The Sri Lankan President is in Maldives. The future of the emerald isle is as uncertain as the mobs in the swimming pool of its presidential palace. Their all-weather friend is sitting in China and watching mutely. Time to look at Pakistan where the economy is facing a meltdown like a wax museum on fire. Imran Khan, recently stated that once the country’s economy is destroyed, it would go in default, and the world would ask Pakistan to move towards denuclearisation, as was done to Ukraine in the 1990s and , that Pakistan will be broken in three parts and the armed forces will be the first ones to be devastated. The statement by Imran Khan could be prophetic if the Sri Lanka contagion spreads to the land of the Pure. Pakistan’s multiple fault lines will propagate the contagion faster than Covid could have imagined in its wildest dreams. Remember this is a country which has already split once along the fault line of having two wings thousands of kilometres apart. Pakistan has numerous fault lines as new ones are being added by the day. Pakistan’s fault lines are recognised universally by outsiders and Pakistanis themselves. However dig a little deeper. Some Pakistanis recognise most of their fault lines. However, most Pakistanis refuse to recognise some of their fault lines. In this context it is interesting to reorient ourselves with Pakistan’s fault lines. It will enable us to appreciate which way the cookie crumbles one fine day.
The Self-Recognised Fault lines
The fault lines recognised by Pakistanis depends on their perception and back ground. Pervez Hoodbhoy , the nuclear scientist, feels militarism and a self-induced war economy since 1947 made possible by generous military and economic aid provided by the US, uncontrolled population growth and rock bottom quality of education have taken the Pakistani ship adrift in bad weather near a rocky shore where its quarrelling crew members are trading blows rather than worrying about shipwreck. Farrukh Khan Pitafi writes about the country’s chequered history, it’s civil military imbalance, its misplaced priorities and at times the ridiculousness of its existence to opine that Pakistan’s actual fault lines are ideology, the gap between an experienced bureaucracy and untrained politicians and its feudal mentality beside racial and lingual prejudices and overpopulation. Ex Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor has also reflected upon Pakistan’s the nation’s fault lines. As per him over the past 70 years Pakistan has suffered due to weak economy, lack of governance, flaws in judicial and education systems, and religious extremism. Javed Hussain, a retired diplomat, writes that the country has been virtually ripped apart socially, politically and economically by the rigidity and short-sightedness of its political leaders, the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots, the perennial civil-military tussle for power and domination, ethnic and linguistic divisions, and ideological differences rooted in the challenges of modernity and the varying religious beliefs and cultural traditions offer attractive opportunities to Pakistan’s enemies, especially India, for the manipulation and destabilization of the country’s internal situation. Maleeha Lodhi, also a retired diplomat, has written that Pakistan has had five enduring fault lines. These are the long pedigree of confrontation between the government and opposition which has left democracy fragile and open to military interventions, a parliament which has been a means to maintain the government in power rather than an instrument of governance, governments and state institutions wavering when faced with religious zealots or extremists, uneasy civil-military relations and the most consequential one being an oligarchical elite’s reliance on borrowing, bailouts to address the country’s chronic financial crises and its resistance to mobilise domestic resources including by taxing itself. Recently she has added two more to this list. These are unprecedent political polarisation which characterises Pakistan to the divide people, society and families along intensely partisan lines and defiance of institutions be it the judiciary, parliament or the election commission to breed cynicism and widen divisions in society. Without doubt all these fault lines are genuine. However most of these fault lines are consequential to some fundamental faults with which Pakistan came into existence and evolved into being what it is. These are rarely touched upon by Pakistanis. In fact they are not recognised at all. This is a huge schism which guides a rudderless Pakistan to wherever it is now headed. Hence it is important to understand the macro fault lines from where all the other fault lines emerge. All future happenings in Pakistan will stem from these.
The Basic Faultline : Identity
Pakistan never existed even as an imaginary entity prior to 1947. The post WW2 ‘Great Game’ Imperialists were in a quandary to stem the spread of communism of Soviet Russia and prevent its confluence with a socialist leaning India . The two-nation theory swirling in the air was taken advantage of. A geostrategic wedge was formulated based on the land between the Radcliffe and Durand Lines based on the River Indus. It would simultaneously connect and separate – the oil rich Middle East, Soviet Central Asia, Chinese controlled East Turkestan, Tibet and the rest of the Subcontinent. Pakistan , a Muslim nation beholden and amenable to imperial designs was created. The Eastern wing of Pakistan was an appendage to be carried. Even the Western wing was not a natural. The Pashtun population South of the Durand Line would always wave their nationalistic flag. Gwadar and adjoining areas which were part of Oman from 1797 were amalgamated into Pakistan as late as 1958. Resultantly, the Baluchis and the Pashtuns have never integrated fully with Pakistan. Despite being an Islamic country, its major ethno-linguistic groups viz Punjabis, Sindhis, Baluchis, Pashtuns and Muhajirs have never come on one page. Pakistan’s national language is Urdu, which is not spoken by the people. It is imported one from the courts of Mughal and Awadh rulers. Most Pakistanis are of Indian genetic descent. However they fashion themselves to be of Turkic or Arab descent. Who is a Pakistani ? This lack of identity and integration has remained its primary fault line. The raison d’être of Pakistan has been not being India. This results in a perverse ‘Anti India’ nationalism and a desire for parity. Pakistan’s struggles have always hinged on its unachievable parity with India. Its perpetual identity crisis and lack of integration is a basic fault line from which Pakistan has never emerged.
The Contrived Faultline : Religion and Ideology
The ideological basis for the creation of Pakistan was religion. However, a distorted form of Islam is now practised in Pakistan. Pakistani school text books have always fostered prejudice and intolerance of Hindus. Most teachers view non-Muslims as enemies of Islam. The Shia Sunni sectarian divide is deep-rooted in society since 1947. The conversion of the Islamic state of Pakistan into a Radical Islamic State was the handiwork of General Zia ul Haq, who single-handedly fostered a type of severe Islamisation based on Saudi Wahabism. This was done through establishment of seminaries and madrasas mostly along the Af-Pak border to export jihad into Afghanistan. They have flourished there since then. This trend led to the rise of radical Islamists in the country and within the military. The military gave state sponsorship to militant Islamic groups, and also sponsored export of Islamic jihad to several parts of the world. Simultaneously it also gave rise to the Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) within Pakistan. TTP combines a jihadist ideology with a sectarian world view and has waged war against Pakistan and its institutions. The TTP often gets conflated with Pashtun nationalism to create more trouble. The group has literally waged war against the state. Their demands if met, will result in secession of tribal areas from Pakistan. On the other hand religious extremism has also given birth to TLP which is an extreme ideological and violent movement with a peculiar interpretation of blasphemy with a widespread following in heartland Pakistan. It has a significant vote share and is wooed by politicians. This group is neither amenable nor controllable by the State including the military and politicians, who bend over backwards to appease it. Decades of patronage by successive military and civilian governments in promoting religious ideology and hate has created a culture of institutionalized intolerance. The result has been a fractured society. Overall, religion has spawned a contrived faultline which is deepening by the day in Pakistan
The Consistent Faultline : Military
Elite capture of the state by a powerful military, greedy politicians and a self-serving feudal system is the beginning of this fault line. An imbalanced politico military relationship has been endemic in the country. Four military dictatorships, one hanging and an assassination of PMs have dotted the landscape of perpetual weak civilian control in Pakistan. The role of the Army in running the nation has enlarged with time. The military fault line of Pakistan has no comparable parallel. Losses to India in four wars has engendered a mentality of revenge in the Army and the nation. The self-image of the Army is that of a professional force which guards Pakistan against an existential threat from India. As the protector of the nation it apportions to itself the meagre resources of Pakistan and bankrupts it. It also fashions itself as the warrior guardian of an imaginary strategic international frontline to indulge in unaffordable wars. The Pakistan Army is an unaccountable and costly military state within the nation. Practically all civilian governments over the past three decades have been controlled by the Army and its imprint on every political change has been visible whether directly in power or not. Over a period of time the Army has also become deeply entrenched in politics by exercising back seat control over hybrid governments which it has put in place. The extent of control is that it officially screens civil servants before their induction, appointments and postings, as well as promotions through the ISI. The military is the main reason for the political and economic instability of the nation. The nature of this fault line has been that it neither let Pakistan prosper nor did it allow a collapse. However, the Miltablishment is appearing weak with splits in its firmament. Will it have the strength to even ensure that Pakistan remains a failed nuclear state when the contagion occurs? There is danger of events occurring which marginalises the Army.
The Evolutionary Faultline: Population
Pakistan’s uncontrolled population growth is another major fault line. Pakistan is now the fifth most populous nation in the world, with a high growth rate of 2.4 per cent per annum. From a current population of 225 million it will grow to around 300 million people by 2030. The land cannot support the population. Its cities are bursting at the seams. It is an explosive situation. Water availability has decreased by 49 per cent between 1990-1991 and 2020-2021; unemployment has risen from 1.7pc in 1961 to 3.1pc in 1981 to 5.8pc in 2018; availability of agricultural land has decreased from 6.1 acres in 1947 to 0.49 acres per capita of rural population. The fault line is compounded by an obese youth bulge. Youth comprise 63% of Pakistan. Around 25% are illiterate and around 10% have no vocational or technical skills. The state of Pakistan’s education system to support the population is weak. Religion has also entered education in a big way. All school textbooks in Pakistan (including science) are under rigorous religious censorship. It is further littered with mediocre, dysfunctional universities which are dogged by poor quality, fake degrees, inequality and high student drop-out rates. Graduates being churned out of their education system are not skilled enough to be employed. Overall a burgeoning and radicalised population with a youth bulge, high unemployment rates, limited resources, poor education is a recipe for anarchy. This is compounded by a wide level of disparity. As per a UNDP report, “The poorest and richest Pakistanis effectively live in completely different countries, with literacy levels, health outcomes, and living standards that are poles apart”. This fault line is steadily leading Pakistan into anarchy and ready to explode. The Sri Lankan contagion will find best breeding ground here.
The Consequential Fault line : Economy
During the 1980s, Pakistan was richer than India, China and Bangladesh by 15, 38 and 46 percent. However Pakistan’s economy, has crashed 13 times in the last 60 years. Each time it required an IMF bailout. Today it is the poorest. It is in a debt trap due to accumulated loans from China (including CPEC), Gulf and IMF. The debt trap is all set to close due to unfettered government largesse through populist subsidies, military expenditure and rampant tax evasion. For the past few years, interest payment on government debt and pension payments is more than its net revenue. It is on the FATF Gray list for over two years. Hence, external investment has virtually halted. The nation, including the military, is running on borrowed money. Moody’s downgraded Pakistan’s risk outlook to ‘negative’ recently. Inflation has been in double digit zone consistently. Political instability has made it worse. The backbone of Pakistan’s economy is agriculture, which is heavily water dependant . Climate change and poor water management have led Pakistan into absolute water scarcity to hit agriculture hard. As a result, Pakistan, which used to export wheat, basmati rice and other food products till the 90’s is now a net importer of food. It faces perpetual food insecurity hereafter. In the current environment of global economic uncertainty Pakistan will find it very difficult to recover. The dollar is trading at the 207 PKR mark and continues to rise. Doles from USA, Gulf and China have dried out. In the absence of foreseeable inflows, recovery is even more difficult. This will be compounded by the political instability in which schisms have appeared even in the military. Pakistan has grown a permanent Achilles heel in its economy and could head into a Sri Lanka type of melt down any day.
Where is Pakistan headed as its Army remains focused on India, preoccupied with international events and regional security? What will happen to Pakistan as it slides into further political instability? What will happen when its economy plumbs new depths? Will it implode as its fault lines deepen and widen? How will that implosion occur? These are some of the questions which bear watching based on Imran Khan’s assertion and the Sri Lanka experience. As per Maleeha Lodhi ‘the most important and recurring factor driving the country towards becoming ungovernable are its dysfunctional economic policies. Pakistan in a classic debt trap where more is borrowed to pay off old debt. The chickens have now come home to roost’. The question is- if the chicken from Sri Lanka has come to roost in Pakistan or is it a home grown one?
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