By C. Raja Mohan
Few countries get the kind of international political and policy attention that Pakistan draws. The nation’s pivotal role in shaping the global war on terror and the American occupation of Afghanistan after 9/11 has generated much work from journalists and policy wonks in recent years.
TV Paul, a reputed scholar of International Relations based at McGill University in Canada, joins the effort to understand the political paradox that Pakistan is. Unlike the fleeting reportage and instant analyses, Paul digs deep into the causes of state failure in the country.
It might be one of the world’s poorest countries, but Pakistan has played a significant role in the great power conflicts since the end of World War II. The United States and China have long valued their partnership with the Pakistan army and showered it with valuable assistance for more than half a century.
For the kingdoms of the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia, the Pakistan army is an integral part of their national security calculus and they have always bailed Pakistan out of financial troubles.
If Pakistan’s ISI is considered one of the world’s most powerful spy agencies, its diplomats draw much international respect for their sophistication. The not-so-discreet charms of Pakistan’s thin ruling elite can bowl over even the most ardent opponents of the nation. Its writers and artists are now making a big mark on the global scene.
Despite all these advantages, Pakistan appears to have put itself on the brink of collapse. Pakistan’s economy is in a shambles and the army is desperately trying to gain control over its lawless western borderlands that are home to the world’s top terrorist organisations. Violent extremism and sectarian hatred are tearing apart Pakistan’s social fabric. Paul looks at three important ideas to explain the tragedy of Pakistan. One is the concept of “geostrategic curse”. It is akin to the “resource curse” which turned out to be the bane of many countries blessed with an abundance of valuable natural resources like oil. Pakistan, which was blessed with extraordinary geopolitical leverage after the Partition of the subcontinent, could not turn it into a tool for national development. Instead, its elites got used to the easy extraction of geopolitical rent, from the major powers as well as the Islamic world, and were unwilling to pursue the hard task of nation-building.
Second, Paul argues that after independence, Pakistan developed a world view that he calls “hyper-realpolitik” that overstated the dangers of external threats and under-emphasised the imperatives of domestic political and economic development.
Third, feeding into this was Pakistan’s paranoid quest for strategic parity with India which in turn led to the dominance of the military over the Pakistani state and prevented the emergence of sustainable domestic political institutions and a viable economic strategy.
In themselves, none of these explanations are novel. Paul’s success, however, rests in locating the study of Pakistan in the broader context of political development in the post-colonial world. Unlike many of his peers in political science departments, Paul communicates with easy prose, making The Warrior State intellectually stimulating without being pedantic.
For Paul, the story of Pakistan serves a larger purpose: to examine the various theories on the relationship between war and development. Paul contests the argument, based on European experience that war-making compels the creation of an efficient and modernising state.
Paul argues that “Pakistan’s experience shows that the war-making state may bring neither economic development nor political cohesion. If any thing can bring prosperity in the globalised world of the 21st century, it is likely to be a state that reduces the role of military and war-making efforts”.
Paul reinforces the point by comparing Pakistan’s experience with that of Brazil, Turkey and South Korea, which were once authoritarian states. He argues that all three of them have successfully transformed themselves into “developmental states”, while Pakistan has not. Paul’s use of political theory to explain the evolution of Pakistan makes The Warrior State a very distinctive contribution to the literature on the contemporary subcontinent.
The book certainly helps the Indian strategic community develop a cold and detached approach to understanding Pakistan and rise above the high emotional quotient that guides Delhi’s daily discourse on this difficult neighbour.
To develop a successful policy towards Pakistan over the longer term, however, India must combine Paul’s clinical approach with much sensitivity to the modern history of the subcontinent — especially the origins of the Partition and its bitter consequences. Even more important, India needs a measure of genuine empathy with the people of Pakistan to leaven Paul’s crystal clear judgements on state failure in Pakistan.
Book: The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World
Author: TV Paul
Publisher: Random House India
Price: Rs 499
C Raja Mohan is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, and a contributing editor at The Indian Express