Pakistan seen drifting away from the west

January 12, 2010

american flagPakistan is likely to drift further away from the west in the years ahead as pressure from Islamist groups and anti-Americanism undermine the traditional moorings of the secular pro-western elite, according to a report just released by the Legatum Institute. 

The report rules out the possibility of a Taliban takeover or of Pakistan becoming a failed state, predicting it is most likely to ”muddle through” with the army continuing to play a powerful role behind the scenes in setting foreign and security policy. “Rather than an Islamist takeover, you should look at a subtle power shift from a secular pro-Western society to an Islamist anti-American one,” said Jonathan Paris, the author of the report.

I recommend reading the full report, which examines the outlook for Pakistan in a one to three-year time horizon on a range of issues from the economy to security to relations with the United States, India and China. It also lays out factors to watch in the tremendously complex interplay of influences which will determine the direction for Pakistan in the coming years. You can read the full report here (pdf).

Pakistan has been down the Islamist road before, particularly during the Zia years.  And public opinion turned against the hardline Islamist practices of the Taliban when they occupied the Swat valley last year.  But while people may be willing to argue against the Taliban, it is less clear that society as a whole will resist the creeping Islamisation wrought by Islamist political parties and militant organisations, particularly in Punjab province, unless the state can deliver economic growth along with a reliable and speedy legal system.

Paris, whose research background was originally in the Middle East, also draws a parallel between Pakistan and Turkey, arguing that societies in countries which have traditionally been dominated by a secular pro-western elite are becoming Islamicised, while those which have lived under Islamic rule, for example in Iran, may be turning against it.  He has a brief summary of his outlook for various Muslim countries likely to be pivotal players in 2010 at the Atlantic Council website.

Finally, he also sees a risk of fragmentation of militant organisations into splinter groups which could be more extreme and harder to control.  This has become something of a global trend among militant groups, for example in the Middle East, where Hamas is now struggling to control Islamic Jihad dissident groups.  While much attention has been paid to the question of Pakistan’s militant groups uniting, the report is a reminder of the equal and perhaps more serious risk of them fragmenting into the kind of loose network modelled by the al Qaeda franchise.

(File photo of protesters burning the American flag)

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