The Next Sixty Years
By Ahmad Faruqui, PhD
Dansville, CA

As 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 future.
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 or business.
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 Beijing.
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 difficult choice.
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 out.
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 Dictatorship.
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.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.