By: Catherine He
The following case study consists of research guided by Dr Aziz through her Global Risk & Analysis Pioneer Academics course. This work is not associated with Dr Aziz in any way, shape, or form.
In the past few months, it seems that geopolitics has been at the forefront of social media social justice missions. From Palestine to Yemen, many international issues have been put under the spotlight, often for up to a week at a time. While two months ago you may have been dashing away from Instagram to escape the mass reposting of #FreePalestine on everyone’s stories, when opening up any social media today, it feels as if everyone suddenly forgot about, well, everything. The sad reality behind social media activism is that the hype dies down. Issues manage to gain traction and pressure rises exponentially, but then falls back into a slightly better place than a few days prior.
For all of our ‘trendy’ social justice warriors, I hate to break it to you, but children in Yemen are still dying of malnutrition, and still suffering the worst humanitarian crisis of the decade. Palestinians are still fighting for freedom, long after their flag and their faces have left our feeds. However, it would be a lie to say that all that reposting hasn’t helped. It has spread awareness to more people than ever, has drawn huge amounts of donations, and has placed pressure on the government to reevaluate.
So what happens to the countries where issues gain little to no traction among the ever-powerful internet activists? What happens to countries like Pakistan, where it seems the world has just acknowledged that it is bound to remain its’ exact same state and never receives the spotlight? Why is fighting for freedom now a passing trend?
In this short introductory case study to Pakistan, we will be highlighting the most prominent factors in each category of risk: social, economic, political, and geopolitical in an effort to educate more individuals about country risks that exist outside of decorated Instagram fact posts; real risks that no one seems to be talking about.
Pakistan is a nation that has been plagued with societal risks for decades on end. While we did not go into detail about the ethnic dilemma among the provinces of Pakistan, it remains an issue of great importance as the government’s violent oppression of insurgencies will continuing aggravating in light of current resource shortages (eg. water), an impact of climate change.
Terrorism and Extremist Roots
There is a high risk of terrorist attacks within Pakistan due to internal security gaps. That being said, terrorism as a whole has been on the decline, which is largely due to the army’s kinetic operations against the Pakistani Taliban, which has been responsible for the majority of civilian deaths and security forces since 2007. On top of this, ISIS-K, the Afghan Taliban’s rival, continues attacking and complicating Pakistan’s already violent sectarian landscape. Pakistan points the blame at terrorism in the nation to India for supposedly “backing ISIS” and “spreading unrest.” Playing the blame game with India for terrorism in Pakistan is something that has been long done. The Pakistani population was already weary of the Indian government due to their actions in Kashmir, as well as witnessing their alarming rise in intolerance towards Muslims.
In truth, the central issue is not of state capacity, but an unwillingness from the Pakistani state to paint jihadist groups in the same light and recognize the linkages in ideology that connect them all. There has yet to be acknowledgement of the underlying roots of extremism (that still remain very much intact) in the nation’s curricula, politics, and law, which prime citizens to buy in and sympathize with the groups Pakistan is trying so hard to eradicate. The lack of recognition that terrorism and extremism are connected is essentially the crux of the problem. The nation must independently realize terrorist groups and their ideologies, acknowledge the impacts, and decide on a strategy to deal with their roots in extremism in order to prevent another insurgence in terrorism.
In the first two weeks after the vaccination program began, only 32,582/78,000 frontline healthcare workers in Sindh (one of four provinces) opted in, and the situation in other areas of the country was even worse. Currently sitting at just 3% of the population being fully vaccinated in a nation of over 200 million citizens, Pakistan’s vaccination rates are very low, and a lot of that has to do with vaccine hesitancy.
So why does this hesitancy exist? The most common and relevant explanation for this would be safety and fear: a distrust of data fuelled by ‘news’ from social media. Is it placebo? Is it dangerous? Citizens are distrustful and worried about the safety risk getting vaccinated might pose, and hence are hesitating to get the jab.
Now, vaccine hesitancy isn’t anything new in Pakistan – in fact, many citizens are unvaccinated against many other diseases that most of us are. This stems from the fact that people simply don’t understand scientific data if it gets into the hands of people who aren’t educated enough to understand the information. It doesn’t help that qualified doctors are refusing to get vaccinated because “they don’t have enough information,” or that the provincial health minister in Punjabi, the country’s largest province, made a disclaimer during a press conference that citizens would take the vaccine “at their own risk.”
Another additive to this dilemma is general indifference among the public. Pakistan’s cases and fatalities have been comparable to wealthy nations such as Canada and France; the people face a relatively low number of deaths and severe cases. A common argument becomes, “Why should I get it?” or “What difference does it make?” When parts of the population don’t even believe the virus exists, it becomes near impossible to convince them to get vaccinated against the disease in question. Citizens don’t realize the massive risk created by low vaccination rates; the possibility of virus resurgence remains real, and its impact on businesses is devastating. Dr Adnan Khan, a public health researcher and infectious disease specialist, states that, “Our ability to resume normal [life] is heavily dependent on having community-level immunity and the best way to get that is to get vaccinated.”
While momentum has been gradually picking up in the national vaccine program, there remain various challenges, such as supply shortages. However, we are optimistic that Pakistan will be able to achieve a considerable increase in vaccinations by the end of the year.
When we’re considering economic risk, it is impossible to disregard the impacts of COVID-19. Undoubtedly the most prominent risk to Pakistan’s economy, we will focus solely on this subsection for economic risk, though there are other factors to consider, such as their heavy debt burden and the energy crisis. On the other hand, it should also be noted that Pakistan is expected to be taking many steps forward in the next decade(s) as benefits from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor begin rolling in.
Pakistan’s primary industry was manufacturing textiles, which has taken quite the blow and has been heavily impacted by a global demand shock. According to the AM Best Risk Report, the nation has had very limited fiscal room to respond to the pandemic, though they quickly received USD 3.1 billion in emergency funding through the IMF Rapid Financing Instrument to assist with medical supplies, food security, and vulnerable groups. While it was originally expected that the GDP was to gradually recover around 5% in the coming years, but with the emergence of the coronavirus, economic activity will remain below pre-outbreak levels, though the economy should return to a modest 1.5% growth in the 2021 fiscal year. It has been predicted that GDP growth will accelerate to 4.4% in 2022, which provides a beacon of light. Between early missteps, slow response, poor economic and health policy, limited social support, and overwhelmed health systems has placed Pakistan near the top of the list in terms of countries hardest hit by the pandemic, and the effects of this will continue to be felt for the years to come as the world slowly moves towards a ‘post-pandemic’ state. Pakistan will need strong leadership to phase out of the pandemic in a way that does not hinder economic growth.
Adding on to this, Pakistan had created an economic reform agenda (aided by the International Monetary Fund), but has been threatened due to the potential dissolution of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government in March. As such, the IMF-Pakistan deal is clouded. If the Khan government is really dissolved, the IMF program could be delayed until a new government is installed and on its feet – a long ways away in the future. Economically, Pakistan is in quite the dreary place, but there are hopes for improvement moving forward.
Pakistan is far from being a politically stable country, having had 3 military coups since 1947, the founding of the nation through Indian partition. The current Prime Minister is Imran Khan, a member of the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the largest political party) and a former cricket champion in a nation that puts the sport in a high regard.
The Root of Political Instability
Since its inception, Pakistan has never been politically stable. Politics are directly impacted by if decisions have military support, as suggested by the aforementioned endurance of 3 coups since founding. In fact, when meeting with other nations, there have even been instances where top ranking military officials greet leaders alongside the Prime Minister, which is practically unheard of but goes to show the military’s influence on country affairs. There is also a huge corruption issue within the government, with a huge amount of former government leaders facing intense scrutiny. Furthermore, Pakistan is ranked 124th on the Corruption Perceptions Index, a score that should cause anxiety and instability among the government as well as civilians.
Pakistan’s political future will be shaped by Prime Minister Khan’s ability to transform short-term policies into long-term strategies. To achieve this, the government must tackle the root of their political instability, which means charging at corruption, military influence in decision-making, COVID-19’s new challenges, and the historical debate of secularism and Islamism head-on.
The two most prominent and pressing geopolitical risks for Pakistan are its’ neighbours, Afghanistan and India. While we did not go into detail in this mini case study, Pakistan has had a good relationship with China for a very long time, though their massive debt to the country and Uyghur terrorism could destabilize relations.
With U.S. troops heading out of the country within the next month and change, Afghanistan faces a large amount of instability all on its own. The nation is too weak to control the country or secure borders, and Taliban activity had been rising in the south. Understandably, Pakistan is fearful of possible contagion of terrorism as well as the drug trafficking into their own country, destabilizing national security. Therefore, Pakistan is looking to secure and stabilize the porous border with Afghanistan. However, the Afghan government is convinced that Pakistan continues to support the Taliban (due to previous reports of terrorist financing and money laundering networks), and looks to Russia and India for support. This increases already existing tensions, as Islamabad’s paranoia ironically forces Pakistan to more overtly support the Taliban in order to preserve their own interests in the country. As friction between the two countries increases, it prompts the military to take over and secure the nation.
Tense relationships with India have existed since the founding of the country – they did part ways from India, after all. This relationship is a chronic issue, meaning that it is unlikely any major changes will be happening in the near future, but shock events could trigger increased movement on both sides. The main factors in their deteriorating bilateral relationship are the disputed regions of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as increased terrorist attacks. Being at odds over foreign and security policy, it compels the military to officially take over. After all, the military keeps the Kashmir issue alive, and they go as far as to actively support insurgency and terrorist activities in India. As there are mounting forces at the borders and unaccountable generals dictating key foreign policy matters, Pakistan moves closer to armed conflict with India. There has even been speculation of possible nuclear confrontation, which would turn relatively regional conflict into something greater. With all the various firing incidents between the two neighbours, each country hits back with equal or even more force. In the midst of the loss of life and damage on both sides, it compels the nation to find a military solution in absence of a diplomatic one, despite international condemnation. As nationalist movements increase along the Punjab region, regional and international peace is being hampered and threatened. Despite all the evidence that continued conflict isn’t going to look good for either side, this chronic issue will require a lot more than a few happy diplomatic meetings to improve.
This is by no means a comprehensive analysis of the country’s risk, and is meant to serve as a short introduction to prominent current risk factors in Pakistan of the present day. If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to take a look at the cited articles!
Which risk do you think is the highest in Pakistan? Leave your thoughts down in the comments below!