The Anarchic Republic of Pakistan

The Anarchic Republic of Pakistan

Mini Teaser: Pakistan's military-intelligence complex is too preoccupied with countering India to mount a serious campaign against radicals who threaten the nation's survival. The country is being destroyed from within.

by Author(s): Ahmed Rashid

What is still missing is a plan to bring the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)—the seven tribal agencies—into the mainstream of governance. Currently this territory has considerable autonomy from Islamabad; the government of the former North-West Frontier Province has no jurisdiction over FATA. Instead, the area is ruled by the president and laws drafted by the British during the Raj. This has led to a power vacuum that has produced a terrorist safe haven. Even though the army claims to have a counterterrorism strategy for the area, it is a plan that cannot work until the army is willing to accept a political agenda that brings FATA under the central government’s control.

DESPITE THE incompetence of the government, the groundwork is now being laid for a genuine democratic dispensation through provincial autonomy, decentralization and the rebuilding of democratic institutions—theoretically making it more difficult for the army to seize power again.

If these steps are matched with equivalent advances in restoring economic stability, reviving local and foreign investment, combating terrorism and Islamic extremism on a nationwide basis, and modernizing the judicial and police systems, Pakistan has a far brighter future than is currently portrayed.

For now, a staggering foreign debt of $54 billion is crippling the country. An estimated growth rate of 4.1 percent for 2009–10 (a negligible improvement from last year’s 1.3 percent) means Pakistan is likely stuck in this financial quagmire. An energy crisis that leads to 14 hours a day of electricity cuts has crippled industry, farming and exports.

The irresponsible handling of the economy is only deepening the crisis. This year’s $38 billion budget has seen a 30 percent increase in military expenditures from last year. This clearly leaves little money for health and education. With 28 percent of the funds reserved for servicing foreign debt, nearly 60 percent of the budget is taken up by that and defense. The entire development pool of $9.2 billion is provided by foreign donors.

Pakistan needs financial aid desperately. Europe is extremely hostile to further bailouts of the country because it is well aware that the military is still spending more money arming itself against India than it is spending to fight the Taliban. On a recent trip to the European Union in Brussels, Prime Minister Gilani was sharply taken to task for his failure to provide good governance and greater transparency on how aid dollars are being utilized.

It is to the credit of the current U.S. administration that it sees and understands that progress is being made, and is providing both financial aid and political support to deepen these changes. For the first time, under the Kerry-Lugar bill, there is U.S. aid that is specifically earmarked for civilian rebuilding rather than military spending.

However, no real change is possible without a change taking place in the army’s obsessive mind-set regarding India, its determination to define and control national security, and its pursuit of an aggressive forward policy in the region rather than first fixing things at home.

It is insufficient for the army to merely acknowledge that its past pursuit of foreign-policy goals through extremist proxies has proven so destructive; it is also necessary for the army to agree to a civilian-led peace process with India. Civilians must have a greater say in what constitutes national security. Until that happens, the army’s focus on the threat from New Delhi prevents it from truly acknowledging the problems it faces from extremism at home.

The army’s track record shows that it cannot offer political or economic solutions for Pakistan. Indeed, the history of military regimes here shows that they only deepen economic and political problems, widen the social, ethnic and class divide, and alienate the country from international investment and aid.

Today there is much greater awareness among the Pakistani people that extremism poses a severe threat to the country and their livelihoods. There is also a much greater acceptance that ultimately civilian rule is better than military or mullah dictatorship. What is still lacking in the war against extremism, however, is a consistent and powerful message from both the government and the army that they will combat all terrorists—not just those who threaten their security. Pakistan’s selective approach to extremism has to end before it can defeat the problem and move on to become what its founders originally intended it to be.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and writer, is the author most recently of Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (Penguin, 2009). His book Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (Yale, 2010) has been updated and republished on the tenth anniversary of its original release.

Image: Pullquote: The [Pakistani] public fear is that the army is losing control of the country as the extremists become ever stronger, ever more daring and ever more capable.Essay Types: Essay