It has suffered disaster after disaster. Its people have lived through crisis upon crisis. Its leaders are unwilling or unable to act. But is it really the failed state that many believe?
By Patrick Cockburn
Is Pakistan disintegrating? Are the state and society coming apart under the impact of successive political and natural disasters? The country swirls with rumours about the fall of the civilian government or even a military coup. The great Indus flood has disappeared from the headlines at home and abroad, though millions of farmers are squatting in the ruins of their villages. The US is launching its heaviest-ever drone attacks on targets in the west of the country, and Pakistan closed the main US and Nato supply route through the Khyber Pass after US helicopters crossed the border and killed Pakistani soldiers.
Pakistan is undoubtedly in a bad way, but it is also a country with more than 170 million people, a population greater than Russia’s, and is capable of absorbing a lot of punishment. It is a place of lop-sided development. It possesses nuclear weapons but children were suffering from malnutrition even before the floods. Electricity supply is intermittent so industrialists owning textile mills in Punjab complain that they have to use their own generators to stay in business. Highways linking cities are impressive, but the driver who turns off the road may soon find himself bumping along a farmer’s track. The 617,000-strong army is one of the strongest in the world, but the government has failed to eliminate polio or malaria. Everybody agrees that higher education must be improved if Pakistan is to compete in the modern world, but the universities have been on strike because their budgets had been cut and they could not pay their staff.
The problem for Pakistan is not that the country is going to implode or sink into anarchy, but that successive crises do not produce revolutionary or radical change. A dysfunctional and corrupt state, part-controlled by the army, staggers on and continues to misgovern the country. The merry-go-round of open or veiled military rule alternates with feeble civilian governments. But power stays in the hands of an English-speaking élite that inherited from the British rulers of the Raj a sense of superiority over the rest of the population.
The present government might just squeak through the post-flood crisis because of its weakness rather than its strength. The military has no reason to replace it formally since the generals already control security policy at home and abroad, as well as foreign policy and anything else they deem important to their interests. …
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