by Omar Ali
Punditry without predictions is like a fish without a bicycle and who would ever want that? But if one does make predictions, one’s predictions can be checked. That, perhaps, is why no paid pundit makes too many predictions. But, with nothing at stake, I will not only make predictions, I will also recall predictions from 3 years ago for criticism. And dear socialist friends, please remember these are not prescriptions, they are predictions. I don’t like them much either.
In March of 2009 I took a road trip across the Eastern United States and asked several generally well informed Pakistani friends what they thought was likely to happen in Pakistan in the days to come. I am reproducing that article unchanged below; the first few theories are what my friends proposed would happen, followed by my own predictions from 2009. I consulted two of the same friends again this week and their current predictions and my own 2012 predictions follow. It is, of course, a very small and unrepresentative sample, biased towards liberals, infidels and leftists with no other input. And it is not expressed in University-Speak. So please, be gentle.
The 2009 scenarios:
1. Things fall apart: This theory holds that all the various chickens have finally come home to roost. The elite has robbed the country blind and provided neither governance nor sustenance and now the revolution is upon us: the jihadis have a plan and the will to enforce it and the government has neither. The jihadis have already captured FATA and most of Malakand (a good 20% of NWFP) and are inevitably going to march onwards to Punjab and Sindh. The army is incapable of fighting these people (and parts of it are actively in cahoots with the jihadis) and no other armed force can match these people. The public has been mentally prepared for Islamic rule by 62 years of Pakistani education and those who do resist will be labeled heretics and apostates and ruthlessly killed. The majority will go along in the interest of peace and security. America will throw more good money after bad, but in the end the Viceroy and her staff will be climbing rope ladders onto helicopters and those members of the elite who are not smart enough to get out in time will be hanging from the end of the ladder as the last chopper pulls away from the embassy. Those left behind will brush up their kalimas and shorten their shalwars and life will go on. The Taliban will run the country and all institutions will be cleansed and remodeled in their image.
2. Jihadi Army: The army is the army of Pakistan. Pakistan is an Islamic state. They know what to do. They will collect what they can from the Americans because we need some infidel technologies that we don’t have in our own hands yet, but one glorious day, we will purge the apostate officers and switch to full jihadi colors. The country will be ruled with an iron hand by some jihadi general, not by some mullah from FATA. All corrupt people will be shot. Many non-corrupt people will also be shot. Allah’s law will prevail in Allah’s land. And then we will deal with Afghanistan (large scale massacre of all apostates to be held in the stadium), India, Iran and the rest of the world in that order.
3. Controlled burn: This theory holds that there is no chance of any collapse or jihadi takeover. What we are seeing are the advanced stages of a Jedi negotiation (or maybe a Sith negotiation would be a better term). The army wants more money and this is a controlled burn. They let the Taliban shoot up some schools and courts (all bloody useless civilian institutions anyway). Panic spreads across the land. People like John Kerry come to Islamabad and almost shit in their pants at the thought of Taliban “60 miles away from the capital”. Just as Zia played the drunken Charlie Wilson and the whole Reagan team for fools, the current high command is playing on the fears and ignorance of the American embassy and morons like Kerry and even Clinton. 5 billion is peanuts. The sting has been prepared with extreme finesse. When Obama coughs up a good 10-20 billion, things will be brought under control, but just barely. The scam will continue for the foreseeable future. The jihadis may have their dreams, but the army is in charge and can easily defend the “settled areas”. The rest can stay in jihadi hands as a suitable cash cow.
4. The coming war on the Indian border: The border of India is on the Indus, not on the Radcliffe line. The Taliban will take over the mountains, but they will be resisted at the edge of the plains. The Americans will train the army to fight this new war. There will be setbacks and loads of violence, but in the end the center will hold. America will fight a new kind of drone war in the mountains and in time, the beards will be forced to negotiate. Along the way, many wedding parties will also get bombed but you cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs. The Indian part of Pakistan will make peace with India and India will help us fight the Northern invaders. The army high command is NOT jihadi. But they lack capacity and need time to build it up. They need to be supported and strengthened. America should pay them more money and pay more heed to their tactical advice.
5. Buffer state: a variant of the above theory holds that Punjab is the historic buffer of India. All sorts of invaders come in, fight over the Punjab and capture it. Then the peasants get to work. We might even convert to whatever barbaric ideology they have brought, but in time the peasants outbreed and outflank the invaders. In the end, the invaders become Indian and help us outbreed and outlast the next invading horde. We win by “assimilation and attrition”. I am not sure if this is an optimistic theory or a pessimistic one. In India, the two are practically the same anyway.
And this was my personal opinion in 2009: The state is stronger than many people think. But it is grossly incompetent and the elite itself is split and infiltrated by jihadi sympathizers. It won’t collapse soon, but all problems will continue to get worse for the foreseeable future. A big drone offensive is coming and there will be much secondary fighting in Pakistan. But there is at least a 50-50 chance that Jihadistan will NOT be able to expand into the Punjab and Sindh (though much terrorism will surely happen). The army will be gradually purged of jihadis and will one day come around to being a serious anti-jihadi force, but it won’t be easy and it may not happen. If the army continues to have jihadi sympathies, then all bets are off and many horrendous scenarios are imaginable. The US embassy presumably knows more than we do. On the other hand, their declassified documents make it clear that they are incredibly naïve and racist in their assumptions and tend to regard the people they have colonized as mildly retarded children; so there is a good chance they don’t know batshit about what is going on, but are able to present impressive looking PowerPoints about three cups of tea with Kiyani and the other brown children who inhabit the world outside the green zone..
The 2012 Predictions. This time I asked the friend who proposed “controlled burn” (lets call him comrade Zee) and Dr. A, who proposed “Jihadi army” in 2009 and then I made some new and improved predictions of my own.
1. Mutually Assured Corruption. This is comrade Zee’s current prediction (and he claims copyright on the term); Pakistan’s army and bureaucracy used to get first dibs on everything, but their short-sighted policies have weakened their hold over the country and they will now share power with the politicians and the judiciary in an arrangement of mutually assured corruption. This elite will continue to enrich itself and will provide limited governance at least in the core Punjabi and urban areas. The Jihadis will continue to occupy sections of FATA and the current on-again off-again peace process will alternate with tit for tat bombings and killings for the foreseeable future, but they will not be able to expand beyond the Islamic emirate. Punjabi Jihadis will remain divided between true believers and ISI-controlled assets and will continue to be used to milk the Americans and to maintain a background level of Islamism in society. Baluchistan will become Pakistan’s Kashmir, an unhappy population subject to harsh measures but unable to break away. Unlike Kashmiris, they will also be swamped by settlers and thumped by Jihadis allied with the army. In that sense, they will be worse off than Kashmir. But they cannot break away unless a foreign power (the USA and no other) acts on their behalf and that will not happen because the US has interests in Pakistan and no matter how badly the Pakistani army behaves, as a nuclear power they will get a second (and third and fourth) chance as long as they themselves remain aware of the limits of American patience.
2. Jihadi Army. Dr. A proposed this scenario in 2009 and he is sticking by his prediction. He says that that the “optimists” assume that economic self-interest or non-jihadist cultural elements will somehow dominate the hardcore Jihadist elements because economics and deep cultural roots trump fringe Jihadism in principle. But this fails to take into account the peculiar nature of the Pakistani state. Pakistan is the perfect marriage of Islamic supremacism, psychotic self-hatred (i.e. hatred for our own Indian roots) and elite incompetence. The elite may indeed regard hardcore Islamism as a step too far, but they are terminally corrupt and incompetent and every passing year brings us closer to revolution. And in Pakistan, the revolution will not be Marxist, it will be Islamist. An overwhelming majority of the population long since abandoned all “un-Islamic” identities in principle (though not in practice, yet). When the shit hits the fan, they will look towards something called “Islam” to solve their problems. And it won’t be the thinly imagined Islam of Ziauddin Sardar or Westernized Karachi socialites. It will be the real deal; Salafist-Wahabi Islam willing to kill all infidels. And they will start at home with Shias and other internal enemies.
My own prediction in 2012: More of the same. I agree with comrade Zee that the elite will hold on with “mutually assured corruption”. I think Baluchistan will remain a festering wound but it will not reach Bangladesh or Kashmir level of violence. I think some of the Jihadist militias in FATA will continue to fight the state but outside of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa the level of violence will be tolerable. And I think Imran Khan will not be able to solve corruption in 19 days or terrorism in 90 days. In fact, I think he won’t even be able to come into power. I think the US will gradually lessen its footprint in the region and will try to hand over a lot of the local imperialist duties to China, but the Chinese will prove too smart to take up the job. Through all this, economic growth and rapid cultural change will continue in Pakistan and will even accelerate. The army’s hold on the country will weaken over time. Their dream of a “Chinese model authoritarian regime with Islamic characteristics” will remain unfulfilled. Nothing will look satisfactory to anyone, but the state will not collapse and there will be no wider war. In short, I don’t think Pakistan is about to collapse, but I don’t think it is about to undergo some magical transformation under the wise leadership of Kiyani or Imran Khan either. And I don’t think it’s going to see an “Islamic revolution” because there is no there there. The Islamists themselves have no workable plan for any such revolution. They are mouthing empty slogans and at some level most people know this.
The long term future of Pakistan is “Indianization”. Not in the sense of “Indian cultural invasion” or “Indian hegemony”, but in the simple literal sense of “becoming more like India”. Obviously not exactly like India, but close enough for government work; a corruption-ridden, imperfect third world democracy with an expanding capitalist economy and many internal divisions and stresses and the additional burden of Islamic fantasizing. And I think there is little chance of developing a unique indigenous socialist/islamist/vegetarian short-cut past all these problems, much to the dismay of the Arundhati Roys and Tariq Alis, not to speak of Hindutvadis and Islamists. Pakistan will not show the world some new path to the future. It will be a “normal” South Asian country, trying to stabilize a democratic model derived from British Indian roots while working out a modus vivendi between its ancient cultures, its “Islamic” ideals and the modern world. The economy has now become too large for even the narrow elite to be dominated by imperial mercenary duties or scams related to the same. In that sense, things will be a little better. It’s not a perfect outcome, but we do not live in a perfect world.