Nations in crisis: Pakistan
(Part of a series on "Nations in Crisis")
Pakistan is a nuclear country with a population of 216 million.
In my opinion, it remains one of the scariest places on Earth, as it was
ten years ago when i wrote
The implosion of Pakistan
The most dangerous place in the world.
However, the implosion of Pakistan, routinely predicted by Indian commentators,
has never happened.
Pakistan remains the same country with the same economic and political problems.
It has a prime minister, Imran Khan, who has been democratically elected, but the
real power rests with the army and the secret services ISI.
The main driver of Pakistan's foreign politics remains India, with whom Pakistan
has fought three wars.
Pakistan remains a hub of Islamic terrorism, and India has been the main victim,
and Afghanistan was and is destabilized mainly from Pakistan
(see Afghanistan as a Pakistani war of conquest).
What has changed is the relationship with China.
While it is 70 years old, that relationship has blossomed under
Imran Khan like never before.
China is Pakistan's largest trading partner and largest military supplier;
and now the influence is so strong that Pakistan is beginning to behave like
a client state.
Pakistan fully endorses China's positions on Tibet, Taiwan,
the South China Sea and even Xinjiang (the Muslim region of China inhabited
by Turkic-speaking Uyghurs).
China jointly produced with Pakistan the FC-1/JF-17 "Thunder" jet fighter.
Pakistan's importance for China has increased in a world where China has few
friends and has made many new enemies. As
India moved closer to the USA, to Israel and to the European Union,
and joined the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the USA, Australia and Japan, China is finding itself more alone than ever, and Pakistan is perhaps
the main quasi-ally.
In 2013 China and Pakistan signed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC),
which included an injection of $62 billion by China into Pakistan's economy over the next four years.
This investment targeted transportation and energy projects,
in particular a network of roads, pipelines and railways that will connect Kashgar in China's Xinjiang Uyghur region to the port city of Gwadar in Pakistan's Balochistan.
Fast forward to 2021, and Pakistan seems to rely on China for everything from military equipment to covid vaccines and to nuclear power.
Pakistan is, like Turkey, a Muslim country that is ironically very respectful of China, despite the human-rights abuses committed by China against its own Muslims.
While the West is punishing China over the treatment of its Islamic subjects, the prime minister of the Islamic republic of Pakistan routinely praises China.
This is the same prime minister who has accused France of Islamophobia and Facebook of anti-Muslim discrimination.
Pakistan has essentially swapped masters and creditors: instead of owing money
to Western institutions, it now owes money to China.
Pakistan will undoubtedly pay a price for China's money.
The pattern is the same seen in other countries: China develops infrastruture using its own labor (Chinese workers, not Pakistani ones) and that infrastructure mainly helps move Chinese goods (not Pakistani ones).
In other words, more
Chinese goods are sold in Pakistan, but not the other way round.
Less visible than China, Saudi Arabia has always been a major "donor" to
Pakistan, and not so much to the government (although it has repeatedly bailed out Pakistan) but to its religious schools, the madrasas (where Islamists like the Taliban were raised).
Pakistan's importance to the USA has diminished over the years: the USA is
less interested in Afghanistan than it was 20 years ago after Al Qaeda's 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and India has become
a much more valuable partner during the new "cold war" against China than Pakistan was during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
The USA also lost faith in Pakistan after finding out (in 2011) that Osama bin Laden had been hiding there for years.
The good news for Pakistanis is the decline in terrorist attacks.
US drone strikes killed successive leaders of the Pakistani Taliban
(Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP)
Baitullah Mehsud (2009), Hakimullah Mehsud (2013) and Mullah Fazlullah (2018).
Following the June 2014 attack on the Karachi airport and December 2014 attack on the Peshawar Army Public School which killed more than 130 schoolchildren,
the Pakistani military launched the "Zarb-e-Azb" operation against the
Since then terrorist attacks have declined steadily: from a peak of
nearly 4,000 incidents in 2013 causing more than 2,700 civilian deaths,
Pakistan saw only 319 incidents with 169 civilian deaths in 2020.
Pressure from Western countries also convinced Pakistan to arrest some of
India's most wanted terrorists: Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi of Lashkar-e-Taiba are both in jail, although Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammed is still at large.
Recent attacks have been due to different groups: the Baluch Liberation Army staged the June 2020 attack on the Karachi Stock Exchange, and in January 2021 the Islamic State in Khorasan, based in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan, killed 11 Shiite Hazari coal miners (nine of whom were Afghan immigrants) in Balochistan and may also be behind the bus attack that killed 9 Chinese workers in Balochistan in July 2021.
Balochistan, a vast region with valuable natural resources, has always had a separatist movement (since it was invaded and annexed by Pakistan in 1948)
and ISIS has become a serious rival to the Taliban even within Afghanistan itself.
Unfortunately, the triumph of the Taliban in Afghanistan has galvanized the Pakistani terrorists and
from August 2021 (when the Taliban entered Kabul) to August 2022, the number of people killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan increased to about 500.
The bad news for Pakistan (and all of us) is that sinister figures remain highly
One of them is Osama bin Laden. In May 2012 a medieval-style tribal court sentenced Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped locate Osama bin Laden, to 33 years of prison. Ironically, the charge was that he had ties to terrorists. Instead of explaining how Osama could live freely in Pakistan (near a Pakistani military base), i.e. what ties the government had with Al Qaeda terrorists, the Pakistani government locked doctor Afridi in solitary confinement in the Sahiwal prison claiming that he had ties to terrorists (the terrorists being the CIA, i guess).
Bin Laden has remained a hero for many Pakistanis. In April 2014 the Jamia Hafsa madrassa, an Islamic seminary for women in Pakistan's capital Islamabad, named its library after Osama Bin Laden. In June 2020 Pakistan's prime minister Imran Khan called Osama Bin Laden a "martyr".
At the same time, the nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who developed Pakistan's nuclear bombs but then sold the design of nuclear bombs to Iran in 1987 and and to North Korea and Libya starting in 1992 (thus creating the first black market for nuclear bombs), remains a revered national hero.
(Incidentally, nobody in Pakistan believes that A.Q. Khan acted alone without
the Pakistani government being at least aware of what he was doing, and A.Q. Khan
himself has repeatedly implicated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and former president Pervez Musharraf).
(Incidentally, one of the biggest untold scandals of the USA is that in February 2008 the George W Bush administration, with the full approval of the CIA's director Michael Hayden and of secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, ordered the destruction of thousands of documents about A.Q. Khan's dealings that had been discovered in Switzerland).
Prime minister Khan faces a challenge from the Pakistan Democratic Movement, an alliance of 11 opposition parties that
blame him for mismanaging the economy and
demand his ouster.
One of the parties of the Pakistan Democratic Movement is the Pakistan Muslim League, whose leader Nawaz Sharif (a former three-time premier) is in exile in Britain.
Sharif claims that army chief QamarJaved Bajwa and ISI's chief Faiz Hameed plotted to rig the 2018 elections in favor of Khan's party, the right-wing
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (founded in 1996 by Khan himself, a former cricket player).
The losers were Nawaz's younger brother Shehbaz Sharif (later arrested on charges of money laundering and jailed for seven months) and
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of the leftist Pakistan Peoples Party, the real leader
of the opposition
(the son of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and of former president Asif Ali Zardari, and therefore the grandson of the party's founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto).
There were huge rallies against Khan at the end of 2020, but the covid pandemic and various scandals have created plenty of distractions.
Few Pakistanis have faith in Pakistan's bickering politicians.
And the politicians are powerless anyway in a country that is still basically
a military dictatorship.
While the prime minister can opine in internal affairs, Pakistan's foreign policy is entirely in the hands of
Pakistan's top commander, general Qamar Javed Bajwa, and Pakistan's spy chief Faiz Hameed.
The latter's ISI is still obsessed with India, and Pakistan will never become a normal country until it gets rid of that obsession.
ISI has also been the main supporters of the Taliban in Afghanistan (the Taliban truly had no other friend in the world after 2001).
It is not a mystery that ISI has always supported the Taliban in Afghanistan and would celebrate if the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan.
In other words, Hameed represents everything that has made Pakistan a failed country with no friends in the world.
Bajwa, on the other hand, has occasionally shown a willingness to make Pakistan
a "normal country" with "normal relations" with its neighbors, and Bajwa is the real leader of the country.
In 2019 Pakistan created the National Development Council and Bajwa is a member (it's unusual for the top army commander to be a member of a government body).
In 2020 Bajwa was reappointed head of the armed forces by the Pakistani senate
with votes from all major parties.
The real hope for Pakistan is that Bajwa is serious about accelerating economic growth,
suppressing Islamist terrorism, supporting a peace deal in Afghanistan,
normalising relations with India,
and finding a balance between economic ties with China and political ties with the US.
Clown of the month:
"In Pakistan I have seen, women having been treated with far more respect and given more dignity than in the West" said Pakistan's prime minister Imran Khan while violence against women is skyrocketing in Pakistan. (See for example this AP report.
In 2022 Khan was ousted by a no confidence vote in parliament and replaced by an interim prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif (Nawaz's younger brother).
No democratically elected prime ministers of Pakistan has ever completed the full five-year term.
Khan accused the USA of masterminding a coup against him, but his demise may
have more to do with Saudi Arabia: Khan quarrelled with Saudi Arabia
over Kashmir (he accused Saudi Arabia of being too friendly with Pakistan's arch-enemy India).
It may be a coincidence but
Pakistan got an $8 billion bailout from Saudi Arabia the moment Sharif was inaugurated as new prime minister.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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