Thursday, September 07, 2006


Why is Pakistan important?

Combine the death and protests at the death of a Baluchi warlord, a father absconding with his daughter and its connection to the airline bombing plot and recently Pakistan has been all over the news. There are obvious and less obvious reasons why what happens to Pakistan should concern us.
  1. The Global War on Terror - Pakistan as an ally matters. Its troops are fighting our enemies and its potential as an enemy is vast. As a nuclear power with the ability to raise hell in India and Afghanistanand a sizeable population it would make an unpleasant enemy.
  2. The Domestic War on Terror - Plots to commit terrorist attacks have been stopped thanks to intelligence uncovered in Pakistan. When terrorists flee our shores it is often where they wind up and are extradited from. Were Pakistan to move from being a friend to an enemy this would make the management of the terrorist threat to Britain significantly more challenging.
  3. Immigration - it is common for political parties to behave as if they have far more control than they actually do over immigration numbers. Far more is down to external factors than they would acknowledge. Germany worries about Turkey's entry to the EU because there are many Turkish people in Germany and immigrants tend to go where others of their nationality can be found. Britain faces a similar prospect with instability in Pakistan; an increase in the numbers wanting to come here with genuine claims for asylum which will greatly complicate our immigration decision.
For these reasons Pakistan is the country, more so than Iraq or Iran, which Britons, in particular, should be watching for instability and fracture.

What is happening in Pakistan?

In Pakistan political power is widely dispersed among varying elites with differing priorities. These can be separated, broadly, into landowners, the military, national politicians, Islamists and a rising business elite.

Landowners hold all the cards in terms of power on the ground thanks to holding the allegiance of large bodies of the rural population. For this reason they are crucial to success in the formation and survival of any political system in Pakistan. Any democratic party must have their support to secure votes which are cast along lines of feudal loyalty. Military regimes will tread carefully as they are the key to the 'popular' feeling which any military dictatorship must necessarily fear could overthrow its rule. The main limitation of the power of the landowners is division and a lack of aspiration to lead. They are the body from whom the important supporters of other leaderships are drawn rather than adopting such a leadership role themselves and making Pakistan truly feudal.

The national political class is thoroughly weak and is currently in a vague alliance with the Islamists. Since their replacement by Musharraf as the national leadership they have failed to articulate a coherent alternative as an opposition. The business elite are still somewhat of a nascent force and too few in number to constitute the kind of middle class, interested in stability, which holds so many successful states together.

That leaves the two groups who are, most actively, vying for real power in Pakistan. Islamist groups are still marginal in Pakistan and confined largely to the rural backwaters, however, they are clearly the group most hostile to Western interests and with a steady increase in support are the main challenge to military rule.

The Pakistani military is, by developing country standards, highly professional. This reputation combined with a widespread perception of incompetence on the part of national politicians has led to there being only limited opposition to military rule. The plan appears to be to attempt a similar settlement to that in Turkey where a limited democracy is allowed with the military as a self-appointed guardian of its wellbeing. However, the ability of the military to set this up is highly contingent upon the continued presence of Pervez Musharraf. Should he fall from power or die there is no institutional framework in place for the military to transfer power to a new President. If an attempt at assassinating him succeeds (there have already been attempts) then the military's scheme will quickly be derailed. The military also lost a lot of its credibility as an effective manager through a slow response to the earthquake.

An uncomfortable result of all this is that the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf is the best guard against Pakistan becoming a big problem; a nuclear armed Islamist state. This implies accepting a dictatorship and an abandonment of democratic principle. It is, perhaps, the best realist counterexample to the neoconservative ideal of a foreign policy based around democracy as a panacea.


Anonymous said...

don't forget the number of islamists (including the previous dictator) in the Pakistani military- a huge worry if Musharraf goes and very different from Turkey. also the fact is the UK could have tighter control over its immigraiton- the rate of "marriage" migration from pakistan is absurd

Anonymous said...

Interesting article.... but wrong.

a) Pakistan is the greatest exporter of terrorism and terrorists on the planet.
b) Appeasment of a despotic country does not work, just ask Neville Chamberlin
c) So much for 'spreading Democracy'. Your article suggest that we should support an islamacised military dictatorship that routinely funds terrorists and provides training camps against India.
d) A rabid dog will eventually bit you in the *arse.