Michael KreponVisiting Pakistan

Twenty years of visiting Pakistan still doesn’t amount to much. My footprint is limited, especially lately, and I can only converse in English. Nonetheless, if you don’t learn something from repeated visits, you’re not paying attention.

There’s no shortage of bad news about Pakistan. Lots of trend lines are worrisome. That said, allow me to fuzz up your mental image of Pakistan with these thoughts, while they are still fresh from a trip in mid-September.

Pakistan has lots of bright, able, independent-minded, young talent.

Pakistan has a middle class. This cohort can grow and prosper if a nation of traders is free to trade freely and directly to the subcontinent, as well as to Central Asia.

Pakistan has vigorous political parties. It has an election coming up whose outcome cannot be confidently predicted. Religious parties are minority parties. How many Islamic states fit this description?

Pakistan’s armed forces are beset by many problems. These problems will only be compounded by seizing power. Pakistan’s politicians have running room to succeed – or to make the same old mistakes.

Everyone in the country understands that the economy has to improve. Without economic growth, national security is a mirage.

The Line of Control dividing Kashmir has been mostly quiet for almost a decade now.

On August 14th, Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, gave a speech at the Pakistan Military Academy on the occasion of Pakistan’s 65th Independence Day. What he said has gotten little play outside of Pakistan.

Here’s a sampler:

It becomes blatant extremism when one not only insists upon finality of personal opinion, but tries imposing it on others. More so, if one tries to enforce his opinion through use of gun, it becomes terrorism. That is why Islam does not allow anyone to claim to be a know all, and flirt with divinity.

If this is the correct definition of extremism and terrorism, then the war against it is our own war, and a just war, too. Any misgivings in this regards can divide us internally, leading to a civil war situation. It is therefore, vital that our minds must be clear of cobwebs on this crucial issue.

The war against extremism and terrorism is not only the Army’s war, but that of the whole nation. We as a nation must stand united against this threat. Army’s success is dependent on the will and support of the people… It is also crucial that appropriate laws are passed to deal with terrorism. Since 2001, many countries in the world have formulated special anti-terrorism laws. Unfortunately, our progress towards such legislation remained very slow…

We are fully aware that it is the most difficult task for any Army to fight its own people. This is always done as a last resort. Our ultimate aim is to bring peace to these areas so that the people can live a normal life. But for that to happen, it is critical that people abide by the constitution and law of the land. No state can afford a parallel system of governance and militias.

Please compare these remarks with those Gen. Kayani gave at the same venue shortly before the Osama bin Laden raid. It is standard practice to blame Pakistan’s ills on unwise choices by its military leaders. I’ve been there and done that, and will probably do so again. And yet, no other Pakistani politician has come close to framing the issues that Pakistan faces in this way.

Is this hokum, or is there a shift underway? Is the trade initiative a tactical maneuver or a possible strategic opening? We’ll see. There are too many complicating factors to enumerate, but here’s one: India, like Pakistan, has a national election coming up.


  1. Michael (History)

    I’m hopeful for democracy in Pakistan. But popular opinion in that nation seems like it could go either way. There is still widespread negative attitudes toward the West. Economic incentives are not enough to counter ideology (in any nation).

  2. Bradley Laing (History)

    —-I am no fan of free trade. But if I had to throw out the best arguments I have, here is what I want to ask:

    —Can a boom economy exist, without a “new rich?” And how often does a “new rich” start creating resentments and internal tensions?

    —How often does a boom lead to “reform?” How often does a boom lead to “corruption?”

    —If an economy grows, does this automatically mean computerization/automation, and loss of existing jobs?

    —Does Pakistan have the infrastructure for a boom economy?

  3. Peacemaker (History)

    Krepon has hit the nail on its head.
    A minority of population with extremist views shapes Pakistan’s image probably because a “silent” majority prefers to sit on the fence. If they cannot hold the bull [extremist-minority] by the horn, it may be worthwhile to hold it with the tail.
    Pakistanis are hospitable and peaceloving people who have been poorly governed and have no interest in militancy.
    The majority middle-class is misrepresented and ruled by feudal elite.
    Sustained democracy – even if its autocratic in nature and corrupt – may initiate a sustainable process in which the people may start selecting leadership that is genuinely interested in education, building human resource, broadening the power base, improving economy by: trading and opening the Silk Road, implementable tax collection regime, levying agricultural tax, and easing the energy woes.

  4. Magpie (History)

    “Religious parties are minority parties. How many Islamic states fit this description?”

    Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Morocco… that’s off the top of my head.

    By amazing coincidence, these are nations that weren’t fought over, overthrown, bombed and/or invaded by the great powers right through the 20th century. By also amazing coincidence, these countries don’t have much oil.

    I would suggest that the common factor in violent middle-eastern hell holes is the oppressive regimes generally forced on them by outside powers, rather than the religion practiced. I would also suggest that if you oppress the bajeezus out of a Christian population they are exactly as likely to resort to violence.

    • Ali (History)

      Indonesia has 4.2bn barrels of reserves and produces 1.2% of the worlds oil. Indonesia and Malaysia combined produce about the same amount as Libya.

    • Magpie (History)

      Like I said: not much.

      On a re-read my post sounded snippy. Was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. Sorry if I came across all frown-face.

    • gus (History)

      Actually, most of those fit that description DESPITE histories of Western occupation. Morocco was split by France & Spain until WW2; Indonesia was Dutch-colonized until after that (not to mention beat up by Japan); Malaysia and Bangladesh were both British colonies. Indonesia’s now functional, but spent decades as a corrupt dictatorship under Suharto, who basically did whatever the US wanted.

    • Magpie (History)

      Yep, spot on. My poorly worded “right through the 20th century” was meant to say that: anyone who got out of that ‘orrible crap-fest are doing ok. Anyone who were still being, ahem, ‘civilised’ by one big power or another right the way through the century are hell-holes.

      Massive overgeneralisation, of course. As I said, a bit tongue-in-cheek.

  5. Anjaan (History)

    While relations with the US and India would as usual be major factors in Pakistan’s election, the US and Pakistan would not figure in India’s election even remotely.

  6. Bill (History)

    Perhaps when I see them stop doing stuff like cutting off the fuel payments to their electrical generators and then trying to sue them because the electricity stopped.

    Just sayin’.

  7. Smith (History)

    Been only to posh areas of Islamabad, I guess. Ever tried to go abit further maybe into Peshawar and beyond? Hmmm.