Pakistan not a failed state: military analyst 

By Barbara black

When The Economist called Pakistan “the most dangerous country in the world” last May, Julian Schofield disagreed. He finds the country so stable it's boring.

Julian Schofield and Mehreen Beig Mirza briefed the Canadian Forces on the political climate in Pakistan. Magnifying glass

Julian Schofield and Mehreen Beig Mirza briefed the Canadian Forces on the political climate in Pakistan.

Schofield, an associate professor of political science, knows Pakistan well. In a talk at McGill recently, he and Master's student Mehreen Beig Mirza described Pakistan as an ethnically diverse country with a durable democracy.

Obviously Schofield isn't bored by Pakistan, he's fascinated, but he's a military analyst. Calling the country boring is his way of saying all hell's not going to break out. There are secessionist movements in Pakistan, but Schofield says they're weak. “Social cleavages are overpowered by a sense of collective community,” he said.

The two richest provinces in population and power are Punjab and Sindh. About 85 million people, half the population, speak Punjabi. The neighboring province of Sindh is less populous but wealthier. The large eastern-central region of Pakistan is rich agricultural land, and the cities, including Karachi, in Sindh, are prosperous.

There are substantial minorities. In the northwest, more than 20 million live on the porous border with their fellow Pakhtun-speakers in Afghanistan. There are seven million Persian-speaking people of Balochistan in the south, 13 million multi-ethnic Mohajir and seven million equally diverse people in the north, including Kashmir, the gateway to China.

All these groups nurse their own grievances, but Schofield and Beig Mirza said the issues are too various and the sense of civic identity too strong to pull the country apart.

When Beig Mirza talks about Pakistan's political culture, she does it with the poise of an insider. Her grandfather was a member of the Pakistani parliament going back to Partition (from India) in 1949. Now she's doing a Master's in Public Policy and Public Administration at Concordia.

The talk she and Schofield gave at McGill to members of the Canadian International Council was a shortened version of a four-hour briefing they recently gave the Canadian Force's 4th Intelligence Company at Longue Pointe, Que.

Their listeners could be excused for thinking that if Pakistan is stable, it's politically dramatic, with complex, often logic-defying alliances. Here are just three of the main players.

The current leader, Pervaiz Musharraf, acquired power by a military coup. Last year he fired a senior judge, and there were riots in the streets by lawyers. Schofield says that despite the drama, Pakistan's economy, which is about the size of Quebec's, has seen a seven-per-cent increase under his watch, and he's still quite popular. Many of his key supporters are traditional landholding families with near-feudal power.

The socialist, populist PPP (People's Progressive Party) has become a family compact. The charismatic leader, Ali Bhutto, was executed when his political fortunes changed. Leadership passed to his daughter, Benazir, who was assassinated last December. Now the leader of the PPP is her husband, Ali Asif Zardari, who is called “Mr. 10 Per Cent” for the size of his personal subsidies.

A party to watch is the PML-N, a centrist party led by Nawaz Sharif that is a natural competitor to the PPP. On the issue of Islamist parties, Schofield reminded the audience that no party in a Pakistani election has ever won more than five per cent of the vote.

A questioner at their talk on April 10 asked if Canadians are naïve to support grassroots aid like the string of rural schools described in the bestseller Three Cups of Tea. Schofield and Beig Mirza said that in fact, aid in the poverty-racked countryside is the ideal way to help.

Schofield had advice for the Canadian government as well. He would like to see Canada fall out of lockstep with U.S. foreign policy and regain lost ground as a middle power. He would also revive friendly exchanges between the Canadian and Pakistani military forces, because their British-derived sub-cultures are very similar.


Concordia University