August 4, 2018

The words ‘hope’ and ‘Pakistan’ do not often appear together.  Pakistan, a sprawling nation of 205 million, is hard to govern, even harder to finance, and seething with tribal or religious violence and discord.

But Pakistan, which for me is one of the most interesting and important nations on earth, is by far the leading nation of the Muslim world and a redoubtable military power.  Created in 1947 from former British India as a haven for oppressed Muslims, Pakistan has been ruled ever since by military juntas or by slippery and often corrupt civilian politicians.

 After decades of dynastic politics under the Bhutto and Sharif families, there is suddenly hope that  newly elected cricket star Imran Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (PTI) may – just may – tackle Pakistan’s four biggest problems: endemic corruption, military interference, political tribalism, and a half-dead economy.

Former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, appears to be headed for jail over a corruption scandal unless he is allowed to go into exile in London. The exiled former military dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is hiding out in Dubai awaiting charges of treason.

I spent a good deal of time with Pakistan’s former leaders, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and his bitter foe, Benazir Bhutto, both of whom were later murdered.  Neither Musharraf nor Nawaz measured up to these colorful personalities in political skills, vision, or personality.

Imran Khan is sometimes called ‘Pakistan’s Jack Kennedy’ for his movie-star good looks, charisma and zesty love life.  He no longer plays professional cricket though he is still idolized in Pakistan and, interestingly, bitter foe India. 

Khan (who is of Pashtun tribal blood) is also a philanthropist and respected thinker.  He says he is determined to begin rooting corruption out of Pakistan and to revivify its ailing economy.  Pakistan’s GDP is only $1,641 per person compared to India’s $2,134.  The illiteracy rate is about 40%, notably among women who are the primary teachers of the young.

As Imran Khan is about to take office, Pakistan’s coffers are almost empty.  Islamabad has had to take 12 loans from the International Monetary Fund in the last 40 years, in part to pay for its oil imports.

Now, Islamabad is negotiating yet another loan of $57 billion from its most important ally, China, whose vast belt and road project covering transportation, ports and infrastructure seeks to modernize Pakistan and turn it into a primary conduit to the Arabian Sea. 

But Donald Trump’s Washington is angry over China’s dollar diplomacy, formerly a preserve of US foreign policy.  US State Secretary Mike Pompeo, who plays bad cop to Trump’s bad cop, lambastes Pakistan for the Chinese loan.  

The White House is obviously dismayed by China’s growing influence over Pakistan caused, in large part, by the US decision to cut aid to Pakistan and favor its old enemy, India.  President George Bush aided India’s military nuclear program, alarming China and Pakistan.  Now, Trump is working to mobilize India against China.  So far, India has been too smart to act as an American strategic proxy.

Imran Khan will now have a chance to resolve the Indo-Pakistani dispute over contested Kashmir that has flared since 1947.  India keeps one million soldiers and police there to repress the rebellious majority Muslim population that seeks to join Pakistan or create an independent state.  The UN mandated a referendum to determine Kashmir’s future but India ignores it.

The new Khan government must also try to find a way to get the US out of the giant hole it has dug in Afghanistan.  Imran has been a vocal critic of the stalemated US war in Afghanistan. Soon, he will control the major supply lines to US forces there.

India and Pakistan are important nuclear-armed powers.  Their nuclear forces are on a hair-trigger alert of less than 5 minutes.  There is frequent fighting on the Kashmir cease-fire line between the two sides.  India’s vastly larger forces are poised to invade Pakistan.  Islamabad says it must have tactical nuclear weapons to deter such an overwhelming Indian attack. 

The Kashmir border is the world’s most dangerous flash point.

Imran Khan may be able to calm tensions over Kashmir and open meaningful talks with India where he is very popular.  In the 1980’s, Gen. Zia ul Haq headed off an invasion by India by flying to Delhi on the spur of the moment to attend a cricket match.  This writer expects Imran Khan to similarly appear in India for his ultimate diplomatic test match.  

Copyright  Eric S. Margolis 2018


This post is in: Pakistan


  1. The biggest problem Pakistan faces is its population which is now 200 million and growing at around 2% annually. At this rate it will be 400 million by 2050.

    Pakistan has a very thin per capita resource base with very and imports close to 40% of its energy.

    Not a combination to inspire confidence about future stability.


  2. Raj Sathya says:

    The muslims who ruled India for some 1200 years was not willing to submit to Indian authorities should India gets its independence, to muslims, it was an humiliation,they felt humiliated.Ali Jinnah who was with Gandhi fighting along for an independent India campaigned for separate muslim nation to save from humiliation,at the end Pakistani mulims killed 3 million Bangladeshi muslims, Pakistani muslims killed hundred thousands of Balochistanis, Pakistani muslims killed muslims in POK, Sindh and Fata.Pakistan exterminated its own hindu population from 22% to 1%. Pakistan kills Ahmadiyah muslims and shia muslims in Pakistan as they dont consider them muslims.
    Ironically fighting for muslim homeland for Kashmir muslims in India. Whoever the Pakistani leader may be, they must come out from the fake ideology and face the world realistically.I would ask Pakistan to adapt the system, countries like Malaysia which is mulim moderate,lately expelled a muslim rule under Prime Minister Najib Razak was found corrupted, if not Pakistan will become another Syria.

    • The irony about Kashmir and Pakistan’s wish to control all of it, is that most Kashmiris, if given the choice, would rather be independent of both India and Pakistan. However, Pakistan has used Kashmir and the supposed threat from India to a great extent as political footballs, to divert its people’s attention from the country’s economic and political messes and as an attempt to deter the Pakistani people from turning on each other, which they have frequently often done anyway.

  3. Steve_M. says:

    Since our family lived for a few years in Pakistan in the 1960s, I find Eric’s comments about it to be of particular interest.

    I have a few comments on certain points Eric makes. The mention of Nawaz Sharif and the possibility of him going to jail, unless he is allowed to go into exile in London, reminds me of what happened to former president Iskander Mirza in October 1958, when General Ayub Khan forced him out of office and gave him the option of going into self-imposed exile. Mirza moved to London, England, owned a Pakistani restaurant in the city, and died there in 1969.

    As for the US becoming upset about China’s growing influence over Pakistan, it’s obvious that Pompeo and Trump understand nothing about the history of the relationship between the two countries. Pakistan and China began making overtures to each other as far back as the 1960s; China’s then-premier, Zhou Enlai, visited the country in early 1964. Soon after that, Pakistan International Airlines began regular flights to Guangzhou and Shanghai. After the Indo-Pakistani War in 1965, when the US and Britain cut off arms aid to Pakistan, Ayub Khan’s government moved to acquire Chinese-made MIGs and other equipment to replace what the country lost during its disastrous fight against the much stronger Indian armed forces. So, it’s clear that the friendship between China and Pakistan has deep roots and has also been growing steadily for many years. Pakistan knows that China is a friend that it can definitely rely upon – unlike the US, especially under the erratic Donald Trump – even though they know that this friendship comes with a price.

    As for Imran Khan saying that he intends to root out corruption, I can say right now that he’s destined to fail. It’s not as though this hasn’t been tried before. Indeed, Ayub Khan tried to tackle corruption when he governed Pakistan under martial law from 1958 to 1962 and as a civilian president after that until 1969, and obviously he failed. Corruption is now so ingrained in Pakistani culture that no government, no matter how well intentioned, could ever stamp it out, even if it were to be in power for a generation.

  4. Khan lives in interesting times, and, I hope he survives.
    Pakistan has an incredible potential. Khan has to overcome a huge ‘backwards’ inertial mass… a task more difficult than cleaning the stables, but, it has to start there.
    You pretty much sum it up with your statement, “Pakistan’s four biggest problems: endemic corruption, military interference, political tribalism, and a half-dead economy. ” It is a part of their life, and, there is no quick manner to ‘educate the masses’; I wish him well. One of the instinctive nature of ‘tribes’ is a mistrust and dislike for the neighbouring tribes. I love multiculturalism, but, it goes against the grain of how the human race has evolved.
    Pakistan has to change their court system to bring it into the 21st century. The judges are forever interfering with progressive change. Time for retirement, and, a new ‘crop’. They will not go quietly.
    The military is another major issue. They are so used to controlling the country that they will not ‘step down’. Time for some major retirements, without getting killed in the process.
    A couple of points of clarification:
    “Pakistan has been ruled ever since by military juntas or by slippery and often corrupt civilian politicians.” I don’t think that Pakistan has ever gotten out from under the thumb of the military. They are, forever, lurking in the background directing traffic.
    “Imran Khan is sometimes called ‘Pakistan’s Jack Kennedy’ for his movie-star good looks, charisma and zesty love life.”
    This is not a positive image in my humble opinion. I liked Kennedy until the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’; then things changed. This megalomaniac was prepared to take the world to WWIII, and, would have. Contrary to public opinion, for this reason alone, he showed himself to be an evil monster and a threat to mankind. I hope his God has a nice warm spot for him to spend eternity.

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