The country has endured terrorism and political crises. To flourish, it may have to throw its lot in with China. But Britain can helpby Anatol Lieven / September 17, 2015 / Leave a comment
The most important thing by far about Pakistan may seem so obvious as to be scarcely worth remarking. Yet it defies the predictions of several leading “experts” on Pakistan (both Pakistani and western) over the past four decades: Pakistan is still there.
In the Arab world, states have fallen in rows as a result of their own internal divisions, western invasion and a combination of the two. Afghanistan may well be going the same way. The supposedly most important and reliable allies of the United States are stagnant dictatorships. Meanwhile, in its own chaotic and deeply flawed way, Pakistan (and Pakistani democracy) continues to trundle on. The reasons for this are worth pondering—the factors that have made Pakistan resilient in the face of Islamist rebellion and recurrent economic and political crisis are often the flip side of those which are holding back the country’s socio-economic development, possibly dooming it in the longer term.
In 2014, the population of Pakistan was 185.1m. By the middle of this century, the World Bank predicts that the population will have reached 350m (making it by then the fifth most populous country in the world). It has comparatively well-equipped armed forces comprising more than 500,000 men, and nearly 200 nuclear weapons. The collapse of a state of this size and importance would dwarf even the present disasters in the Middle East, and quite possibly destroy the international order.
The conclusions that we—or, much more importantly, the US—need to draw from this are twofold. First, while our ability to help Pakistan may be very limited, we should at least not make its position worse—even if Pakistani behaviour sometimes seems to invite a harsh response. Second, we cannot afford to ignore Pakistan, because if we do that, we risk, as after 9/11, being confronted by a crisis we cannot understand or deal with because we are ignorant of its background.
In Britain, we will need to think about the condition of Pakistan as long as both countries continue to exist. Because of the large and ever-growing Pakistani diaspora in Britain (1.2m and 2 per cent of the population…