Pakistan: A Curious Case of Political Volatility

June 8th, 2022

Making a casual survey of the governing world, particularly from the perspective of a non-political observer from the United States, one is bound to find themselves, at certain moments, appalled at the level of political volatility that exists. Perhaps one of the more unstable places in modern history is a fascinating country that doesn't get the kind of press one would expect. This country is none other than Pakistan, and although it has very many interesting things in its favor, it is a country that has for many decades been overwhelmed with a wild life worthy of any political record book. Let us make a brief, but penetrating survey of this very young country still sorting out its place in history.

To start, Pakistan has the fifth largest population of any country in the entire world – hovering somewhere over 225 million people, and also has one of the highest concentrations of English speakers of any nation. This population is predominately Muslim, covering at least 97%, and it was this religious direction that was the foundation for the very idea of Pakistan. It's life as a nation began with one of the greatest migrations in modern history, as millions of Muslim migrants leaving India settled initially into two completely separate regions geographically, West Pakistan and East Pakistan. This split, however, as we will see, did not last.

To get a sense of how strange this kind of geographical arrangement really was, one only needs to look at a slightly older map. West Pakistan, or what is now known exclusively as Pakistan, is wedged between India, their perpetual hated rival, and Afghanistan. East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh, was well over a thousand miles away on the other side of India. So, in essence, Pakistan was formed as a country broken in half, and the loss of East Pakistan occurred shortly after an uprising in 1971, not very long after its founding. This loss was a national humiliation that changed the very consciousness of the country. This East region in Asia is also extremely susceptible to perilous weather patterns, and prior to the surrender of East Pakistan, the 1970 Bhola cyclone came and killed over 500,000 Pakistani citizens, a horrendous loss that still stands as one of the deadliest natural disasters in modern history.

But, geographically, that's not quite where the instability ends – it gets far more complicated for Pakistan and its neighbors. One of the most dangerous conflicts in the whole world is taking place in a region called Kashmir, which is a land that is shared by Pakistan, India, and China. This is probably the biggest hot spot for both Pakistan and India, and its inherent complications have forced things into a perpetual stalemate, and is noted by many of the world's top analysts as the possible location where a major conflict between nuclear powers could spiral completely out of control.

Pakistan has been in four official wars since the late 40s. One of the more largely unknown details about this country, however, is their involvement in the Soviet – Afghan War from 1979-1989, in which the United States heavily supported Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence, the ISI, who in turn, directed the training of Afghan mujahideen to defend the region against Soviet aggression.

These mujahideen are the same people that eventually turned around and became the terror network known as Al-Qaeda when the Soviet - Afghan War ended. It is alleged that the ISI has continued to create and direct other related groups throughout the region, and especially within Pakistan itself. Tens of thousands have died within the borders of Pakistan as a result of terrorist attacks, although these kinds of tragedies have somewhat subsided in recent years.

This nation has seen four military coups that were successful, and three that were not. Thirty-three years has been spent under military rule. The Bhutto Family, a non-military civilian political power, and one of the main players in the history of the country, has been called the Kennedy Family of Pakistan. Starting with the political patriarch of the family Zulkifar Bhutto, Pakistan has watched four members of the family killed in a myriad of ways. Zulkifar, after many years in power in various government posts was executed in 1979. His daughter, the very famous and widely beloved figure Benazir, after spending years imprisoned in solitary confinement, was elected Prime Minister in 1988, ousted on corruption allegations shortly afterwards in 1990, brought back as Prime Minister again in 1993, and then removed again in 1996.

On her final return, she was shot and killed while traveling through the city of Rawalpindi. The President, at the time, Pervez Musharraf, who had resigned to avoid impeachment in 2008, was prevented from running for President again in 2013, as it was alleged he participated in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. In 1985, Benazir's brother Shahnawaz was found dead in France under unresolved circumstances – many believe that he was poisoned. Another Bhutto, Murtaza, was killed by police in 1996. Benazir's husband, Asif Ali Zardani, was kept in jail as a political prisoner for many years brought in on corruption charges – he later returned to become President of Pakistan from 2009-2013. Another President, Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, who was placed into power in 1978 by way of a military coup, died mysteriously in a plane crash in 1988 – the cause of this event has never been explained.

This is only a brief snapshot of how things have gone in Pakistan, and it is by no means exhaustive of all events, nor is it a denunciation of what the state is about. Every country is destined to have its share of ups and downs, but if you can imagine what it would have been like for a person born in early 1940s India, having to suddenly migrate to a brand new nation by way of religious partition, and then finally to have lived through the litany of erratic events listed here, then you can imagine a person who can probably say, “You know, your country sounds very interesting, but I've really seen it all.”

Pakistan's current status is once again in doubt as they have just removed another Prime Minister with a no confidence vote that took place in Parliament in April of this year. The Prime Minister in question is the famous ex-cricketeer and ex-husband to Jemima Goldsmith, Imram Khan. His future, and that of Pakistan is now in limbo, once again waiting for the political tides to settle into another new groove. The question remains, will things ever settle into some kind of calm for the nation of Pakistan, or will it fritter away its productive energy in endless conflict?

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