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)


A lot is going to depend upon how the Pakistani military handles its relations towards India. The reason why I am not mentioning about Pakistan, the nation is because it is basically a military with a nation at its disposal. With additional US troops arriving in Afghanistan, pressure will mount on both Al Qaeda/Taliban groups and the Pakistani military. The Pak military will need to make a very clear and conscious choice of which side they should take. If they align themselves entirely with the US, considering their long term issues with India, then the radical Islamic groups will try to break them down from within. They will be forced to move into the hinterlands of Pakistan and that might set Pakistan on fire. The military might try to do a Musharaff by playing on both sides to negotiate its way through the situation. But the US is more determined this time and will not be ignorant like it was under the Bush regime. Splintered groups are the worst thing one can expect. Such groups will have their own links in the military and intelligence systems and might stage coups and assassinations against rival military commanders. That will lead to civil war. It would be good for Pakistani military to dissolve all relations with the Islamic radicals in all forms and start on a fresh note. They are facing the biggest moment in their existence so far. The last time they made a poor decision, it led to their dismemberment. If they make a similarly confused decision, the end might be similar.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

cannot agree more.

I am very sure that Pakistan will muddle through but I am seeing very strong anti-American stand in Pakistan.

It has been there before but this time I see it in extremist and secular alike which is not a good sign for US and a direct consequence of a faulty foreign policy.

If US loses Pakistan from its side, I think it will be the biggest failure of US in its history. It will be worst than losing anywhere in the world because they will end up losing an ally who was use to on moving on their orders without much thought.

Posted by frizvi | Report as abusive

Well, looking at the number of visa applicants and embassies and High commissions issuing them, I see more and more Pakistanis moving back and forth between the west and Pakistan. Didnt look at all the links yet.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Americans have decorated Pakistan as a “country of interest”.

View from US: ‘Country of interest’ By Anjum Niaz -content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/colu mnists/19-anjum-niaz-country-of-interest -010-hh-04

“God forbid if you came under the American radar as a ‘person of interest!’ While you won’t be dragged off to jail, you’d certainly have the CIA and FBI watch your every move. One slip and you could be in prison. And God forbid if the Americans declared your country a “country of interest”.

“Well, it has finally happened. Pakistan, as of last week has been accorded the ignominious title. And all because of just this terrorist from Nigeria called Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.”

“Citizens of 14 nations, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, coming to America will be “subjected indefinitely to the intense screening at airports worldwide,” reports the New York Times.

It’s only folks flying out of these 14 countries who should expect intensive interrogation. Cubans, Iranians, Sudanese and Syrians are considered as coming from “state sponsors of terrorism,” while Afghans, Algerians, Lebanese, Libyans, Iraqi, Nigerians, Pakistani, Saudi Arabians, Somalians and Yemenis have been branded as citizens belonging to a ‘country of interest.’

“So what will happen to Pakistanis coming to the US? They will be for the first time “patted down automatically before boarding any flight to the US,” says the Times. I don’t think we should take this personally. No one wants a suicide bomber sitting next to you in the plane even if he were a Pakistani.”

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

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