The perceptive Sadanand Dhume in his article “A Model for Pakistan’s Revival” draws parallels between Pakistan and Indonesia, and uses the dramatic transformation of Indonesia as a reason for optimism and the way forward in South Asia. Dhume cites the current stability and prosperity in Indonesia and points out:
Consider the parallels between yesterday’s Indonesia and today’s Pakistan. Sukarno’s Indonesia was the region’s problem child: unhappy with its borders, tilted toward an authoritarian power (China), and infested by a totalitarian ideology (communism). Today Islamabad pursues so-called strategic depth in Afghanistan and won’t quite abandon obsolete ambitions in Indian Kashmir. It leans toward “all-weather friend” China even as its economy stagnates and radical Islam eats away at society and the state.
While at first look the similarities are uncanny, the example cited is not remarkable: If one wants to cite examples of poorly governed countries with poor economies turning around, there is South Korea. If you want the example of a Muslim country which turned its economy around, it could be Saudi Arabia in the 60s and 70s. An example of a Muslim country without oil achieving this feat could be Turkey. Essentially what I am arguing is that such a parallel between Pakistan and Indonesia does not quite capture the very basis of all that ails Pakistan: Her identity which will cause a perpetual instability in the eastern border and her geography which will cause a perpetual instability in her western border. On the subject of Identity:
Commentators who wish to explain Pakistan’s seemingly irrational behavior—Supporting the destabilization of Afghanistan and her affinity towards China*—frequently attribute it to Pakistan’s security anxieties vis-a-vis India. This is not an accurate explanation: Nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles have ruled out India-Pakistan wars of the magnitude which cleaved Bangladesh away from Pakistan. Therefore, possibility of conflicts which challenge the existence of Pakistan itself is ruled out and in this sense the conflict has stabilized. Then why does Pakistan still pursue avenues which give it strategic advantage over India? The only possible explanation would be the pursuit of India’s defeat rather than the pursuit of any guarantees of Pakistan’s survival. This is because:
Pakistan views herself as the ideological progeny of the Mughal empire, with an unfinished agenda of conquering the subcontinent. Abandoning this endeavour would mean accepting the eventual supremacy of India (simply due to her demographics and geographical area) which would be interpreted (in Pakistan) as the defeat of the religion itself. This is unthinkable. Furthermore, abandoning this identity of Pakistan is unthinkable. This is the first “circular” conundrum.
This is essentially what sets the India-Pakistan conflict apart from seemingly similar conflicts, and can end only with the ideological collapse of one of the adversaries — in this sense it resembles the US-Soviet cold-war conflict (which ended with the collapse of the USSR) than the Turkey-Greece or Egypt-Israel conflict (where the adversaries realized the futility of conflict and the economic advantages of peace). This is the first objection that I have towards Dhume’s prescription: Convincing Pakistan of the benefits of peace and working with her to de-radicalize her society and re-structure the economy to bring stability, would have as much success as attempting to talk the Soviet Union out of the Cold-war, by convincing the Soviet Union to abandon communism.
The “Convincing Pakistan of the benefits of peace” part is an order of magnitude harder than what US has achieved in Indonesia and elsewhere. In the pursuit of this “Convincing” strategy, US has failed in an even more dangerous way: She has armed Pakistan (to address the “insecurity vis-a-vis India” thesis), which will eventually serve as a catalyst for more conflict (due to the “defeat of India” pursuit) rather than less conflict.
The second part of Pakistan’s problem is her Geography. The land that is Pakistan today, has neither been a viable entity nor had peace with Afghanistan except during periods of economic linkages and power projection from the Gangetic Plain. Astute observers of history will not fail to notice the fact that:
Peace between Pakistan and a strong Afghanistan is possible only with a strong Pakistan-India military alliance. In the absence of this alliance, peace is possible only with a destabilized Afghanistan. However an Afghanistan under perpetual Pakistani hegemony is possible only with strong economy in Pakistan, which is impossible without strong economic linkages with India. This is the second “circular” conundrum.
Ergo, Pakistan is not Indonesia. Therefore, any solution to create stability in the region will not have “Sell the idea of economic prosperity to Pakistan” as the first step. If anything, Pakistan is the Gordian Knot, which can be cut only by a revolution inside Pakistan first — that too a revolution of the good kind. But this is no reason to abandon optimism. Being the optimist that yours sachly is, I will wait till the region collapses into a rubble and then rebuilds itself into a stable and viable entity.