What American Think-Tank thinkers think about how Pakistan will evolve in future? Part -1

By Khalid Hashmani

As the bitterness continues to rise in the Pakistan-USA relationship so does the interest of American Think-Tankers in the future of Pakistan. Last Monday (December 5, 2011), the Brookings Institution launched a new book about Pakistan titled “The Future of Pakistan”. In this book, 17 experts from Pakistan, India, Europe, and the USA looked at the various scenarios in the context of how Pakistan is likely to evolve and develop in the near future. A well-known scholar and US Policy Advisor Stephen Cohen headed this project. The launch event consisted of two panels who discussed different aspects of the project and some of the conclusions.

After each panel discussion, there was a Question-Answer session. The full audio transcript of the panel discussion is available at:


Stephen Cohen said that the origins of this project were in the realization that General was not dealing with economic, political and governance issues effectively. Pakistan is of considerable importance because of its size, resources, Islamic identity, nuclear program, its adverse relationship with two of its neighbors India and Afghanistan, and both being sponsor and victim of terrorism. A group of international scholars that included authors and ambassadors were simply asked to provide their insight in the following two questions:

How did they see Pakistan in the medium-term (5-7 years)?

What were key factors that may shape Pakistan’s future?

Their answers became the chapters of the book.

Panel One – 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM

Be Angry with Pakistan but don’t go nuts with it!

Senior Fellow at Woodwork Wilson William Milam was asked to say few words about Sir Hilary Synod, who died recently and an important contributor to the book project. He quoted Hillary, when some one commented that “Pakistan was like a glass half-full and half-empty”, said that he felt that Pakistan was like a “glass was too large” meaning that it is trying too much than its strengths would allow. Sir Hilary Synod wrote two books – one on the nuclearization of India and Pakistan and other on the “Transformation of Pakistan”. In his last article, Hilary wrote that “yes, be angry with Pakistan but don’t go nuts with it!”

Art of Guilty Trip and Victimization Card

The event was moderated by Moderated by Ambassador Teresita Schaffer, who has written a book on the Pakistan. She introduced panelists and encouraged them to focus on their chapters, particularly those aspects that important yet not discussed much. Referring to her book that she wrote with her husband, she said that the central theory of her book was the Pakistan’s prime negotiating tacit could be characterized as “Art of Guilt trip” or playing the “victimization card”.

Containment Policy with lessons learnt from cold War!

Christine Fair (Assistant Professor, Georgetown University) said that there is a tendency in Washington and elsewhere to look at the Pakistan on the basis of individual issues such as “FATA” problem”, “Democracy failure”, “Failure of Military” etc. The primary problem of Pakistan is the fundamental “Failure of constitutionalism” and that is optics for my chapter. Pakistan over uses its “nuclear umbrella” with impunity so it can use jihad as its primary instrument of coercion. Some new trends in Pakistan that never happened are quite alarming and show that the situation is fast changing towards extremism. For example, the attacks against Sufi shrines are quite new in Pakistan. The sectarian violence conducted by Devbandi groups and militants, who incidentally are numerically minority) is having a profound impact. They have assumed the role of declaring who is or who is not Muslim. They and other militant groups are hurting the very fabric of Pakistani society yet there is no ownership of this problem. If there was no ownership there would be no solution. Christian continued, “I don’t that there is a silent majority in Pakistan”. It was shocking to hear some of the people we thought were moderate justifying the killing of Salman Taseer. If there is indeed a silent majority, it does not say much.

There is another troublesome aspect is that Pakistan has tendency to externalize any issues to every where and anywhere it is possible. She warned that civil society of Pakistan should not jump up and down at the platform of Imran Khan. He excites youth but the way he is doing is quite alarming as he does not criticize Pakistani or Afghan Taliban. She added, obviously he has support of GHQ and is taking Pakistan to a bizarre notion. He is going to me anything but easy to deal with it.

She said that there is vigorous debate happening in Pakistan as to who will be the first citizens in Pakistan? Even among Muslims, Ahmedis were shutout long time ago. What will be position of Shias in Pakistan? Christine said that Farzana Shaikh has written the best book on the subject. She talks about various sectarian fault lines and ponders about the fate of various sects and minorities. |

Christian said she is alarmed that many Pakistanis immediately justify Jihad by saying that the West has imperialism. She added that whether or not Western countries are acting as imperialists can be debated, however, the strange thing is that these moderate don’t feel even embarrassed about terrorism.

Christian continued that there is a basic problem that Pakistan State cannot resolve fundamental constitutional issues. In normal countries, political parties would mediate constitutional disagreements. In Pakistan, the element statesmanship and electoral politics don’t seem to be in alignment.

She said that he past policies of appeasement through civil and military aid have failed and recommended a “containment policy” for Pakistan. She compared the situation with Pakistan as a cold war just as it was with Soviet Union. She said “We understood the goal, we maintained diplomatic relationship, and learned to live with it”. Although the relationship was adversarial but the USA maintained diplomatic relationship and conducted normal business as best as possible. She counseled that the US administration should learn from cold war and said, “We knew that Soviet Union had a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons. We had no illusion of friendship but we quickly learnt that the nuclear problem will be solved. The world will not end; nuclear issue will take care of itself.

Watch out for the next big Economic Crisis in Pakistan!

William Milam Senior Fellow at Woodwork Wilson International Center for Scholar and former US ambassador to Bangladesh focused on the future of economical situation in Pakistan. He said that both monetary and fiscal policies that Pakistan is pursuing would ultimately lead to a big crisis. Pakistan has been fast utilizing its foreign exchange reserves in importing goods to meet the demand. It is also printing currency without considering long term consequences of this policy. This will soon lead to shortages, inflation and declining value of its currency. When this happens, Pakistan will run to IMF and will have to agree to painful structural changes including generating higher taxes and other austerity measures. Such changes will likely run into serious political opposition and cause further unrest.

Calling Tactical Decisions and Plans as Strategic!

Shuja Nawaz, Director of South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council wrote a chapter in “The Future of Pakistan” titled “Clash of Interests and Objectives. He said that Pakistani decision-makers have no appetite for strategic thinking or planning. They label their tactical decisions as strategic. Citing a study by the UN covering growth in developing countries from 1987 to 2007, he said after China’s growth rate of 9.9%, surprisingly, Pakistan was second with 5.8%. This shows that growth and development does occur despite bad governance. However, the population of Pakistan is growing at a much faster rate and no projections show that Pakistan would be able to keep up with the population growth. He further pointed out the growing urbanization in Pakistan and that such a change will have a profound impact on the politics of Pakistan. He also mentioned that military recruitment too is showing similar change as more officers are recruited from Karachi than district of Jehlam. He pointed that incidentally the traditionally recruitment areas in central Punjab are the same where militant organizations do much of their recruitment. He that development such as revised formula for NFC and 18th amendment were quite positive developments towards devolution in Pakistan. However, lack of planning and funding is hampering the implementation of 18th amendment. The provinces are told that they can take over the subjects but no funding is being made available to them. Some provinces, therefore resorting to deficit financing. He concluded that future of Pakistan would much depend upon the extent and quality of debate in Pakistan about what type of the country they want and whether or not it include all interest groups or only few.

Pakistan is evolving into three distinct Societies

Moeed Yusuf, South Asia Advisor at U.S. Institute of Peace wrote the chapter on “Pakistan’s Youth and its Future”. He said it does not matter much what the older generation of Pakistan as Pakistan’s youth (67.1% Pakistan’s population is under 30 years of age wants. He described the following about the Pakistani youth:

* They are highly conservative but not extremists

* They are not extremists but avidly anti-American

* They are very much aware of the sect they belong and their ethnicity.

* They prefer democracy but are not necessarily philosophically committed to it.

* They are discontented and impatient

They are tormented and yet they do not want to take responsibility to change it. – a phenomenon Moeed called “Unresolved Paradox”. They do not want to participate in the politics as they consider it “dirty business”. Commenting on the education in Pakistan, he said although qualitative factors are up but qualitatively, the situation is worst as the Pakistani Education system is producing three distinct societies:

* Those attending largely conservative government and private schools

* Those attending elite private school and receiving top-notch education.

* Those attending madrasses and easy access to “militancy”.

These three distinct paths are and will further lead to polarization in Pakistan’s society. This is further complicated as the economic projections are quite grim over the next 5-7 years resulting in a massive “Expectation-Reality Gap”.

Moeed mentioned his five projections:

Tussle between Traditionalists and Modernists with Traditionalists having upper hand.

Increasingly fractured and polarized society on sect, ethnicity and provincial lines.

Democracy is seen as preferred option but military or other system acceptable.

Increasing Urbanization and weakening hold of landlords and feudal (he quickly added that in some ways urban feudal are much worse than the rural feudal.

The Taliban fault-line is not as dangerous as the sect-ethnic divide.

He predicted that the present crisis mode would continue in Pakistan for the next 5-7 years.

(To be continued next week with focus on the Second Panel discussion)

The writer can be reached at khashmani@hotmail.com

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