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Emerging Markets

PAKISTAN: Casting a long shadow

Against all odds Pakistan continues to shrug off the economic and political forces that threaten its survival, argues <b>Shuja Nawaz</b>

One famous, if mistaken, soundbite: “We’re now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state.”

That was the view of David Kilcullen, the Australian adviser to the US Surge in Iraq, in an interview with the Washington Post this March. But six months later the Pakistani state is struggling on. It may not be in the rudest of health, but the failure of a government should not be confused with the failure of a state.

Pakistan’s survival is partly a result of its many robust institutions – not least of which is a trained and highly disciplined military. With some 35 to 38 years of military or quasi-military rule in Pakistan’s 62-year history, the armed forces occupy a powerful position in the political and economic landscape of Pakistan. They provide cohesion for the state and have often stepped into the vacuum of civilian leadership by providing security against external and internal threats.

After the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, the military helped the political system in holding a safe election that allowed a civilian government to take over from one controlled by Pervez Musharraf, who was both president and one-time chief of the army staff.

The then-new army chief, general Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, forbade political contacts by army officers and provided security during the February 18, 2008 elections, without interfering in the actual electoral process. And, as public sentiment arose against Musharraf, Kayani stepped back from defending him, thus more or less sealing his fate and leading to his resignation.


Since then the country has been battered from many sides.

Politically, the fledgling civilian government has survived only by buying support from across the political spectrum. The result has been a directionless government ruled by the whim of its many coalition partners.

Economically, the global financial emergency has threatened to erase the economic gains made under Musharraf’s regime, and on top of this has been an energy crisis, caused in part by mismanagement of resources and incompetency, which has hurt industry and business.

Militarily, it has faced even greater threats from a rising internal insurgency. Government rule has been challenged in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan and in the settled areas of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The Tehreek-e-Taliban of Pakistan (TTP) and its allies in Swat and Malakand earlier this year took the battle for the country to within 100 miles of the capital, Islamabad.


Yet Pakistan has continued to attract resources from expatriates and foreign investors. A number of sectors have continued to operate despite the difficulties, and many foreign investors have stayed the course. Boeing, for example, produces parts for its 777 in two factories in Pakistan. AES, the energy firm, continues to receive double digit returns on its power investments. Favourable weather has helped the agricultural system. And the proposed emergence of an independent judicial system could underpin the return of legal and economic security for local and foreign investors.

The resolve of the government and the military to roll back the TTP insurgency in Swat and Malakand and the Bajaur Agency in FATA has helped it win back the confidence of its population and foreign friends and investors.

But the linchpin of governmental activity needs to be the provision of governance and justice throughout the country. This includes an end to shortages of power and food and greater transparency in governmental operations, accompanied by a respect for the law and the judicial system, including the ability to collect taxes, but also to use the proceeds effectively.

For stability to continue, assistance from the US is needed to maintain civilian rule. The US military strike in August that killed the head of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud, and the impending annual flow of $1.5 billion of economic aid, largely for the civilian sector, for the next five years, promises to give some stability.

The US must help maintain civilian rule while encouraging the government to ensure equitable distribution of the benefits of its aid. Meanwhile, the IMF has stepped in with much needed aid and advice.

In the end, the security of the state of Pakistan rests as much in its economic and political stability and growth as in the hands of its military. With the military back in barracks for the time being, the challenge is for politicians to show their mettle. Otherwise, Pakistan risks another military intervention and direct or indirect military rule.

Pakistan is not out of the woods. Inept political decision-making could well stymie the expected economic stabilization and growth. The challenge facing the government – and the military – today is whether they are up to the task of restoring security and confidence in the country.

Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council of the United States in Washington DC and the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its army, and the wars within

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