No country in the world garners as much negative press as Pakistan, which on any given day is labelled as anything from an extremist ridden terrorist hotbed to a country in free fall that threatens to take its neighbourhood with it. None of these descriptions are accurate as anyone remotely familiar with the country knows, yet all these descriptions are parroted out daily simply because sensationalism sells and it’s open season on the Islamic world.
This article aims to shatter numerous misconceptions about Pakistan, whilst acknowledging its present turbulence. Yes Pakistan is going through a rough patch and has done so since 2007 when the then ruler President Pervez Musharraf took on Islamist radicals head on in the center of Islamabad. Crushed and humiliated as they were, with one of the ring leaders attempting to flee in ladies dress, the fanatics have waged a campaign of terrorism against the federal government, western interests and Muslims who reject their autodidactic misrepresentation of Islam, which is the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis. Indeed the people have always rejected radicalism and have routinely ignored the religious parties in the polls. This land of poetry and Sufism, the traditional Islamic spiritual path, is not today or tomorrow going to willingly opt for radicalism.
Thus to enter power and fulfil the nightmares of western policy makers, the ragtag band of militants who blow up shrines and girls schools would have to defeat the Pakistan Army. History shows us that they are unable to hold territory against an army offensive and thus pose no strategic threat. They are a tactical nuisances, terrorists who rely on fear and intimidation. Their heartlands are the tribal districts which have been semi autonomous since the days of the British Raj. No where within the main provinces do they enjoy widespread popularity or parade freely. Yes, Pakistan needs to incorporate the tribal badlands into the mainstream, but that is a different debate.
Those who question Pakistan’s sincerity in this war with the radicals highlight only their own ignorance. The Pakistani military has deployed some 140,000 troops (including paramilitary forces) against them, and suffered some 3000 deaths. This commitment dwarfs any other nations in a war against radicalism. Can someone tell me the last time 140,000 men were deployed for a ruse or political game? Such suggestions are nonsense and belittle the 3000 plus soldiers and 8000 civilians killed by these barbarians. So let me reassure the world, no Islamist militants are taking control of Pakistan soon, or ever. They are cowards who hide in caves and blow up markets and scurry like rats when faced with an army offensive.
Other lies perpetuated by much of the media deal with the economic situation. No one denies that right now Pakistan’s economy is going through a rough patch. A global recession, a surge in commodity prices and the extraction of capital in the face of internal security risks have hurt Pakistan’s economy badly. However, it has avoided recession and people forget the trend of growth. From 2000 to 2007, Pakistan enjoyed an economic boom, almost doubling its gross domestic product. Even today, the trend remains positive. The IMF 2010 database estimates growth rates of 2.75, 4.0, 5.0, 5.5 and 6.0 over the next 5 years to 2015. Not too shabby eh?
Further to that, the IMF’s studies and Goldman Sachs report entitled The Next 11 give reason for optimism. Indeed as this writer showed in his masters thesis, even with an average growth rate of 4.5 from now onwards, Pakistan can expect to become a trillion dollar economy in purchasing power terms in the mid 2020′s. In nominal terms, the IMF suggests Pakistan will be the world’s 21st largest economy in 2025 with a GDP of about $360 billion. That data, produced in 2006, appears to be an underestimate given the IMF’s own 2010 five year database. So by 2025, Pakistan will be on the doors on the G20 in nominal terms and hold a mid-teen rank in purchasing power terms. Some economic basket case eh?
Now Pakistan faces issues of poverty like all developing states, but its incidences of extreme poor are lower then India’s which receives constant praise. Indeed India’s proportion of people living below $1 and $2 a day dwarfs Pakistan’s, although both are criminally high. 37 percent of Indians live under $1 day and a staggering 75.6 percent live on under $2 a day. Yet this is the great economic miracle of our time? Pakistan’s stats are depressing at 22 percent and 60 percent respectively, but I hope the data shows its relative performance in relation to its much lauded neighbour.
Pakistan’s 30 million strong middle class are an engine of growth and its half a million annual graduates an ocean of talent. These are the factors that will bind civil society and propel progress in this country. Strategists would do well to align themselves with these groups and not just the military.
As for the military, it is guilty of gorging itself as its countrymen struggle but to ensure the defence of the realm is any state’s first priority. Recent reports stating that Pakistan has 100 to 110 nuclear warheads and the capacity for 40 to 100 more are for some disturbing. They need not be. Pakistan’s army is stable, professional and quite capable of securing those assets. India’s conventional edge means such a arsenal is consistent with credible minimum deterrence and it is ill becoming of any state which itself has hundreds of nuclear warheads of lament another in the same boat. Besides, Pakistan’s nuclear umbrella surely serves as a cover for several brotherly Arab states so an expanded arsenal is necessary.
This piece was an attempt to bring a semblance of balance to the Pakistan debate. As is evident, all the gloomy talk is devoid of much fact. Trends within Pakistan point to political maturity, economic progress and moderation. 2025 is not far away, and project Pakistan 2030 in which the state aimed to turn itself into a trillion dollar middle power economy is well on track. Turbulence is a reality we all have to encounter at times, and I am sure Pakistan will overcome these dark days to a bright and prosperous future. Anyone who has stepped on the soil of the nation cannot but be heartened by the optimistic nature of its people, and just as the mighty Indus sustains the land around them, so too will the rivers of hope in the minds of all within Pakistan sustain it