It is clear that Pakistan’s current state of affairs is simply unsustainable in the long-run. Pakistan’s current path of political and social development is a dead end. Although Pakistan has two main political parties that are quite moderate, these parties have failed quite spectacularly to modernize, industrialize, educate, or develop Pakistan’s society over the past six decades. While Pakistan’s military is largely to blame for retarding Pakistan’s political development, its political elite also shoulders the blame. As in India, Pakistan’s political elite is a largely Westernized group that tends to look after its own interests instead of the holistic development of its country. However, while India’s elite at least imbedded the basic constitutional principles and infrastructure in their country for India to mature, this cannot be said of Pakistan’s elite.
As a result, Pakistan, with its large population of 200 million, is rapidly heading toward failure. The education of its population is poor and even those with some education have no economic opportunities. Pakistan suffers from enormous, uncontrolled private violence, often of a sectarian nature, in the form of bombings, shootings and riots every day. Its population has also become increasingly radicalized, to the point where the line between ordinary mob violence and fundamentalist activist is becoming increasingly blurred.
The root of the problem is the fact that the Pakistani government lacks the will, capacity and legitimacy to solve Pakistan’s problems. There are too many important actors in the country that do not respect the civilian parliamentary government. With this fact in mind, the only stable political solution for Pakistan is to transform into an Iranian style Islamic state, with the obvious caveat that there will be some differences due to their different histories and the fact that Pakistan is mainly Sunni. Why this controversial solution? Pakistan has reached a point where there are so many private actors and institutions within society advocating or going about implementing some form of Islamic fundamentalism that the only way to control them is to institutionalize them.
Islamic fundamentalism is the only ideology in Pakistan’s society that is broadly acceptable to all its important players and ethnic groups as well as large swathes of the political elite and the military. Therefore, it is the only ideology that can mobilize the masses and institute acceptable modern institutions, which will deemed acceptable because they are Islamized. Although this solution will lead to Pakistan’s international isolation, this may have the effect of forging a stronger Pakistani state domestically, as the whole country struggles together. Countries like India and the United States will undoubtedly oppose this course of action but it is unlikely that Pakistanis would be so irrational as to use their nuclear weapons if such a state arises in Pakistan, because they would spell the death of their experiment. In such a scenario, the military will remain in power and in control of Pakistan’s nuclear assets; functional Pakistani institutions would not be dismantled, but merely Islamized, as in Iran after 1979. Some Pakistani liberals will of course have a problem with this solution, but they should understand that this is the surest way to Pakistan’s eventual modernization.
For a country where strong Islamist movements and tendencies to develop, it is necessary to go through a stage where these tendencies are institutionalized. Iran is the best example of this phenomenon. In Iran, the institutionalization of Islam led to Islam in the country becoming increasingly watered down, since clerics in power became worldlier. According to The Economist, the institutionalization of Islam in Iran also did more to secularize Iran than the previous regime since it mixed Islam and politics and demonstrated the drawbacks of this phenomenon. More importantly, as Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi pointed out, an Islamic state is the best way for an Islamic society to manage the transition between traditionalism and modernism. She notes, that for example, in an Islamic State, the situation for women, overall improves. Ebadi says,
In Iran, “the universities had become Islamic, dedicated to the education of women [and] girls went to class in hijabs. If the universities had been dens of sin in the Shah’s Iran, what were they now? Rehabilitated! Healthy! There was no pretext left for the patriarchs to keep their daughters out of school, and they slowly found themselves in classrooms, and away from their parents. A generation of women whose mothers had been tethered to the house found themselves in cities, reading books.”
Similar phenomena have been noted in Saudi Arabia and other rich Gulf countries, which despite the harshness of their interpretation of Islam, have produced more modern-minded women than more moderate countries like Pakistan or Egypt. In such countries, modernization is more suspect because it is seen in opposition to Islam.
Therefore, Pakistan’s way forward toward modernization and the mass mobilization of its population towards economic growth and away from violence involves the reconciliation of Islam and the state. It is only by mainstreaming aspects of extremism and Islam can violent, subversive private radicalization be tamed. When harnessed and institutionalized, such tendencies can work towards the development of society, however disagreeable, instead of undermining it. It is unlikely that this change will come in Pakistan through the victory of a territorial group such as the Taliban since this would involve its improbable victory over existing institutions like military. Rather, it is more likely that an internal political event or revolution within Pakistan will either suddenly or gradually turn it into a fundamentalist state and existing institutions will be Islamized. Though this sounds problematic, it is actually the best solution for Pakistan in the long run.