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By: Haider Mullick

Pakistan is at a tipping point. On one side it’s business as usual, which is becoming increasingly unsustainable–a continuation of the cycle of flimsy democracy and inept dictatorship that inconsistently defines national security, prosperity and identity. On the other side there’s an equally precarious trajectory of creating a new national destiny–a mix of strengthening rule of law, embracing ethno-religious diversity, creating a civil-military polity, augmenting creative and accountable capitalism and re-examining foreign relations. Thus, the next ten years for Pakistan will be a function of the previous ten.
The first decade of the 21st century gave rise to unprecedented forces: a recalcitrant media, an activist judiciary, an increasingly conservative society colouring the polity and military and worsening ethnic strife. These forces of dissonance, however, united Pakistanis on one thing: six decades of system failure demanded a new Pakistan. Throughout Pakistan’s history the religious Right has argued with various degrees for a nuclear-Islamist state perpetually sceptical of the West and India and ethnically and religious homogenous by force. The Left has strived for paradoxical Westminster democracy, organically grown but sustained by foreign aid. Today, these two visions–supported by democrats and generals–alike are locking horns in a determining round, one that will paint Pakistan’s near to medium-term future.
Relying on an increasingly conservative society (half of the country’s 180 million population is under the age of 24, and most identify themselves as conservative) the religious Right will continue to pressure the military and civilian government to sever ties with the United States and cut deals with transnational terrorists and insurgent groups. A free press, activist judges and opposition parties, meanwhile, will be used to this end and subsequently neutered. The dynamic Left will continue to oppose military coups but resist working in concert with civilian governments or visibly with international partners (unintentionally) creating a power vacuum for military dictatorship enabled reluctantly by activist judges and fear mongering journalists. For domestic prosperity and international integration Pakistanis must pick diversity over artificial coherency, respectable partnership over aid addiction and power sharing amongst institutions over absolute power for one.

Haider Mullick is a fellow at the US Joint Special Operations University and a research fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, and the author of the new book-length monograph ‘Pakistan’s Security Paradox: Countering and Fomenting Insurgencies.’ This article is the result of a recent research trip to India and Pakistan.