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«Already a failed state? Pakistan in the aftermath of Bhutto’s assassination Marco Mezzera Conflict Research Unit, Clingendael Institute With all ...»

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Already a failed state?

Pakistan in the aftermath of

Bhutto’s assassination

Marco Mezzera

Conflict Research Unit,

Clingendael Institute

With all the due precautions necessary when referring to quantifications of societal processes,

it is nevertheless interesting to look at the way Pakistan has been performing on the Failed

States Index (FSI) that The Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy have been compiling since 2005.

Whilst the total score registered in 2005 placed Pakistan on a comfortable 34th position on the overall ranking (just outside the red zone of the 90+ scores), the situation for 2006 drastically changed. In that year, the country made an incredible leap “forward” to land on position 9 of the index. According to the authors of the FSI, “the October 2005 earthquake…[was] the single largest factor in Pakistan’s significant jump”,1 as it brought about enormous demographic pressures and internal displacement. However, the same authors concede that another social indicator (ie: Group Grievance) also played an important role in the growing instability of the country. More precisely, they mention “a spike in clashes between government security forces and militants in Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province (and) a widening rift between the government of General Pervez Musharraf and the powerful Pakistani security apparatus and religious leaders”.

2007 brought a slight improvement in the overall assessment of the situation in Pakistan, which was reflected by a three-point decrease in the total score and a lower position on the ranking (ie: 12th instead of 9th). The improvement, however, was decisively minimal, almost irrelevant, and the country therefore was still dangerously close to the top of a list whose main purpose is to identify those states that are more vulnerable “to violent internal conflict and societal deterioration”; or rather, to state failure. The result was somewhat unexpected, as the steady recovery from the earthquake, which was due in part to the intervention of the international community, had been expected to bring those indicators that had surged most in the immediate aftermath of the disaster back to the levels of 2005.

Whilst such a decrease was smaller than expected, other socio-economic and political indicators, strongly related to issues of legitimacy of the state, internal political competition and the positioning of the security apparatus in the broad governance landscape, showed clear and worrying signs of degeneration and instability. In particular, the aforementioned rift between the powerful military and its supreme leader on the one hand, and the religious authorities and institutions on the other hand, continued to expand, mainly due to General Musharraf’s controversial support to the US-led War on Terror and its repressive ramifications in Pakistan. In addition, the government’s crackdown on suspected Islamic extremist groups and schools seemed also to create tensions with one of the main traditional sponsors of such groups, the InterFor more details, see the “Country Profiles” section at http://www.fundforpeace.org.

Comment, February 2008

Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). The same hard approach to domestic security issues appeared to further alienate the government’s legitimacy and acceptance in those areas bordering with Afghanistan, which had traditionally enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy from the state and which now found themselves the target of increased militarisation, without the positive benefits of increased attention from the central state.2 Overall, the increasingly authoritarian and militaristic tendencies of the Chief of the Army Staff and head of state clearly spurred a contrary process of democratisation that would further develop in 2007 and be characterised by a series of traumatic events.

Deepening crisis of legitimacy The main trends of instability registered during 2006 seemed to continue unabated in 2007 and although they have not yet been incorporated in an updated score of the FSI, it would not sound far-fetched to assume a new worsening of Pakistan’s ranking. For example, in January tensions began to mount between the government and the Red Mosque in Islamabad, a religious center that lies at the heart of the capital city, just next to the main government and military buildings, and which was accused of promoting a radical brand of Islam. After months of heated exchanges and a hardening of the reciprocal positions, eventually in early July 2007 the confrontation degenerated first in an armed siege and then in an intervention that saw Pakistani security forces take full control of the religious site at the cost of more than 100 casualties. The military stand-off between the government and the mosque’s clerics and students was another symptom of the increasingly unpopular policies of General Musharraf, especially with regard to his support to the US-led War on Terror.

During the period that the Red Mosque drama was unfolding, another major event disrupted the artificial order that the head of state was trying to impose on the country. Normally not renowned for its independence from external manipulation, the judiciary suddenly found in the figure of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry a counterbalancing force to the untilthen undisputed power of the President and the allied military apparatus. The struggle for a containment of General Musharraf’s exceptional powers was however short-lived as the Chief Justice was finally suspended by the former in March. But the wave of protests that the sacking generated, especially considering the fact that it mainly originated within a sector, that of the lawyers, that could hardly be accused of extremist positions, further eroded the legitimacy of the government. International pressure for genuine implementation of democratic principles also started to mount, though it soon clashed with the contrasting interests of supporting the political legitimacy of General Musharraf as a champion of the fight against Islamists in that country and in neighboring Afghanistan.

The following period witnessed a continuation of the power struggle between the judiciary, represented by the Supreme Court, and the executive, which eventually culminated in General Musharraf’s declaration of the emergency rule in November. While the pretext used to justify such an extreme measure was the need to curb growing threats to the stability of the country, coming from domestic and international Islamic terrorists, it was obvious that all the doubts raised over the constitutionality of General Musharraf’s double role as head of state and army chief, and about the legality of his election in October for another five year term, were effectively cleared out of the way. At the same time, perhaps because he was sensing the growing political vacuum around him, or more probably in order to control from close range a political opposition that was growing stronger by the day, he also tried to jockey his two main political rivals, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. Interestingly enough, while the first was expelled from the country within hours of his arrival in Pakistan, notwithstanding an August ruling of the Supreme Such as the delivery of basic services and development.

–  –  –

Court that allowed him to return from exile, the second did manage to remain on Pakistani soil.

Rumors that she had struck a power-sharing arrangement with General Musharraf behind closed doors, in order to be able to compete in the upcoming general elections were soon silenced by the first attempt on her life, which took place in October in Karachi, killing more than 140 supporters of her party.

From that moment on, and until her assassination on 27 December 2007, Benazir Bhutto was quite outspoken about her conviction that domestic state actors, and not the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, had to be considered as the main suspects in any attempt to take her life. And even now, while all the evidences seem to incriminate the top Taliban commander in South Waziristan, Baitullah Mehsud, several questions remain unanswered with regard to the dynamics of the attack and the immediate events that followed it. In spite of all the reasonable doubts emerging from the events, it appears firmly clear that all the attention is currently being diverted towards the need to contrast the biggest threat to the country: the steady revival and growing embeddedness of the Taliban in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. And the peculiar shift in focus from “the traditional external threat from eastern neighbor India to waging a counterinsurgency campaign against the internal threat from militants” in the tribal areas of western Pakistan, is definitely welcomed by the US too, as recently indicated by the recommendations of the head of the US military’s Central Command. In that regard, all the violent events of the recent months, namely “the rise of militants in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the siege of the Red Mosque in Islamabad” are conveniently deemed to converge towards the western border.3 Is Musharraf losing grip?

The evident trend towards authoritarianism that President Pervez Musharraf has embraced since 2006 and that has culminated in the 4 November 2007 declaration of emergency rule, is often regarded as a mere show of force, but it could also be looked at as a last effort to counter and conceal growing weaknesses in the power system. In that respect, the assassination of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairperson, Benazir Bhutto, might have opened a new chapter in the growing sense of instability that grips the country. It might become the ultimate event to tip the balance against her main political opponent, President Musharraf. Growing numbers of Pakistanis are finally linking to him all the multiple crises that have been affecting their country in the recent past.

In addition to those problems of legitimacy and stability, already discussed in the previous part of the article, new issues are inexorably emerging, which are starting to pose huge challenges to Musharraf’s capacity to manage state affairs. For instance, energy and food shortages have been hitting the country in the last couple of months. While the government has been fast in blaming hoarding and smuggling interests for this problem, its strategy for correcting the situation has not been received with open arms. Honoring his own military origins, General Musharraf has decided to deploy paramilitary forces to monitor the wheat supply chain at warehouses and flour mills. But as one local political commentator pointed out, “for Musharraf, the military appears to be the panacea for all ills when clearly its extensive engagement in the civilian sphere has created insurmountable issues of security and political instability which are causing a challenge to the integrity of the state”.4 In addition, the faltering provision of basic services and goods, such as food and energy, have been further aggravating the crisis of state legitimacy in those territories where the Pakistani military have been conducting anti-militant operations. And it should therefore come as no Gray, Andrew. “Pakistan to do more against militants-US commander”, Reuters, 16 January 2008.

Rizvi, Muddassir. “Pakistan: Beset By Multiple Crises”, Inter Press Service News Agency, 15 January 2008.

–  –  –

surprise that people in the northern Swat Valley, for example, have already announced that they will boycott the 18 February general elections if the government does not provide them with sufficient energy for their homes. This specific case is also interesting because it emphasises the close relations existing between political legitimacy and state effectiveness in the form of service delivery.

Finally, the energy shortages have also started to leave their mark on the general running of the Pakistani economy. The current unreliability of the energy supply to the industrial sector (mainly cotton and textile factories) has already forced the closure of many of these industries.

In the Punjab province alone as many as 300 textile plants have closed in recent months. Such an impact on private business operations has obviously had its negative repercussions on state revenues too. When compared over a one year period, tax collection has dramatically dropped, by about 83% between December 2006 and the same month of 2007. A steady GDP growth of between six and eight percent over the last couple of years has probably been one of the most important factors in correcting negative trends in state fragility in Pakistan. Now that the national economy also seems to be heading towards an unstable period, even this last bastion of stability might disappear, with all the related consequences for the country.

Musharraf’s political survival seems therefore to hang on a very thin thread, as he is increasingly being associated with all the aforementioned problems affecting the country, and his removal from power is therefore perceived as the most immediate solution to the same problems. Given to his seeming incapacity or unwillingness to cope democratically with the degenerating domestic situation, or to design a substantial set of political and economic reforms, the question at this point centres on the chances for success of a militaristic approach. Musharraf seems inclined to choose the hard way to deal with the various issues threatening his position and legitimacy, but will that be workable in the long run? And won’t there eventually be other actors within the security apparatus who will decide to remove him because he would have become more a liability, than an asset, to the current system?

A cohesive security apparatus?

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