The Future of Pakistan.

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With each passing day, Pakistan becomes an even more crucial player in world affairs. Home of the world’s second-largest Muslim population, epicenter of the global jihad, location of perhaps the planet’s most dangerous borderlands, and armed with nuclear weapons, this South Asian nation will go a long way toward determining what the world looks like ten years from now. The Future of Pakistan presents and evaluates several scenarios for how the country will develop, evolve, and act in the near future, as well as the geopolitical implications of each.

Led by renowned South Asia expert Stephen P. Cohen, a team of authoritative contributors looks at several pieces of the Pakistan puzzle. The book begins with Cohen’s broad yet detailed overview of Pakistan, placing it within the context of current-day geopolitics and international economics. Cohen’s piece is then followed by a number of shorter, more tightly focused essays addressing more specific issues of concern

Cohen’s fellow contributors hail from America, Europe, India, and Pakistan itself, giving the book a uniquely international and comparative perspective. They address critical factors such as the role and impact of radical groups and militants, developments in specific key regions such as Punjab and the rugged frontier with Afghanistan, and the influence of—and interactions with—India, Pakistan’s archrival since birth. The book also breaks down relations with other international powers such as China and the United States. The all-important military and internal security apparatus come under scrutiny, as do rapidly morphing social and gender issues. Political and party developments are examined along with the often amorphous division of power between Islamabad and the nation’s regions and local powers.

Uncertainty about Pakistan’s trajectory persists. The Future of Pakistan helps us understand the current circumstances, the relevant actors and their motivation, the critical issues at hand, the different outcomes they might produce, and what it all means for Pakistanis, Indians, the United States, and the entire world.

Praise for the work of Stephen P. Cohen

The Idea of Pakistan: “The intellectual power and rare insight with which Cohen breaks through the complexity of the subject rivals that of classics that have explained other societies posting a comparable challenge to understanding.”— Middle East Journal

India: Emerging Power: “In light of the events of September 11, 2001, Cohen’s perceptive, insightful, and balanced account of emergent India will be essential reading for U.S. foreign policymakers, scholars, and informed citizens.”— Choice

Stephen P. Cohen is a senior fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. Long considered one of America's foremost experts on South Asia, he is the author of several influential books on the region, including The Idea of Pakistan and India: Emerging Power (both Brookings). He is also coauthor with Sunil of Arming without Aiming: India's Military Modernization (Brookings, 2010).

The populist Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, who promised a “Naya (New) Pakistan” Pakistan, has been removed from office by a vote of no confidence in parliament, the first ever in Pakistan’s fraught political history. He is succeeded by Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League, Nawaz Group. Ironically, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of the Pakistan People’s Party proclaimed “welcome back to ‘Purana’ (Old) Pakistan!” This change maintains a streak that no Pakistani prime minister has ever completed his or her full five-year term. Khan’s government has been replaced by an alliance of parties of different political stripes, glued together by their desire to oust Imran Khan. Most of them are dynasts. Most of them have been ruling the country off and on before Khan broke their oligopoly of power as the disruptive Trumpian outsider. But, in the end what put paid to his tenuous hold on power was not so much the political opposition but the withdrawal of support from the powerful Pakistan army chief General Qamer Javed, whose intelligence agencies had enabled Khan’s victory in the 2018 elections and who now publicly took a “neutral” position.

This emboldened the opposition and led to an open break within the Pakistan of Imran Khan, already fractured by internal dissent. The Khan-military misalliance was doomed to fail as he increasingly asserted himself on the basis of his perceived appeal to Pakistani youth, retired military, and even among younger military officers belonging to a generation that knew Khan as the cricket hero who won the World Cup for Pakistan in 1992. Khan, the aging pop idol, captured the imagination of the country’s dominant demographic, its youth. With a median age of 23 years, most of the population of over 220 million is in the youth category

Khan struggled against these odds to maintain his hold on power, even as his relationship with the military deteriorated. He added to his difficulties by presenting a narrative of victimhood in which he was the target of American moves to remove him from power, citing a report by his ambassador in Washington DC about a threat from a senior State department official. This “letter” that he brandished in public, without disclosing its contents, became his proof of a conspiracy against him as a champion of Islam. Relations with the United States suffered even more. The ensuing uproar alarmed even the army, leading the army chief to declare publicly the importance of Pakistan’s relations with the United States.

The cliche in Pakistan that most civilian governments peddle is “We are on the same page“ with the army. Sometimes the military reciprocates in this charade. The reality is that they may be on the same page but are reading different books. Khan’s fate was sealed when he broke with Bajwa.

They had been drifting apart on a number of issues. Economics and trade was one issue. Bajwa saw regional connectivity, including trade with India, as critical to economic growth and growing the economic pie (with more resources available for its defense). Khan chose to cut ties with India and play to the populist Islamist gallery on the disputed territory of Kashmir. Similarly on the US relationship, the army wanted to maintain and grow that relationship since it prefers advanced Western equipment and training. The proximate cause of the split was the replacement of Khan’s apparent favorite Director General of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, by Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmed Anjum in November 2021. Imran Khan wanted to keep Hameed at ISI for some time to ensure his own re-election and there were rumors rampant that he wanted Hameed to replace Bajwa when Bajwa’s second term ended in November 2022. Khan embarrassed Bajwa by retaining Hameed for a while. He said he wanted to interview the candidates that Bajwa put up. Eventually Hameed left and Bajwa’s original choice was appointed DGISI. But the damage to the relationship had been done. Khan added to the confusion by sharing publicly that he had not yet focused on an extension for Bajwa in November this year, feeding the idea that Bajwa may have sought another extension. Not a smart move to win or retain the favor of his own patron! .

Now, Khan is relying on street demonstrations to show his strength. But without the institutional backing of the powerful army, he faces an uphill task as a new Ancien Regime tries to pull the country of its economic hole. Khan will be taking a huge risk by creating street unrest and inciting the urban youth and middle class against the army. If the economy continues to tumble and political and social unrest grows, the situation may become ripe for a military intervention again. Not something that most thinking Pakistanis nor even sagacious military commanders desire, given their experience of past military rule.

A better scenario would include a serious effort to rebuild the economy, revive the IMF program, reinvigorate foreign direct investment, and then have a vigorous political campaign in which Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif can point to his successes and Imran Khan can make his case for reinstatement. Prime Minister Sharif has a reputation for getting things done in the Punjab. He now has an opportunity to perform on a larger stage. His first speech in parliament gave the right signals of unity not division and bringing along the less powerful provinces. Meanwhile, Pakistanis will be keeping an eye on the army, under a new chief, to provide security for a free and fair elections, without putting its fingers on the scale of public opinion.

Shuja Nawaz, Distinguished Fellow, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council, Washington DC. Author recently of The Battle for Pakistan: The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighborhood (Penguin Random House, and Liberty Books, Pakistan, 2019, and Rowman and Littlefield 2021

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