Pakistan: Ominous Political Trends

Continuing the analysis of Pakistan’s future
on the basis of a model of political violence

Taking an initial, fairly high-level look at the Pakistani political situation, if we group political actors into three broad groups – the military, Islamic activists, and democratic forces, out of the eight original scenarios in the model of political behavior discussed yesterday, only two (Violence and Cold Steel) currently seem relevant. All three of these groups are very broad and include institutional and individual actors representing a wide spectrum of attitudes and behavior, but it is at least possible to say that the military, Islamic activists, and even democratic foreces include significant components displaying behavior fitting into the Violence Scenario; that is, components exhibiting a preference for force rather than compromise to achieve their goals and that have a high degree of ideological commitment.

Methodological Note 1: The placements of all three groups in the graph represents their most extreme elements. A useful enhancement would be a graphic showing both the range of opinion within a group and the weight. A key question for the future of Pakistani politics, for example, is the degree of radical Islamic sympathy within the military.

In addition, this initial discussion has also already exposed a deficiency in the model: the absence of an Ideological Heterogeneity variable. To ask if a political system is highly ideological is only part of the story; I hypothesize that violence will be significantly more likely in a system in which several, mutually contradictory ideologies exist than in an ideological but united system.

In Pakistan:

  • The military is arguably divided between secular nationalists and Islamists (though one could also argue that the typical Pakistani military perspective does not see nationalism and Islamism as contradictory at all but a partnership in which the military defends Pakistani sovereignty with the Islamists both minding civil society and taking care of tactical issues on which the military prefers not to get its hands dirty). Moreover, devotion to both nationalist and Islamist feeling appears frequently to be intense.
  • The populace is divided between democrats and Islamists and, perhaps, those who will accept any government capable of improving the economy. Again, devotion to these ideologies appears frequently to be intense.


Even more ominous than the positions of key actors are the directions in which they are moving.
As violence continues and the confrontation between the dictatorship and popular demands for democracy as well as that between authority and Islamic militancy seem to be intensifying, the political environment appears to be getting increasingly challenging. U.S. pressure on the regime to attack Islamic radicals risks cloaking Islamists in nationalist garb and simultaneously making them both more extreme and more popular.

Conflict resolution strategy is also becoming more reliant on force:

  • The use of force by the Military has recently become extreme in all directions, including not only the attack on the Red Mosque and Swat Valley but Musharraf’s “coup against himself” and his blatant arrest of judiciary;
  • Source

  • Islamic militants are not only crossing the border into Afghanistan and Kashmir but now fighting against the dictatorship that sponsored them;
  • Among the elite, quintessential middle class lawyers put their lives on the line in the street even in the face of extraordinary police brutality, while both Sharif and Bhutto risked their lives by essentially forcing their way back into Pakistan.

As for the level of ideological commitment, it is hard to see signs of decline; both adherents of democracy and adherents of Islamic rule appear to be moving toward greater ideological commitment. Although the intensity of popular feeling following the return of Bhutto may fade quickly, the resilience of the judiciary in the face of government oppression has been both impressive and steady now for at least half a year. Compromises between the Musharraf regime and Islamic militants have been breaking down over the last year, as well. Moreover, Musharraf’s 1999 Kargil adventure and the sending of terrorists into Kashmir both suggest that the military’s supernationalism has been rising over the last decade.

Methodological Note 2: Tracking the trend line for each group shown in the above graphic would enhance its analytical value.

The above analysis raises a number of serious, long-term questions about the future of Pakistan that go well beyond the fate of individual politicians, instead focusing on institutional integrity and the dynamics that cause behavior.

  • To what degree will the military remain united?
  • Will the internal divisions in the military between nationalists and Islamists make the military more cautious and analytical or drive it toward internal crackdown and international adventure?
  • Will the key players be able to reverse the recent slide toward violence and find a way to minimize the increasingly dangerous and extreme ideological conflict or will the system continue what seems to be its evolution toward zero-sum conflict?
  • To what degree will the military be analytical vs ideological?
  • To what degree will the middle class become more ideologically committed to strident demands for democracy now, even at the cost of violence in the face of the regime’s lack of sympathy?
  • To what degree will Islamic feeling spread in the military and among the downtrodden poor?
  • To what degree will Islamic feeling become radicalized?
  • To what degree will all sides reach the conclusion that violence to achieve their political ends is justified?

And perhaps the most fateful question of all for Pakistan’s future:

Given that the military, Islamic radicals, and the U.S. all currently lean
heavily toward solutions based on force, can the Pakistani population resist
following suit or be a significant political player if it remains committed
to peaceful methods?

Future posts will discuss Pakistani political trends and U.S. policy options…


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