The state of Pakistan has had one of the most turbulent transitions in the post-independence period, where several wars with India, climate upheavals, economic stagnation, terrorism, and coups and coup attempts have kept the country from realizing its full potential.
Over the past several years, a seemingly rapid collapse of the state has unfolded, as what little remains of Islamabad’s foreign reserves are wracked by severe weather (alternating floods and drought), economic depression, internal disputes, and growing debt repayments. Pakistan’s hardship has been further compounded by blowback from its own policies.
Internal government disputes
2022 was a year of internal rife for Pakistan, particularly surrounding Imran Khan. The former prime minister, a populist who has at time displayed sympathies toward the Taliban, was forced to step down after a vote of no confidence. He has since been clamoring to return to power, and even survived an assassination attempt last year – an event that lurched the country ever closer to political crisis.
Imran Khan, similar to Viktor Orban and Vladimir Putin, alienated Pakistan with his reckless behavior, but retained popularity amongst his supporters. Even though the U.S lifted tariffs and supported Pakistan with billions in military aid to combat militants, Khan would openly gloat about supporting them, particularly during the catastrophic collapse of the Afghan Army in 2021.
Pakistan has suffered endless political instability, as no democratically elected prime minister has ever finished their first term, whether due to corruption, assassination, or coup. Given the current government crisis that has crippled the country’s economy, there will be continued gridlock in Islamabad, allowing the warlords and military figures to form a shadow government behind-the-scenes.
The military still holds the cards
Pakistan views India as its chief external threat, a country with which it has fought several wars. The current strategy is to “bleed India with a thousand cuts,” which effectively translates into handing power over to the military and intelligence bureaus at the expense of civilian governance.
The ISI has funded and supported terrorist organizations, which have in turn attacked India – for example in the infamous Mumbai attacks – and has also advanced their sectarian interests in Afghanistan via such groups. Such is also the opinion of Imran Khan, who once openly declared that “the Pakistani army trained al-Qaeda and all these groups to fight in Afghanistan.”
The security services have also asserted their authority internally. Using money laundering and extortion, the Pakistani military is believed to have misappropriated government funds and privately owns several dozen companies, many of which are prominent in maintaining state functions. Consequently, any politician or prime minister who deigns to take a hard look into corruption tend to end up assassinated or exiled.
The Pakistani military continues to enjoy unvetted oversight of the day-to-day lives of citizens and politicians. As long as the current doctrine of Islamabad is to use its armed forces to conduct foreign operations, that same military will gain further control over the state, making it a junta in all but name.
Economic progress in Pakistan has been hampered for a variety of reasons. For one, military-owned companies produce for the benefit of officers and not citizens. Corruption continues to plague the nation, and Pakistan has performed far worse in exports compared to other nations on the Indian Subcontinent like India and Bangladesh.
One major source of economic woes stems from Pakistan’s lack of foreign investments and because of this, Islamabad has been forced to embark on a borrowing spree, putting the nation in ever more serious debt. The policy of the state has been to borrow funds to continue paying off old obligations, which is generally a recipe for disaster. Pakistan’s financing woes have ultimately been a boon for China’s foreign policy, as the nation has effectively become a satellite and proxy of Beijing, which itself is engaged in border disputes with India.
When the Indian Subcontinent was partitioned, China, like Pakistan kept a close eye on India’s borders. In 1962, the Chinese military invaded and took several key swathes of Indian land, eventually signing a strategic agreement to counter India via Pakistan. With Islamabad developing the Gwadar Port, which Beijing views as a highly strategic energy corridor that can circumvent the chokepoint of the Strait of Malacca, China will continue to provide credit to Pakistan, leading to a possible ‘debt trap’ in the future.
Terrorist blowback in Pakistan
Pakistan remains a hotbed of extremism, with various militant, separatist, and extremist organizations forming their own de-facto mini states in lawless pockets of Pakistani territory. At first, Islamabad cheered their use of the Taliban against NATO in Afghanistan as a victory, but now, domestic blowback has begun to manifest in a big way.
Originally Pakistan labeled factions of the Taliban as either “good” or “bad.” The “good” Taliban were militant groups that fought the West and overran the Afghan National Army in late 2021, an operation in which resistance fighters stated Pakistan provided close air support. These are militant groups that do the ISI’s bidding and don’t target the state, making them a useful ally to Islamabad.
The “bad” Taliban is the Pakistani branch, which has killed thousands of soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians inside the nation to install their own hardline version of Islamic law. Originally restricted to fighting the “bad” Taliban, Islamabad is now increasingly plagued with attacks from former proxies that previously aligned with the military’s interests.
Pakistan’s continued collapse must be monitored closely, as not only could it lead to another mass migration, but the ruins of the state has increasingly transformed into a battlefield of disparate rogue warlords and terrorist organizations. Some of these warlords may even eye the country’s nuclear stockpile or create militant statelets that threaten to further destabilize the region. Much like Sudan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, mistakes were made that resulted in the military holding too much power, and now the people of Pakistan are paying a terrible price.
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