Pakistan

9/1/2011

Overview

Formed in 1947 out of the partition of British Colonial territories in South Asia, Pakistan has experienced decades of conflict with India. More recently, Pakistan has undergone internal conflict between its secular government and the rising tide of Taliban-led Islamic Fundamentalism. As a long-time U.S. ally, Pakistan has been considered a key in the war on terror. With the discovery of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, however, some are questioning this nature of this relationship. Join us as we examine the future of this precarious nuclear nation.

Key Lecture Points

  • Until the arrival of British colonialism in the 18th century, the history of South Asia is one of large Hindu and Muslim empires with borders that waxed and waned. The modern nation-state of Pakistan did not come into being until the withdrawal of the British Empire and the partition of India in 1947.
  • Pakistan and India have fought three separate wars since partition. While current relations are more peaceful, Indo-Pakistani relations always have a potential flashpoint, the disputed region of Kashmir. As well, the terrorist attacks upon the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 point to the continued presence of terrorist organizations within Pakistan. Given that both Pakistan and India are nuclear states, any potential conflict between the two countries creates risk.
  • When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the US made as strategic decision to stem the expansion of Soviet influence into south Asia, by funneling arms and support via Pakistan to the Afghan mujahideen. The Pakistani intelligence services (the ISI) supported the mujahideen, who were religiously inspired fighters against the Soviets. After the defeat of the Soviets in 1989, many of the Afghan and Pakistani fighters turned their military organization into a political one: the Taliban, which expanded its influence over Afghanistan, and remote tribal areas of Pakistan. The Taliban also forged an alliance with Osama bin Laden, and his Arab Islamist organization, al Qaeda.
  • After 9/11, Pakistan became an important partner (but tenuous) in the US’ war against terrorism and the search for Osama bin Laden. The inability of Pakistan, under Pervez Musharaff and later Asif Ali Zardari, to root out al Qaeda and Taliban supporters in Pakistan has frustrated the US. After the May 2, 2011 US raid that killed bin Laden, relations between the US and Pakistan hit a new low, with the US accusing Pakistan of harboring terrorists and Pakistan accusing the US of violating its sovereignty.

Exploration Questions

  • What are the main reasons for the political instability of Pakistan?
  • Why has the raid to kill bin Laden had such a significant impact on US-Pakistani relations?
  • Are the US drone aircraft strikes an appropriate use of force or do they go too far in repeatedly violating sovereign borders?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you recall the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 and the political parties involved? How was this event reported in the US?
  • Have your perceptions of Pakistan changed over the course of your lifetime? In what way?
  • What do you think about the bin Laden raid? Do you think the Pakistani government knew he was in Abbottabad?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Barker, Kim. The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Doubleday, 2011. 320 pages. A foreign correspondent’s description of the absurdities and tragedies in this war zone.
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  • Gul, Imtiaz. The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier. (paperback) Penguin, 2011. 320 pages. Gul is a Pakistani journalist. He describes the tribal region’s slide into militancy.
    Click here to order
  • Mueenuddin, Daniyal. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. W W Norton, 2009. 247 pages. These stories portray life in Pakistan during its feudal period.
    Click here to order