December 13th, 2012
04:04 AM ET

Pakistan in 2013: Yes, it could get worse

This is the third in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Each weekday, a guest analyst will look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.

By Michael Kugelman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. You can follow him @michaelkugelman. The views expressed are his own.

Four years ago, the U.S. Congress announced the findings of a bipartisan investigation into weapons of mass destruction.

Chillingly, the study predicted a nuclear or biological attack by the end of 2013 – with a high likelihood that it would originate in Pakistan.

Could this prediction come true next year? The risk of Pakistani nukes falling into the wrong hands is certainly high. Last August, militants attacked an air force base near Islamabad thought to store nuclear weapons. Several weeks later, security officials acknowledged a “serious” threat from the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) to assault one of Pakistan’s largest nuclear installations. All this in a country where, according to an unsettling Atlantic report, assets are frequently exposed: “[N]uclear bombs capable of destroying entire cities are transported in delivery vans [by the military] on congested and dangerous roads.”

This potential nuclear nightmare will undoubtedly consume many minds. Yet the nightmare we should really be focusing on in 2013 is the one Pakistan’s already living – increasing sectarian strife, economic struggle, and general insecurity.

Various forms of violence afflict Pakistan, but 2012 was the year of the sectarian attack. This autumn, 150 members of the Shia Muslim minority were killed in a four-week span. By early December, nearly 400 had died in 2012 – the most since the 1990s. One prominent Pakistani commentator has described his country’s anti-Shia violence as “genocide unfolding before us.” Other religious minorities are besieged as well – especially Ahmadis, a Muslim sect most Pakistanis regard as heretical.

More from CNN: U.S. encouraged by Pakistan efforts

Expect this all to continue in 2013. State responses inspire little confidence; arrests are rarely made, and protection is scarcely provided. After the recent desecration of an Ahmadi cemetery, police promptly announced they would not provide security at such sites.

Yet the worst is still likely to come. Sectarian attacks are usually carried out by groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, but the TTP has asserted responsibility for some of the most recent ones – suggesting an emerging alliance between two of Pakistan’s most vicious Sunni extremist entities. This is an ominous development in a nation where, according to polling, 41 percent of Muslims don’t regard Shias as true Muslims.

Religious minorities aren’t the only ones suffering. Pakistan’s economy is in free fall, and impoverished residents have resorted to setting themselves on fire because they can’t provide for their families. Expect this privation to continue next year when, the IMF predicts, Pakistan experiences double-digit inflation. A ballooning debt and dwindling foreign reserves will also reach crisis levels. This is why a fresh IMF loan – declined by Islamabad in 2012 – will likely be accepted next year out of desperation. Such assistance will provide some relief. However, unless Islamabad enlarges the tax base and enacts other revenue-generating yet politically risky policies, any relief will be temporary.

As these economic problems carry over into 2013, they will accentuate a broader crisis that has left many Pakistanis – not just the poor – furious. Pakistan is ravaged by all types of insecurity. It is a nation where, in a span of mere hours several weeks ago, a newborn sustained rat bites in a hospital nursery, 16 people perished from consuming toxic cough syrup, and a car bomb nearly killed a top journalist. Pakistanis seethe at the state’s unwillingness to take corrective measures – much less to provide basic protection. Earlier this year, a police official admitted “we were under strict instructions to do nothing” as assailants beat schoolgirls for not wearing the hijab.

Many Pakistanis hope national elections, scheduled for next spring, will reverse this gloomy state of affairs. One candidate for prime minister, legendary cricketer Imran Khan, is tapping into the country’s malaise and promising a “tsunami” of change. His athletic feats, incorruptible nature, non-dynastic background, and philanthropic efforts (all rarities for Pakistani politicians) have endeared him to millions – particularly young, urban-based Pakistanis.

More from GPS: Pakistan on cusp of change?

While Khan inspires hope in Pakistan, he triggers anxiety in Washington. Khan’s campaign platform is stridently anti-American, and his views on militancy are troubling (he has favored negotiations with the uncompromisingly brutal TTP). If his Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party wins a majority of seats and he becomes premier, U.S. efforts to improve cooperation with Islamabad will grow far more challenging.

Then again, Khan is no shoo-in. Thanks to the patronage-fueled rural power centers of Pakistan’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and top opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), it’s likely that one of these parties will form the next government. The PPP has declared that 24-year-old Bilawal Bhutto – son of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto and current president Asif Ali Zardari – will formally enter politics next year. This will energize the party’s base, and enhance its electoral prospects.

Washington would prefer the relatively pro-U.S. PPP (or the more conservative PML) over Khan’s PTI. Regardless of the election outcome, however, the United States should lower its expectations for ties with Islamabad come 2013. Don’t be fooled by the flurry of high-level meetings rounding out 2012, and by official statements proclaiming relations back on track after months of tensions. Mistrust will remain deep, interests will still diverge, and, because neither side exerts much leverage over the other, favors will continue to be difficult to extract.

This isn’t to say the United States should divorce Pakistan, which contains one of the world’s largest and youngest populations; boasts its seventh-largest army; will soon be the fifth-largest nuclear power; and counts critical players China and Saudi Arabia as its closest allies.

Instead, the new Obama administration should enter 2013 with a retooled relationship in mind – one that is both scaled-back and long-term.

In practice, this means seizing the few available opportunities for cooperation on official levels. These include countering improvised explosives devices (which are manufactured in Pakistan, but kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan) and targeting the TTP (which attacks both the Pakistani state and Americans in Afghanistan).

Washington should also engage unofficial Pakistan – particularly the young, urbanizing middle class that, demographically speaking, will soon dominate the country. Already, this group makes major contributions to Pakistan’s underrated higher education system, including the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences (a professor there has been recognized as one of the world’s top 35 innovators). And it supplies brainpower for a hidden jewel – Pakistan’s burgeoning IT sector. Many people know the name Malala Yousafzai – the 15-year-old girl’s education advocate shot by the Taliban. Yet few outside Pakistan know that of Arfa Karim – a 16-year-old computer genius (and the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Professional) who died this year after an epileptic seizure.

Pakistan is in for a rough 2013. Yet so long as its brave and resilient society continues to produce the likes of Malala and Arfa, there will be some reason for hope.


soundoff (216 Responses)
  1. lovUSA

    Pakistan now needs to protect itself from the economic implosion/bubble burst in India and cultural decadence. It is over folks, in India. Unemployment is record high, inflation is out of control, rupee has collapsed, budget deficit has widened,, multinationals such as Delta Airlines, Dell Computers, GE and Microsoft are already shifting their call centers to Canada, FDI has almost halted. Nobody wants to do business there anymore as terrorism is shifting there in months to come and the country/politics are too big/corrupt/decentralized to be conducive to do business. Pakistan needs to close its borders along India as Indians will soon be crossing over for food. You will now see Indian government trying to get friendly, solving the Kashmir issue and the cricket team

    December 14, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Reply
  2. lovUSA

    does Shiva have a lulli?

    December 14, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Reply
    • saurov

      Shiva is an IT. So no lulli

      December 15, 2012 at 7:35 am | Reply
    • krm1007 © ™

      Aisha loved it. She didn't like Mohammed's who had syphilis according Koran.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:34 am | Reply
  3. krm1007 © ™

    75% of Pakistani girls do not go to school. Only 25% of Pakistani girls go to school. Either the girl schools are bombed out by Taliban or their parents do not want to send girls to get an education. Look it up yourself. How could it possibly get any worse? Well, expect this to continue in 2013.

    December 15, 2012 at 9:35 am | Reply
    • lovUSA

      At least the girls are alive. 75% of girls are murdered in India by the time they reach 4 years and police look the other way !!!

      December 15, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
  4. krm1007 © ™

    Pakistan National Nutrition Survey, 2011, conducted by the Benazir Income Support Program showed that 58 per cent of Pakistanis were food insecure and 29.6 percent of them were suffering with hunger or severe hunger. No wonder these Pakistani people have no trouble blowing themselves up to just get out of their misery.

    December 15, 2012 at 9:37 am | Reply
    • lovUSA

      Sure beats 95% people starving in India forcing Talibans to open up soup kitchens there

      December 15, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  5. Amer Khan

    It gives us great pain to know that people without having a 1% of the sense of what is actually happening on the ground are giving comments as if they are experts, which was also proven by the presidential candidate's knowledge of things all around the world.
    There is a WAR on the border of Pakistan and a World Power, US is trying to grapple with the Pashtuns on the ground, without success. The enemies of PK, including US, Israel and India are playing their part in making things difficult.
    The aid that US gives to PK is because it uses the resources and routes of PK.
    PK is a nuclear state and it will never go down.

    December 15, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Reply
    • lovUSA

      You bet India is playing its part...doublecrossing Americans and backstabbing them. ROFL !!!!!

      December 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  6. krm1007 ©™

    Did Lord Ram get neutered by Krishna recently ? I saw Andrew Zimmerman eating his b-lls up in a recent travel channel episode!!!

    December 15, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
    • lovUSA

      No that was Hanuman's nuts that he was eating !!!! Kali maa can now rest her legs for a while till a pashtun gets her down

      December 15, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  7. krm1007 ©™

    Good morning Sir!! I am Kareem Chamar (shoemaker in Pakistani) from Pakistan. It really smells bad over here in Pakistan Sir, we need complementary soaps and water trucks, please send them soon. Thank you Thank you Thank you Sir!!!

    December 15, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Reply
    • lovUSA

      ooooh Kareem you forgot to ask free towels, bro!!!

      December 15, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  8. lovUSA

    On the average Durga Mommy has one t-t !!!!

    December 15, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Reply
    • Amit-Atlanta-USA.

      Does Devi Panchali have any b_lls!

      December 15, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  9. saurov

    you moron Devi panchali has two t-ts... one on the average

    December 15, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Reply
    • saurov

      this was in response to @Amit-Atlanta-USA

      December 15, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Reply
  10. YAHYA SUILAMAN

    Secret revealed why hindus are smart just google it hindus drink cow urine or urine of there own then only they brain are clean and smart people in the world if you dont trust me google it and check hindus drink urine wanna be smart clever drink urine of cow

    December 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  11. Kali the Muslimslayer

    Feed all Pakistanis to Kali, muslims are her favorite food

    December 15, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Reply
    • Raj Kapoor

      Kali like Pakistani d-ck. big and juicy. You try it too....you will love it !!!

      December 15, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
      • Mohammed

        Aisha is just like a public telephone – anyone can use for a few coins. Mohammed did not mind Aisha's flirting at all. It was sort of an open marriage between the old fart and the young tramp. Besides, like all muslims, Mohammed liked the extra income Aisha earned on her back.

        December 17, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  12. casper hughes

    All of you guys are anti Pakistan and immature who don't even think to go back in history before opening your dirty mouth. What happened to US in Vietnam by the hands of USSR. It is Pakistan who helped US in Afghanistan by defeating Russians for their crimes in Vietnam. History will tell when the USSR was broken into Pakistan was left behind to deal with more than 5 millions Afghans and all the problems in Afghanistan including drugs, tribal violence and Kalashnikov culture. Pakistan did not attack US, Pakistan did not invite UBL to Afghanistan, you guys just like to blame everything on Pakistan, I wish when USSR was defeated US and Western countries should have stayed a little longer to have stable govt in Afghanistan, Right now what ever situation you guys are watching it is because of the ignorance of Afghanistan after Soviet war. Pakistan and India don't get along and that is truth and if Pakistan is involve in Afghanistan only to protect its borders and interest so India won't stab Pakistan in her back. Pakistan is in no way competing with US we are 3rd world country and have the right to defend our borders and Interest as compare to any other country in the Afghanistan because what we have suffered from 1979 till to date. When it comes to Indian touts who always blame for everything in their country I have nothing to say because you guys are habitual but for the US friends I request to read history thoroughly and analyze before you criticize Pakistan.

    December 16, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Reply
    • Victor

      Pakistan hid Osama bin Laden, the mass murderer. His wives were spawning lil' terrorist babies like sardines in Pakistani hospitals. Pakistanis beheaded Daniel Pearl.

      December 17, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Reply
  13. Amer Khan

    just check this out. Thanks

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/480719/attackers-demonic-tattoo-draws-fresh-ttp-conclusions/

    December 17, 2012 at 1:13 am | Reply
  14. zachameen

    First of all this Article is written by a Jew who sees Pakistan as a threat with very limited vision which doesn't go beyond illegitimate nation Israel and its safety. They attack every Muslim country that try to become a nuclear power to deter aggressors so they can make us their slaves
    and second of all, NATO and India Supplying arms and providing military training to Pakistani Talibans and other terrorist organizations in a hope to destabilize Pakistan to point that it would be a cake walk in term of breaking it in pieces. All the bombings in Pakistan are traced back to IRAQI style bombings and Indian style bombings in East Pakistan of 1971.
    Indians never accepted the fact that Pakistan is a separate and independent country and always have been creating problems for Pakistan for last 65 years and never let go of a chance to help terrorists netwroks in Pakistan.
    Lets see for how many more years Indians and NATO will push Pakistan around. All our weapons are for deterrence and built for our enemies, specially Indians.
    an Indian Idiot SHANKERH mentioned Pakistani Troops hiding in their trenches and scared of Talibans and they will take over Pakistan soon; its same Indian rhetoric that we have been hearing for last many years. If Pakistan troops were that incompetent, Indians would have us on their platter for Seafood (Too bad they vegetarians) long time ago. In reality Indians are scared of Pakistani soldiers who kicked 700000 Indian troops asses in Kargil war (by just 3000 Pakistani soldiers and 2000 Kashmiris). It was Bill Clinton who saved them.
    NATO is getting tired and leaving Afghanistan and once they are gone, we will pay full attention to Indians and Northern Alliance of Afghanistan.

    March 7, 2013 at 10:39 pm | Reply
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