Pakistan at 61: An Assessment of Challenges and Opportunities
Sixty-one years after its independence in 1947, Pakistan still faces fundamental questions of identity, governance, state and nation-building. Despite being the only nuclear-armed Muslim country – raising Pakistan’s international political importance – more than one third of the Pakistani population still lives in extreme poverty. Despite a few years of impressive economic growth, bankrolled by the international community following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the US, Pakistan continues to experience an economic meltdown. This is coupled with the fact that almost half of Pakistan’s 165 million people (Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world) cannot read and write and even basic healthcare remain a distant dream for many in Pakistan’s tens of thousands of villages.
Strategically located at the crossroads of South and Central Asia, the Gulf and West Asia, Pakistan, since 9/11, is widely known as being the central front in the so-called ‘war on terror,’ and often finds itself in the news mostly for issues related to terrorism and other forms of violence often justified in the name of religion. While nearly 1500 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in counter-terrorism operations over the past five years, Western states view Pakistan as the most likely hideout for senior members of al-Qaida’s leadership as the US-led coalition of the willing deal with a resurgent Taliban and al-Qaida insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan. Many Western analysts agree that Islamist militants (Pakistani, Afghan, Arabs and others) based in Pakistan are largely responsible for the situation in Afghanistan.
These militants also pose a critical twenty-first century security challenge, one that affects the international community at large. This work centers on Pakistan in the 21st century. It presents a historical-political account of Pakistan and identifies and assesses some of the more important changes that have occurred, and those which are currently underway in the self-perception, the international perception, the political structures and international relations of Pakistan. The assessment offered in this work is based on my professional coverage of Pakistan for the past decade.