5 February 2016

India-Pakistan: Unsettling Comparisons

February 2, 2016: Despite a massive 18 month long campaign against Islamic terrorist hideouts along the Afghan border the Pakistani military cannot reduce the incidence of Islamic terror attacks below about half their “normal” (since 2003) level. Back in 2003 there were 189 terrorist related deaths in Pakistan. That rose to 863 in 2004 and kept going until it peaked at 11,700 in 2009. Increased efforts by security forces steadily reduced that 5,300 in 2013. Public pressure led to the major offensive in the northwest against North Waziristan in mid-2014 which spread to adjacent border areas but not the major Islamic terrorist sanctuaries in the southwest (Quetta) or the northeast (Kashmir). In 2015 there were 3,682 deaths, most of them Islamic terrorists killed in the offensive. But Islamic terrorist attacks only fell by about half. The offensive in the northwest is to continue to the end of 2016 and there is general agreement that it was not enough. The military is under growing pressure to shut down all Islamic terrorists in the country. Many military officers resist that because they believe, for religious or economic reasons that some Islamic terrorists must still be protected (so they can attack India and Afghanistan.) It is getting harder and harder to defend that position. America, India and Afghanistan are leading that effort and Pakistani government denials no longer work at all. 

India, in contrast, has far fewer problems with terrorist violence. In 2009 India (with six times as many people as Pakistan) suffered 2,200 terrorism related deaths. Per-capita that’s less than four percent of what Pakistan suffered. In 2015 India had 722 deaths, which is closer to three percent of what Pakistan suffered. Moreover the majority of Indian deaths have nothing to do with religion but rather are caused by tribal separatists (Pakistan has some of those) and leftist rebels (none in Pakistan). Most of the Pakistani terrorism deaths are about Islam. A growing number of Pakistanis are wondering why these huge differences exist. 

A major reason for these differences can be found in patterns of corruption and military influence on politics. The Pakistani anti-corruption movement, although it has lots of popular support, is bumping into a very powerful and stubborn obstacle; the military. Since Pakistan was created in 1947, the country has been ruled nearly half the time by generals who took over "for the good of the country." That is no longer as tolerated as it once was. The generals originally believed they were going to be part of a democracy, like neighboring India. But the Pakistani military quickly became aware of the fact that political forces in Pakistan were not as mature or as powerful as in India. For whatever cultural, historical and religious reasons Pakistani democracy was not working well and the military was the largest and best educated and disciplined part of the government. It seemed natural that during a political crises (the elected officials deadlocked and unable to rule) the military should step in. The politicians, and most of the people, did not agree with this and as the decades passed the politicians and their political parties became more skilled and the military takeovers less justified by necessity. Unfortunately to make military rule work where civilian rule could not the military made some fundamental and very damaging changes in Pakistani culture. Unlike in India Pakistan did not do much to eliminate the local “ancient curses”. As a result after 1947 Pakistan remained very corrupt and few wealthy feudal families continued to dominate the economy, politics and the military. In Pakistan less than a hundred of these clans control about half the economy. They are very powerful and determined to keep things that way. That has been accomplished by working very closely with the military. A disproportionate number of military leaders come from these clans and these men see family and national interests as inseparable. More damage was done in the 1970s when it was clear that the politicians were gaining in skill and power. So the generals decided to back religious radicalism and Islamic terrorist groups. Many officers later regretted that decision mainly because there was no easy way to turn the Islamic terrorism monster off once it had been declared legitimate but was no longer needed. So now, faced with the loss of political power the generals are looking for another way to safeguard their wealth (gained largely via corruption) and privileges (also mostly illegal) from growing public wrath.

No comments: