Imagining Pakistan in 2020

News | February 29, 2012

What will Pakistani politics and security look like in 2020? That question was the topic of a Feb. 24 presentation at the EastWest Institute’s New York Center by a team of experts convened by New York University’s Center for Global Affairs.

Led by Prof. Michael F. Oppenheimer, the team presented its Pakistan 2020 report, which explores three possible future scenarios for the country.

The event connected participants in the United States, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan to weigh in on prospects for Pakistan’s future over the course of the next decade.

Oppenheimer’s colleagues included: Shamila Chaudhary, an analyst for Eurasia Group who served as the director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the National Security Council from 2010-2011; Pakistan 2020 team lead for the CGA Scenarios Initiative Rorry Daniels; and Regina Joseph, who wrote up one of the scenarios for the report. The Carnegie Corporation-funded project was the result of NYU’s Pakistan Scenarios workshop held on April 29, 2011, which brought together 15 expert participants to develop three “plausible, distinct and consequential scenarios that merit the attention of U.S. foreign policy makers.”

Each scenario for Pakistan in 2020, though hypothetical, was designed to produce policy insights through considering potential futures.

The first hypothetical scenario, “radicalization,” envisions a Pakistan consumed by populist fervor as a result of “perceived military threats, spiraling economic losses and political infighting.” This results in the rise of a democratically elected conservative military officer who pursue a radical Islamic agenda for the country.

The second scenario, “fragmentation,” foresees economic instability as crippling the capacity of the state to govern, leading to a federally and regionally unstable Pakistan rife with insecure nuclear materials.

The third and most optimistic scenario, “reform,” sees a growing middle class fostering a centrist, economically oriented political movement. A political party born out of this movement then serves to displace much of the power currently held by political and military elites.

While the third scenario may be the least likely to occur, Oppenheimer said, “it is sufficiently plausible for the U.S. to try to work toward that scenario, in part because the other two … involve significant risks and damage to American interests and American security.”

Chaudhary argued that balkanization in Pakistan was unlikely. She maintained that Pakistan should instead be expected to “muddle through” current challenges. The first and third scenarios, both of which heavily rely upon the democratic process, would seem to support her view that Pakistan’s military, media, political parties and religious organizations are an example of “democracy at its best and at its worst.”

Najam Abbas, a senior fellow at the EastWest Institute who called in from London, commented that the situation requires a “macro-layer of analysis to probe the implications of Pakistan's 64-year-long [history of] a chaotic polity and shaky economy,” and aspects that “lead us to triggers that perpetuated strong individuals but weaker institutions.”

EWI Board Member Ikram Sehgal, speaking from Pakistan where he is chairman of a private security company, said pervasive corruption in Pakistan’s institutions was “the most important issue to the people of Pakistan” and a major cause of current instability.

German Ambassador Guenter Overfeld, EWI’s Vice President for Regional Security, calling in from Brussels, argued that corruption in Pakistan was in fact “a symptom of poor governance, not a cause.”

Pakistan 2020 is the seventh such report on potential futures for key countries conducted by the GCA Scenarios Initiative. Past reports have covered Iran, Iraq, China, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Click here to read the report in full.

Click here to access the CGA Scenarios blog.