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TM, ®, Copyright © 2019 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

TM, ®, Copyright © 2019 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Nations in Crisis: Pakistan
Articles on Pakistan before 2021

  • (july 2021) Nations in crisis: Pakistan
    Pakistan is a nuclear country with a population of 216 million. In my opinion, it remains one of the scariest places on Earth, as it was ten years ago when i wrote The implosion of Pakistan and The most dangerous place in the world. However, the implosion of Pakistan, routinely predicted by Indian commentators, has never happened. Pakistan remains the same country with the same economic and political problems. It has a prime minister, Imran Khan, who has been democratically elected, but the real power rests with the army and the secret services ISI. The main driver of Pakistan's foreign politics remains India, with whom Pakistan has fought three wars. Pakistan remains a hub of Islamic terrorism, and India has been the main victim, and Afghanistan was and is destabilized mainly from Pakistan. What has changed is the relationship with China. While it is 70 years old, that relationship has blossomed under Imran Khan like never before. China is Pakistan's largest trading partner and largest military supplier; and now the influence is so strong that Pakistan is beginning to behave like a client state. Pakistan fully endorses China's positions on Tibet, Taiwan, the South China Sea and even Xinjiang (the Muslim region of China inhabited by Turkic-speaking Uyghurs). Pakistan's importance for China has increased in a world where China has few friends and has made many new enemies. As India moved closer to the USA, to Israel and to the European Union, and joined the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the USA, Australia and Japan, China is finding itself more alone than ever, and Pakistan is perhaps the main quasi-ally. In 2013 China and Pakistan signed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which included an injection of $62 billion by China into Pakistan's economy over the next four years. This investment targeted transportation and energy projects, in particular a network of roads, pipelines and railways that will connect Kashgar in China's Xinjiang Uyghur region to the port city of Gwadar in Pakistan's Balochistan. Fast forward to 2021, and Pakistan seems to rely on China for everything from military equipment to covid vaccines and to nuclear power. Pakistan is, like Turkey, a Muslim country that is ironically very respectful of China, despite the human-rights abuses committed by China against its own Muslims. While the West is punishing China over the treatment of its Islamic subjects, the prime minister of the Islamic republic of Pakistan routinely praises China. This is the same prime minister who has accused France of Islamophobia and Facebook of anti-Muslim discrimination.
    Pakistan has essentially swapped masters and creditors: instead of owing money to Western institutions, it now owes money to China. Pakistan will undoubtedly pay a price for China's money. The pattern is the same seen in other countries: China develops infrastruture using its own labor (Chinese workers, not Pakistani ones) and that infrastructure mainly helps move Chinese goods (not Pakistani ones). In other words, more Chinese goods are sold in Pakistan, but not the other way round.
    Pakistan's importance to the USA has diminished over the years: the USA is less interested in Afghanistan than it was 20 years ago after Al Qaeda's 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and India has become a much more valuable partner during the new "cold war" against China than Pakistan was during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The USA also lost faith in Pakistan after finding out that Osama bin Laden had been hiding there for years.
    The good news for Pakistanis is the decline in terrorist attacks. US drone strikes killed successive leaders of the Pakistani Taliban like Baitullah Mehsud (2009), Hakimullah Mehsud (2013) and Mullah Fazlullah (2018). Following the June 2014 attack on the Karachi airport and December 2014 attack on the Peshawar Army Public School which killed more than 130 schoolchildren, the Pakistani military launched the "Zarb-e-Azb" operation against the Pakistani Taliban. Since then terrorist attacks have declined steadily: from a peak of nearly 4,000 incidents in 2013 causing more than 2,700 civilian deaths, Pakistan saw only 319 incidents with 169 civilian deaths in 2020. Pressure from Western countries also convinced Pakistan to arrest some of India's most wanted terrorists: Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi of Lashkar-e-Taiba are both in jail, although Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammed is still at large. Recent attacks have been due to different groups: the Baluch Liberation Army staged the June 2020 attack on the Karachi Stock Exchange, and in January 2021 the Islamic State in Khorasan, based in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan, killed 11 Shiite Hazari coal miners (nine of whom were Afghan immigrants) in Balochistan and may also be behind the bus attack that killed 9 Chinese workers in Balochistan in July 2021. Balochistan, a vast region with valuable natural resources, has always had a separatist movement (since it was invaded and annexed by Pakistan in 1948) and ISIS has become a serious rival to the Taliban even within Afghanistan itself.
    Prime minister Khan faces a challenge from the Pakistan Democratic Movement, an alliance of 11 opposition parties that blame him for mismanaging the economy and demand his ouster. One of the parties of the Pakistan Democratic Movement is the Pakistan Muslim League, whose leader Nawaz Sharif (a former three-time premier) is in exile in Britain. Sharif claims that army chief QamarJaved Bajwa and ISI's chief Faiz Hameed plotted to rig the 2018 elections in favor of Khan's party, the right-wing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (founded in 1996 by Khan himself, a former cricket player). The losers were Nawaz's younger brother Shehbaz Sharif (later arrested on charges of money laundering and jailed for seven months) and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of the leftist Pakistan Peoples Party, the real leader of the opposition (the son of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and of former president Asif Ali Zardari, and therefore the grandson of the party's founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto). There were huge rallies against Khan at the end of 2020, but the covid pandemic and various scandals have created plenty of distractions.
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