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Five Futures For Pakistan

May 21, 2008
In this essay, I outline Five futures for Pakistan: (1) the Pendulum continues forever, (2) Collapse, (3) Joining Chindia, (4) the Great Game, and (5) a South Asian Confederation. The most familiar and likely are based on the pendulum of rule by the military and rule by landlord/politicians. However, what is needed is to move from the more likely and less desirable futures to a process of anticipatory democracy where the citizens of Pakistan consider, create and commit to building their preferred future.


While the assassination of Benazir Bhutto certainly plunged Pakistan into one of its works crisis in decades, the recent successful electionsi appear to have brought hope back again. The extremist parties did poorly, and even with a low turn out and election violence, it appears that the latest cycle of military rule is over. But how long will this cycle last?

I ask this question as Syed Abidi has made the observation that Pakistan's political system can best be understood as a pendulum between civilian rule and military rule. There have been six such swings, with the seventh toward civilian rule beginning in 2008.

These swings occur because of the deep archetypes in Pakistan's politics. There are four archetypes in Pakistan politics - the general and military rule, the people and peoples' power that overthrows the ruler, the politician-feudal lord, and the bureaucrat who ensures smooth transitions between all these types. Each one of these archetypes has two sides - the general can be protective and moral (the enlightened despot) or can be amoral, staying too long, clinging to power, assaulting human rights and using religion or strategy to stay in power. The feudal lord can equally be protective or can stay too long, and use his or her power for personal gain. The citizen can be chaotic or can bring social capital to the nation. The bureaucracy can be transparent and use their power to create a productive society (green tape) or it can slow the wheels of the nation, using time, money and symbolic power to hold the nation back (red tape).

Given these patterns, what can we say about Pakistan's futures. Five are currently possible.


1.The pendulum continues forever. This would mean that after this particular civilian cycle, there will be another military coup in 7-10 years. Politicians will have some luck in ridding Pakistan of extremist fundamentalists, but old scores between the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League or between the PPP and the military will still need to be settled. Issues of justice and revenge will continue and just as Pakistan's economy is about to take off, another crisis will set in. Citizens will rally but then when they see no real change will become despondent. "Nothing is possible here," or a similar catch-phrase will be the inner story. Globalization will not go away but the politics would swing between growth and equity.

2. Collapse - this is the most feared scenario for all, particularly in the West. Civil war in Pakistan (the provinces going their own way), the inability to stop jihadism, Al Qa'ida or their friends finding some nukes, not to mention the global challenges of climate change, all lead to a slow decline destined for collapse. And if the challenge from the Pakistani and Afghani Taliban is resolved, the frontline will switch to half-century old war in. Capital flies away, economic development slows down and Pakistan becomes a nation of competing tribes. Women in this future are particularly vulnerable as the battle between religious and secularists throughout the Islamic (Arab influenced world) is fought over the "body" of the female. Is she a person unto herself or does the strong male (feudal lord, ruler, mullah) need to protect and control. In the collapse, chaos would reign. Over time, and perhaps even quite quickly, a strong military leader is likely to rise (the Napoleon scenario), but can the great leader unite all the tribes (the challenge facing Afghanistan today)?

3. Joining Chindia. With India likely to move into the ranks of the G-8 by 2020, gaining a permanent UN Security Council Position, Pakistan's only hope is to link in every possible way with India and China - or Chindia. Certainly Pakistan will favor the China part of the amazing rise, but in any case, in this future, economic growth is far more important than ideological struggles. To move in this direction, the Singapore or Malaysian model may be adopted. This model is characterized by a clear vision of the future, transparency; break up of the feudal system, limited democracy (One party rule) and creatively finding a niche role in the global economy, and then using that to springboard to becoming a global player. However, the India example shows that economic rise is possible outside the East Asian model. In any case, this future is hopeful but requires investment in infrastructure and a favoring of globalized capitalism. Instead of lamenting the colonial past, in this Chindia future, Pakistan creates its own transnational corporations. Politics moves from focusing on old wrongs (Kashmir, for example) to desired futures. Instead of Chindia, Chindistan is created.

4. The fourth scenario is the Great Game.vi Pakistan remains a pawn, moved around for the strategic and ideological purposes of the great powers. Whether in proxy wars against the Russians or against 9/11 jihadis or whoever may be next, Pakistan's capacity to influence its future is low or non-existent. At best, it can only rent out its military, or territory, for others' battles. In this future (as in the current present), the rental receipts do not lead to even development -they merely enrich those getting the rent, generally the military. The national game becomes not how to transform the great game but how to get a piece of the action, legitimately or illegitimately. Those not part of the money game sing songs of grand conspiracies. These songs take away agency. While Pakistan has a dependency relationship with the rest of the world, citizens have a dependency - child/adult - relationship with the government, expecting it to solve each and every problem, without taking responsibility for their own actions and blaming the government when it fails. At the collective level, Pakistan remains rudderless, evoking the words of the founder, but unable to follow through with action.

5. A wiser South-Asian confederation. The challenges Pakistan faces are similar to what other countries in the region face - religious extremism, climate change, poverty, corruption, deep inequity, used futures and less than helpful archetypes - the only way forward is towards an EU model of slow but inevitable integration. While this may seem too positive and far away, it is not impossible. Each country needs the help of others to solve their problems. None can go it alone, and each can learn from the Other. This requires learning, peace and mediation skills in all schools; moving toward the sustainability development agenda; developing agreements in security, water, and energy to begin with; and a focus on the desired future and not on past injustices. Gender equity and systemic and deep cultural levels is foundational for this future. This future also requires an archetype that is neither the male general nor feudal lord nor the rebellious teenager, but the wise person, perhaps the Globo sapiens. Fortunately, the south Asian tradition is steeped with wisdom. Can this imagination be drawn on to create a different future? Already in Pakistan, there are hundreds of groups and thousands of individuals working on this vision. What is needed is systemic support for this future, and a move away from focusing on past injustices.


If an alternative future for Pakistan is not created, the pendulum will continue with collapse always being in the background. But this futures creation process cannot be done from above via a planning commission; rather, it must be part of a broader process of anticipatory democracy - citizens, leaders and researchers mapping out alternative scenarios, then analyzing the benefits and costs of each future, visioning the desired, mediating conflicts between the desired, and then creating action learning processes to realize the desired. Anticipatory democracy thus can deepen electoral democracy, bringing focus not just to futures Pakistanis do not wish for but more so to those that are desirable.
About the Author
Sohail Inayatullah is a futurist and political scientist based in Australia. You can read more of his articles at his website http://www.metafuture.org , where you will also find a longer version of this article with notes and references.
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