Pakistan’s Precipitous Decline By William Milam: Is A Former U.S. Ambassador To Pakistan
should be thinking about the political and strategic implications of an accelerated decline toward state failure in this key, nuclear-armed country.
WASHINGTON — Pakistanis are celebrating the accomplishment of an elected government — for the first time in the country’s history — serving in office for the full five years of its constitutional term. Never mind that this is the only accomplishment of that government, or that the news is drowned out by the horror stories that continue to emanate from Pakistan. These only serve to solidify the impression of an increasingly dysfunctional, fragmented, very troubled state, on which much depends, but in which fragility and instability continue to mount.
Atrocity builds on atrocity. Minorities are targeted and murdered — with seeming impunity — by extremists who brag publicly about doing so. And the violence is not limited to minorities. Anyone who does not meet a narrow and exclusive definition of “Muslim,” as defined by religious fundamentalists, has come under increasing attack. The ubiquitous Sufi shrines, revered by perhaps half of the Sunni population, are assaulted by extremists who regard them as apostate. Humanitarians delivering social and medical services to the poor are gunned down in cold blood — witness the murder of polio vaccine and other health workers, and that of Parveen Rehman, the head of Pakistan’s celebrated urban social service NGO, the Orangi project of Karachi. And now we learn that, with an election coming, the political parties are wooing the perpetrators, rather than pledging to defeat them.
Predictions about Pakistan, a growth industry today but one that has kept scholars and pundits busy for decades, has often produced insightful and unsettling analyses. Almost all observers come to the same conclusion — Pakistan will muddle through for the foreseeable future. We view Pakistan either through “a glass half full,” meaning that there is hope that someday, in some way, the country will turn around, or through “a glass half empty,” meaning that its long-term trajectory is toward failure, but that it will hold together during our lifetime (glued by the army).
But the increasingly grim news out of Pakistan forcefully reminds me of what my dear friend, the late Sir Hilary Synnott, former British high commissioner to Pakistan, argued a few years ago. The half-full or half-empty glass was not, he said, the appropriate metaphor. Analysts should, he insisted, look at Pakistan through the image of “a glass too large,” by which he meant a country constantly overreaching.
I think Sir Hilary was on to something. Pakistan has historically tried to punch above its weight. This derives mainly from its historic regard of India as its existential threat. This elevated the army, gave it a public imprimatur above the politicians, and allowed it to take — almost as its right — most of the state’s resources to maintain an imagined parity with India. To add to its arsenal, the army recruited religious militants to fight as proxies against India and in Afghanistan. The irony is that the army has lost control of these proxies, and it is they who are now carrying out the attacks against the state and its citizens.