, Islamabad, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has sounded the alarm about the threat posed by the militants, who she said in congressional testimony pose “a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world.”

Some media commentators have even warned that the populous, nuclear-armed state might fall into the hands of the religious zealots.This is hyperventilation. Pakistan has myriad problems — its economy is tanking; its political leadership is feckless; its military is not trained or equipped to fight a domestic insurgency; and the Taliban now can control the lives of millions of Pakistanis. But none of this means that Pakistan is in danger of becoming a failed state or that the religious militants are about to take over the country.

The present crisis with the Taliban is not nearly as severe as the genuinely existential crises that Pakistan has faced and weathered in the past. Pakistan has fought three major wars with India and has lost each encounter, including the 1971 war in which one half of the country seceded to become Bangladesh.

Pakistan’s key leaders have succumbed to the assassin’s bullet or bomb or the hangman’s noose, and the country has seen four military coups since its birth in 1947. Yet the Pakistani polity has limped on.

And lost in the disturbing pictures of well-armed Taliban foot soldiers advancing on Islamabad are three promising tectonic shifts in the Pakistan body politic.

First is the “lawyers’ movement” that was largely responsible for the ouster of the military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf last year and the restoration of an independent judiciary.

Second is an explosion in independent media. Where in the 1990s there was one government-controll ed television station, there are now dozens of channels. The new media is largely pro-democratic and secular in its orientation.

Third is that ordinary Pakistanis are fed up with the militants. The alliance of pro-Taliban religious parties known as the MMA secured enough of the vote in 2002 to win control of two of the four provinces that make up Pakistan. But in 2008 voters threw the MMA out of office, and it secured a miserable 2 percent of the vote.

Similarly, support for suicide bombing among Pakistanis had dropped from 33 percent in 2002 to 5 percent in 2008, according to the Pew Global Attitudes survey, and favorable views of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban have steadily eroded.

Pakistan also lacks a unifying religious figure of the stature of Ayatollah Khomeini, who united disparate Iranian forces to overthrow the Shah of Iran three decades ago. The Shah, after all, was a dictator and not the leader of an elected government.

But, conversely, Pakistan also lacks a leader to unite the country and the army in a common goal of defeating the religious militants. Benazir Bhutto, the country’s most popular politician when she was killed by the Taliban in December 2007, might have been able to do it. But her husband, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, doesn’t have her stature.

A new Pakistan leader will have to emerge who has the courage to say something like the following: “I have a plan. It is a Pakistani plan and not an American plan. Our main enemy is no longer India; if we go to war again, we may well destroy each other with our nuclear weapons. Our new enemy is the militants claiming to act for Islam in our midst. They do not represent the Pakistan that our great founder, Ali Jinnah, envisioned; a country for Muslims living in peace, not an ideologically Islamist state. We will make no peace deals with the Taliban again. Every time we have done such a deal the Taliban have used it as a prelude to steal more of our land and impose their brutal rule on more of our citizens. We will task and train our military for an effective campaign against the militants, and we will wipe them off our lands.”

The United States can do little to help the process of such a politician emerging except to support Pakistan’s fragile democracy and not be tempted by the mirage of another military strongman promising stability, but delivering instead a weakened Pakistani civilian state.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peter Bergen, CNN's Security Analyst.

Here's another video clip from Intelligence Squared debate about Pakistan:

Related Links:

The World According to Google, Hizbullah and Taliban

Feudal Punjab Fertile for Terrorism

Qasab's Journey in Time Magazine

Feudal Shadow in Pakistan Elections

UN Millennium Goals in Pakistani Village

Saudi-ization of Pakistan

Pakistan's FATA Face-off Fears

FATA Reconstruction Opportunity Zones

Pakistan Power Centers: Feudals, Clergy and Military


Anonymous said...

‘Army fears disintegration if war ordered on Taliban’ (Bruce Riedel, a senior Obama administration official)

23 killed as violence grips KarachiDrone attack kills six in S WaziristanTaliban seize houses, shops of Sikhs in Orakzai Just another day ...
ps. Peter Bergen also writes children's fiction in his spare time

Riaz Haq said...

Here's another view by Juan Cole of Informed Comment dismissing the speculations of Pakistani state's imminent collapse:

Readers have written me asking what I think of the rash of almost apocalyptic pronouncements on the security situation in Pakistan issuing from the New York Times, The Telegraph, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in recent days.

And Stephen Walt also is asking why there are such varying assessments of Pakistan's security prospects. He suggests that one problem is the difficulty of predicting a revolutionary situation. But Pakistan just had a revolution against the military dictatorship! The polling, the behavior in the voting booth, the history of political geography, aren't these data relevant to the issue? Why does no one instance them?

As I have said before, although the rise of the Pakistani Taliban in the Pushtun areas and in some districts of Punjab is worrisome, the cosmic level of concern being expressed makes no sense to me. Some 55 percent of Pakistanis are Punjabi, and with the exception of some northern hardscrabble areas, I can't see any evidence that the vast majority of them has the slightest interest in Talibanism. Most are religious traditionalists, Sufis, Shiites, Sufi-Shiites, or urban modernists. At the federal level, they mainly voted in February 2008 for the Pakistan People's Party or the Muslim League, neither of them fundamentalist. The issue that excercised them most powerfully recently was the need to reinstate the civilian Supreme Court justices dismissed by a military dictatorship, who preside over a largely secular legal system.

Another major province is Sindh, with nearly 50 mn. of Pakistan's 165 mn. population. It is divided between Urdu-speakers and the largely rural Sindhis who are religious traditionalists, many of the anti-Taliban Barelvi school. They voted overwhelmingly for the centrist, mostly secular Pakistan People's Party in the recent parliamentary elections. Then there are the Urdu-speakers originally from India who mostly live in Karachi and a few other cities. In the past couple of decades the Urdu-speakers have tended to vote for the secular MQM party.

Residents of Sindh and Punjab constitute some 85% of Pakistan's population, and while these provinces have some Muslim extremists, they are a small fringe there.

Pakistan has a professional bureaucracy. It has doubled its literacy rate in the past three decades. Rural electrification has increased enormously. The urban middle class has doubled since 2000. Economic growth in recent years has been 6 and 7 percent a year, which is very impressive. The country has many, many problems, but it is hardly the Somalia some observers seem to imagine.

Opinion polling shows that even before the rounds of violence of the past two years, most Pakistanis rejected Muslim radicalism and violence. The stock of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda plummeted after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

The Pakistani Taliban are largely a phenomenon of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas west of the North-West Frontier Province, and of a few districts within the NWFP itself. These are largely Pushtun ethnically. The NYT's breathless observation that there are Taliban a hundred miles from Islamabad doesn't actually tell us very much, since Islamabad is geographically close to the Pushtun regions without that implying that Pushtuns dominate or could dominate it. It is like saying that Lynchburg, Va., is close to Washington DC and thereby implying that Jerry Falwell's movement is about to take over the latter.

The Pakistani Taliban amount to a few thousand fighters who lack tanks, armored vehicles, and an air force.

The Pakistani military is the world's sixth largest, with 550,000 active duty troops and is well equipped and well-trained. It in the past has acquitted itself well against India, a country ten times Pakistan's size population-wise. It is the backbone of the country, and has excellent command and control, never having suffered an internal mutiny of any significance.

So what is being alleged? That some rural Pushtun tribesmen turned Taliban are about to sweep into Islamabad and overthrow the government of Pakistan? Frankly ridiculous. Wouldn't the government bring some tank formations up from the Indian border and stop them?

Or is it being alleged that the Pakistani army won't fight the Taliban? But then explain the long and destructive Bajaur campaign.

Or is the fear that some junior officers in the army are more or less Taliban and that they might make a coup? But the Pakistani military has typically sought a US alliance after every coup it has made. Who would support Talibanized officers? Not China, not the US, the major patrons of Islamabad.

If that is the fear, in any case, then the US should strengthen the civilian, elected government, which was installed against US wishes by a popular movement during the past two years. The officers should be strictly instructed that they are to stay in their barracks.

What I see is a Washington that is uncomfortable with anything like democracy and civilian rule in Pakistan; which seems not to realize that the Pakistani Taliban are a small, poorly armed fringe of Pushtuns, who are a minority; and I suspect US policy-makers of secretly desiring to find some pretext for removing Pakistan's nuclear capacity.

All the talk about the Pakistani government falling within 6 months, or of a Taliban takeover, flies in the face of everything we know about the character of Pakistani politics and institutions during the past two years.

My guess is that the alarmism is also being promoted from within Pakistan by Pervez Musharraf, who wants to make another military coup; and by civilian politicians in Islamabad, who want to extract more money from the US to fight the Taliban that they are secretly also bribing to attack Afghanistan.

Advice to Obama: Pakistan is being configured for you in ways that benefit some narrow sectional interests. Caveat emptor.


Update: In answer to some comments below. First of all, the Pakistani military is not "unable" to stop the Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province. The Zardari government is just not desirous of alienating the Pushtuns by being heavy-handed. They only sent in 250 special ops troops to deal with Buner, which is a very light touch for an army with lots of artillery, tanks and fighter jets.

Pakistan now is not like Russia in 1917. Its two main political parties are of old standing, have contested many elections, have millions of supporters and canvassers. The main threat to the PPP government is parliamentary-- that it will be unseated by the Muslim League if it fails a vote of no contest and there are new elections.

All the military coups in Pakistan have been made from the top by the army chief of staff. Therefore Gen. Ashfaq Kayani is the man to watch. He was Benazir Bhutto's army secretary and has ties to the Pakistan People's Party. Not a Talib.

The hype about Pakistan is very sinister and mysterious and makes no sense to someone who actually knows the country.

End/ (Not Continued)

Anonymous said...


Honestly speaking india does not want breaking of pakistan or it falling into a fundamentalist ruler as it will be more a nuisance value [ even now pakistan is a nuisance value ] politically and militarily.

Please see the dawn news yesterday where the military official are very cautious about their commitment on flushing taliban out of bunder. they are estimating that 400 have spread well into the civilian areas. they also know what disaster 400 can create if they decide to die. Unfortunate that time might serve pakistan its own medicine of urban proxy teror with interst. Military very clearly know that they cannot win and even if they win it will be with very high price of civilians.

Anonymous said...

Of course Pakistan is not collapsing for Cole. He's married to a Pakistani - has a son named Arman. Also has a book "Engaging the Muslim World" coming out. Not someone without a bias eh? Dude probably mouths his wife's opinions - after papering them over for wider acceptability :-)

But then again, maybe Cole knows something we all don't know :-)

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "Of course Pakistan is not collapsing for Cole. He's married to a Pakistani - has a son named Arman. Also has a book "Engaging the Muslim World" coming out. Not someone without a bias eh?"

So the only objective opinions or analysts who re-inforce your wishes for Pakistan to collapse? Right? I think you can find plenty of your favorites who have been telling the world the sky is about to fall on Pakistan.

Anonymous said...

I think you can find plenty of your favorites who have been telling the world the sky is about to fall on Pakistan.No doubt. Including Barry Obama: Worried Obama confident over Pak nuclear weapons’ security.

Let's also not forget that you were predicting an armageddon-like scenario yourself - where the Talibunnies run over The Land of the Pure.

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "Let's also not forget that you were predicting an armageddon-like scenario yourself - where the Talibunnies run over The Land of the Pure."

Such a scenario is not out of the question. But it's by no means imminent or inevitable, as I have also indicated.

Anonymous said...

Riaz Bhai,
Lets keep morons like Bergen and Cole aside.Looks like our leaders you have lost confidence in truth or you cannot think or you like to cheat your self with statistics. Saddams Iraq was one of the world best in Telecommunications and railway network-something Pakistan has not and will not even achieve any time soon.But that does not mean Iraq was peaceful or ideal.Anyways to your hardwork in picking few lunatics who think Pakistan will survive-I have to say that Taliban has always been the least of our worries and also we know that few divisions of Pakistan army can finish it.Agreed till there.Now the question is why the hell it is not happening-thats where you will find why many people are sure that Pakistan will collapse. As long as we have thousands of middle class educated people and millions of lower class Pakistanis who cannot have sense to differentiate the importance of nations well being from insane religious agenda-we will not survive-with out any doubts.When an educated person supports religion over nation, some thing is seriously wrong with the society and system.The conditions are well set for massive disaster-just watch. By the way -lets not forget that more than nation called Pakistan-our agenda has always been hatred for Hindus and India and our foundations are based on this issues-Unless we go away from this -which is nearly impossible-as the state needs to change-not you and me-we have very less chance to survive.Before you disagree-read how well we have changed the history of subcontinent in our history books-you will all answers why we breed taliban not Sachin Tendulkars or Shahrukh Khans. Riaz I like your posts but do not take me wrong what you wish will happen when we see why Pakistan was created in First Place unfortunately Jinnahs ideals were good but what he did was not in line with what he preached-any wonder why we are this bad.We cheat ourselves and in the name of hindu hatred we just allow evil of religion to consume us.Like many Pakistanis you do not have to accept this-because when did Pakistan matter to its citizens who cannot think any thing other than islam or its evil versions.

Anonymous said...

You have stolen words out of my mouth. It carries more weight when it is realised and told by a pakistani. I have a hope that pakistan will turn around is people start thinking in this manner after all the country is made of people and the change of the people is the change of the country.

Vikram said...

Riaz, what about Ahmed Rashid ? Why do you think he is writing books titled 'Descent into Chaos' ?

Does he suffer from the same bias that afflicts other rational people ?

Anonymous said...

@ Vikram, why are you fixated on Pakistan’s demise, when Afghanistan got busted in 1979 by Soviets, it affected Pakistan dramatically. So save your congested slum its for your own good, before god forbid what you predict comes true as Pakistan is your neighbor expect some domino effect on your lives too, which is as it is tough with poverty and confusion. I don’t agree the end of Pakistan. This prediction has been there since 1947.Long live Pakistan, Pakistan zindabad.

@anon who sounds Pakistani: “Riaz Bhai,
Let’s keep morons like Bergen and Cole aside. Looks like our leaders you have lost confidence in truth or you cannot think or you like to cheat your self with statistics.”

You must be comfy somewhere in overseas, enjoy your life, why are you so positive of Pakistanis demise, don’t be an expert by just reading Newsweek’s predictions, which were same I remember in1971 Indo/bangle war. Show some loyalty, even though you no longer need Pakistan. Pray hard for your country, you gave up your loyalty so easily.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from a recent piece, titled "Is Pakistan a failed state? No." by C. Christine Fair, professor at George Washington University and a visiting scholar at the Lahore University of Management Science, published in June 24, 2010 issue of Foreign Policy Magazine:

Once again, Pakistan looms as a country deemed to be "critical" in Foreign Policy's annual Failed State Index. But Pakistan is not a failed state, even though some of its institutions have declined in capacity, while others never worked well from the start. This year, Pakistan ranks tenth, below several African countries, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and above Haiti, which has recently been devastated by an earthquake.


In short, the Failed States Index is clearly only one side of the die. While sitting at a computer crunching numbers, even with expert input as the index apparently uses, the larger story is missed. Pakistan has its problems and enormous challenges lay ahead, but it is far from a failed or even failing state.

Riaz Haq said...

Express Tribune report on recent Port Grand Food Street opening in Karachi:

The whiff of putrid sea air that hits you as you near the entrance of the highly anticipated Port Grand Food and Entertainment Complex is forgotten once you step inside the metal gate. The newest addition to Karachi’s nightlife promises to offer visitors a world of its own in an enclosed area cut off from the craziness of city life.

“A lot of people thought this was going to be another Burns Road, but this is a different cup of tea all together,” said Managing Director Shahid Firoz of Grand Leisure Corporation. “We hope this project will lend a bit of positivism to this city and country.”

Port Grand formally opened on Saturday in a festive mood with Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad as the chief guest.

Port Grand expects to attract 4,000 to 5,000 people daily. Currently, 40 outlets are up and running and more are expected to open soon. The first thing you notice once inside is the shopping mall that houses a number of brands, including shops for gifts, clothes and accessories and books.

Towards the left of the mall was the much-talked about Napier’s Tavern. With its historic architecture and fine dining, the lodge is expected to serve as a setting for the city’s corporate crowd. The lodge was built right under a one-hundred-year-old banyan tree where Charles Napier is believed to have built a tavern. The builders used the same stones and wood extracted from the demolished bridge to salvage the heritage.

Further left, stretches the food enclave for a kilometre. Men, women and children were strolling about the concrete path along the 19th century Native Jetty bridge that connects the Karachi Port Trust to Keamari. Live cartoon characters were waiting to start their act to entertain the young visitors and loud music blared across the food street as organisers, waiters and construction workers added some of the finishing touches to the outlets and stalls — that offered a wide array from fast food and desi food to Thai cusine. Unfortunately, many of them were still being set up. The organisers announced that the complex would open for the public from Sunday evening.

The food enclave runs along the port where you can view the sea while sitting on green benches lined across the fresh green turf. The three spaced-apart metal barriers from the water could, however, be tempting for adventurous children. You can even see the cargo being loaded and unloaded from the ships that arrive from all over the world. The food street ends close to a point where you can see ships harboured at the KPT Boat Wharf. The land for the project was leased by the KPT for 30 years on a Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement. Work on the billion-rupee project started in 2005 and it was expected that it would be completed by 2009. However, Grand Leisure Corporation claimed that the delay was caused by the need to completely revamp the Native Jetty bridge which was in bad shape. This caused expenses to shoot up. “Better late than never,” said Firoz. “If we wish to do things the right way there might be a delay but the end product will be something positive.”

KPT has provided double fencing around the complex for security and privacy and KPT guards also patrol the bridge. Entry has been made secure and security personnel have been put in place from the PNC building. KPT Acting Chairman Iqbal Umer said that the corporation was providing for most of the security itself.

“We have provided state of the art security,” said Nazneed Shahid, Firoz’s daughter, who has been involved in the project. “The area is no more unsafe than any other place like Boat Basin, for instance.”

Phase two includes a food court with more traditional foods like paani puri, bhel puri, shawarma, etc. “We hope to ..