Pakistan is in the eye of many storms. It lies at the heart of the United States’s almost decade-long “war on terror”, with an ever-ambiguous position (in Washington’s view) as an unreliable and perhaps even renegade ally. It is a society riven by enormous social inequalities and deep political, religious and ethnic divisions. It is frequently hit by acts of pitiless violence, from the targeting by religious extremists of members of rival faiths to “drone attacks” by US forceswhich kill innocent civilians.
Now, it is now battered by catastrophic floods which have destroyed the livelihoods of millions of the country’s people, threatening even greater humanitarian disasters to come. The United Nations reported on 7 September 2010 that as many as 10 million people have been living entirely without shelter for six weeks. And even in sport there is no release, for players in the national cricket team are charged with taking money in return for aiding a betting-scam by altering their on-field behaviour.
This mix of political crisis, natural tragedy and everyday corruption is itself an indication of how intractable Pakistan’s problems are. What is also clear is that the most serious of these problems go to the very top, and relate to the nature of the state and its institutions (not least its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] agency). If there is a way forward for Pakistan, a path beyond violence and extremism, it surely lies in addressing how these institutions operate - in particular, how the years of war in Afghanistan and its spillover effects in Pakistan have entrenched militarism and strengthened those forces in Pakistan most beyond democratic control.
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