The Next Sixty
By Ahmad Faruqui, PhD
Pakistan completes its first sixty years, it is
natural to ask whether the next sixty would look
any different. Given the difficulties of even
forecasting the future six months out, how can
we define the nation’s long-term future?
Paradoxically, it is often easier to talk about
the long-term than about the near-term. When Winston
Churchill quipped, “The future, though imminent,
is obscure,” he was referring to the near
term. Over the long haul, he knew the curtain
had fallen on the British Raj.
Digressing for a moment to the world of fashion,
we hear French fashion designer Sarah Lerfel saying,
“The future is very difficult to define
— everything is possible.” But we
all know that fashions come in cycles. Just look
at the return of three buttons in men’s
jackets or the variation in tie widths and lapel
widths over the past few decades. While we don’t
know when the fashion wave will turn on itself,
we know that one day it will.
In his twelve-volume “Study of History,”
Arnold Toynbee concluded that civilizations moved
in cycles. This theory, while controversial, has
retained its popularity since Toynbee appeared
on the cover of TIME in 1947. How do we use it
to assess the future?
One option is to extrapolate history. But if the
history is as checkered as Pakistan’s, with
alternating cycles of success and failure, how
do we determine which pattern will dominate sixty
years out? Plus something else may intervene to
change the cycle.
A second approach is to study the performance
of other countries, identify the reasons for their
success or failure, draw analogies with Pakistan’s
history and use them to forecast Pakistan’s
Both approaches share a weakness. None would have
predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall. Such events
have no probability. The same difficulty is encountered
when forecasting breakthroughs in science, art
In the domain of politics, so much depends on
events that are impossible to predict. For example,
the rise of a charismatic leader is only a good
thing if he or she has integrity. Nor can charisma
and integrity make up for competence. Finally,
unexpected external events such as an energy crisis,
a global recession or a regional war may adversely
affect national fortunes.
The forecaster is faced with the realization that
the system whose behavior he or she is forecasting
has more unknown variables than known variables.
It is a tough job even without bringing the “unknown
unknowns” into the equation. To use the
parlance of systems dynamics, the model is under-identified
and will not yield a unique solution. The best
one can do is lay out alternative scenarios.
To begin, we have to first identify the driving
factors. Some are external and some internal.
In the former category is Pakistan’s location
near the Strait of Hormuz, which will continue
to be strategic. This alone will ensure that every
major world power will seek to bring Pakistan
within its sphere of influence.
Historically, Pakistan has managed to walk a tight
rope between the US and China and serve as their
mutual ally. China’s rise as a great power
will pose a threat to the US and force Pakistan
to make a choice between the two. Geographical
contiguity may swing the balance decisively toward
Pakistan’s immediate neighbors will have
an important influence on its development but
in large measure their policy toward it will be
determined not only by their own strategic objectives
(and political fortunes) but by how Pakistan relates
to them. If Pakistan continues to seek strategic
depth in Afghanistan, it will polarize relations
between the two countries.
Attempts to wrest Kashmir from a rising India
may lead to a final war between the countries
whose consequences cannot possibly benefit either
country but which will devastate Pakistan. If
Iran develops great power aspirations, that will
certainly create a conflict with the Arab Gulf
states and force Pakistan to make yet another
Internally, several questions will need to be
answered. Will Pakistan finally make a transition
out of feudalism, something India did decades
ago? Will literacy and primary enrollment rates
rise to the levels seen today in the Asia-Pacific
countries? Will rates of domestic savings and
investment rise to the point that growth ceases
to depend on foreign aid? Will the character of
economic growth change sufficiently to make a
dent in the poverty rate? Or will growth be swallowed
up by rising population, which, if current trends
continue, will make it the fourth largest state
in the world? Depending on how these issues are
resolved, Pakistan will either become an economic
powerhouse be sent to an economic purgatory.
Politically, the big unknown is whether the nation’s
civilian institutions will progress to the point
that the polity stabilizes, ensures the rule of
law and makes military interventions as unthinkable
as they are in India.
Against this backdrop, four scenarios can be sketched
History Squared. The country continues muddling
through cycles of military rule and civilian rule.
Wars, coups and insurrections – which form
the sub-title of a popular history of the Pakistani
army — are the norm.
Benevolent Dictatorship. The military runs the
show with no democratic pretenses. It is “Military
Inc.” on steroids, a variation of the current
Chinese model. The generals parade economic statistics
every year on the 23rd of March. Territorial integrity
is preserved at the expense of civil liberties,
human rights and political freedoms.
Democratic Dispensation. The fight with India
comes to an end. The modern Turkish model is embraced
and the military recedes to the barracks. Mature
political parties take center stage and governments
come and go through the ballot box. The country
runs on the separation of powers doctrine, not
unity of command.
Territorial Disintegration. Inter-provincial rivalries
and events across the borders cause the Frontier
to merge with Afghanistan, Balochistan with Iran
and interior Sindh with India. Karachi becomes
as a city-state. Punjab is all that survives of
Pakistan. To paraphrase Toynbee, the nation “dies
from suicide, not murder.”
These scenarios are not equally likely or equally
desirable. History Squared is most likely and
Territorial Disintegration least likely; Democratic
Dispensation most desirable, followed by Benevolent
Postscript. This is Pakistan’s moment in
history. Success is not guaranteed nor is failure
inevitable. The opportunity in 2007 is no less
historic than the one that Jinnah faced in 1947.
But it is not just a question of finding another
Jinnah. It is a question of creating the right
institutions and implementing the right policies
so that even after he or she is gone, the nation
will continue onwards and upwards.