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Monday, September 28, 2015

Map on Monday: PAKISTAN

The Physical Ecology, Communal Loyalties, and Geopolitics of Pakistan

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


Physical Ecology: Natural Resources and Physical Geography

Hidden underneath Pakistan's diverse physical geography lies the fault line which divides the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates. The physical area of Pakistan makes it more than twice the size of California and slightly larger than Texas. Pakistan can be divided into three zones: the highlands in the far north, the Baluchistan plateau in the west, and the Indus River plain in Pakistan's east.

The northern highlands include the second highest mountain in the world, K2, and is comprised of several mountain chains (like the Hindu Kush - or "Hindu Killer" - and the Himalayas). The mountains provide the flow of waters that not only form the Indus River but also the many river systems of the Indo-Gangetic Plain (the etymology of "Indus" is derived from the Sanskrit word Sindu. Sindu, which means ocean, is also the root from which the modern words Hindu and India are derived).  The Indus River water flow is 80% to Pakistan and 20% to India settled by a 1960 treaty which India threatens at times to renegotiate.  The area around Baluchistan makes up over 40% of Pakistan, yet is underpopulated due to water scarcity and the mountainous areas along Afghanistan (an area also prone to earthquakes). This area is physically part of the Iranian plateau and on the Eurasian side of the fault line.

The 'CIA World Factbook' lists arable land, extensive natural gas reserves, limited petroleum, poor quality coal, iron ore, copper, salt, and limestone as some of Pakistan's natural resources. The river system of the Indus also provides Pakistan with hydro-power as a renewable energy source, and access to the ocean brings with it fishing resources. Pakistan's agriculture is diverse, producing cotton, wheat, rice, sugar-cane, maize, sorghum, millet, pulses, oil seeds, barley, fruits and vegetables. Although only 4% of Pakistan is forested, Pakistan has an array of mineral resources (collecting 52 in all) ranging from gypsum, limestone, chromites, iron ore, rock salt, silver, gold, precious stones, gems, marbles, tiles, copper, sulfur, fire clay and silica sand. Most of Pakistan's minerals are collected in Baluchistan while precious stones and gems are found in the north. Pakistan receives over $200 million annually from exports of gemstones alone.



Communal Loyalties: Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

Ethnic groups of Pakistan (click to enlarge or here for full size.)
Not only does Pakistan act as the meeting place of the Indian and Eurasian plates, it also sits astride a pivotal civilizational fault line between the Islamic Middle East, Hindu India, and Confucian China.

Pakistan is inhabited by over 200 million people (making it the 6th most populous nation in the world) and is comprised of a diverse range of ethnic groups.

Ethnic (Pashtu and Baluch) Iranians and languages are most prevalent in western Pakistan and account for about 20% of the overall population. The Pashtuns are also in Afghanistan and were deliberately bifurcated by the 1893 Durand Line. The Pashtuns make up a good deal of the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. When Pakistan was created at the time of partition, Afghan Pashtuns were opposed to the state and sought an independent Pashtunistan. Pakistan from its inception tried to establish among Pashtuns a "supra ethnic" Islamic identity which would ally this important tribe with their larger Islamic military project.

The eastern, Indus River half of Pakistan is dominated by Indo-Aryan peoples of the Indian Subcontinent and their languages. The two largest Indo-Aryan ethnic groups are the Sindhis in Pakistan's southeast and the Punjabis in eastern and northern Pakistan. While the Sindhis account for 14% of the population, Punjabis comprise 42% and stand as the largest, single ethnic group in the country (the region of the Punjab crosses national borders and extends into India). The Punjabis have controlled the military and intelligence services since its inception. The Punjabi sense of ethnic superiority and their alliance with Pashtuns in the salafist Sunni project provides  the key explanatory theme in the riddle of Pakistan. 40% of the population speaks Punjab but a different language(Urdu or English) is advocated for unity and official business. Today Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh and Urdu of Pakistan. English has a role in law and governance in both countries. The father of the Pakistan bomb A.G. Kahn has said even though he armed Pakistan, he has never really been considered a "son of the soil" and tongue because he is not a Punjab. President Musharraf (2001-2008) has said the same.Other ethnic groups in Pakistan include Sino-Tibetan peoples in the north and the Brahui-Dravidians in the southwest (Dravidian peoples are found primarily in southern India where Indian Christianity is most prominent).

Pakistan is second only to Indonesia as the world's most populous Muslim nation, with Sunni Islam making up somewhere around 85% of Pakistan's 200+ million population. Shiite Muslims are the next largest religious group in Pakistan (with 30-40  million Shiites, only Iran has a higher Shiite population), followed by Hindus (2%) and Christians (1.5%). The political founder and "Father of Pakistan" was Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a secularized Shiite from the Sindh area. While he was the primary organizer of an independent Pakistan, the country's military governing class was dominated by ethnic and religious loyalties he never shared.


Geopolitics: Political Geography and Foreign Policy

Pakistan borders the Arabian Sea to the south, Iran to the west, Afghanistan in the northwest, China in the northeast, and India to the east. Its capital of Islamabad lies in the north within the Punjabi lands of the Indus River plain. Gwadar on the Arabian Sea is being built up as a major port city with ties connecting Pakistan to China.

Pakistan is a very young nation. In 1947, the British partitioned Islamic Pakistan (then "West Pakistan") and Bangladesh (then "East Pakistan") from Hindu India. Kashmir and Jammu was a Muslim majority princely state with a Hindu prince who sided with India at the time of partition. There were a million deaths and 10 million refugees in the communal violence that accompanied the "sorting out".  Pakistan has been to war with India no less than three times since 1947 over Kashmir (located in the far north of both India and Pakistan). Today, control of Kashmir is divided between India, Pakistan, and China - bringing the three into constant low level conflict.  Pakistan's most costly war with India took place in 1971. The ethnic Bengalis of East Pakistan resented the governmental dominance by ethnic Punjabs of the West. Laws made “Urdu and only Urdu” the official language of the new Pakistani State in 1947 at the time of partition. In a December 1970 election the Bengali east, and two non-Punjab areas of Balochistan and the mostly Pashtun Northwest Provinces won enough seats to control the National Assembly. Yahya Khan, the military dictator who had allowed the elections announced in March 1971 the indefinite postponement of the National Assembly. A bloody attack on East Pakistan led to Bengali resistance and Indian intervention. East Pakistan declared itself as the new nation of Bangladesh in Dec 1971. The war would leave hundreds of thousands of Bengalis dead and 10 million more seeking refuge in India - but Pakistan lost a third of its army, half of its navy, and a quarter of its air force along with control over Bangladesh.
 In May 1998 both India and Pakistan successfully tested nuclear weapons. India had already tested in 1974. The story of "Islam’s first bomb”, the extensive stockpiles of Pakistan,  and the father of the nuclear program in Pakistan  have strangely never received the bad US press that surrounds the centrifuges of Iran.

Pakistan's relationship with Afghanistan was contested long before September 11, 2001. The line dividing the two nations - the so-called "Durand Line" named after the English Sir Mortimer Durand - was made between the British and the Afghans to demarcate Great Britain's sphere of influence into Afghanistan. The line cuts through the lands of ethnic Pashtuns who live on either side of the line. Afghanistan does not recognize the line, leaving both nations perpetually at odds. See, also, this previous AoA post on the region.

China and Iran both have working relations with Pakistan. Pakistan holds a much more favorable view of Iran than the Arab Sunni Gulf States do.  In 1999, both countries entered into a free trade agreement. The Chinese and Iranian relationships could be a source of stability which might allow a ruling group to move beyond the present salafist leanings of the military and intelligence agencies.

China sees in Pakistan an ally against India. China also believes good relations with Pakistan will cut them off as a base for Islamic rebellion in their own western province of Xinjiang. Half of Xinjiang's population are Muslim Uyghars.  During the Cold War, U.S.-Pakistan relations were particularly strong, with Pakistan playing a key role in aiding the U.S. against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Pakistan has put itself forward as a key U.S. ally in the fight against the Afghan Taliban. This is now highly contested.(see our four book review on Pakistan).  Since the bin Laden raid of 2011, the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has worsened. Pakistan looks to become a key partner not only with China, but with Russia as well. Meanwhile, China plans to invest $46 billion in a "New Silk Road" with Pakistan (compare that to the $31 billion in military aid  the US has given the Pakistanis in the years since 9/11).  Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif,  has said: "Friendship with China is the cornerstone of Pakistan's foreign policy."

Located at a geostrategic position on the Arabian Sea and acting as the civilizational bridge between the Islamic middle east, Confucian China, and Hindu India, Pakistan will have a significant role to play in the future of southern Asia. At this time they are a nuclear armed Islamic state that has provided a strategic base for salafist Sunnis in Kashmir and Afghanistan, as well as an ongoing base for terrorist attacks against India: all of this while receiving significant funding as a major US ally.


November 2016 Update: Stratfor Video on the Geographic Challenges for Pakistan

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Stratfor has developed an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. In the following video, they present the geographic challenges facing Pakistan.



For more information on Pakistan, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.

See also this excellent talk given on the topic of Pakistan's history tied to the U.S.

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