Problems with Pakistan

Mike Minehan
27 September 2021

The withdrawal of English and New Zealand cricket teams from tours of Pakistan has left unanswered the question, why? Both the New Zealand and English governments that cancelled the tours have cited security concerns, although neither country has provided details.

Cricket is Pakistan's most popular national sport, and Pakistan was cricket World Champion in 1992 and runner up in 1999. The country has hosted two cricket world cups.

But international teams have been wary of touring Pakistan ever since an attack on the Sri Lanka team in Lahore in 2009, when six policemen and two civilians were killed.

The Strategic Studies Institute observed as far back as 2011 that "Social and economic inequalities, limited access to education and other basic facilities, unemployment and growing poverty have combined to produce an atmosphere of despair, giving rise to frustrations and ultimately to mass outrage."

A more recent insight is offered by Vice TV:

This instability raises even more concerns because Pakistan is a nuclear power. The Nuclear Threat Initiative estimates that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal consists of between 150-160 nuclear warheads. In addition, Pakistan has stockpiled 3-4 tons of weapons-grade uranium, and about 280 kg of plutonium. Only small amounts of these stockpiles (a few kilos)  are necessary to produce a single nuclear weapon.

The former security advisor to President Trump, John Bolton, expressed his concerns about Pakistan in an article in the Washington Post, following America's withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Bolton claimed that "Pakistan is the only government consisting simultaneously of arsonists and firefighters. The firefighters need to step up their game. They must convince their fellow countrymen that the government's recent path has made Pakistan less secure, not more."

Bolton urges that in the absence of clear evidence that Pakistan has terminated assistance to the Taliban, "the United States should eliminate it's own aid to Islamabad; strike Pakistan from the list of major non-NATO allies; impose anti-terrorist sanctions; and more. Our tilt towards India should accelerate."

Can Pakistan continue to be trusted with the protection of its nuclear arsenal and bomb-making materials?

The Council on Foreign Relations has raised doubts:

Pakistan has accepted billions of dollars in aid from the USA by exploiting western fears about its nuclear security. Yet at the same time, Pakistan has a history of actively supporting terrorists, including the Taliban in Afghanistan.

This duplicity can be partly understood by Pakistani paranoia that previous Afghan governments might have formed an alliance with India, Pakistan's arch enemy, and then supported rebellion within Pakistan, including Kashmir. Thus, according to informed analysis, it became a precautionary tactic to provide covert support to the Taliban as a buffer against India.

The other reason for Pakistan's relationship with the Taliban is the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. This border, also called the Durand Line, after the British colonel who surveyed it, was drawn for purely British strategic reasons, and cuts through the middle of Pashtun ethnicity.

Afghanistan, which was founded in the mid 18th century by Pashtuns, has never accepted this border, and the Pashtun Taliban leaders ignored the border by treating the Pashtun areas inside Pakistan as part of their rightful home.

In addition, many Afghans fled their country into Pakistan, and Pakistan now hosts at least 1.4 million documented refugees, although the New York Times estimates that hundreds of thousands of undocumented refugees also live there. Many more are now trying to cross the border.

The NYT also reports that this flood of refugees has caused a change of attitude in Pakistan, where now, "police and members of the public treat them like criminals or potential terrorists."

Pakistan's intelligence chief, Lt Gen. Faiz Hameed, now lists "terrorism and refugees among Pakistan's top concerns."

The Counter Extremism Project reports that Pakistan is currently the base for a number of different terrorist organizations. And Pakistan itself has reportedly participated in state-sponsored terrorism, such as the 2008 Mumbai Massacre that resulted in 174 deaths.

The largest contested and lawless  areas in Pakistan are the so-called Tribal Areas. This recent video is from France24:

But no understanding of Pakistan is complete without the knowledge that power resides with the military. Pakistan has spent half of its existence under military rule, and the current Prime Minister, Imran Khan, facilitated his path to power with the aid of the military.

The South Asia news agency ANI describes this nexus as a 'hybrid martial law regime' and claims that the military has reversed Pakistan's democratic progress by deploying retired generals to top positions in power.

Foreign Affairs magazine claims that "The most disturbing tactic in (the military's) authoritarian toolkit is enforced disappearances." The disappeared include nationalists, human rights advocates, journalists and university critics. "Human rights activists say that 5,000 to 6,000 people have been forcibly disappeared since 2014..."

A further insight into power and corruption in the military is a current scandal involving Lt General Asim Bajwa. Bajwa was a personal advisor to Prime Minister Khan until exposure of his (unexplained) fortune.

This evaluation from the Times of India:

It's unlikely that Prime Minister Khan will be able to curb the power of his military benefactors, and it's unlikely that the military will release its grip on Pakistan politics.

Even more instability is inevitable.

And the security of Pakistan's nuclear warheads and components for making nuclear weapons?

Who can be sure?

But Pakistan is the country that provided sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden for 5 years in the garrison city of Abbottabad. And although there's no smoking gun pointing at Pakistan to prove it was complicit in sheltering Bin Laden, Pakistan's subsequent investigation was conducted in a "non transparent manner", and Pakistan then "declined to publish its findings."

This begs the question, if Pakistan authorities had nothing to do with providing sanctuary to Bin Laden, why not release the results of their investigation? What did they have to hide?

The head of Britain's MI5, Kenneth McCallum, has sounded an ominous warning. He believes that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan will have "heartened and emboldened" extremists to carry out future terror attacks.

How and where are the big questions.

But based on the above analysis, it's not improbable that Pakistan could provide some of the answers.