What are the Three Positive Signs of Change in Pakistan?

Commentary on "Can Pakistan Get Its Act Together?" 
Reported by Sandhya Kumar, Asia Society, April 14, 2010
For watching the segment 'signs of change in Pakistan', click here

NEW YORK, April 13, 2010 - In a timely discussion examining the hurdles facing Pakistan's domestic and international state of affairs, Bernard Schwartz Fellow Hassan Abbas seemed buoyed by hope in the nation's ability to prevail, but emphasized that "it's a step-by-step process."

Though there are signals of a return to stable governance, the threats are still pervasive. Abbas noted that while significant progress had been made by the government in strategically targeting centers of the Taliban in Northern and Southern Waziristan and improved collaboration with the US, there remain pockets of militant groups concerned with Kashmir in Punjab which are not being tackled. This poses a serious problem for both India and Pakistan, both equally victims to the violence perpetrated by these groups, and requiring that both nations act together to face this threat.

As the discussion progressed, Asia Society Executive Vice President Jamie Metzl probed the evolving role of the military in the present and future governance of Pakistan. Abbas responded that, unfortunately, the army had been the most important political party and there has been ongoing friction between civil and military leadership. However, the present military leadership of General Kayani is more popular both in Pakistan and the US, and Abbas predicted that future army chiefs would likely have less power as democracy progresses.

Equally critical in rebuilding Pakistan, is the issue of identity. At its founding, the insufficient infrastructure allowed hardliners and mullahs to define the state in the name of Islam, obstructing the formation of a positive identity by more liberal leaders. The social and economic structure continues to be weak, thus spurring much of the social unrest the country faces. Abbas reassessed the "strategic depth" former political leaders perceived lay in Afghanistan versus the "civilizational depth" that lies in India and how improving relations with India could be critical in mitigating security concerns as well as fomenting economic activity.

Abbas closed by recounting the dream of Pakistan's founders for a progressive Muslim state. While this state has been witness to many ups and downs, the culmination of civil society and political agency, a history of resilience to religious as well as political extremism, and greater international collaboration all bear positively in Pakistan's efforts to restore peace between and beyond its borders.

This event was the launch of the Asia Society's Bernard Schwartz Fellows Program for 2010, and also the first in the Pakistan 2020: A Vision for a Better Future and a Roadmap for Getting There public program series.

To watch the complete program, click here
Picture credit: George McClintock


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