By Cynthia Lee
T.V. Paul is co-founder of the McGill University-Université de Montréal Centre for International Peace and Security Studies (CIPSS). A James McGill Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science, Paul has been teaching at McGill since 1991. A specialist in International Relations, especially international security, regional security and South Asia, Paul is kicking off the year with the publication of a new book focused on Pakistan and its “geostrategic curse.” A book launch is planned at the McGill Bookstore on Jan. 30. For more information about the event, go here.
You are publishing a new book, The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World. Can you give us a quick overview?
Much of the literature on Pakistan is descriptive, telling what has been happening there, without explaining the particular trajectory this pivotal country has taken during the past 66 years. In the Warrior State I attempt to understand Pakistan’s inability to form a proper democracy, the continued dominant role of the military, and its poor performance in a number of areas, including economic development, democratic freedom and minority rights.From a scholarly perspective, it is a comprehensive attempt to test the war and state-making literature, highly popular in historical sociology, in the context of a developing country.
This school believes that war has been the main engine of development of strong states in Europe. The puzzle is why Pakistan has not become a strong state despite the enormous effort on war preparation.
I argue that in the post-World War II era, countries with intense rivalries and conflicts became strong only if they simultaneously pursued a developmental state approach, as attested by the cases of Korea and Taiwan. Pakistan has largely pursued a policy for achieving strategic and military parity with its larger neighbor India, while ignoring economic development that relies on a trading state approach. Further, Pakistan has been a beneficiary of great power conflicts in a narrow sense, with its elite developing a particular worldview that extolled a garrison state and a top-down approach to societal control keeping many feudal elements in place for their own benefit.
What do you mean when you say that Pakistan suffers from the “geostrategic curse”?
Some scholars have argued that if a country is well-endowed with oil or other natural resources, it may generate a curse on its development. The elite is not under pressure to innovate the country or to allow democratic freedoms to flourish as it is able to buy off important sections of the society through easy money.
Similarly, if a country is endowed with excessive geostrategic salience to the great powers, its elite may become heavily dependent on easy money from great power patrons, generating a “geostrategic curse.” Pakistan, Egypt, and the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos fall into this category of states, although they differ on many dimensions.
Pakistan’s intense involvement in great power conflict – first in the Cold War conflict with the Soviet Union along with the U.S., then as the frontline state in the US-led struggle against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and later in the post-9/11 conflict in Afghanistan – has brought immense economic and military benefits from the allies, especially the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia and other Western countries as well as international financial institutions. The aid along with expatriate remittances has allowed the Pakistani elite to maintain their dominant status and military-first approach without reforming the society, be it in the areas of land tenure, educational system, or equitable economic development.
How do you see the American (and Canadian) withdrawal of forces this year from Afghanistan affecting the region?
I am pessimistic on the prospects of peace in Afghanistan in the post-US/NATO force withdrawal in 2014.
Although the Karzai government and his potential successor will have a 300,000 strong armed force, the country is so heavily dependent on the U.S. and other Western powers such as Canada for not only security but also basic economic sustenance. The Taliban forces are waiting in the background and have already started asserting their rule in many Southern provinces. They have also stepped up their attacks on civilian and military targets.
An outright victory of the Taliban as in 1996 may not happen but Afghanistan is likely to emerge similar to Somalia with its central government not able to assert control over large parts of the country. It is yet to be seen whether Pakistan will fully support the Taliban as they did in 1996, although it is highly unlikely that Islamabad will completely abandon them either. This kind of “double games” contribute to the ‘geostrategic curse’ and as long as some elements within the Pakistani military believe that the Taliban is a good tool for their geopolitical goals, they may not cut them off or fully suppress them.
The civilian government led by Nawaz Sharif has been talking of peace negotiations with the Taliban, but thus far, these overtures seem to be in vain. The tragedy is that Pakistan also has the Taliban on its side that now has turned against the Pakistani security forces and common people. Continued creative Western involvement is necessary to make sure Afghanistan and Pakistan do not become breeding grounds for al-Qaida once again. The prospects look dim for any kind of long-term stabilization of the region with competing stakeholders unable to agree on the future of Afghanistan. Containment of violence is perhaps the most feasible approach in the short run.
You are embarking on a major 20+ city book tour in support of The Warrior State, and on Jan. 30 there will be an event at the McGill Bookstore. Please tell us what to expect.
The book has generated much interest from the scholarly and policy worlds. So, I have been invited by many schools and research institutions to talk about its main arguments. Some of these are formal presentations followed by a question and answer period while others are roundtables in which other scholars comment on the book and I respond to their viewpoints. The McGill event is co-sponsored by the Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID), Center for International Peace and Security Studies (CIPSS), and the Canadian international Council (CIC). It will be a roundtable with short commentaries by McGill professors John Hall, Phil Oxhorn, Matthew Lange, and Vincent Pouliot and Concordia scholars, Norrin Ripsman and Kyle Mathews. Following the roundtable, I will sign copies of the book brought to the venue by McGill bookstore. Events such as this offer an opportunity to engage students and the general public on the main themes of the book.