Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
Figure 1. Administrative Divisions of Pakistan, 1994
PAKISTAN BECAME AN INDEPENDENT STATE in 1947, the realization of a yearning by India's Muslims, who feared domination by the Hindu majority in a postcolonial India. As the British made their final plans to surrender the "Jewel in the Crown" of their empire, the earlier, elite "Two Nations Theory," premised on the notion of a separate homeland for the subcontinent's Muslim minority, had broadened its popular appeal and evolved into a collective vision championed by Muslims of all backgrounds. After independence, a debate commenced among contending groups over further refinement of that vision. Agreement on what system of government the new nation should adopt--a critical aspect of the debate--was never fully reached. Indeed, few nations have in so short a period undergone as many successive political and constitutional experiments as has Pakistan. This irresolution contributed, in the decades following independence, to a recurrent pattern of crisis: repeated coups and extended periods in which martial law replaced civilian government, violent deaths of several national leaders, periodic strife among ethnic groups, and, most traumatically, a civil war that divided the country in two.
The struggle over the character and soul of Pakistan continues. Although democracy returned to Pakistan in 1988 after a long lapse, it is on trial daily, its continuation by no means certain. Definition of the vision of what Pakistan represents is still being contested from many opposing quarters.
Pakistan's status in the world has changed dramatically in the nearly one-half century of its existence as an independent state. In the twilight years of the Cold War, it achieved international stature as a "frontline" state during the Soviet occupation of neighboring Afghanistan. With the Soviet departure from Afghanistan in the late 1980s and the end of the Cold War, Pakistan's role in the world arena has become less visible, and its voice has diminished to the level of many other developing states competing in the new world order. Yet, during the years it spent in support of the Afghan struggle against Soviet domination, Pakistan impressed upon the world community a new appreciation of its standing among Islamic nations and of its ideological commitment to causes it champions.
In terms of its military and economic development, Pakistan is a "threshold" state. The world's first Islamic "de facto" nuclear-weapon state, it has long been at loggerheads with its larger and more powerful neighbor, India, which, like Pakistan, denies having built nuclear weapons but not its ability to do so at the "turn of a screw." A nation well positioned to serve as an economic model for other developing countries in the post-Cold- War era--especially the Islamic states of the former Soviet Union--Pakistan has shown steady and impressive long-term economic growth and is successfully making the transition from an overwhelmingly agricultural to an industrial economy. Yet, despite its considerable achievements in technology and commerce, Pakistan confronts many of the same problems it faced at its birth. The nation has one of the world's highest population growth rates, making it difficult for the government to address the problems of poverty and attendant ills that affect so many in its society. Indeed, social development has lagged behind economic gains. Quality of life indicators--literacy rates, especially among women, human rights, and universal access to heath care--have shown Pakistan to be a country with serious deficiencies.
Throughout history, Pakistan has been strongly affected by its geostrategic placement as a South Asian frontier located at the juncture of South Asia, West Asia, and Central Asia. Scholars have called Pakistan the "fulcrum of Asia" because since antiquity invaders have traversed this frontier carrying with them the seeds of great civilizations. The armies of Islam came to South Asia through the same mountain passes in the north-west of Pakistan that the Indo-Aryans, Alexander the Great, the Kushans, and others had earlier entered.
Present-day Pakistan has been shaped by its rich history, pre-Islamic as well as Islamic, but colored in particular by the exigencies of its troubled and bloody birth as a nation in 1947. The partitioning of British India into India and Pakistan was preceded and accompanied by communal riots of unprecedented violence and scope that forced millions of Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh refugees to flee across the new international borders.
The partition plan that led to the separate states of India and Pakistan was drawn up in an atmosphere of urgency as a swell of religious and ethnic unrest shook India. Under guidelines established with the help of Britain's last viceroy in India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the perplexing task of establishing the new boundaries of Pakistan was accomplished. Most Indian Muslims lived either on the dusty plains of Punjab or in the humid delta of Bengal. Contiguous Muslim-majority districts in Punjab and Bengal were awarded to Pakistan under the plan's guidelines. The additional task of deciding the status of the more than 500 semiautonomous princely states of India still remained. All but three of these quickly acceded to either Pakistan or India. But the two largest princely states, Jammu and Kashmir (ususally just called Kashmir) and Hyderabad, and one small state, Junagadh, posed special problems. Hyderabad and Junagadh were located within territory awarded to India but were both Hindu majority states ruled by a Muslim leader. These states hesitated but were quickly incorporated by force into India. The status of the third state, Kashmir, which had borders with both India and Pakistan, proved especially problematic. Unlike Hyderabad and Junagadh, Kashmir had a Muslim majority and was ruled by a Hindu. Kashmir's maharaja was reluctant to accede to either Pakistan or India, but when threatened by a Muslim uprising (with outside support from Pakistani tribesmen) against his unpopular rule, he hurriedly signed the documents of accession, in October 1947, required by India before it would provide aid. Pakistan then launched an active military and diplomatic campaign to undo the accession, which it maintained was secured by fraud. Kashmir was subsequently divided by the occupying armies of both nations, the Indians holding two-thirds of the state, including the Muslim- dominated Vale of Kashmir and the Hindu-majority region of Jammu to the south, while the Pakistanis controlled the western third, which they call Azad (Free) Kashmir. India and Pakistan would fight two major wars to maintain or seize control over this state: in 1947-48 and in 1965. Kashmir's contested and indeterminate status continues dangerously to complicate relations between South Asia's two most powerful states.
The bifurcated Pakistan that existed from August 1947 to December 1971 was composed of two parts, or wings, known as East Pakistan and West Pakistan, separated by 1,600 kilometers of Indian territory. Observers pointed out, however, that the people of the two wings were estranged from each other in language and cultural traditions: that the Bengali "monsoon Islam" of the East Wing was alien to the "desert Islam" of the West Wing. The East Wing, notable for its Bengali ethnic homogeneity and its collective Bangla cultural and linguistic heritage, contained over half of the population of Pakistan and sharply contrasted with the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the West Wing. The West Wing consisted of four major ethnic groups--Punjabis, Pakhtuns, Sindhis, and Baloch. The muhajirs (see Glossary) constituted a fifth important group. The political leaders of Pakistan, however--particularly those of West Pakistan--asserted that the Islamic faith and a shared fear of "Hindu India" provided an indestructible bond joining the two societies into one nation. This assertion proved flawed, however. A culture of distrust grew between the two wings, fueled by imbalances of representation in the government and military. Furthermore, Bengali politicians argued that the economic "underdevelopment" of East Pakistan was a result of the "internal colonialism" of the rapacious capitalist class of West Pakistan. In the final analysis, real and perceived iniquities would fray this "indestructible" bond holding the country together. Less than a quarter century after the country's founding, Pakistan would fission, the eastern wing becoming the independent nation of Bangladesh.
It was not Pakistan's precarious security nor even its cultural and ethnic diversity, but rather characteristics deeply rooted in the nation's polity that most impeded its early democratic development. The essentials for such a process-- disciplined political parties and a participatory mass electorate--were missing in Pakistan's first years as an independent state. The All-India Muslim League, the party that led the struggle for Pakistan, failed to mature into a stable democratic party with a national following capable of holding together the nation's diverse ethnic and cultural groups. Instead, it disintegrated into rival factions soon after independence. Lack of a consensus over prospective Islamic provisions for the nation's governance, Bengali resentment over the West Pakistanis' initial imposition of Urdu as the national language, and the reluctance of West Pakistani politicians to share power with politicians of the East Wing--all were factors that delayed the acceptance of Pakistan's first constitution until nine years after independence. The nation was also dealt a severe psychological blow when in September 1948, only thirteen months after independence, Mohammad Ali Jinnah--known reverentially as the Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader)--died. Jinnah's role in the creation of Pakistan had been so dominant that it has been observed that he had neither peers nor associates, only lieutenants and aides. Jinnah's primary lieutenant, Liaquat Ali Khan, the nation's first prime minister, was assassinated in October 1951.
Jinnah's and Liaquat's leadership, so critical to the nation in its infancy, was replaced in the early and mid-1950s by the generally lackluster, often inept performances of the nation's politicians. Those few politicians who were effective were all too willing to play upon the emotions of an electorate as yet unaccustomed to open democratic debate. The ethnic and provincial causes championed by these politicians too often took precedence over national concerns. The government was weak and unable to quell the violence and ethnic unrest that distracted it from building strong parliamentary institutions.
Believing that Pakistan's first attempt at establishing a parliamentary system of government failed, in the late 1950s the military ousted the "inefficient and rascally" politicians. During this period, however, the belief that democracy was the "natural state" of Pakistan and an important political goal was not entirely abandoned. Mohammad Ayub Khan, Pakistan's first "soldier-statesman," regarded himself as more of a reformer than an autocrat and, as chief martial law administrator, early on acknowledged the need to relinquish some military control. In his unique governmental system called the "Basic Democracies," Ayub Khan became the "civilian" head of a military regime. Ayub Khan's "democracy from above" allowed for controlled participation of the electorate and was supposed to capture the peculiar "genius" of Pakistan. To his critics, however, Ayub Khan's political system was better characterized as a form of "representational dictatorship." In 1969 an ailing Ayub Khan was forced to resign following nationwide rioting against his regime's perceived corruption, spent economic policies, and responsibility for Pakistan's defeat in the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War over Kashmir. Ayub Khan was briefly succeeded by his army commander in chief, General Mohammad Yahya Khan, who would best be remembered for presiding over the two most traumatic and psychologically devastating events in the country's history: the humiliating defeat of Pakistan's armed forces by India and the secession of East Pakistan.
The East Wing of Pakistan had not benefitted greatly from Ayub Khan's "Decade of Progress," with its gains in agricultural production and trade. Bengali politicians wanted to improve what they considered to be the second-class political and economic status of their province vis-à-vis West Pakistan, just as they had earlier agitated for greater cultural and linguistic recognition. The country's first nationwide direct elections were held in December 1970. The East Pakistan-based Awami League, campaigning on a platform calling for almost total provincial autonomy, won virtually all the seats allotted to the East Wing and was thereby assured a majority in the national legislature.
The results of Pakistan's first nationwide experiment in democracy were not honored. Fearing Bengali dominance in the nation's political affairs, West Pakistani politicians, led by Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and supported by senior army officers, most of whom were Punjabis, pressured Yahya Khan to postpone the convening of the National Assembly. When the Bengalis of East Pakistan revolted openly at this turn of events, the Pakistani military banned the Awami League, arrested its leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and began a massive military crackdown. In the savage civil war that followed, tens of thousands of Bengalis were killed, and an estimated 10 million people took refuge in India. In early December 1971, India entered the war and within weeks decisively defeated the Pakistan military. From the aftermath of the war and the dismemberment of Pakistan came the birth of a new nation: Bangladesh.
To most Pakistanis, the news of Pakistan's defeat came as a numbing shock--their military was disgraced and condemned for its brutal crackdown in East Pakistan. Literally overnight, the country had lost its status as the largest Muslim nation in the world. Gone, too, were any illusions of military parity with India.
Pakistan soon recovered under the charismatic leadership of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who launched a forceful campaign to restore the people's self-confidence and to repair Pakistan's tarnished image abroad. Initially, Bhutto was sworn in as president and chief martial law administrator, the two positions he took over from Yahya Khan. Although he soon revoked formal martial law, he governed autocratically until he was overthrown in 1977.
A man of contradictions, a product of a privileged feudal background, the Western-educated Bhutto nonetheless expounded populist themes of shared wealth, national unity, and the need to restore political democracy under the slogan "Islam our Faith, Democracy our Polity, Socialism our Economy." Bhutto nationalized a large number of the most important manufacturing, insurance, and domestically owned banking industries--actions that substantially slowed economic growth.
By the mid-1970s, Bhutto's autocratic tendencies were interfering with his ability to govern. His determination to crush any and all potential opposition had become obsessive. Bhutto purged his party of real or imagined opponents, created a praetorian security force answerable only to himself, brought the prestigious civil service under his personal control, and sacked military officers who possessed what he described as "Bonapartist tendencies." Fatefully, Bhutto then named General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq--a relatively junior and obscure general--to hold the top army post. Most observers had predicted that Bhutto's PPP would retain control of the National Assembly in the elections of March 1977, but the margin of the PPP's victory was so overwhelming that charges of fraud were immediately made, and riots erupted throughout the country. General Zia was well positioned to act against Bhutto. He abruptly informed the nation that he had taken over as the chief martial law administrator but assured the people that the military desired only to supervise fair elections, which he said would be held in ninety days. This was the first of many promises Zia did not keep. As election time approached, Zia announced that criminal charges were being brought against Bhutto and postponed the elections until after Bhutto had been tried in court. Bhutto was found guilty of complicity in murder of a political opponent, and later hanged. The memory of Bhutto and the circumstances surrounding his fall became a rallying cry for his daughter, Benazir, who, during the 1980s, embraced the politics of revenge as she began her political ascent in steadfast opposition to Zia and martial law.
Zia ul-Haq's eleven years of rule left a profound--and controversial--legacy on Pakistani society. Zia's military junta differed in important aspects from the earlier military regime of Ayub Khan. Like Zia, Ayub Khan had been contemptuous of politicians; his style of governing was autocratic in the tradition of the British Raj and its Mughal predecessors. Nevertheless, Ayub Khan welcomed Western influences in his quest for economic development, and he introduced various reform measures, such as the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, which provided protection for women within their families. Moreover, early in his rule, Ayub Khan isolated the army from the governmental decision-making process and instead relied heavily on senior civil servants and a few conservative politicians.
Zia's rule, by contrast, was notable for the high visibility of a small number of army officers and for his fervent advocacy of a more stringent version of Islamic orthodoxy. Zia made clear his desire to supplant the prevailing legal system with Islamic law, the sharia (see Glossary), and championed a role for Islam that was more state directed and less a matter of personal choice. He proclaimed that all laws had to conform with Islamic tenets and values and charged the military with protecting the nation's ideology as well as its territorial integrity. His establishment of the Federal Shariat Court to examine laws in light of the injunctions of Islam further involved the state in religious affairs.
The crucial and perplexing question of the role Islam should play in Pakistan existed before the creation of the nation and remains unresolved today. Jinnah, himself, supplied a historical reference to the dilemma, stating in his inaugural address, "You will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State." Although each of Pakistan's indigenous constitutions has defined Pakistan as an Islamic state, determining what this means in practice has usually been left open to individual preference. Zia elevated the tempo of the debate over the role of Islam in Pakistani society by directly involving the state with religion.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 and its nine-year occupation of that country not only had a direct impact on Pakistani society in general but also held vital importance for Zia's leadership, influencing his domestic and international image as well as the survivability of his regime. From the beginning of his rule, Zia was regarded by much of the world community as a usurper of power and as something of an international pariah. He furthered his isolation by deciding, early in his regime, to pursue the development of nuclear weapons, a program begun earlier by Bhutto. Building on the long and close relationship between the United States and Pakistan dating from the early years of the Cold War, United States president Jimmy Carter and his administration worked energetically but unsuccessfully to discourage Pakistan's nuclear program, and finally suspending all economic and military aid on April 6, 1979. The execution of Bhutto two days earlier that month had added to United States displeasure with the Zia regime and Pakistan. Relations with the United States soured further when a Pakistani mob burned down the United States Embassy in November 1979.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan abruptly ended Pakistan's estrangement from the United States. Within days, Pakistan once again became Washington's indispensable frontline ally against Soviet expansionism. Massive military and economic assistance flowed into Pakistan despite Zia's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons technology. Pakistan's nuclear program made major advances in the 1980s. Moreover, the change in geostrategic circumstances following the occupation of neighboring Afghanistan allowed Zia to postpone the promised elections repeatedly while he consolidated his position. Foreign assistance provided a stimulus to the economy and became an important means by which Zia neutralized his opponents. The war, depicted by Zia and the Afghan resistance as a holy war of believers versus nonbelievers, facilitated Zia's efforts to transform Pakistan into a state governed by Islamic law.
The war in Afghanistan had many profound and disturbing residual effects on Pakistani society. Pakistan absorbed more than 3.2 million Afghan refugees into its North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan. The influx of so many displaced people threatened to overwhelm the local economies as refugees competed with Pakistanis for resources. With the refugees came an arsenal of weapons. Domestic violence increased dramatically during the war years, and observers spoke dismally of a "Kalashnikov culture" asserting itself in Pakistani society.
By the time of Zia's death in an airplane explosion in August 1988, an agreement had been signed signaling the end of Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, and the Soviet pullout had already begun. Domestic politics in Pakistan were surprisingly tranquil as Pakistan prepared for a transition of power and elections for the National Assembly, which Zia had earlier dissolved. An era seemed to have ended and a new, more promising one to have begun. The prospect for genuine democracy in Pakistan appeared to have dramatically improved, and Pakistan appeared to have reached a watershed in its political development.
After her party won a plurality of seats in the parliamentary elections of November 1988, Benazir Bhutto formed a fragile coalition government and assumed the position of prime minister. She became the first freely elected leader in Pakistan since her father was deposed and the first woman to hold such a high position in a Muslim country. Confronted by severe disadvantages from the start, Benazir soon discovered that the art of governance was considerably more difficult than orchestrating opposition politics. An experienced politician but an inexperienced head of government, she was outmaneuvered by her political opposition, intimidated by the military, and diverted from her reform program. Benazir was also frustrated by her inability to control the spreading social disorder, the widespread banditry, and the mounting ethnic violence between Sindhis and muhajirs in her home province of Sindh. A prolonged struggle between Bhutto and the provincial government of Mian Nawaz Sharif in Punjab culminated in bureaucrat-turned- president Ghulam Ishaq Khan's siding with Nawaz Sharif against Benazir. Empowered by the Eighth Amendment provisions of the constitution--a direct legacy of the Zia ul-Haq regime, which strengthened the powers of the president at the expense of the prime minister--Ishaq Khan dismissed Benazir in August 1990 for alleged corruption and her inability to maintain law and order. He also dismissed her cabinet and dissolved the National Assembly as well as the Sindh North-West Frontier Province provincial assemblies and ordered new elections for October.
The elections brought Nawaz Sharif's Islamic Democratic Alliance (Islami Jamhoori Ittehad--IJI) coalition to power, and for a brief period there appeared to be a workable relationship between the new prime minister and the president. Yet this alliance soon unraveled over policy differences, specifically over the question of who had the power to appoint the top army commander. In charges similar to those Ishaq Khan had before brought against Benazir, Nawaz Sharif was accused in early 1993 of "corruption and mismanagement." Nawaz Sharif, like Benazir before him, was dismissed and the Parliament dissolved--without a vote of confidence ever having been taken in the legislature. This time, however, the Supreme Court overturned the president's action, declaring it unconstitutional. The court restored both the prime minister and the parliament. The Supreme Court's ruling, which served as a stunning rebuke to Ishaq Khan, succeeded in defusing his presidentially engineered crisis and, more important, allowed Ishaq Khan's opponents to boldly challenge the legitimacy of the civil-military bureaucracy that had so often interrupted the process of democratic nation building.
The crisis in government continued as Ishaq Khan, still resolved to undermine the prime minister, brazenly manipulated provincial politics, dissolving the provincial assemblies in Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. Fears of military intervention and the reimposition of martial law loomed as the ongoing feud between the president and prime minister threatened to bring effective government to a standstill. Although the army ultimately intervened in mid-1993 to break the stalemate and convinced both men to step down, fears of a military takeover were unfounded. The army proved sensitive to the spirit of the times and exercised admirable restraint as it assumed a new and benign role as arbiter rather than manipulator of the nation's politics.
A caretaker government led by World Bank official Moeen Qureshi was installed in July 1993, with the mandate to preside over new elections for the national and provincial assemblies. The caretaker government surprised everyone by its vigor and impressed Pakistanis and international observers alike. During his three-month tenure, Qureshi earned the accolade "Mr. Clean" by initiating an impressive number of reform measures. Qureshi published lists of unpaid debts and prevented debtor-politicians from running for office. He also devalued the currency and cut farm subsidies and public-service expenditures. Because the Qureshi caretaker government was temporary and not much constrained by the realpolitik of Pakistani society, observers doubted that any succeeding government would be able to match its record and boldness of action.
In October 1993, Qureshi fulfilled his primary mandate of holding new elections for the national and provincial assemblies. The contest was now between two staunch adversaries--Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto--and their respective parties. Although Benazir's PPP received less of the popular vote than Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), it won a narrow plurality of seats in the National Assembly, enabling Benazir to form a government. Presidential elections were held in November and Farooq Leghari, a member of Benazir's party, won, thereby strengthening her position.
In a political culture that traditionally placed great emphasis on the personal characteristics of its leaders and considerably less on the development of its democratic institutions, the personality of these leaders has always been of paramount, and many would argue exaggerated, importance. The case of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's prime minister in mid-1995, is no exception. Benazir's return to the pinnacle of Pakistani politics in October 1993 was portrayed with great theater as a redemptive second coming for the country's self-proclaimed "Daughter of Destiny." Benazir pledged this time to fulfill some of the promises she had failed to keep during her first tenure as prime minister. These included calming the potentially explosive ethnic problems in the country, strengthening a treasury overburdened with debt, reconstructing a financial system weakened by corruption, managing a burgeoning population with inadequate access to social services and one making heavy demands on the country's fragile ecology, enforcing women's rights in a decidedly male-dominated society, and forging a consensus on the role of Islam in contemporary Pakistani society. Above all, Benazir promised to steer Pakistan further along the road to democracy--a difficult and sensitive task in a country whose power structure has traditionally been authoritarian and whose politics has been socially divisive and confrontational.
As before, Benazir faces a continual challenge from Nawaz Sharif's Punjab-based PML-N, which appears to be pursuing the same strategy of zero-sum politics that succeeded in paralyzing her first government. For a short while, following Benazir's return to power, her public rhetoric and that of her opponent seemed less confrontational than before and tended to stress themes of political stability, cooperation, and accommodation. This period of détente was short-lived, however, as a familiar pattern in Pakistani politics soon reasserted itself, with vigorous opposition attempts to bring down the Benazir government. Unrestrained and sometimes chimerical criticism fueled opposition-orchestrated general strikes, which continued unabated throughout 1994 and into 1995. In response, Benazir branded her opposition as traitorous and "antistate." By the end of the first half of 1995, relations had become so vitriolic between Benazir and Nawaz Sharif that in June, Nawaz Sharif accused Benazir of being "part of the problem" of the escalating violence in Karachi, and Benazir, for her part, leveled an accusation of treason against the former prime minister and chief rival, only months after her government had arrested Nawaz Sharif's father for alleged financial crimes.
Promising to be true to her reform agenda, Benazir unveiled a government budget in June 1994 that called for lowering import duties, making the rupee convertible on the current account, broadening the tax base, and holding down defense spending. These measures will be strengthened by Pakistan's receipt of most of the US$2.5 billion in aid that it requested at a meeting of international donors in 1994. In order to receive US$1.4 billion in preferential International Monetary Fund (IMF--see Glossary) credits, Pakistan agreed to a three-year structural adjustment program of fiscal austerity and deficit cutting. Under guidelines set by the IMF, Pakistan hopes to raise its gross domestic product (GDP--see Glossary) growth to an average of 6.5 percent per year while eventually bringing down inflation to 5 percent. Whether this goal can be reached depends largely on raising Pakistan's export earnings, which suffered in the past few years primarily as a result of a drought, a major flood, and a plant virus "leaf curl" that has devastated cotton production.
Most observers believe that Pakistan's greatest economic advantage is its people: the country possesses the reservoir of entrepreneurial and technical skills necessary for rapid economic growth and development. The textile industry is especially critical to Pakistan's development. This dynamic sector in the economy--a major producer of cotton cloth and yarn--should benefit from the phaseout of textile import quotas under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). By late 1994, Pakistan's official foreign-exchange reserves had risen from below US$300 million the previous year to more than US$3 billion. The government's continuing strategy of privatizing state-owned enterprises appears to be invigorating the economy and attracting substantial foreign investment in the country's stock exchanges. An optimistic Benazir stated that "Pakistan is poised for an economic takeoff" and noted that in the "new world of today, trade had replaced aid."
Although Pakistan's recent economic gains are encouraging, the country faces a number of long-term impediments to growth. The most serious of these are rapid population growth, governmental neglect of social development, continued high inflation and unemployment, a bloated and inefficient bureaucracy, widespread tax evasion and corruption, a weak infrastructure, and defense expenditures that consume more than 25 percent (some estimates are as high as 40 percent) of government spending.
Benazir will also need to address Pakistan's most pressing social problems if her reform program is to have a lasting effect. Many of these problems are caused by the skewed distribution of resources in Pakistan. Although the middle class is growing, wealth has remained largely in the control of the nation's elite. Agitation caused by the unfulfilled promise of rising expectations is fueled by sophisticated media, which extend a glimpse of a better life to every village and basti (barrio).
Pakistan must also work to protect its international image. In mid-1995 human rights violations continued to be widely reported, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture of prisoners, and incidents of extrajudicial killings by overzealous police, most often in connection with government efforts to restore law and order to troubled Sindh. The government, faced with unprecedented levels of societal violence, has been forced to take strong action. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto pledged to use "ruthlessness" where necessary to confront and to root out ethnic and religious militants. Pakistan is also challenged by pervasive narcotics syndicates, which wield great influence in Karachi, as well as in Peshawar in the North-West Frontier Province. Pakistan has, along with Afghanistan, become one of the world's leading producers of heroin, supplying a reported 20 to 40 percent of the heroin consumed in the United States and 70 percent of that consumed in Europe. Pakistan also has an expanding domestic market for illicit drugs--a scourge that is having a devastating effect on Pakistani society. The Pakistan government estimates that there are 2.5 million drug addicts in the country--1.7 million of them addicted to heroin.
A particularly worrisome problem is Pakistan's unwanted role as a base for Islamic militants. These militants come from a wide range of Arab countries, including Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, as well as nations in Central Asia and the Far East, and are mostly based in the North-West Frontier Province. Many of these militants participated in the war in Afghanistan but now serve other, often extremist, causes. An attack that killed two American employees of the United States consulate in Karachi in March 1995 has drawn international attention to the growing terrorist activity in Pakistan.
Pakistan's most pressing foreign relations problem is still Kashmir. India routinely accuses Pakistan of supporting a Kashmiri "intifadah"--a Muslim uprising in Indian-controlled areas of Kashmir. The rebellion, which is centered in the Vale of Kashmir, a scenic intermontane valley with a Muslim majority, has claimed 20,000 lives since 1990. Pakistan claims only to have lent moral and political support to Muslim and Sikh separatist sentiments in Kashmir and the Indian state of Punjab, respectively, while it accuses India of creating dissension in Pakistan's province of Sindh. The Kashmir issue has now broadened in scope and has taken on a new and ominous dimension. In February 1993, then Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey testified before Congress that the arms race between India and Pakistan represented the "most probable prospect" for the future use of nuclear weapons. These sentiments were echoed the following year by United Nations Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, who cautioned that an escalation of hostilities between Pakistan and India could lead to an accident, with "disastrous repercussions." Tensions on the military Line of Control between Pakistani-controlled Azad Kashmir and Indian-held Kashmir remained high in mid-1995.
In August 1994, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made an announcement calculated to showcase his hardline stance on Kashmir, embarrass Benazir's government, and further complicate its relations with the United States over the two countries' most sensitive bilateral issue--Pakistan's clandestine nuclear weapons program. He stated, "If India dares to attack Azad Kashmir, it will have to face the Pakistani atom bomb. I declare that Pakistan is in possession of an atom bomb."
Nawaz Sharif's statement fortified the position of United States supporters of the Pressler Amendment of the Foreign Assistance Act, which has suspended United States aid and most military arms sales to Pakistan since October 1990. Under the amendment, the president must make the required annual certification to Congress that Pakistan does not possess a nuclear weapon. The last certification had been given, guardedly by President George Bush in November 1989.
The timing of Nawaz Sharif's statement also threatened to undermine President William J. Clinton's earlier South Asian nonproliferation initiative: a proposal to Congress to authorize the release to Pakistan of twenty-eight F-16 fighter airplanes (purchased before the aid cutoff) in return for a verifiable cap on Pakistan's production of fissile nuclear material. In mid- 1995, following a visit to the United States by Benazir Bhutto, the Clinton administration and Congress appeared to be moving toward agreement to significantly relax the Pressler Amendment and other "country specific" sanctions that Pakistanis believe unfairly penalize their country for its nuclear program while overlooking India's program. Relaxation of the sanctions could yet be derailed as new accusations by United States intelligence officials surfaced in the United States press in early July 1995 alleging that Pakistan had surreptitiously received fully operable medium-range M-11 ballistic missiles from China. The Clinton administration, however, maintains that there is no conclusive proof that the missiles have been delivered, and until there is, there will be no change regarding sanctions.
Events in Pakistan point to a nation undergoing profound and accelerated change but one very much indebted to its past. Change in Pakistan is perhaps most turbulent in the metropolis of Karachi--Pakistan's economic hub and a city whose well-being may offer a glimpse of the future prospects of the nation. In mid- 1995 Karachi continued to be plagued by a volatile combination of sectarian, ethnic, political, and economic unrest. The city of more than 12 million seems, in the words of one Pakistan watcher, to have fallen almost into a Hobbesian state of "all against all," as religious, political, and criminal gangs--many well armed--wage a battle for control. In a city that is growing by more than 400,000 people a year and has an unemployment rate as high as 14 percent, recruits for feuding religious and political factions are easily available. The violence left as many as 1,000 dead in 1994 and showed little sign of abating in 1995. The army, ordered to provide a measure of security for the city, pulled out in December 1994 after a two- and one-half-year presence, tiring of its policeman role and mindful that Karachi's streets were becoming too dangerous for its troops.
There are many explanations for the lawlessness and disorder in Karachi. Economists cite rampant economic growth. Sociologists cite problems arising from Sunni (see Glossary) and Shia (see Glossary) divisions in Islam and from linguistic and ethnic competition, primarily between Urdu-speaking muhajirs and native Sindhis. The government complains of unruly political parties that are sometimes too willing to include criminal and drug-trafficking elements in their ranks, and it even raises the specter of the "hidden hand" of Indian agents provocateurs intent on destabilizing Pakistan.
In the final analysis, Karachi may present the greatest risk as well as the greatest potential for the nation's future. Some observers are predicting that the success or failure of Benazir's leadership will ultimately rest on how she manages or fails to manage the crisis in Karachi. On the one hand, if the city continues to be mired in anarchy and violence, its reputation as a cosmopolitan symbol of the new Pakistan will be tarnished. If security does not improve, foreign investors are likely to stay away, delaying Pakistan's much-anticipated economic takeoff. On the other hand, if the situation in Pakistan's largest "urban laboratory" improves, the lessons learned can be applied elsewhere in the nation.
Benazir's father, former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in 1977 wrote, "Politics is not the conversion of a flowering society into a wasteland. Politics is the soul of life. It is my eternal romance with the people. Only the people can break this eternal bond." These words high lighted his philosophy of bringing politics to the street and deriving strength from the masses. This philosophy served his daughter well during her years as an opposition figure but considerably less so during her first term as prime minister. Whether or not Benazir can keep the allegiance of the people while presiding over the maturation of Pakistan's democratic institutions will largely depend on her understanding of her nation's complex political legacy.
July 10, 1995
Data as of April 1994
NOTE: The information regarding Pakistan on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Pakistan Introduction information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Pakistan Introduction should be addressed to the Library of Congress.