I first started taking interest in politics some 39 year ago, when I was in the second year of college, since then I have heard one question hundreds of time: What is going to happen? In no country people must have asked this question about the country’s future and so often.
Yes, sometimes people’s faces fade out and you can see a big question mark on all shoulders. This almost perpetual uncertainty, my psychiatrist friends tell me is taking a toll on people’s nerves. More and more people are taking tranquilizers and anti-depressants these days. This reminds me of an interesting anecdote. It is said that during Zia-ul-Haq’s rule famous poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz was traveling on a plane and he met some friends. Discussing the national politics one doomsday Pundit said: “I think the country is heading towards a civil war.” The other apprehended: “It could be worse as the country is heading towards a break-up.” Faiz Sahib was a man of few words, but coaxed by his friends said: “I think it would be even worse if the country will continue to remain in the state of flux.”
It seems that Faiz Sahib was right. We have moved forward and I would say even progressed but the political uncertainty sword still hangs over us. Recently, when all the countrymen were upset about Mr. Bugti’s killing, a Ralph Peters’ article in US Armed Forces Journal suggested to change the map of Middle East including Pakistan for durable peace. The portion which is relevant to Pakistan suggested that the country’s borders were unnatural and they should be redrawn. The NWFP should go to Afghanistan because of its linguistic and ethnic affinity and there should be a separate country Greater Balochistan, incorporating Pakistani and Iranian Baloch areas. The timing of the report was rightly disturbing for the government, although a US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack clarified that it was the work of an individual and does not reflect the views of the US government.
Ralph Peters is basically a fiction writer and not known as an influential analyst or intellectual in US. He held a junior post in the US Military intelligence during the first Gulf war and does not represent any important think tank. US has some 1600 think tanks and not all of them carry weight with Washington. There are three types of think tanks. One, which are attached to universities; two, which are funded by the foundations and private sector; and three, which are usually commissioned by the government to research and write strategy papers. Ralph belongs to none, so there was no need for the government to panic or for our doomsday Pundits to give it out of proportion importance.
His article “Blood Brothers” which talks about redrawing the Middle East map is also not based on any sound theory. At one hand he has drawn a sectarian line to create a new Shia Arab state by merging parts of Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, which have predominantly Shia population. On the other hand he suggested Persian, Kurd and Baloch states on ethnic basis. He has also suggested giving a portion of Saudi Arabia to Yemen and leaving only holy cities of Mekkah and Medina as a separate entity on the pattern of Vatican City.
Ralph’s solution for Middle East and Pakistan, if ever implemented would would mean opening of a Pandora’s Box. Coming back to Pakistan and the probable scenarios developed by the US think tanks, I think Stephen P. Cohen’s in-depth analysis is worth attention then Ralph’s fiction. Stephen has done a detailed research on the sub-continent. He had also researched and written, so far perhaps, one of the best books on Pakistan army. Zia had asked ISI to arrange his interviews in the army, but when the book was published he promptly banned it.
His latest book ‘The Idea of Pakistan’ was published last year by Brooking Institute, one of the most influential think tanks of US. Stephen has developed six probable scenarios on the basis of his scholarly work. These scenarios are:
(1) Continuation of the existing system – dominated by a small oligarchy. In this medium-term scenario he thinks Pakistan will “manipulate the terrorists threat; establish searches for external alliances, there will be little movement in relation with India; missile and nuclear weapon production would continue despite weak economy.” This I believe is the most probable scenario.
(2) Liberal secular democracy – which would be unstable and likely to revert to military rule. Stephen thinks in this dispensation there would be “clampdown on sectarian terrorism; fresh efforts at accord with India; somewhat more accommodating policy on nuclear weapons, but no disarmament.” This is possible if Ms Bhutto’s return to power is accepted as liberal and secular democracy.
(3) Soft authoritarianism led by a charismatic military or civilian leader. This is what we have these days the only difference being the President has lost the charisma.
(4) Islamic state either on the pattern of soft Malaysia or hard line Iran. Malaysian model is cherished by many Pakistani leaders.
(5) Divided Pakistan. This he thinks “could come through several routes” but at present “all are unlikely.” Much to the disappointment of some Baloch nationalists, I think balkanization of Pakistan is at present neither in the interest of US, China and India. To be realistic without support from foreign powers any separatist movement in Balochistan would only add to the suffering and frustration of its people.
(6) Post war Pakistan. This war Stephen believes could happen accidentally or by design between India and Pakistan “given the nascent state of relations between the two countries.” He thinks that outbreak of war “is in inverse proportion to the stability of India and Pakistan leadership” and “the willingness of outsiders to manage regional conflict situation.” Both a nuclear and long drawn war, Stephen thinks, would be devastating for Pakistan. This scenario has low probability because both sides now have strong anti-war lobbies and fear of nuclear war may serve as a deterrent.
From a medium-term perspective, it can be safely concluded that Pakistan would not be better or worse off from what it is today. Forecasting any long-term scenario of Pakistan would be hazardous.