Pakistan’s disaster could lead to a systemic collapse

Raza Rumi

The colossal humanitarian tragedy and the imminent economic meltdown, will now shape a new Pakistan or rather, exacerbate its predicament in the months and years to come. Pakistan’s chronic political instability, structural economic constraints and a warped national security policy are all going to be affected by the unfolding drama of the national disaster, perhaps the severest, in the country’s history. Whilst the challenges have snowballed within a short duration of ten days, the response of the Pakistani state and society underline extremely dangerous trends and make us wonder about future of the country, as we have known it for the last 63 years.

Systemic shock:

Pakistan had reverted to quasi-democratic rule after a decade of dictatorship in March 2008. Since the resumption of the electoral process in February 2008, the traditionally powerful unelected institutions, had acquired both legitimacy and unprecedented powers. The power troika of the 1990s had transformed into a quartet comprising the army, judiciary, the media and the civilian government which was represented by a ‘discredited’ president who has been a constant punching bag for the unelected institutions of the state.

Notwithstanding the isolation of the elected in the afore-mentioned quartet, the pending reform of governance was well-executed by the political elites by forging a consensus around the devolution of powers from the centre to the provinces via the 18th Amendment, and by establishing the rules of the game on fiscal transfers. However, these advances were overshadowed and challenged by the bane of Pakistani state: the national security policy, and its proclivity to act as a rentier entity for the Western agendas in the region.

Despite the fundamental shifts in governance, Pakistan has been in the tight grip of the civil-military-bureaucratic nexus and its newfound ally i.e. the ubiquitous electronic media. This is why the calamitous circumstances of today are turning into a major shock to the political system, which may unravel its very existence.

Dangerous trends:

Three key trends can be cited here. First, the perpetual attack on the person and office of the President who symbolises the political consensus of the federation and, especially, the popular will for the smaller provinces. Second, the relentless glorification of militarism by using the pretext of emergency relief. To illustrate, while the President was demonised during his UK visit, not a whimper was sounded out on the Army Chief’s official visit to the UAE, especially by those who have been praising the ascendant role of the armed forces in ‘saving’ Pakistan. Lastly, the sheer failure of the civilian administration to install an early warning mechanism and cope with the scale and immensity of the disaster has yet again raised the questions of state failure in the civilian domain. However, this time the civilian failure is hounded by the large-scale presence of banned militant organisations and their cadres in undertaking rescue-and-relief work in Southern Punjab and parts of KP, which casts a dark shadow over the attempts of the present civilian government to fight extremism in the country. Things have come to such a pass that the Taliban are advising a sovereign state not to seek international help and gunning down Awami National Party (ANP) workers and activists even in these dire times. All in all, political instability is likely to grow and deepen in the short-term leading to a systemic collapse, which Pakistan is familiar with and which almost always results in taking recourse to an authoritarian regime.

Economic collapse:

It has already been highlighted even when the floods have not receded that we are now heading fast towards an imminent economic meltdown. Such has been the nature of devastation reeked by the calamity that our GDP growth rate estimated to be 4.5 percent in the current fiscal year, is likely be halved due to the loss of crops, livestock, infrastructure and exports. The recent figures floated while the floods had not arrived at Kotri in Sindh, was around $10 billion. Given that the flood situation is getting complex and the outbreak of disease is an inevitable eventuality, the final estimate of losses will be far greater. Rough estimates suggest that 30-40 percent of crops may have already been lost while the strains on budgetary expenditures may be beyond the capacity and resources of the federal government. In these circumstances, the economy has emerged as a major challenge and one linked to our earlier discussion on political instability, the future scenario for Pakistan looks far from promising.

In KP alone, vital infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and highways have been damaged beyond repair, not to mention, the loss of timber, cattle and housing stock. The Prime Minister and other responsible officials of the state have already stated that parts of Pakistan have lost decades of development. It would be too early to make further estimates of what may have happened given that 70 percent of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and 50 percent of Southern Punjab remains inaccessible at the time of writing these lines. Perhaps the most under-reported aspect relates to the energy crises that may erupt once again in the short-term. Qadirpur gas field and many power plants has been shut down for days and thereby, depriving the country of nearly 2000 MW of electricity. Pakistan was battling with a circular debt and regular supply of furnace oil to the Independent Power Producers (IPPs), and had barely managed to devise a strategy to overcome energy deficits. It seems that efforts made earlier might be, to some extent, jeopardized in the wake of the current situation.

Militancy and extremism:

As noted above, the two agents seemingly well-organised are the Pakistan Army and the militant organisations, inextricably linked through history and the national security paradigm we have followed. As independent field reports from national and international media suggest the people in southern Punjab and KP are extremely angry and frustrated at the inability of the state to act in a timely and purposeful manner. For instance, Jamat-ud-Dawa is already at the forefront of relief efforts in the Punjab, while the several offshoots of the militants’ alliances in the northwest are capitalising on the extraordinary situation that we face today. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that these two parts of Pakistan already poor, marginalised and victims of state neglect, would see a major swing towards Islamism.

This is where the real challenge to Pakistan’s policy-makers and the Western powers emerges. The earlier militaristic efforts (military strikes, drone attacks, search operations and rounding up of Taliban militants) were yet to be backed by large-scale development programmes. In fact, the need for a Marshall Plan for the conflict-affected areas has already been highlighted at the international fora by the President and the Foreign Office. But the floods and the affiliated disasters have turned the clock backwards. The challenge of reconstruction, already beyond the capacity of the Pakistani State, will now be confounded by the rejection of constitutional governance and a secular governance framework that the ANP and the PPP have been propagating since the last few years.

The Pakistan state, including its nuclear-armed military has been on the defensive and their personnel and installations have been relentlessly targeted in the last three years. Over 30,000 civilian and military casualties and 7 percent of Officers Corps (of those fighting the insurgents) have died in the war against terror. Given such a vast and effective terrorists’ network, the current crisis is likely to compound the extent of terrorist attacks and recruitment of militants from the disaster-hit areas. Many analysts had hoped that once the military operation was over, improved governance and investments would provide an alternative to lure of Islamism. But, such a plan appears to be a distant dream only.

Which way now:

It is absolutely clear that the challenges faced by the state on the eve of its 63rd birthday are gargantuan, if not insurmountable. Three realities of contemporary Pakistan make things even more difficult. First, there seems to be a lack of political consensus on how to approach the disaster as the political elites have been bickering and scoring points thus far. True to their historical understanding of politics as a divisive and competitive arena, the leaders of political parties have traded more allegations than presenting solutions for the current situation. Second, the private philanthropy, international donors and global relief networks have displayed a marked reluctance to commit resources and offer assistance to Pakistan in undertaking emergency work and long-term rehabilitation. Donor fatigue has been cited as a possible explanation: however, the issue is far deeper and pertains to the credibility-deficit of the Pakistani State. The reasons are simple: the reputation gained by the Pakistani government for its ‘double-speak’ and hydra-headed behaviour with respect to the war on terror. Further, Pakistan’s perception as a thoroughly corrupt society is also an unfortunate reality as confirmed by the recent Transparency International report.

Third, it is unlikely that Pakistan would be out of the Afghanistan imbroglio anytime soon, thereby making it prone to decisions or policies set by Western powers. Also, the India policy pursued by the security establishment remains fossilised and hostage to history. There are no signs that this imperative is going to change in the next year or so. It would not be unwise to expect that military spending will remain as high as before, leaving little room for resource transfer to the areas ravaged by floods.

Policy focus:

In these circumstances, what should the public policy focus on? There are no easy answers for this unfortunate structural conundrum. As a start, there are five areas, which should be explored by the federal government. First, a national consensus on post-disaster mitigation strategy would be forged through an immediate political dialogue and which should be manifested in the form of a national commission comprising of key political parties and members of the Executive (including the army). Second, resource mobilisation campaigns should be initiated, focusing on expatriate Pakistanis and those who have been transferring their capital offshore. Such campaigns must also be launched in major capitals of the West, with a clear signal that if Pakistan’s allies are not going to bail it out, then they should be ready for the dire consequences of its economic and political instability.

Third, this crisis affords an opportunity to reform the local governance systems that have worked in the past. The strengthening of district administration and setting up local governments as agents of reconstruction and rehabilitation must be undertaken as soon as the emergency relief tasks are over.

Fourth, this may be the right time to mobilise and incentivize Pakistan’s private sector to contribute to the rehabilitation of lost infrastructure by offering them tax concessions, enabling legal environment for public-private partnerships and ensuring that they are not victims to bureaucratic corruption. Finally, it is essential that a national communication plan should be developed whereby; the civilian governments across the country are able to respond to citizen requirements, check corruption and leakages in relief efforts and present a credible alternative to Islamo-fascist solutions for governance and development.

A version of this piece also appeared in The News on Sunday


Filed under baluchistan, disaster, Pakistan, strategy, Terrorism, violence, Zardari

26 responses to “Pakistan’s disaster could lead to a systemic collapse

  1. neel123

    @ Raza Rumi,

    ” campaigns must also be launched in major capitals of the West, with a clear signal that if Pakistan’s allies are not going to bail it out, then they should be ready for the dire consequences of its economic and political instability ”

    – the international readers hopefully would be inclined not to doubt you intentions.

  2. Ali Abbas


    A very coherent account and analysis of our current situation. International donors are not swayed by our media’s current penchant for lynching Zardari; some are perturbed by the lack of accouting for the billions that are donated for the 2005 earthquake. If Zardari was the case, Pakistan would not even have recieved IMF funding or the KLB. Your article encapsulates all these issues superbly.

  3. Ali Abbas


    Your article also provides some direction for the future which does not revolve around the circulation of abusive letters but on the idea of saving Pakistan from drowning, both literally and metaphorically. The time for political divisiveness and throwing allegations (and shoes) is gone. We need the world community on our side and I hope our middle class “intelligensia” wakes up from its romance with our jihadis and realizes that this enterprise will doom us faster under the current circumstances….



    [@ Raza Rumi,

    ” campaigns must also be launched in major capitals of the West, with a clear signal that if Pakistan’s allies are not going to bail it out, then they should be ready for the dire consequences of its economic and political instability ”

    – the international readers hopefully would be inclined not to doubt you intentions.]

    In the 1500’s, a large metal tub was filled with water that had been drawn/carried and heated, then family bath time began.
    Bath time started with the man of the house, then the sons and any other men in the household. Then the women and children got their turn in the bath water, and lastly the babies were bathed. Yes, all in the same water.
    Because baths were only taken once a year, the water was so dirty by the time the babies were bathed, it would have been easy to lose someone in it.
    Hence the phrase, or saying, ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’…………
    International community washed itself in 20th century using water (mujahideen) in tub (pakistan)..Of course water is very dirty…But baby(pakistan) is now ,although poor but grown-up and you can not just throw it with dirty water.

  5. Parvez

    Excessively alarmist. How do you collapse a system which exists only on paper?


    correction…last sentence of my previous post
    baby(pakistan)….read baby(pakistani people)

  7. Tilsim

    Raza you are right to be alarmed and to warn. The possibility of default by Pakistan on it’s international obligations is a concern as a result of the floods.

    However I am more alarmed at the way the Pakistani TV channels are inciting hatred towards the State, in particular politicians. This is a crisis that even the US would have great difficulty in handling – recall the performance of the US state during Hurricane Katrina. The State is indeed ineffective. However many TV channels are setting hopelessly unrealistic expectations of the State. The manner of their comment and reporting is escalating the sense of crisis amongst ordinary people.

    They are also stirring up the public in a very direct way to act. An ensuing violent uprising might bring the PA into confrontation with ordinary citizens. The resulting chaos will lead to many people losing their lives. The TV channels must act responsibly. We are not interested in these drawing room pundits bringing about a bloody situation which helps to cause an implosion so that extremist forces can take advantage and vigilantism takes over. I fear that their irresponsible incitement may serve as a tipping point for the declaration of a national emergency which will result in curtailment of freedom of speech. I hope some of these TV channels can come to their senses before that.

  8. libertarian

    Make Edhi the face of this effort. Let Edhi pitch to foreign governments directly. Let Edhi put his credibility on the line.

    Left to the government and/or the army, the catastrophe scenarios are highly likely.


    PM Gilani should arrange to brief about risks,relief plan and conduct all politicians and journalists separately.Politician and media persons should be informed esp about their conduct so that social unrest is not created.

  10. pankaj

    Why cannot the Pakistan Army crack the WHIP on the rich elite who dont pay taxes.
    And who have siphoned of billion of dollars to foreign banks.

    I have stated this before and I will again say that Pakistan Army can change the fortunes of Pakistan if it really wants.
    It looks like Pakistan Army likes the status quo in Pakistan.

  11. karun1

    any data on how much rainfall in mm was received which led to such devastating floods?

  12. Zulfiqar Haider

    The author has explained the whole situation is detail and all the facts seem true; I hope the state apparatus devises a sound plan in time in order to avoid this collapse.

  13. DN

    The coming days will indeed be a litmus test not only of the Pakistani’s patriotism and empathy but also of the Government agencies’ co-ordination and integrity in effectively managing the situation and the aid likewise and its future planning towards the re-habilitation once the issues of epidemics, food and shelter have been addressed. The coming times will reveal whether the Pakistanis are capable of keeping a united front as a nation despite their differences or whether this flood will inundate the foundation of this country.

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  15. NSA

    Karun1, upto 24 mm a day in excess of the average during Aug 1-10. You can find a NASA map if you google it.

    Regarding tax concessions to businesses – IMO, Pakistan already has low tax rates, and also low tax collection rates. This is a time when the government most needs revenue. Tax concessions don’t sound right.

  16. shiv


    Why cannot the Pakistan Army crack the WHIP on the rich elite who dont pay taxes.
    And who have siphoned of billion of dollars to foreign banks.

    I have stated this before and I will again say that Pakistan Army can change the fortunes of Pakistan if it really wants.
    It looks like Pakistan Army likes the status quo in Pakistan.

    The Pakistan army cannot do much. Apart from the goodwill it has in Pakistan, its power is based on the fact that it has swallowed 20 to 40% of Pakistan budget for 50 years. Blaming the “elite” is just what the army would love to do – if only the elite were not blood relatives of the Pakistan army brass.

    Note how Zardari coolly thumbed his nose at the army by going right ahead with his UK trip. He could do nothing about the floods – his presence in Pakistan would have been tokenism. But an angry army that could dismiss Zardari and take over were totally powerless because if they took over they would have been expected to deliver succour to several million people – which they would not have been able to do any better than Zardari. Besides – if they take over – the arms/alms from the US will end.

    The army will take over only when they know they can get brownie points. The Pakistani army is a fundamental part of Pakistan’s problem although it positions itself (and is admired as) the savior/protector of Pakistan.

  17. I disagree with this view of the Army. It is a far more complex issue than simplistic constructs can answer. At present Pak Army is key to Pakistan’s battle for survival. Only it can tackle the armed militias of course backed by political consensus and its importance in relief and reconstruction cannot be undermined. Despite several historical and structural constraints it has changed gears and policy levers. Too bad if some cannot recognise it.
    Anyway, this post is NOT about army and civil divide. It is about Pakistan’s serious situation. If you don’t have any sympathy please done bother visiting.
    Sent from my BlackBerry® Smartphone. Typos are regretted

  18. Henner

    Such campaigns must also be launched in major capitals of the West, with a clear signal that if Pakistan’s allies are not going to bail it out, then they should be ready for the dire consequences of its economic and political instability.

    This is crying ‘wolf’ one time too many. How many times has the West heard this song! It is incredible how often the Pakistanis try to blackmail people in the West, but such blackmail is a very fragile foundation for a nation.


    @Raza Rumi
    “Anyway, this post is NOT about army and civil divide. It is about Pakistan’s serious situation. If you don’t have any sympathy please done bother visit”

    they are having a time of their life here at your blog.they are enjoying these scenes.I wonder our respected indian visitors of this blog do anything else other then bickering about pakistan… leave pakistanis alone.they dont need your suggestions.


    baghal mein churri munh mein ram ram

  21. Yes! Pakistan is in a mess because it has been systemically messed up by inertia, by self-serving sermons, unjust enrichment by its polluted and nouveau-riche “Elite”. All this is no cause for applause or emulation..
    Pakistan has lost all its credebility becaujse of its Zardas, Shar ifas and Meon-Meons. . this is thew greatest flood since the time of Noah.
    I as qualified accountant and public interest lawyer estimate that opver $200 BILLIONS have beenb siphoned off from Pakistan since 1971, when wse fell fell on our face in Dacca. Remember.

    If I am not intimidated or given free hand I can extract $20 Billion from the Culprint without resorting to littrol or chittrol. Thiks I will accomp;lish within 9 months. I want no fees, cuts, kickbacks or an y remuneration.

    Since 1968-69 I have advocated that while death-penalty should be banned in Pakistan, except for rabid corruption. Those found to be CORRUPT can be hanged publicly .. or shot dead as is done in Libya and China after according then fair trials and
    imparial right of Appeal.

    Please read the back page of The Friday Times and mull what our Prime Minister’s Muzaffargarhvi wife is doing … after buying 5 houses in Defense.
    This trend is deplorable.

    Make “NADIR SHAHI IS MY BALU SHAHI” your slogan for poroactive noble, nonviolent slow-and-steady-wins-0the-race reforms in Pakistan.

    Does you get the Massage?

    PS: l968-69 was 40 years ago. It was a top 100 quality company chaired by Lord Goodman.

  22. I am sorry for the typos above. I never learned to type.
    This is it.

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  24. Dr.tahir jamal khattak

    Good interaction!

  25. unknown

    pakistani men are murdered and rapists even many of them proud to beat the women so paki men should doe slowly .nobody like paki men .

  26. unknown

    paki men should die and go to hell .they deserve for hell