Regarding the CIA’s soothsayers

The CIA’s predictions for India and Pakistan cannot simultaneously come true

It does not take a great deal of intelligence to predict scenarios where India catches up with China and these two Asian giant become major players in the twenty-first century economy. It also does not take a great deal of intelligence to paint a picture where Pakistan ends up as a failed state. While headline writers around the world, not least in India, have become rather excited by the CIA’s pronouncements, it is important to remember that it is the American foreign policy and national security establishment that is the primary audience of these reports.

Beware of the soothsayer too
The CIA’s national intelligence estimates provide some plausible scenarios for American policy makers to chew on and prepare for. They also have other, perhaps unintentional, effects. Convincing Indians about the likelihood of their future glory is likely to lull them into complacency; telling the Pakistanis that they will end up a failed state will likely get (at least some of) them to get their act together, besides educating Americans of the importance of American aid in forestalling this eventuality.

India must not get carried away by rosy scenarios such as those painted by Goldman Sachs or the CIA. To borrow another cricketing analogy, it cannot take its eye off the ball. Attaining and sustaining growth rates of about 7-10% is difficult if complacency sets in; it makes sense not to believe such things as fate, destiny and the glossy prospectus.

Successful in failing to fail
Every generation in India has believed that Pakistan is either failing or will fail in due course — in the 1950s because the two-nation theory was not accepted, in the 1970s because the two-nation theory spectacularly failed, and in the 1990s and the 2000s because its misguided policies finally cought up with it. In spite of all its internal contradictions, Pakistan has survived as an entity, an idea and a nation for half a century. There is reason to believe that the possibility of a state failure in Pakistan may remain exactly that — a possibility. And this is not necessarily bad for India, for state failure in Pakistan will rudely interfere with India’s own growth trajectory. India cannot be a global economy if Pakistan, a highly-populated, impoverished, nuclear state next door, implodes.

We can’t live like this
But, contrary to the Bush administration’s belief, the possibility of an implosion in Pakistan is very much real as long as its army retains control. There any so many rifts and divides in Pakistan that a fundamentally hamfisted dictatorship cannot heal or reconcile. Pakistan needs national reconciliation and the steady, irreversible return of the army to its barracks.

Until that happens, Pakistan will remain the borderline about-to-fail state that we have become used to. Unfortunately, foreign policy in America and New Delhi is doing nothing to veer away from this unhappy path. If the current equations continue, India can, without doubt, continue to register healthy economic growth, but Pakistan will remain a Damocles’ sword hanging over its head.

(Thanks: Manish Vij and Patrix)

11 thoughts on “Regarding the CIA’s soothsayers”

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  3. good post.

    i can’t imagine ANY circumstances under which Pakistan falling apart would be good for India in the long run. Being trapped between a failed state (and whatever’s left of the Middle East / Central Asia when the imperial American elite gets through with the region) and China isn’t a scenario for greater international influence and internal democracy in India.

    i should probably stop thinking about it and just keep daydreaming about a South Asian Union and more linguistic/ethnic autonomy within India. It would be nice to be able to take a train from Calcutta to Dhaka.


  4. If it were not for Osama, Pak would have definitely been a failed state by now and Mushy an international Pariah. Now with an Economist as PM and a reformist “Aakka”(master) the Pakis are on that exhilarating fast track of reforms and I envy them for that. Whether these reforms will make Pakistan a successful state or not is another matter.

    As for India catching up with China, I think before this, the question that should be answered is when will the BIMARU and NE states catch up with rest of India i.e. the states of South, West and the small northern states?

    BTW, South Asian Union is not my idea of being in harmony with our neighbours. It only means free tickets for those pests from Bangladesh to migrate and settle anywhere in India. I really don’t want these pests around.

  5. Saurav,

    A fractious SAARC and a South Asian Union are two extreme positions; I think it is more realistic to drive towards a South Asian reconciliation based on existing national borders. An affirmation of the status quo, rather than an attempt to reopen still raw wounds and raise old suspicions. It is possible to take a train from Calcutta to Dhaka or perhaps even from Chittagong to Karachi, without having to get all woolly and set up a South Asian “Union”.

    Today’s statement by the Indian foreign secretary is relevant in this context.


    The problem is as long as the bilateral relations remain nervy, it is likely that only the ‘pests’ will make it in, and those who make it in will be seen as ‘pests’.

  6. Nitin,

    I completely agree with you. I wasn’t advocating a unified South Asian nation-state; rather, I think that further integration economically and socially with reduced centralization within India itself would be a good model to pursue. India’s political power has been vastly overcentralized for historical and current political reasons and this leads to all the ethnic/linguistic/religious revolts we see (including the creation of Pakistan/Bangladesh). On the other hand, greater integration with other countries around the region (which historically generally shared the “same” culture to the extent that India can be said to possess “a” culture) would be beneficial for all involved. After all, at one point, secular Hindu Bengalis had more in common culturally with secular Muslim Bengalis than with Tamils, Kashmiris, or the Hindi-speaking people of the North.

    I understand what I’m proposing is to a large extent based on a past reality rather than a present one, but it’s all I have to go on.

    RS, it’s pretty appalling to refer to other people as “pests” in this context. It’s actually worse than the way Americans talk about undocumented people (at least Americans are afraid of Mexicans, Bangladeshis, etc. to some extent). Free(r) movement of labor is an important value and prior to the modern era one that was much more widely practiced, if only due to an inability to control it.

  7. Sarkar,
    Right now these ppl come in illegally and take our jobs. Maybe sometime in future we can let some of them in legally to do menial jobs. Already there is a shortage of maidservants around!

  8. Sarkar,
    Another thing I want to tell u is that these illegal Bangladeshis are vote banks to the “secular” parties. The “communal” parties use them as cannon fodder to polarise the society. Recently in the Indian Express Arun Shourie wrote a series of articles where he wrote about these illegal migrants. For 6 years he and his party were in power and didn’t do anything about this problem. Now he is crying hoarse.
    If these ppl are thrown out and their entry stopped we will have one less problem to take care of.

  9. And Bangladeshi migrants are the ones who are making that impossible for you? How about the U.S. governments support for Pakistani weapons proliferation over decades? How about the Indian government’s refusal to acknowledge autonomy movements across the country? How about the War in Iraq? How about the enormous divide between rich and poor across the world and in countries like India? I would think all these problems would have a bigger impact on your ability to “live in peace” than some Bangladeshi migrant workers.

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