Interviews with Stephen P. Cohen and C. Christine Fair

Pakistan is in a low-level equilibrium trap

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Stephen P. Cohen is Senior Fellow in the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution, in Washington DC. This interview is based on excerpts from his forthcoming co-authored book “The Future of Pakistan,” to be released later this year.

Christine Fair is an assistant professor in the Center for Peace and Security Studies (CPASS), within Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Her research focuses upon political and military affairs in South Asia. Previously, she has served as a senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation and as a political officer to the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan in Kabul.

What is the role of the army within the Pakistani state?

SC:  For years the military’s role in Pakistan has been central, although there is also disagreement as to how pernicious it is. It is Pakistan’s Army that is central, not the professional but politically marginal Air Force and Navy. Three aspects of the army’s centrality are important for Pakistan’s future: the army’s understanding of strategic threats to the country, notably its preoccupation with India; the army’s relationship to civilian authority; and most recently – although it had roots in 1947 and 1971 – the army’s relations with militant and extremist groups and radical Islamists.

For now the Pakistan army remains in the background, showing little interest in assuming the responsibilities of formally exercising power. Yet the weakness of the current elected government has elevated the military leadership, and especially its army chief Kayani, to an increasingly visible and assertive role in both domestic and foreign policy making. And few doubt the readiness of the military to intervene directly in the event of a severe breakdown of public order.

The base of recruitment to the army is expanding in terms of area, ethnicity and orientations of the new entrants. However, a recent study of its officer corps by Christine Fair and Shuja Nawaz shows that while its recruitment base has expanded and now concentrates mainly in urban areas, regions like that of Sindh remain vastly under-represented.

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Comments

Mr. Cohen speaks of the will and ability of the Punjab to hold Pakistan together in spite of discontented provinces. That sounds to me like a description not of an actual country, but of a Punjabi empire being maintained by force.

Ms. Fair believes that Pakistan is not on the edge of disaster, because after all look at how long they've lasted and how hard it has been. But in the very same paragraph she says it is far from clear that disaster can be staved off.

I feel much better now about inside the beltway thinking concerning Pakistan having read these interviews.

Mr. Manea, you do a fine job. Keep it up.