A summary of a recent roundtable presentation by Dr. TV Paul.
As American combat troops continue to withdraw from Afghanistan until the end of 2014, American drone strikes target Pakistani Taliban militant forces in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and relations with neighbouring rival India remain strained, Pakistan’s status as a state of enormous geostrategic significance will continue well into the foreseeable future. For this reason, in-depth analysis of the country’s military, political, and economical structures and priorities is crucial to implementing effective policy strategies to aid in Pakistan’s security concerns.
Reasoning for the presentation was introduced at the outset. Pakistan’s importance as a pivotal state in South Asia was highlighted, and it was noted that many observers describe what is going on in the country, but that few do concrete analysis or conduct any social science to better understand the country’s political and economic difficulties. The presentation sought to discuss and critically analyze Pakistan’s insecurity predicament using developed arguments in historical sociology, international relations, and comparative politics.
Specifically, the presentation discussed a theory by the late sociologist Charles Tilly which argues that many modern European liberal democracies have come to exist through centuries of taxation and political concessions: essentially, war-making as state-making. The case of Pakistan is presented as an exception to this theory, at least thus far in its sixty-six year history. Throughout this time the country has had intense military preparedness, four wars, and military rule for over half of its existence (with democratic interludes). Yet, Pakistan remains a case of international terrorism, Islamic extremism, and political instability and is likely to maintain this trajectory due to its geostrategic location.
Therein lies the key argument presented to understand Pakistan’s economic shortcomings and political and security challenges: The state suffers from a ‘geostrategic curse’. This condition is both a blessing and a curse much like a ‘resource curse’ or ‘foreign aid curse’. Indeed, a massive amount of foreign financial support ($73 billion between 1960 and 2012) due to Pakistan’s geostrategic positioning between Afghanistan and India has been most welcome. However, the aid has been disproportionately allocated to military spending to fund Pakistan’s desire to attain strategic parity and compete for status with India as well as to counter an influx of militant insurgency in Pakistan’s tribal areas due to Afghanistan’s long-lasting instability. Thus, this ‘curse’ has incentivized military expenditure over economic development. It was noted that Egypt suffers from a similar condition.
The presentation concluded with the assertion that time alone will not solve this problem. Sixty-six years may seem like a short time period to revamp a state’s political and economic structures, but similar cases in East Asia and Latin America did not have the same difficulties in a similar time period. The Pakistani government believes that deep-rooted social or economic reforms, including land reforms, are too risky and has resulted in a focus on military-first policies and worst-case assumptions concerning security issues. This has ensured that trade or economic development policies have been secondary to military expenditure.
The roundtable then moved into an extensive and fruitful discussion. Topics of particular focus were Afghanistan’s role in South Asia’s rivalry, the potential instability of new Pakistani nuclear delivery systems, Pakistan’s approach to counter-terrorism, and whether foreign aid to Pakistan should be conditional to social developments within the country. To a lesser extent, the role of leadership theory and water wars between India and Pakistanwere touched on as well. The session ended with an interesting series of suggestions for creating more robust channels of communication between Pakistan and its regional neighbours, particularly India.