There was a moment some time ago—however hard it is to imagine now—when Pakistan could have become a center of trade, investment, infrastructure projects, and energy pipelines between South and Central Asia and the Middle East. Pakistan is strategically located and blessed with abundant natural resources. But it has been unable to benefit from these advantages as a result of its frequently disastrous political decisions, which invariably lead to crises. Its security establishment is constantly in conflict with elected civilian governments and is never satisfied with its own immense power. Corruption is rampant at all levels of government, while the country continues to have some of the lowest indices in the world for health, literacy, and nutrition and—as UNICEF recently announced—the worst infant mortality rate in the world.
Pakistan has nuclear weapons but employs jihadist organizations to fight on its behalf in conflicts with foreign countries. It has failed to crack down on terrorist activity at home and encouraged its citizens to adopt views that may make them more receptive to extremist positions. Pakistan has continued to insist, for instance, that India is a constant threat and that only a renewed national commitment to Islam will be able to unite the disparate ethnic groups, tribes, and minorities that coexist within the country. These views are taken to the extreme by Islamic militants, who seek to destroy India altogether and to turn Pakistan into a sharia state governed exclusively by Islamic law.
At a meeting in Paris at the end of February, the thirty-seven-nation Financial Action Task Force (FATF) approved a motion by the US and Britain to have Pakistan placed back on its “gray list” of countries that have taken inadequate steps to combat terrorist financing. (It had been taken off in 2015.) At the end of June, in another meeting, the FATF officially put Pakistan on the list. This will have significant economic costs: it is likely to discourage foreign investment, force Pakistan to repay its loans, slow down trade, and place a hold on the $60 billion that China has been giving it for infrastructure projects.
The FATF warned that unless there were major changes in its activities Pakistan could end up on the “black list” of “Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories,” alongside North Korea and Iran. This would entail heavy international sanctions. Even if it manages to avoid that fate, it will fall short of its aspiration to be a modern parliamentary democracy as long as it continues to pander to Islamic extremists and rely on them to carry out its foreign policy.
Three recent books survey the historical development and current state of Pakistan’s relationship with jihadist groups. Encouragingly, two of them are written by authors from Pakistan rather than from Europe or the United…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.