Foreign Policy Blogs

Asia Society's Pakistan 2020 Report

The Asia Society last week released what it calls a unique sixty-one page report Pakistan 2020: A vision for Building a Better Future in New York and Washington DC.  The report has endeavored to look at Pakistan from multiple lenses rather than solely focusing on the country’s security issues. A team of around thirty American and Pakistani experts from Pakistan and the United States have provided insights to prepare the report authored by Hassan Abbass, a Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the Asia Society.

Pakistan 2020 implicitly indicates that terrorism maybe one major issue that confronts Pakistan but this is not all that ails the nuclear armed country whose very survival in the future is under question. The report has proposed the following seven-point recommendations.

(1) strengthening democratic institutions;

(2) strengthening the rule of law;

(3) improving human development and social services, especially in health and education;

(4) developing the energy infrastructure;

(5) assisting the victims of the 2010 flood in their recovery;

(6) improving internal security; and

(7) advancing the peace process with India.

What is deplorable about this report is its utter disregard for outstanding issues like Center-provinces relationship.  The report barely touches Balochistan, the country’s largest province with 43% of the total territory, where the army is engaged in crushing the progressive and secular Baloch nationalist movement. A lot of recommendations proposed in the report are unlikely to assist Islamabad to overcome its current problems because it has failed for many years to develop a distinctive identity.

While the Pakistan army and the pro-military media and intellectuals have battled for years to undermine the preexisting ethnic  identities and replace them with an imposed  Islamic identity, the country has failed to move forward as one single nation.

The report does not touch the issue of decentralization of power and crippling of the army’s political and economic stakes.

Pakistan has not developed because its military has fabricated a phony “existential Indian threat”  posed to its national security. Taking this as a pretext, the armed forces have exponentially raised the defense budget. Pakistan’s parliament still does not have the power to discuss the defense budget. The army does not only determine the country’s foreign policy but it also interferes in internal policies.

The Pakistan army has historically patronized an official political party to counter democratic opposition leaders. For instance, General Ayub Khan (1958-1969),  General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) and General Pervez Musharraf (1999-2008) all created a faction of the Pakistan Muslim League to  support their unpopular political agendas. Worst still, some of the key opposition leaders in the country were also the products of military rule. For instance, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) who later on became the president and the prime minister of the country, served as the foreign minister in the cabinet of the military president Ayub Khan. The current popular opposition leader Nawaz Sharif politically groomed under the umbrella of General Zia-ul-Haq, during whose stint the future prime minister worked as  the chief minister of the largest province, the Punjab.

Sharif developed differences with the army after the ouster of his government by Pervez Musharraf on October 12, 1999 following a bloodless coup. Today Sharif has emerged as a staunch opponent of the army and demands that the defense budget should be debated on the floor of the parliament. He has also spurned the proposal that an army officer should probe the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, the home to the Pakistan Military Academy. Sharif stands for a civilian investigation into the embarrassing preferably under the leadership of a judge.

As Sharif angers the Pakistan army, the latter has now adopted Imran Khan, the leader of the Movement for Justice, to speak out the army’s vision on national and international issues. Mr. Khan, who led Pakistan to a cricket world cup victory in 1992, symbolizes anti-Americanism in the Islamic nation.

Pakistan 2020 is a very ambitious report which is unlikely to see the dawn of implementation prior to drastic structural and policy changes inside the army and the intelligence agencies which are blamed nationally and internationally for the country’s troubles.  Such reports may help in identifying the core issues but ultimately the change has to come from within. It’s impossible for external experts and governments to dissuade the army from supporting Islamic radical groups or the politicians from indulging corruption.  With no sings of internal movements for change, one wonders how much significance Pakistan 2020 will have in a country where too little has been done to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).



Malik Siraj Akbar

Malik Siraj Akbar is a freelance journalist based in Washington DC. A 2010-11 Hubert Humphrey Fellow, Malik is the editor-in-chief of The Baloch Hal, the first online English newspaper of Balochistan, Pakistan's largest province. He worked for five years as the Bureau Chief of Daily Times, a reputed Pakistani English newspaper.