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Subversion and Civil Unrest

Internal threats to Pakistan come from several sources. The greatest danger to the democratic constitutional structure is posed by the recurrent intervention in the government of the Pakistani military and, since the Zia years, by the president who, under the controversial Eighth Amendment to the constitution, is empowered to arbitrarily dismiss the prime minister and National Assembly as well as the provisional governors. It could be argued that the military has only intervened when the political situation has deteriorated hopelessly and that the threat is in fact from much more deepseated problems.

Another danger is the problem of ethnic unrest. Punjab, with almost 60 percent of the population, dominates almost all aspects of national life. This fact is resented by smaller ethnic groups, all of whom have at one time been actively dissident.

For the most part, with the exception of Sindh, the situation was quiet in the early 1990s. Sparsely settled Balochistan required an extensive pacification campaign by the army from 1973 to 1977, and both Afghan and Soviet involvement was alleged. After the war in Afghanistan, however, there was no source of outside support and no significant violence. The potential for unrest remains, however, because Baloch feel threatened by the growing numbers of non-Baloch moving into the province. The North-West Frontier Province has long been restive and subject to Kabul's blandishments on the basis of shared Pakhtun identity, but Afghanistan no longer offers a feasible alternative, and the Afghan Pakhtun tribal groups have participated rather well in Pakistan's modest prosperity. Some Kashmiris in Pakistani-held Azad (Free) Kashmir probably envision a future independent of Pakistan, but their attentions have been absorbed by the problems of Indian-held Kashmir.

In the early 1990s, the principal challenge in civil unrest came from Sindh, Pakistan's second most populous province, where the indigenous population was under increasing pressure from non-Sindhis who had migrated there. Based on their ethnic identity, Sindhis have formed several political movements, notably the Jaye Sindh, which the government perceived as threatening to Pakistan's unity. Islamabad also claimed that these groups were receiving help from India in their quest to establish a "Sindhudesh," or independent homeland for Sindhis. The muhajir (immigrants from India and their descendants) minority in Sindh, which dominated Karachi and the other cities, have been in sharp conflict with the Sindhis and other ethnic groups. Further, large numbers of kidnapping and bombings in Sindh--the virtual breakdown of law and order--necessitated the imposition of army rule in 1992 (see Prospects for Social Cohesion , ch. 2).

An additional source of unrest has been the rampant gun culture and spread of narcotics-based corruption, particularly since the war in Afghanistan. Pakistanis have always been well armed, but the availability of cheap, modern weapons has meant that criminals and private citizens have significant firepower at their disposal. Because most violence is criminal or anomic, it does not pose a direct threat to the state, but should the crisis of governability in Sindh spread more broadly, it could place unbearable stress on the nation.

In the early 1990s, foreign-sponsored subversion in Pakistan appeared to be insignificant. The Afghans were too preoccupied with their own concerns to agitate along the frontier, and the Soviet Union, which had long had adversarial relations with Pakistan, had fragmented into a number of self-absorbed states occupied by the struggle for survival in a new postcommunist world. India had ties to dissident groups in Sindh and perhaps elsewhere; these, however, were probably maintained in order to remind Pakistan that its involvement with Punjabi Sikh and Kashmiri Muslim insurgents in India was not cost-free. In its more youthfully exuberant days, the Islamic regime in Iran was involved in subversive support of Shia elements in Pakistan, but such activity was no longer a significant factor.

During the Zia period, a group called Al-Zulfiqar, operating from Damascus and Kabul and seeking to destabilize the government through terrorist actions hijacked, an aircraft in 1981. Murtaza Bhutto, a son of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was involved, and AlZulfiqar claimed to have some relationship to the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which was totally denied by the PPP. Although authorities have reported continued activity by AlZulfiqar , its existence is shadowy at best, and with the return of democratic rule, its activities have been insignificant. There are no other known, organized subversive groups that threaten the government in any serious way.

Pakistan's attitude toward terrorism is somewhat more ambivalent than that of most other countries. On the one hand, Al-Zulfiqar demonstrated to Pakistan the importance of international cooperation in combatting international terrorism as manifested in airplane hijackings and bombings. On the other hand, however, Pakistan has had no qualms about supporting insurgents in India, some of whom were engaged in activities that can only be described as terrorist.

In January 1993, the United States warned Pakistan that it was under "active continuing review" for possible inclusion on the Department of State list of terrorist countries for its alleged support of terrorist activities in the Indian states of Punjab and Kashmir. By July, however, the United States had withdrawn its threat, having determined that Pakistan had implemented "a policy for ending official support for terrorism in India."

As Pakistan approached the end of its first half-century of existence, its security problems had changed yet were in many ways the same. The global setting had altered radically, but the enmity with India remained a constant, although it had gained in predictability and, probably, stability. Subversion was still a potential rather than an active threat. Problems of law and order were more acute, but the means of dealing with them had not changed greatly. Rather, Pakistan's security problems were rooted in its own polity and society. Repeated political collapse, corruption, inability to define its ethnic and religious identities, and failure to meet the needs of the people--these are challenges that could eviscerate a state even with the most capable military machine and efficient security apparatus. Pakistan, as it considers its continuing security dilemma and the international image it wishes to project, must energetically confront and deal with these harsh realities.

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The government of Pakistan goes to considerable lengths to protect dissemination of information about its armed forces, making research on the military difficult. One of the few officially sanctioned publications is Defenders of Pakistan by Brian Tetley, essentially a coffee-table book but with useful information on the role, functions, and organization of the armed forces. For early history, Fazl Muqeem Khan's The Story of the Pakistan Army remains an indispensable source. Research by United States and Pakistani scholars during the 1980s has considerably enriched the understanding of the military. The historical picture is amplified by the two volumes of Shaukat Riza's The Pakistan Army and Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema's Pakistan's Defence Policy, 1947-58. Hasan-Askari Rizvi has contributed two excellent studies--The Military and Politics in Pakistan and Pakistan and the Geostrategic Environment, both of which cover the modern period, as does Robert G. Wirsing's Pakistan's Security under Zia, 1977- 1988. Foremost in the analytical field is Stephen P. Cohen's The Pakistan Army. The most current information is available from the annual International Institute for Strategic Studies' The Military Balance and Jane's Defence Weekly, as well as several publications authored by Richard P. Cronin and Barbara Leitch LePoer of the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. Of these, South Asia: U.S. Interests and Policy Issues is particularly useful. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of April 1994

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Pakistan Table of Contents