Page last updated at 05:24 GMT, Thursday, 18 September 2008 06:24 UK

Pakistan's 'bleakest moment'

Guest columnist Ahmed Rashid says Pakistan is facing its bleakest moment, months after getting a new democratic government.

Stock broker in Karachi
'Pakistan's economy is in a meltdown'

Just when Pakistanis thought they had a new democracy, ushering in a new civilian government, a new president and the end of eight years of military rule, they are faced with the bleakest moment in the country's history.

Proverbially listed as a failing state, this precariously poised country could now be in a downward spiral towards becoming a failed state.

Internationally isolated and condemned by the world community due to its Afghan policy, Pakistan's tribal territories have become a free-for-all firing range for US troops even as the domestic threat from the Pakistani Taleban multiplies.

Pakistanis also face runaway inflation of over 25% and an economy in virtual meltdown as foreign exchange reserves dwindle and industry grinds to a halt.

There is a lack of electricity, an unresolved judicial crisis and ultimately an uncertain political future with the army still waiting in the wings.

The civilians and the military need to develop a partnership that works, where decisions are jointly discussed and made and burdens shared. So far that has not happened.

When newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari travels to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, he will be desperately trying to shore up Pakistan's crumbling international reputation, discuss new policy options towards the Taleban with President George Bush and beg for fresh aid from donor countries in order to avert a default on the country's foreign debt.

Double game

It's a tough order for a man who barely knows his way around the corridors of power.

Much of the present crisis has to be laid at the doors of former President Pervez Musharraf, the army and the Interservices Intelligence (ISI) - who, since 11 September 2001, have played a double game not only with the Americans but also with their own people.

A militant attack in Peshawar
There has been a spike in militant violence

Promising democracy, economic development, moderation and an end to training jihadi fighters who had become the army's front line in projecting its foreign policy and fuelling the wars in Afghanistan and the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir, in reality the military continued to pursue the same old games.

By allowing the growth of Islamic extremism and the mushrooming of thousands of new madrassas in the country, the military considered economic and political stability an afterthought.

In his last years, Mr Musharraf presided over a rotten system that was just waiting to implode. Neither the army nor the Americans were prepared to see that but the people of Pakistan certainly were - as they poured on to the streets to protest at this or that foible of the regime.

Out of control

Just as the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government took over, all the chickens came home to roost. The Afghan Taleban - which still has a safe haven in Pakistan - no longer listens to its military mentors.

The Pakistani Taleban are out of control. Once serving as the protectors and facilitators for al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taleban, the Pakistani Taleban have now developed their own political agenda - turning northern Pakistan into what they call a Sharia (Islamic law) state.

The key to remedy the present crisis lies in how Mr Zardari and the civilian government conduct their relations with the military and how successful they are in bringing it on board when adopting a new national security doctrine that does not depend on Islamic extremism and makes friends rather than enemies of Pakistan's neighbours.

The civilians and the military need to develop a partnership that works, where decisions are jointly discussed and burdens shared. So far that has not happened.

Anti-US protests in Pakistan
Anti-American feelings have risen

Confrontation - such as when the government tried and failed to force the ISI to report to the Interior Ministry just before Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani visited Washington - will not work.

The incident showed up the government to be immature, inept and unversed in how state institutions operate.

By the same token the army cannot carry on with its military campaigns against the Pakistan Taleban, refusing to share information and intelligence with responsible civilians. Nobody in government has a clue as to what the military strategy is, while many doubt there even is one.

The army's lack of transparency only further damages the military's reputation and creates unnecessary conflict with parliament and the government. Moreover it fuels conspiracy theories about the army's intentions.

It cannot be over-emphasised: to get over this present crisis the army and the civilians will have to sit down together.

But the problem for the government is that in its discussions with the military so far, it has been shown to know next to nothing about national security or foreign policy.

It is not trusted by the army and Mr Zardari has to find the right people to fill the key positions where interaction with the military is paramount.

Gradually through a maturing working relationship, the army must learn to accept that the elected government has the right to control foreign policy, although not without consulting the military first.

Only civilian rule can deliver greater trade and co-operation with Pakistan's neighbours rather than more confrontation.

It is the resolution of disputes like Kashmir with India and the Durand Line with Afghanistan that will give Pakistan securer borders.

It will also make the military less paranoid about India and place civilians more firmly in control. Failed statehood can still be avoided.

Here is a selection of your comments

An extremely frank and honest analysis of the present situation in Pakistan. Peace between Pakistan and its neighbours will politically and economically enrich the whole of South Asia.
B Nayar, New Zealand

Is Mr Rashid really a Pakistani? If Pakistan is so bad, I suggest he should leave the country immediately since Taleban might take over his city and he will be a target being a pro-western columnist!
Farrukh Syed, USA

The author has highlighted the utmost need for Pakistan's military and civil institutions to sit together, co-operate, and develop a strategy to tackle the immense dangers the country is facing. While devising the foreign policy, the democratic government not only need to engage military but also the subject matter experts - the defence analysts, the security analysts, the academics. A policy without inputs from these sources would be flawed.
Zafar, Australia

Couldn't agree with the article more. It's time for Pakistan to resolve differences with India and Afghanistan, tear down trade barriers and usher a new era. That region could definitely be an economic superpower. India has proved that, despite religious bigots, people can at least try to survive and fulfil their human aspirations.
Raj Anand, USA

Pakistani governments need to control radical, jihadist forms of Islam to succeed as a country. Ever since the 1960's radical Islam whether in the army or in the madrasas has brought the country to a grinding halt. Nowadays the violence of terrorism will leave Pakistan in a quandary with most of the world. It may be a rocky road ahead.
N Cowley, UK

The only thing we can blame Mr Musharraf for is igniting the judiciary crisis and providing the politicians to worm their way back in. These so called democrats have never held an election in their own parties and their feudal privileged minds cannot be selfless enough to actually work for anyone else. Mr Musharraf freed the media, established local bodies with fiscal teeth and developed Pakistan's infrastructure but gave the game away in his final year to the loss of all.
Sarim Farooqi, Canada

Brilliant, just brilliant. Hit the nail on the head. We have to get this mess sorted out. The fabric of Pakistan's existence is at stake. The ISI has to be bought to accountability. It can NOT be a state within a state. They along with the jihadis in the army ranks have been adding fuel to the fire in Kashmir and Afghanistan. And now we the innocent civilians who want to live in peace, are paying the price. Its time the Army generals who organized this mess to be tried for treason. While they live in luxury and safety, we starve and get bombed by there jihadis.
Sultan Niazi, Islamabad, Pakistan

Only civilian rule can deliver greater trade and co-operation with Pakistan's neighbours.
Masood, Afghanistan

As always Rashid's comments are not only out of line but far from reality. The only thing that one can gather from his articles is his hatred for Pakistan and its institutions.
Humayun, Pakistan

This article is again, one of Ahmed Rashid's very balanced and perceptive piece on Pakistan. Mr. Rashid has pressed all the right buttons. Pakistan's survival requires (1) democracy, (2) economic development, (3) moderation, and (4) peace with its neighbours by recognizing existing borders as permanent.
Dr Julian Gaspar, United States

Ahmed Rashid has churned out yet another negative article on Pakistan in his usual classic exaggerated and generalized style of writing. I wonder why he does not have something good to say about his country. It is also surprising to see a journalist of his experience and maturity using generalized phrases like 'internationally isolated, 'condemned by the world community', 'industry grinds to a halt' and 'failed state'. He is right in stating that it might be a bleak moment for Pakistan and we had multiple problems to deal with today. This is a complex situation arising due to external and internal factors and of course due to our own weaknesses and faults. I would have liked to see a bit of appreciation and articulation of those historical processes and the external dimension which had contributed to our woes. I am glad that he had given us some food for thought and introspection and had some suggestions at the end, but I would be more glad if he can bring some positive angle to his future articles as well.
Moin, Canada

Mr Rashid is just a prophet of doom and gloom about Pakistan for the last many years. Several years ago he wrote a BBC column that Musharraf days were numbered but Musharraf remained in power for several years before he left.
Shaukat Khan, Pakistan

Well done Ahmed Rashid. Keep writing and you will make sure that the world thinks about Pakistan more sceptically and it does become a failed state, completely isolated by the rest of the world. What is happening in Pakistan is not entirely its own fault and the people and countries who think like that should own up to its failed promises. I found nothing new in your thinking and this article.
Ahmed, USA

The only ones who can stop this are the people of Pakistan. They always had a tough choice but they always went with dictators. There are no benevolent dictators. The lawyers who got Mr Musharraf out should enter active politics and start clearing the mess. It'll still take two generations to bring Pakistan into mainstream of nations of the world.
Paul, UK

It is sad to read that the Pakistani people want a partnership with the army. It is sad because the army is for the service of people not for striking deals with them. It just painfully proves that people's well being in Pakistan and its democracy is on the mercy of the army. That's not a true democracy. Hope to see the situation in Pakistan improve.
Pranesh Bhargava, Holland

It is doubtful the new President would be able to stand up to the challenges mentioned in the article. But we should hope for the best and should not create obstacles in his way; there is a need - an acute need for the civilian government and the army to cooperate and coordinate to steer clear the country out of the current crisis. Unity the first and first foremost requirement among our ranks. Cheap politics should be stopped if not for good at least for the time this crisis is resolved.
Muhammad Farooq, Canada

Here we go again. Ahmed Rashid finds another opportunity to bash Pakistan. I though he would be a little bit happy once democracy was restored as he has been advocating for years. Now we know his true colours.
Akram Ali, US

I disagree with the idea that the military is to blame for the current crisis. At the end of last year the economic indicators were looking good despite the unrest. However, since the elections no one seems to be in charge and the politicians are just securing each others positions with no focus on the issues at hand
Anopa, Marlow, UK

I have been reading Rashid's insightful columns for a long time. Its tragic that his perspective is shared by few in his country whose elite continues to live in denial about the role played by the ISI and the character of the Army. As an Indian, I would like to believe that failed statehood can still be avoided.
M.Srinath Reddy, India

Although, I agree that the military and the civilian government have to work together to steer the country out of the black hole. It is equally important to have a completely independent judiciary. Successive military and civilian governments have plundered Pakistan for too long without any fear of accountability. Its time, now more than ever, to implement an independent judiciary with powers to put check and balances on both institutions.
Saqib Chaudhry, USA

This article is one of several I have seen in recent days. It follows upon the refusal of the Pakistanis to allow American troops to operate in their country. This article is part of a campaign to prepare the English speaking world for a possible war with, and take over of, Pakistan. This last would be a very bad idea and could set off a limited nuclear war.
Raymond Howard, U.S.A.

I've got to say that Mr Rashid seems to be one of the few voices of reason I've heard coming out of Pakistan in the last 12 months. He has highlighted the important role the military plays in Pakistan (whether we like it or not, it is a fact). He's also put into words the misgivings I had about ushering in a civilian government. I'm not a supporter of military rule, but at the same time I think the move to a civilian government was rushed and not at all thought out, the result being that we now a government which is out of its depth in foreign relations, has no real policies for domestic improvement and whose political manoeuvrings are amateurish at best. In all the hype surrounding the deposing of Musharraf and reinstating judiciary, the people and media of Pakistan never stopped to assess whether this new government under Zardari (which seems to be more interested in alienating the PML) was actually up to the severe challenges facing the nation. Yes Pakistan has always been touted as a potential failed state, I hope much like the columnist that the government finds its feet fast so this does not become a reality.
I A H, Pakistan

I think Pakistan's foreign policy leaves much to be desired from and needs a major overhaul. But the author is ignorant of the fact that Pakistan is not isolated since countries in the EU like France and Norway have voiced opposition to American intervention on its territory. I think Pakistan wouldn't be doing this bad on all fronts, had it not suffered from American meddling in its domestic affairs from its inception.
Syed Hassan Mujtaba, Pakistan

This is the kind of thinking that will sink Pakistan into more misery and desperation. After all what happened in past few months, we are still pointing fingers at former president Musharraf's government, instead of blaming the current incompetent government and there ill-will to resolve these problems. They have done almost nothing at all when it comes to terrorism in the country and losing economy. They started out negotiating with terrorists and now full flash war with in the province. Every other day there is a border violation by American army and every day there is some kind of terrorist activity in the country. There is militia in every part of the country and there is no government's writ over people. Present government have also done nothing to improve the economy, where budget deficit is growing every second and Federal reserve falling to the bottom of the pit. Central banks have not been moved to curb inflation and stop the Rupee fall. Rupee has lost so far about 25% of its value in just few months. On top of that, sky rocketing commodity prices and load shedding every few hours, have crippled the industries and wiped out whatever progress was made in past years. Current government has wasted precious time in fighting with each other over power and over judges' issue, when they should have been fixing the problem. There is still no direct position over the economy and there is still no policy on terrorism. Most the issues are being solved in Dubai and London by unelected officials. Where is the democracy in all this? These political groups came in power over sympathy of people and on one issue, which was judiciary, and the issue still has not been resolved. The elected MPs have to stand up and show some will to resolve these issues like true democracy, particularly the economy. They need to put people to work so instead of protesting and spreading animosity, they will be contributing to the common good of the society. They need to improve security by reforming the police department and judiciary so we don't involve the army inside our own country. They need to improve education and get rid of corruption by all means necessary and create a just society where people have security and open access to justice system.
Shahid Hasan, USA

I strongly disagree with your views. Pakistan is very far from being a failed state. So much far that people having some common sense cannot think of it. Find some failed states today and compare them with Pakistan you will get the answer.
Sabih Siddiqui, Karachi, Pakistan

"It's a tough order for a man who barely knows his way around the corridors of power". This comment, as an example, sums up the real problem that Pakistan faces today. The writer of this article has certainly highlighted some of the failings of the present government. The pertinent question is if the government itself also sees these shortcomings. After all Zardari himself choose to be nominated President. Were there no better candidates in the whole of Pakistan? Zardari made promises about the judiciary and then reneged on these promises. To make matters worse he then didn't think this was such a big deal. This government is out of its depth and incapable of dealing with the present issues. What is the point of an elected parliament if it hardly meets, and does not discuss the day-to-day issues? The government is both inept and insincere. The saddest thing of all is that the opposition is no better. Unfortunately I see the Army taking over again sooner rather than later.
Javed Ali, UK

'Internationally isolated and condemned by the world community due to its Afghan policy' strikes me as a little unfair as a description of Pakistan at the moment. However difficult the Pakistani Army is finding it to combat the Taleban in the North, it is not being helped by the US Army's new, somewhat desperate, strategy of launching ground attacks and sending drones into Pakistan without the consent of the new, democratically-elected government. This government is being undermined, practically on day one, and now the situation is deteriorating, with Pakistani troops given orders to counter, as aggressively as necessary, any unauthorised attacks on their soil. Neither Pakistan nor the US can afford a war with each other, economically or geo-politically. The two must work together on tackling the problems in the North, rather than one overruling and undermining the other. Whatever his reputation, give Zardari a chance.
Ian Ellard, Lahore, Pakistan

The fear of the military engaging the coup against the democratic government remains, unless the president wisely manages and solves current issues in the near future.
Marty C, Cambodia

Ahmed Rashid has painted a pretty one sided picture of what is happening in our country. I am no supporter of Mr Zardari or in his opposition for that matter, but never has Pakistan seen such a balance of power between the army and the elected government. For once, the government can work freely without the threat of military "intervention upon failure", guaranteed by the free media. Although the economy does needs more seriousness but then again the global economy is not doing too well either. A silent majority has recognized that we need to take America's help in dealing with the militants as we cant solve it on our own now. There is a sense of democratic empowerment among the masses that we have never seen experienced before and it is this that will steer out this country from its current woes.
Muhammad Abbas, Pakistan

This is the worst scenario. May God help Pakistan in coming out of the troubled situation. I think the root cause of all problems is the militancy and extremism. The fanatics in the tribal areas are harming Islam and Pakistan. Pakistan's economy can not be revived without addressing these problems and the Kashmir dispute. Only peace and harmony can lead to a truly growing, modern and prosperous Pakistan.
Dr Ayaz Rizvi, Pakistan

Pakistan is in this mess because of the constant state of turmoil since the judicial crisis last year. What should have been a legal affair turned into a political movement which destabilised the country. Once the government was destabilised, other groups with vested interests took advantage of this to press for their issues - the militants (red mosque), the politicians to get back into power, the West to get their person into power in Pakistan. The end result of this is that Pakistan now has a clueless government in power. What a mess!
Asif, UK

Once more, a dark and gloomy picture of Pakistan painted by Mr Rashid. The chances of the army and Zardari settling age-old differences are less than wafer-thin. One can see the army stepping in again when things get even worse, thus repeating the cycle. The major problem in Pakistan is that years of dictatorship, corruption and non-development of strong national identity have generated an inept political class that doesn't really care about the people. The situation is ripe for revolution, like Iran in 1979, which may lead to bigger problems. The only positive note is that the Taleban have little genuine support. In NWFP, the religious parties were trounced in elections; clamping down on barbers and entertainers did not go down well. In fact, most Pakistanis remain moderate in their outlook. They just need some good leadership (that does not rely on US patronage) and support for the fanatics will diminish. A tip to USA/Nato - keep well out of Pakistani internal politics and be prepared to deal with whoever is in office.
Naeem, UK

I am always appalled to read Mr Rashid's columns. He has always painted a doomsday scenario for Pakistan and portrays Pakistan as the worst state in the world. This seriously questions his own stature as a Pakistani journalist and makes me wonder where his loyalties lie?
Usman Khan, UK

The world needs to know that Pakistan is only a 62 years old country. What state was US and some other European countries were at same stage of their existence. Leave Pakistan to Pakistanis and we will be fine.
Khadim Ali, United Kingdom

It is not a failed state with millions of people living there working hard and a massive industrial infrastructure and agricultural activity. It would be incorrect to evaluate the country just by sitting at the desk and make up assumptions on government and military. Government has always been corrupt and only partly control of the country. Military has always tried to take over the government because of corrupt governments lack full control. In spite of all that the country still functions on a daily basis and has everyday problems like a normal country. What it needs is education so that the people take interest in the country and understand who they are electing and how to resolve the problems. The country needs self help not sympathy. The people need to look at long-term objectives and not just their daily problems. Pakistan is not a desert - not a terrain - it is a country.
P Aziz,

While I can agree that Pakistan is not a fully functioning state, the fault cannot be laid solely at Musharraf's feet! The issue with extremism and terrorism is largely due to Pakistanis being forced to support the "war on terror" to prevent a US economic and political backlash. That war however turned back all the political and economic gains made by Musharraf when he initially, and much to all of Pakistanis delight, seized power from the corrupt government. This is a terrible opinion piece that ignores the hugely negative impact that the "war on terror" has had on all the Muslim countries in the region.
Goolam Dawood, South Africa

I agree with Ahmed to a large that Pakistan is on its way to becoming a failed state. The descent of Pakistan is pretty rapid and must be checked immediately to prevent the unthinkable. I sincerely feel that Pakistan lost the plot after gaining the status of being a partner of the US in the war against terror. The massive aid it received from America was meant for uprooting terror from its own soil. If that aid had been used judiciously, we wouldn't even be discussing this. But all is still not lost for Pakistan. Responsible governance can take Pakistan out of the mess it is finding itself in.
Ramanathan Palaniappan, India

I always enjoy reading Mr Rashid's column. His honest understanding and freely express his views, is a joy to read. He is right about the explosion of Islamic extremism and the double role of ISI, who rely on the extremists to combat Pakistan's perceived enemies and guard its borders. president Musharraf received millions of dollars from the U.S. to fight the Islamic militants; instead he used it to purchase weapons to guard itself from its traditional enemy India, as it was reported in US findings.
Shamim Ullah, London

Sorry but most of what's written is far fetched analysis. The people are increasingly aware of the Taleban threat as is obvious from the increasing role of the tribes in evicting Taleban people from their land. And if the economic meltdown is a recipe for failed state then I think America is gone farther down the drain than Pakistan! Its time people stopped going all gloomy over Pakistan and learn that it faces the same dilemmas and problems as any other state. Once you stop treating a country as pariah can you only have a mature dialogue with its leaders and more importantly, its people
Waqas Ahmed, Pakistan

There are several symptoms in Pakistan of being a failed state. To lay it all squarely on the shoulders of the military is nonsense and an easy way out. One of the main problems is the lack of decent education. I am not referring to religious schools brainwashing children, I am talking about the feudal system not allowing development on their land for roads and schools to be built because if that were to happen, then those children who are trying to pay off their parents "bond" might actually get a decent job and do just that. The second related to the first is that an illiterate nation is a poor and hungry nation. This "democratic" government has bought its way into power. The riots you see on the streets aren't disaffected people, they are hungry, fickle people who get paid to do so by the political leaders. What are the ideological beliefs of the main parties? No one knows and to be honest no one in Pakistan cares because their first concern is getting food on the table and in so doing, prop up corrupt leaders. It is the same with the old Mugabe regime. The Western press welcomes "democracy" in Pakistan, Musharraf managed to get the right people in Government, for the first time there was an economist/finance expert doing the books. The people in power are the feudal landowners who have historically suppressed growth and education just to keep the status quo. The farce with the judges was organised by the then opposition to destabilise the country. Why? They weren't living the high life any more. All things being said, Pakistani's need an authoritarian ruler or at the least a very strong leadership who is only slightly corrupt in lining his/her own pockets. I have grave doubts (based on their history) about the current government.
Javed, UK

I strongly believe that the democracy is an externally imposed system and worst form of government, which failed considerably in this part of the region. Our people are forced to believe and shown the carrot that things will go better with democracy. Its in fact not a solution to all problems but a problem by itself. We (the people of Pakistan) need to seriously think about a system, which can work for us and develop a policy which is in best interest of ours otherwise anarchy will prevail rightly pointed out in this article.
M Khan, Kuwait

I have always admired Ahmed Rashid's writings. This here is a superb synopsis and I wish the sleeping generation that our parents have sired wakes up from its "pro-military rule, pro-enlightened Musharraf policies" and understand their situation and assess positive action. Unfortunately we are a nation of tempers and emotions and we scarcely scratch below the surface we are shown. Angry and frustrated - but not giving up.
Saira Ansari, Pakistan

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