By: Andrei Volodin, specially for RIR
Russia should make every effort to help recover the pattern of civil society in Pakistan by supporting the role of political parties, civil groups and any organisations that aim to fight terrorism.
Terrorism has grown into probably the most destructive phenomenon in today’s Pakistan. The sorrow list of victims of terrorist attacks is expanding rapidly, going up from 164 casualties in 2003 to 40,000 in 2011. According to official data, damage suffered by the country from 2000 to 2011 exceeded $70 billion.
The official government acknowledgement of terrorism as the main threat to the unity and integrity of Pakistan has proved unable to reverse the situation as terrorist efforts retain their momentum.
The sources of terrorism in Pakistan are usually linked to the policy of Islamisation of the country by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (years in office: 1977 to 1988). An important element of the then emerging terrorist activity was Pakistan’s direct involvement in military actions in Afghanistan and the actual creation of the mujahideen units, who after the end of the military actions rose to prominence as a military and political force first in Afghanistan and then in Pakistan.
The government and society at large have no clear understanding of the strategy and tactics of fighting terrorism. The point of view of George Friedman, a U.S. analyst, is that Pakistan is losing its “trajectory into the future.” This opinion is underpinned by the increasingly chaotic social and political life in Pakistan, the army’s involvement in domestic processes, the poorly regulated government economy and the inability of political parties to set up adequate political life for more than five years. This “institutional vacuum” is inevitably filled up by other organisations, in case of Pakistan, terrorist structures.
Experts often describe Pakistan as a “pendulum state,” meaning the country’s typical alternation of military and civil government. However, following the resignation of Pervez Musharraf and with certain influence from the US, which disrupted the usual cyclicality, this constraint of political struggle was withdrawn from the political process. As a consequence, Pakistani parties were made even more fragile and unpredictable in their actions. There are basically personal problems that are substituting the existing controversies in the diverse social and political programmes of the Pakistan People’s Party, on the one hand, and the Pakistan Muslim League, on the other hand.
The key feature of today’s Pakistan is the virtually non-existent middle class and structures of civil society. The result is the strong importance that experts place on the activities of terrorist organisations. Researchers look into a number of specific features in Pakistan’s development.
The relieved restrictions of the state of emergency in Pakistan as a result of Pervez Musharraf’s moves caused increased political activity of the general public and greater political turbulence. The artificially forced two-party system has failed to solve the nation’s economic problems or ensure its political sustainability. With the army drifting further away, the result is the manifold increase in centres of power/decision-making and hence the fostering of anti-governmental/terrorist activity.
The non-existent middle class and the effect of unbalanced development cause Islam to politicise and grow into extreme forms of Wahhabism. The religious fundamentalism is the replacement of the idea of national identity and its holders, i.e. civil society, political parties, state administrative bodies, and even the army.
Since its inception in 1947, Pakistan has been marked by a more complicated pattern of relations between provinces, including turbulent peripheral regions, which threaten the unity and integrity of the country, and persisting internal disputes within the main territorial units of Punjab and Sindh. Experts are unanimous in saying that the potential fracture in the federal pattern of the Pakistani society can only be prevented through consistent development policy, which includes vigorous economic growth (more than 7%), relatively uniform distribution of national income among different population groups and the highest employment possible.
The recovery of Pakistan’s economic potential ultimately depends on society’s ability to self-organise its life, industrialise peripheral areas, and arrive at a consensus despite barriers in national, ethical, party, and political issues.
An important role here is played by leaders of the armed forces, the parties, and heads of tribes, including the Baloch and Pashtuns. Actively involved in the internal pacification of Pakistan are its neighbours – the all-time ally China and the main historical rival India, which for reasons of economic development is increasingly interested in establishing a normal course of life in Pakistan.
Another contributor to stabilising the situation could be Iran (more than 20% of Pakistan’s Muslims are Shiites, who are under Iranian influence). Iran and Pakistan are major components of the International North-South Transport Corridor, which Western Europe, India, Russia, and partly China all want to see operating smoothly.
In these conditions, Pakistan’s governing circles have no alternative but their own Kemal-style revolution, i.e. changes reproducing the Turkish development path of the 1920s and the 1930s, adjusted for the international and domestic context.
If the Pakistani leaders fail to implement the “Kemal project”, the country will be overwhelmed with a new wave of terrorism.
It is obvious that the more and more unbalanced economy is pushing most of the 190 million citizens below the poverty line (1 dollar a day), making them fall prey to various terrorist groups.
Rampant terrorism heavily downplays the attractiveness of Pakistan as a major transportation hub in Central Eurasia, causing potential investors to look for opportunities elsewhere (Iran, Central Asia, etc.).
The continuation of terrorist efforts not only undermines the international status of Pakistan but also tempts parts of the global community into having the nation’s nuclear weapon “protected from terrorism” or staging something like “humanitarian intervention”.
At the moment Pakistan has a lot of active terrorist organisations, classified by experts into five main groups:
1) Sectarian (Islamist) units, which are in conflict with other groups (Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Tehreek-e-Jaferia);
2) Anti-Indian groups (Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and Harkat-ul Mujahideen, with the Pakistani part of Kashmir as an important ground for them);
3) Afghanistan’s Taliban, which military experts believe is led by Mullah Mohammed Omar and headquartered in Quetta;
4) Al-Qaeda and affiliated structures, located in the tribal areas in peripheral regions of Pakistan, with terrorist “subsidiaries” in Uzbekistan, Libya, and the Sunan Yugur Autonomous Country in China;
5) Pakistan’s Taliban forms terrorist groups led by Hakimullah Mehsud in Southern Waziristan. Their aim is to control the area of the Mehsud tribe and similar units.
In its relations with Pakistan, Russia should make every effort to help recover the pattern of civil society in Pakistan by supporting the role of political parties, civil groups, and any organisations that aim to fight terrorism.
Russia should preferably enhance contacts with the Pakistani army as the leading social and political force in the country capable of keeping Pakistan united and its territory intact. In this context relations with the army will not be at variance with Russia’s improving ties with Pakistan’s civil authorities.
Another idea worth considering is a new consortium of Pakistan’s allies to include Russia, China, Iran and, probably, India. The aim of this union will be to recover the economic growth and development of Pakistan, which is in line with strategic interests of Russia and its partners in Central Eurasia.
Andrei Volodin, Dr. Sc. (History), is Chief Research Fellow with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ (RAS) Institute of World Economy and International Relations.