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Pakistan: What lies ahead?

Pakistan: What lies ahead?

Dr Amit Ranjan is a Research Fellow at the Indian Council for World Affairs in New Delhi. Here, he submits a point of view on the tensions inherent in contemporary Pakistan, and what they might mean for the future.

One of the most challenging questions that haunt Pakistanis and others too is: Where is the country heading towards? The presence of a strong infrastructure of terror makes some portray it as a ‘terrorist’ state; a few call it a ‘weak state’; and another few define it as a ‘deep state’. Conceptually, it cannot be put into either of those categories. But it indeed has a strong presence of terror within its infrastructure, which affects the socio-political system of the country. The killing on 16 December 2014 of about 140 students and staff members from the Army Public School, Peshawar, by the militants from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is a recent act of brutality committed by them. Not only the militants, but even the Pakistani state has carried out brutal attacks in the name of fighting against militancy. Since, 2001 many innocents have already lost their lives as a part of ‘collateral damage’.

Pakistan has reached the apogee of disturbance after going through a process, for which many actors are responsible. At the time of its birth in 1947, as a result of the partition of India, Pakistani leaders promised to make it democratic, secular and economically developed. The dreams started shattering soon after its formation because not enough attention was paid to balancing the social economic situation; the military became strong instead of the civilian leadership; and the role of external actors in its domestic politics was institutionalized. To serve the interests of interdependent Pakistani elites from different backgrounds, and to fight the western world’s war, people were radicalized. As a result militancy, with the help of the state’s institutions, set its foot in Pakistan. Earlier, the militants were used to fight the Army’s war against ‘enemies’ but after 9/11 those groups turned into a Frankstein monster. After 9/11 Pakistan became an important partner in the Global War against Terrorism (GWAT), and its army was made to fight against its ‘strategic assets’. Not only the Army but also the Pakistani middle class through its social behaviour has helped in the radicalization of society. By middle class one does not mean all, but a majority of it. There are people who raised slogans and fought in 1968 to oust General Ayub Khan. It was members from this class who fought during General Zia-ul Haq, against General Parvez Musharraf, and have kept the hope for a democratic Pakistan alive.

At present, to secure its future Pakistan is fighting at various levels, against many forces. Militarily, it is fighting against the militants. The big operation carried out by the Army against the militant-infected areas is not going to make peace in Pakistan. Dialogue is not possible because there are many ghost groups, and the visible ones are not interested in peace dialogues. After a time, the military may realize that instead of carrying out big operations, effective counterinsurgency operations are needed to burst militant infrastructure within its border. The country is also facing resistance movements in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. These are political movements, so they have to be dealt with politically and not by military means. The political class has to mature for this, which is possible only when democracy in the country reaches a certain level. At present, the civilian leadership is trying to protect the nascent democracy.

Besides militancy, sectarian and communal violence is also pervasive in Pakistan. There has been a rise in the number of abductions of Hindu girls, rapes and forced conversions in Sindh. In the north of Pakistan the ethnic Hazara shias have been brutally attacked. The places of worship of minorities and their ghettos too have been attacked for socio-economic reasons. The blasphemy laws have created problems for the minorities to speak up. There is also growing intolerance against the dissenting voices. As a result, many liberal voices like Salman Taseer, Shazad Saleem, Raza Rumi and others have been killed and brutally attacked.

Above all, the trajectory of Pakistan’s future depends on its relations with India, the USA, China, and developments in Afghanistan. Anti-India feeling is responsible for Pakistan’s engagement with all other countries. Even India’s move towards Pakistan keeps the country under constant conflicts. Unless the relationship improves or is managed so that intermittent tensions do not built up, the situation in Pakistan is not going to improve. India, China and the USA have already faced and are still facing the spillover effects of ‘disturbed’ Pakistan. Hence they too have to change their policies towards Pakistan.

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