Pakistan's Never-Ending Story: Why the October Coup Was No Surprise

Courtesy Reuters

What ails Pakistan? Why, throughout its 52 years, has it experienced nearly constant political instability? Pakistan has already suffered four military coups, the most recent of which startled the world last October. The country suffers from endemic social, political, and economic ills, all of which its various civilian and military regimes have proven incapable of handling.

Pakistan's problems appear especially stark next to India, its neighbor and long-time adversary. Of course, India can hardly brag about its record in avoiding ethnic violence, fueling economic development, or promoting social justice. But unlike Pakistan, India's military remains under firm civilian control; state and national elections are basically free and fair; the judiciary staunchly protects its independence; and the Indian press remains unhindered and, at times, even feisty. India has hewed toward democracy, while Pakistan is ever veering toward authoritarian rule. What led Pakistan into this mess, and so soon after its founding? And how will it ever get out?

Pakistan's woes matter not just to the Indian subcontinent but to America as well. Pakistan is a nuclear state with crushing economic problems, a burgeoning population, and few effective civilian institutions. It abuts two regions of the world, the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, that are flash points in America's battles over oil, terrorism, and drugs. Pakistan wields major influence in the growing Islamist movement in Central Asia and the surrounding regions. If Pakistan collapsed, refugees would flood into India and Iran, and Afghanistan's stability would be further undermined. Worse yet, any further weakening of the state could leave Pakistan's nuclear arsenal vulnerable to terrorists.


Most of Pakistan's current travails can easily be traced to the nationalist movement that forged the state in 1947. The All-India Muslim League, the major Muslim party in colonial India, led the transition to the newly formed Pakistan under Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a secular, charismatic lawyer and politician. The League was an elitist organization from the start and remained so after independence. Although the party claimed to represent

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