India just has to look across its northwestern border to see a mirror image of its instability. Pakistan is wrought with parliamentary crises, disorder, power struggles, and a deterioration of its traditional relationship with the United States. The country appears to be in a downward spiral that is undoing the economic progress of recent years and is spending the trust earned through its key position in the Afghan conflict.
In April, Pakistan’s supreme court found Yusuf Raza Gilani in contempt for having obstructed an investigation, and immediately deposed him of his post of Prime Minister. According to the court, Gilani should have sought Swiss intervention in determining if certain funds had been deposited into their banks by the Pakistani president, and his refusal bought him a conviction and ouster. Gilani’s party, the Pakistan People’s Party, was able to elect his replacement to the post of Prime Minister on the third attempt, but the new Prime Minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, is also currently under investigation for crimes that he denies.
Ashraf was harshly criticized during his previous mandate as Minister of Infrastructure, due to the dramatic decline in the state’s ability to provide basic services to the public and to enterprise. Rolling blackouts have become a regular and expected event, and in some villages the electricity can go out for 22 hours at a time when temperatures can reach 40 degrees. Social discontent is rising due to these shortcomings and for the deepening of the economic crisis; the weight of Pakistan’s domestic and foreign debt has made recourse to the IMF a certainty, likely to happen by next autumn.
Against this backdrop, the only sign of relief is an easing of diplomatic and military tension with the Unites States. After months of strain, Islamabad has once again opened its border checkpoints with Afghanistan to American supply transports. Pakistan had closed its borders last November, at a crucial moment for NATO with only 18 months to go until the planned withdrawal, after an American drone mistakenly killed 26 Pakistani soldiers at another checkpoint. Drawn out by negotiations and nationalism, the stalemate was finally lifted after the United States formally apologized to Pakistan for the incident, and the Pakistani government, buoyed by public opinion, returned to its traditional friends.