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. Pakistan's status as a key strategic partner in the United States’ War on Terror has been reexamined in recent years, and the country's new economic relationship with China could represent a realignment of South Asian power dynamics. Join us as we examine the future of this crucial player on the world’s stage.

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 a 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.
  • Increased tensions between Pakistan and India over the disputed territory of Kashmir have led to cross-border conflicts and heightened stress between the two longtime enemies. The tensions come after a tumultuous decade for Pakistani politics.
  • Pakistan has become a new partner in China’s One Belt, One Road system. The Pakistani branch Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is known as the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a series of infrastructure projects worth over $60 billion USD.

Exploration Questions

  • What are the main reasons for the political instability of Pakistan?
  • How do you see the Kashmir conflict being resolved?
  • Should the United States continue to seek Pakistan as a partner in South Asia?

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 will be the impact of the Coronavirus on some of the situations in Pakistan?

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.
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  • Mueenuddin, Daniyal. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. W W Norton, 2009. 247 pages. These stories portray life in Pakistan during its feudal period.
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