Post-deluge Pakistan

An assessment

At the risk of being entirely wrong, here is an assessment of the political implications of floods in Pakistan.

1. Fears of Pakistan ending up as a “failed state with nuclear weapons” are overblown. The disaster is unprecedented and the response understandably inadequate but it does not set off an explosive dynamic along political faultlines.

2. Political changes are unlikely. The disaster has further cemented the army’s popularity, allowing it to claim credit for the government’s successes (for it is a part of the government) but avoid the blame for the failures (which accrue to the civilian political leadership). Given the immense challenge of rehabilitation and reconstruction that lies ahead, General Ashfaq Kayani would have to be a conceited fool–which so far at least, he has shown no signs of being–to want to countenance a change in the political set-up. A weak, powerless and unpopular President Asif Zardari is just what he needs. Nawaz Sharif’s hopes to become the prime minister are unlikely to fructify before the next election because he is popular, has political weight and could challenge General Kayani’s hold on power.

3. Pakistan will not only receive debt waivers but also see a relaxation of conditions relating to financial assistance. While this will come as a relief for the government and the elite, it will weaken the endogenous factors that will aid recovery by delaying the implementation of important macro-economic reforms. It will also ensure the perpetuation of the current political setup because debt waivers and unconditional assistance will come much easier if there’s a facade of a democratic government. Furthermore, given that a significant part of the international assistance will be routed through international agencies and NGOs, it will not strengthen the Pakistani government’s civilian capacity.

4. Jihadi militant organisations will become more powerful but will not be allowed to increase their political profiles. This disaster, like the 2005 earthquake, is being used by organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba to bolster their credentials as a providers of social services. However, to the extent that the Pakistani government will be dependent on international assistance–and it will become more so in the immediate future—the military establishment will not allow such organisations to make a direct play for power. Let’s not forget that the LeT is a surrogate of the Pakistani military establishment, which, if it wants to, can directly seize power in a coup.

5. The military establishment will use the disaster as an alibi for downgrading its war against the Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan in North Waziristan and elsewhere. Engaging in disaster relief will draw on military resources from the battle against the taliban, but there are deeper reasons for the army’s unwillingness to sustain battle against them. How quickly and to what extent it will resume the fight depends almost entirely on how much the United States can coerce the army.

6. Pakistan’s support for the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan will not be interrupted. The US will find it difficult in the coming months to press the Pakistan army to cooperate in counter-insurgency operations because of the alibi. The direction of the war in Afghanistan will therefore depend on the Obama administration’s political will and determination.

7. Pakistan’s domestic stability is set to worsen. In the short-term, resettlement of internally displaced persons will complicate the ethnic and sectarian tensions in cities like Karachi, Hyderabad and Quetta. While this is likely to result in greater violence, it is unlikely to lead to collapse of the state. Instability will place an economic cost on Pakistan, damaging endogenous factors that can aid recovery.

8. The insurgency in Balochistan is likely to be contained. To the extent that the army is willing to use brute force and targeted killings to keep the lid on the conflict, and to the extent that the Baloch lack outright political support internationally, the prospects of secession are dim.

9. While radioactivity-leakage risks are low there is some risk to the security of nuclear plants, equipment and material. Such facilities are likely to have been built to withstand such contingencies. However, in the confusion that accompanies such events, there is a higher chance that physical security of nuclear installations can be breached. So far, there are no media reports flood waters affecting nuclear installations.

10.Disaster relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation will be decently funded. Despite the slow start in fundraising, despite concerns over aid distribution, the international community is unlikely to ignore humanitarian needs during the relief phase. However, it is unclear if the Pakistani government has the inclination and capacity to use the funds and goodwill to sustain its efforts beyond the short-term relief phase into the medium-term rehabilitation & reconstruction phase.

11. The US will make only small gains in popularity despite playing a leading role in relief and reconstruction. China and Saudi Arabia are likely to make disproportionately large gains. (In the short-term though, the situation is likely to be the opposite, because the narrative will be factual.)

Tailpiece: Pakistani officials and commentators would do well to avoid using the “unless the world gives money Pakistan will become a nuclear-armed failed state” bogey as it has been used so many times by so many people that it reeks of a shakedown. The humanitarian tragedy is serious enough a reason for well-meaning people and governments around the world to help.

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4 Responses to Post-deluge Pakistan

  1. trickey 17th August 2010 at 19:12 #

    “Tailpiece: Pakistani officials and commentators would do well to avoid using the “unless the world gives money Pakistan will become a nuclear-armed failed state” bogey as it has been used so many times by so many people that it reeks of a shakedown. The humanitarian tragedy is serious enough a reason for well-meaning people and governments around the world to help.”

    Too late. Ahmed Rashid has already tried to play that card, and it has already backfired spectacularly. (link)

    • Nitin Pai 18th August 2010 at 07:18 #

      Please enclose links within HTML tags. Have done that for you this time.

  2. SR Murthy 19th August 2010 at 21:08 #

    This seems like a highly optimistic view of Pakistan’s future:

    Item 1: Pakistan’s nukes are already in the hand of an islamised military that has not shown a semblance of rational behaviour so far: the army is not ready to save its own image by accepting help during the floods, which is an indication of their lack of rationality. Therefore, the question of whether “terrorists outside the Pakistani army can take control of nukes” is most likely redundant.

    2. Political changes are unlikely — this is a truism considering that the “political establishment” in Pakistan is a Sock Puppet for the Pakistani Army. The Pakistani army will continue to control all the political sides in Pakistan with selective and targeted violence against any group that fails to fall in line.

    3. The waivers of debts and aid to Pakistan is not going to reach the people it needs to reach on the ground — getting control of the flood situation is crucial for the Pakistani army’s image, and they are failing in this task. Thus, any aid/freebies Pakistanis get from their foreign Owners is likely to do little to strengthen the army’s standing among those affected by the floods.

    10. Disaster Relief will be decently funded:- However, funding is only the initial and least important step in rehabilitation. Implementation and followthrough is necessary to actually save lives and reclaim the situation to a pre-flood level. Past history indicates a likely huge gap been funding (however decent) and implementation of schemes from those funds.

    However, such overly optimistic analysis of Pakistan’s future is in India’s interests, not least because it preserves the honour and dignity of Pakistanis, which is very important, as we all know.

    In addition, such analysis is likely to provide a pleasing view of their own reality to Pakistanis, thereby ensuring even less effort on their part in fixing their problems.

  3. Nanda Kishore 24th August 2010 at 12:31 #

    Do you have any evidence to suggest that China and/or Sauid Arabia will make disproportionate gains in terms of perception (hard as that is to gauge) vis-a-via US on the relief efforts? Sounds like wild speculation to me.

    Also, isn’t the Pakstani establishment, military or otherwise, leading the R&R efforts? Implicit, perhaps, but I thought I should clear that up as I have not been clued in enough.

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