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Pakistan will remain unstable: Selig Harrison
06 February 2008

Ethnic divisions will deepen in Pakistan along with popular sentiments against the military in the near future, says renowned area specialist Dr Selig Harrison. ``In 10 years, there will be a different landscape in Pakistan,`` he said addressing the faculty members of Observer Research Foundation here on February 6.

Dr Selig Harrison is Director, Asia Program at the Center for International Policy and a senior scholar of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is known for his deep knowledge on ethnic groups and faultlines in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Speaking on the current situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Dr Harrison warned of a longer period of instability and growing ethnic divide. He said even if the elections were held in a reasonably fair and transparent manner, ``democratization is not on the cards in Pakistan``. He pointed out that judges and political leaders continued to be under house arrest and nothing much could be expected from political leaders like Zardari ``who is nothing but a deal maker``. He said it was not easy to dislodge the military so easily simply because of its deep economic interests. Quoting Ayesha Siddiqa’s book, Military Inc., he said the military business was worth $38 billion.

Referring to a less debated issue, he said ``the ethnic factor defines the political life in Pakistan``. He pointed at the growing alienation of Sindhis, Balochis and Pashtuns which, he said, would only fuel the feeling of nationalism in the coming days. These groups feel subjugated by the Punjabi-dominated Army which has been ruling Pakistan for the past six decades.

He said Baloch nationalism should be taken seriously. Although the Baloch insurgency was in disarray after the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Nawabzada Balach Khan Marri, it remains alive and growing. The killings have only strengthened the resolve of the group which was small but no less determined.  On the other hand, he said Sindh nationalism remain unorganized and  weak in comparison to Baloch movement. A divided Sindhi movement will not be able to fight the Punjabis who are strong in economic, military and political sectors. There was, however, he said, an affinity between the two groups which can prove to be a serious problem for Pakistan.

Pashtun nationalism has existed ever since Pakistan was created.. Pashtuns refused to be deterred by air strikes and military incursions into NWFP and FATA areas. He said Pashtun national movement was not dead. ``It is simmering under the garb of the Taliban.`` He said ``we must understand that the Taliban was not a religious movement alone but  an exclusive Pashtun movement. He said the combination of jihadi forces with the Pashtun Taliban militants could lead to the revival of a Pashtunistan movement for a `Greater Pakhtunistan` comprising NWFP, FATA, and northern Balochistan.

In conclusion, Dr. Harrison said ethnic tensions will grow simultaneously with the growing popular resistance against the military in Pakistan. He said the way out for Pakistan would be to aim for a lose federation which will abate the growing ethno-nationalism in Pakistan. Reverting  to the 1973 Constitution which provided for provincial autonomy could be the first step towards resolving Pakistan’s internal conflicts.

Report prepared by Rahul Mukand and Sushmita Nath for ORF Pakistan Studies Programme