Weekend Reading - Cohen on Pakistan

Over the weekend, Pakistani English-language daily Express Tribune published an interview with scholar Stephen Cohen, who knows a thing or two about Pakistan.

Londonstani particularly likes Cohen (and quotes him in the background section of papers he's written) due to his dispassionate insight. It's rare when discussing Pakistan to find someone who combines deep knowledge with a cool, objective approach. Check out the whole article, otherwise here are the highlights (according to Londonstani).

"...the army can’t govern the country effectively but it won’t let others govern it either. This is the governance dilemma."

"... with the obvious breakdown of law and order, the decline of the economy, as well as a dysfunctional civilian-military relationship — change seems to be in the wind — but few of us can be precise about what that change will be. Pakistan is muddling through, but change and transformation are coming, I just don’t know when or how."

"...Weakness in governance, education, and the absence of land reform made Pakistan a victim of contemporary globalisation. It doesn’t make much that anyone wants to buy, and it is cut off from its natural regional trading partners."

"...the negative aspects of Islamist globalisation have hit Pakistan hard. Some of the weirdest ideas in the Islamic world have found rich soil in Pakistan, and the country is regarded as an epicentre of terrorism. Pakistan, which was once held up as the most moderate of the Islamic states, seems to be embracing extremists and their dysfunctional violent ideas."

(As a student and long-time resident of the Middle East, Londonstani would deeply concur with this. Everyday religiosity in Pakistan is very similar to the Middle East and some parts of Muslim Africa, but the religious-political public rhetoric is, as Cohen says, weird to behold if you are a non-Pakistani Muslim)

"The Indians tend to be bullying when it comes to their neighbours, but Pakistanis are capable of defending their interests. Many Indians are ready for a change now. India sees itself as a major rising Asian state and Pakistan is a drag on it."

"...their dilemma is that they cannot live with each other and they cannot live without each other. They need to cooperate along several dimensions, there is no military solution for the problems each has with the other."

"So, looking ahead at Pakistan’s future, we don’t know what is going to happen to Pakistan but we know something alarming is happening to it. Pakistan will remain, but its identity is changing."

"the US should have provided trade opportunities, instead of only military aid, to Pakistan after 9/11. There was a serious Pakistani interest in increasing trade, not just receiving military aid; the US did not respond to this."

"Pakistani governments have been cowardly in dealing with those who oppose modernity and try to push the country back to the seventh century. Perhaps the cowardice comes from the fact that the state uses some of these groups for its own strategic purposes, a fatal and self-defeating miscalculation."

"The long-term key to normalising Pakistan is India. The fear of India drives the Pakistan army and the army drives Pakistan. If India can normalise with Pakistan in one way or the other, then Pakistan can devote its resources and energy to becoming a more attractive and respected country."

"The US should provide aid to Pakistan but link it to more concrete reforms in education, administration, and democratisation."


Cohen makes two important points that deserve repeating:

1 - Pakistan's present status quo is unstable and unsustainable. There are two main views when it comes to Pakistan; "Oh my God, extremists are about to take over." And, "Nothing will really ever change." Cohen is saying extremists not about to militarily take over the country, but it plainly will not continue as it is. The question is, what form will that change take?

2 - Pakistan's identity is changing. There's an oft repeated factoid that Pakistan's population is 65 percent under 35. The people presently running the country are in a minority not due to their religion, race or even gender, but rather because of the generational outlook gap between them and the people they rule. Londonstani spends his non-blogging days working on Pakistani media, and one thing that comes up time and again is that young Pakistanis see the world through a different lens than their elders.

Keeping in mind Cohen's reputation as a clear-eyed, non-sensationalist academic, perhaps it's best to end with summing up of Pakistan's present predicament.

"Never in history have we seen a country so big with so many nuclear weapons in this kind of trouble."