Why is it Nececssary to De-Hyphenate Pakistan from “Afpak”?

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Imtiaz Gul*

When  President  Barack  Obama  unveiled  his  “AfPak  Strategy” on 27 March 2009, most people in Pakistan reacted with outrage and rejection. The “Af-Pak” construct meant, for the first time in its sixty- two year existence, their country had been downgraded and bracketed with the war-ravaged, violence-torn and dysfunctional Afghanistan. The Pakistan government did little to protest or reject the Af-Pak ‘construct’ because it   still seems to be in a defensive posture, fighting the consequences of the pro-militancy policies it pursued from   the late 1980s to 2001, when the US-led alliance steam-rolled the Taliban regime and replaced it with a new political order in Afghanistan.

The Afghans have their own history, culture and way of life, “all complicated by decades of war, internal massacres, displacement, abject poverty, and incessant meddling by foreign governments near and far – of which the United States has been the most powerful and persistent. Afghans do not think or act like Americans. Yet, Americans in power refuse to grasp that inconvenient point.”1

Pakistan, on the other hand, boasts an entire different ideological and historical context as well as a much more versatile ethno-linguistic social mix.

An evaluation, based on only facts, of what distinguishes Pakistan from Afghanistan is warranted:

Historical Overview of Afghanistan:

From monarchy to warlordism and eras of peace, this is a brief overview of Afghanistan’s history.

Afghanistan was a monarchy from 1747 to 1973, and in 1973, Sardar Mohammed Daoud, brother-in-law of King Zahir Shah, seized power in a military coup. Daoud was murdered in 1978 in a coup staged by the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan [PDPA], with PDPA General Secretary Nur Muhammad Taraki taking over as prime minister. In 1979, a palace shootout brought former Defence Minister Hafizullah Amin into power. On 26 December 1979, Hafizullah Amin was murdered by Soviet troops who had already been on the ground there. The exiled Babrak Karmal was installed as the country’s leader. The Soviet occupation resulted in a huge exodus, with some five million Afghans leaving the country; most of them settled in Pakistan.2

On 3 July 1979, US President Jimmy Carter signed a directive authorizing covert CIA operations against the Soviet-installed regime in Afghanistan. In 1986, the Soviets replaced Karmal with Muhammad Najibullah, the former chief of the Afghan secret police. The Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan in February 1989 and the vacuum thus created resulted in fierce clashes among the Mujahideen factions as a result of which warlord zones emerged throughout the country. In the mid-1990s, Afghanistan was dominated by in-fighting between rival militia groups prompting the emergence and rise of the Taliban who were able to capture Kabul by 27 September 1996 and establish their writ in approximately 90 percent of the country by 1998.

About three months after the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden spurred the US-led invasion of Afghanistan resulting in the collapse of the Taliban regime by December 2001. Mulla Omar, chief of the Taliban, however, remained at large and Pashtun royalist Hamid Karzai was sworn in as head of an interim power-sharing government. Hamid Karzai won the elections held in October 2004, and secured a second term in the fraud-tainted election of October 2009. The US-led forces, however, continue fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan.

Social Indicators:

According to ‘the Fund for Peace,’ a Washington-based organization working for sustainable security, all of Afghanistan’s social indicators either worsened or stayed the same in the FSI [Failed State Indicators] 2009. The overall social situation in Afghanistan, described by the organization, is summarized in the following bullet points.

  • The demographic pressures indicator increased from 9.1 in the FSI 2008 to 9.3 in the FSI 2009, with a high annual population growth rate of about 2.69 percent resulting in a large youth bulge (44.6 percent of the population under the age of 15), and a high infant mortality rate of 152 deaths per 1,000 live births.
  • Afghanistan has about 400,000 orphans. An estimated seven million people remain susceptible to hunger throughout the country.
  • The indicator for refugees and displaced persons remained high at 8.9 in the FSI 2009.
  • About 132,000 people are internally displaced as a result of drought, violence and instability.
  • Afghanistan’s group grievance indicator worsened from 9.5 in the FSI 2008 to 9.6 in the FSI 2009.
  • The human flight indicator worsened from 7.0 in the FSI 2008 to 7.2 in the FSI 2009.
  • In 2008, there were 21 migrants for every 1,000 Afghans, one of the highest outward migration rates in the world.
  • Afghanistan’s public services indicator also worsened significantly from 8.3 in the FSI 2008 to 8.9 in the FSI 2009.
  • An estimated 57 percent of men and 87 percent of women are still considered illiterate, reducing Afghanistan’s ability to develop economically.
  • An estimated one-quarter of the population has no access to health care and there is only about one medical facility for every 27,000 Afghans.  The long-standing conflict has also devastated Afghanistan’s infrastructure and transportation systems.

Source: The FfP www.fundforpeace.org

Economic Indicators:

Afghanistan’s uneven development indicator worsened from 8.1 in the FSI 2008 to 8.4 in the FSI 2009, according to the Fund for Peace. Other economic indicators are as follows:

  • 18 million Afghans still live on less than $2 a day and five million Afghans live below the poverty line.
  • Afghanistan’s illicit drug industry, which comprises 60 percent or more of the economy, is not included in Afghanistan’s economic growth.
  • In 2008, the Taliban’s income from opium trafficking alone was estimated at $100 million.
  • Afghanistan’s economic indicator improved slightly from 8.5 in the FSI 2008 to 8.3 in the FSI 2009.
  • Afghanistan’s GDP growth exceeded 7 percent in 2008. However, the country still has an unemployment rate of 40 percent, $8.5 billion of external debt, and a GDP per capita of $800, making it one of the world’s poorest countries.

Source: The FfP www.fundforpeace.org

Political/military Indicators:

All of Afghanistan’s political and military indicators worsened in the FSI 2009, according to the Fund for Peace. The organization claims:

  • The indicator for the legitimacy of the state worsened from 9.2 in the FSI 2008 to 9.8 in the FSI 2009 as a result of the government’s inability to combat corruption, militant violence, and drug trafficking.
  • •     Afghanistan’s   security   situation   deteriorated,   with   2008 considered to be the bloodiest year since the end of the NATO operation in 2001.
  • In November 2008, the Taliban rejected a peace offer by President Karzai, stating that negotiations cannot be held till all foreign troops have left Afghanistan.
  • Many individuals within the government are still corrupt and operate with impunity. Karzai’s efforts to combat corruption have not yielded results, and Afghanistan is considered to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world, ranking 176th out of 180 in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perception


  • The human rights indicator worsened from 8.4 in the FSI 2008 to 8.8 in the FSI 2009.
  • Afghanistan’s National Security Directorate has been accused of operating its own prisons and torturing its detainees, and the local militias are reported to have done the same.
  • Warlords in the north have used property destruction, rape, and murder to prevent displaced Pashtuns from reclaiming their homes.
  • The indicator for the security apparatus worsened from 9.6 in the FSI 2008 to 9.9 in the FSI 2009.
  • Afghanistan’s factionalized elites indicator also worsened from 8.8 in the FSI 2008 to 9.1 in the FSI 2009 as a result of the extreme ethnic and political polarization within the government and among the warring factions.
  • Afghanistan’s score for external influence remained at the high of 10.0 in FSI 2009.
  • In June 2008, the number of British troops in the country increased to 8,000 and the United States deployed an additional 4,500 troops.  Other NATO allies also increased their troop strength throughout 2008.
  • Afghanistan’s war-torn economy is still largely dependent on foreign aid. Reconstruction aid from USAID alone in the past eight years has amounted to $32 billion.

Core Five State Institutions

The Fund for Peace has depicted the overall situation in Afghanistan in the following graph.

Leadership          Military Police    Judiciary               Civil Service

Poor      Poor      Poor      Poor      Poor

Source: The FfP www.fundforpeace.org

Afghanistan’s legacy of the last 30 years

An entire generation of Afghans has grown up knowing nothing but invasion, war, bombing, repression and insurgency. Those years of war have left a terrible legacy in Afghanistan. It has always been a poor country; today it faces huge challenges. According to UNICEF:

  • Afghanistan has the second highest infant mortality rate in the world.
  • One in seven children is an orphan.
  • One in eight women dies in childbirth.
  • Only 28 percent of adults are literate. Women’s literacy rate is less than a third of that of men.
  • Average annual income is $US250.
  • Life expectancy is 44 years.
  • 30 percent of children aged 5 to 14 years are forced to work.
  • More than 70,000 Afghans have been killed or maimed by landmines since de-mining began in 1989.”3

Historical Overview of Pakistan:

Pakistan has a completely different historical perspective from that of Afghanistan. For a comparative study of the history of the two countries, the following excerpt from the Fund for Peace report is relevant:

“Pakistan declared its independence on August 14, 1947, ending nearly 100 years of direct British rule as well as economic control dating back to 1757. The country was declared a republic in 1956 with Iskandar Mirza as president.  Two years later President Mirza declared martial law amidst widespread civil unrest. Commander-in-Chief Ayub Khan used his powers as the administrator of martial law to depose Mirza in a coup d etat on October 27, 1958 abrogating the constitution.

Khan assumed the title of President and kept the country under martial law until 1962, when a new constitution was introduced.  Ayub Khan illegally turned power over to General Yayha Khan following his resignation in 1969 also abrogating his own made constitution. In 1970, present-day Bangladesh, then the province of East Pakistan, demanded independence from Pakistan. Bangladesh’s newly-formed government- in-exile formally declared independence in March 1971, and successfully defeated occupying Pakistani forces in December 1971 with the help of the Indian military. General Yahya Khan resigned from office four days after losing East Pakistan, leaving Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, leader of the Pakistani Peoples Party (PPP), in control of the government. In 1973, Bhutto’s government drafted a new constitution, which declared Islam the state religion and installed Bhutto as the new prime minister.

Bhutto’s nationalization efforts made him increasingly unpopular as his term progressed; in January 1977 several opposition parties formed the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) in an effort to defeat Bhutto’s PPP in the 1977 elections.  The elections, held in March 1977, were considered by both Pakistanis and outside observers to have been rigged, as evidenced by an overwhelming PPP victory.   This led to massive demonstrations in several cities. Seeing that he would be forced to compromise with PNA leaders, Bhutto agreed to enter into negotiations. However, before the two parties could reach a compromise, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the Chief of Army Staff, seized control of the government in a military coup on July 5, 1977. After 10 years of virtual dictatorship, Zia promised to hold new elections in 1988; however, he was killed in a suspicious plane crash on August 17, 1988, before elections could be held.   Following Zia’s death, elections took place in November 1988 and Pakistan returned to civilian rule for 11 years, seven of which were under the administration of Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the PPP. Pakistan conducted its first nuclear test in 1998 during the Prime Ministership of Nawaz Sharif.

In 1999, General Pervez Musharraf seized power from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a military coup, the fourth since 1956. Though Musharraf retained vast executive powers as president, he allowed his prime ministers to control certain policy areas. In an attempt legitimize his rule, Musharraf called for indirect presidential elections in 2007, which he won overwhelmingly amid boycotts by many opposition parties. In August 2008, the opposition began efforts to impeach Musharraf, based on his mismanagement and increasingly autocratic reign, during which time he fired a popular Supreme Court Chief Justice. Diplomatic and internal pressure forced Musharraf to resign on August

18, 2008 rather than face an impeachment trial. On September 6, 2008, Asif Ali Zardari, husband of Benazir Bhutto, the PPP leader who was assassinated during an electoral campaign, was elected president by the Pakistani Parliament.”4

Economic Indicators 1999-2009

Here is the complete story of Pakistan’s gradual economic growth depicted in figures from 1999 to 2009. Economic Pakistan, a source for Pakistan economy updates, has prepared this comparison.

Pak Economy in 1999: $ 75 billion Pak Economy in 2007: $ 160 billion Pak Economy in 2008: $ 170 billion

Pak revenue collection 1999: Rs. 305 billion

Pak revenue collection 2007: Rs. 708 billion

Pak revenue collection 2008: Rs. 990 billion

Pak Exports in 1999: $ 8 billion Pak Exports in 2007: $ 18.5 billion Pak Exports in 2008: $ 19.22 billion

Poverty level in 1999: 34% Poverty level in 2007: 24%

Pak Development programs 1999: Rs. 80 billion

Pak Development programs 2007: Rs. 520 billion

Pak Development programs 2008: Rs. 549.7 billion

Source: Economic Pakistan http://economicpakistan.wordpress.com/

GDP per Capita Income in 1999: $ 450

GDP per Capita Income in 2007: $ 926

GDP per Capita Income in 2008: $1085

Pak Foreign reserves in 1999: $ 1.96 billion

Pak Foreign reserves in 2007: $ 16.4 billion

Pak Foreign reserves in 2008: $ 8.89 billion

Debt servicing 1999: 65% of GDP Debt servicing 2007: 28% of GDP Debt servicing 2008: 27% of GDP

Literacy rate in 1999: 45% Literacy rate in 2007: 53%

Latest Economic Situation:

Pakistan’s economy has been gradually picking up on sound footing, as reflected in the aforementioned economic indicators. The economy has marked significant advancement in different sectors during the current financial year. On 16 September 2009, Pakistan’s official news agency, APP [Associated Press of Pakistan] carried a report containing a comparison of the recent overall economic situation with that of the last year’s corresponding period. The main features of this comparison are given below.

  • Inflation eased to a 20-month low in August 2009, dropping to 10.69 percent after edging up 11.2 percent in July 2009.
  • Trade deficit narrowed almost by 39 percent during the first two months of financial year 2009-10 as against the same period of the last financial year. Trade deficit during July-August (2009-
  • 10) was recorded at $2.194 billion as against the deficit of $3.564 billion recorded during July-August (2008-09), according to Federal Bureau of Statistics.
  • Imports witnessed negative growth of 26.32 percent by falling from $7.008 billion during July-August (2008-09) to $5.163 billion during the current financial year (2009-10).
  • Exports  also  declined  by  13.78  percent  during  July-August as compared to the same month of last financial year. Under ‘Strategic Trade Policy framework 2009-12, the government has set export growth target of 6 percent for the current fiscal year, 10 percent for the next fiscal, and 13 percent for the year 2011-12.
  • Pakistani workers remitted a record amount of $780.53 million in August, 2009 as against $592.30 million in the same month of the last fiscal year (August 2008), showing a jump of $188.23 million or 31.78 percent, according to State Bank of Pakistan.
  • During the first two months (July-August) of FY10, an amount of $1.525 billion was sent home by overseas Pakistanis, showing an impressive 25 percent rise when compared with $1.219 billion received in the same period last year.
  • Reduction in imports and increasing overseas remittances led to a contraction in the current account deficit in July, which narrowed to $606 million in July from $1.18 billion deficit recorded in the last year.
  • The foreign exchange reserves in the week ended on September totaled $14.24 billion which had hit a record fall $6.6 billion by November of last year
  • The revenue collections during July 2009 were also increased 2.4 percent over corresponding period of the last year as Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) collected Rs. 74.07 billion of revenues during the time.
  • The atmosphere for doing business in Pakistan has also witnessed positive changes as Pakistan IFC- World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2010 report says that Pakistan has gained top ranking amongst its South Asian competitors.
  • Pakistan is currently ranked at 85 out of 183 countries ahead of all the BRIC countries [fast-growing developing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China].”5

Political/Military Indicators:

According to the Fund for Peace, the indicator for legitimacy of the state improved from 9.5 in the FSI 2008 to 9.1 in the FSI 2009, due to a reduction in tensions over Musharraf’s rule. Other indicators related to political and military issues, given by the organization, are as follows:

  • The public services indicator worsened from 7.1 in the FSI 2008 to 7.5 in the FSI 2009.
  • The human rights indicator improved significantly from 9.5 in the FSI 2008 to 8.9 in the FSI 2009.
  • The security apparatus indicator improved from 9.6 in the FSI 2008 to 9.5 in the FSI 2009.
  • The Pakistani military is among the best-equipped and best- trained in the region.
  • Pakistan is also a nuclear power, having conducted successful tests in 1998.
  • The Pakistan military has carried out a successful operation in Swat, restoring the writ of the state there.
  • The internally displaced persons of Malakand Division, who had to leave their homes in the wake of the military operation, have  as well as in the southwestern province of Balochistan, local militias exercise significant control over their communities.
  • The factionalized elites indicator improved from 9.8 in the FSI 2008 to 9.6 in the FSI 2009.
  • •     The   Pakistani   civil   service   is   generally   well-trained   and professional.          However,  poor  salaries  and  benefits  make  it difficult to recruit new employees and make current civil servants susceptible to corruption.

Core Five State Institutions

The Fund for Peace has portrayed Pakistan in the following graph.

Leadership          Military Police    Judiciary               Civil Service

Weak    Good     Weak    Moderate           Moderate

Source: The FfP, www.fundforpeace.org

How Pakistan is different from Afghanistan:

The history of Afghanistan is replete with feuds, infighting and wars. The country remained a monarchy from 1747 to 1973. Now for about eight years again, Afghanistan has been in a war – US vs Taliban. Pakistan, however, has been a parliamentary democracy. Though there had been some military adventures in the country’s history [mentioned in ‘Historical Overview of Pakistan’ above], but the people eventually brought their public representatives back to the assembly. There is a political democratic system functioning in Pakistan.

Afghanistan, a war-torn country, has no infrastructure at all in any field. Whether it is health, education or any other sector, the country lacks a system. There is no law and order in any part of the country. The warlords have established their own zones where only their own rule prevails. The writ of the US-backed government in Kabul is virtually non-existent in most of the country as 80 percent of Afghanistan either has a strong Taliban presence or is under their control.6 Afghanistan has been and is a country at war,   there is total chaos against a backdrop of above, all the indicators are showing a negative trend.

The graph prepared by the Fund for Peace, a Washington-based organization promoting sustainable security, shows that performance of Afghanistan’s all the five key institutions – Leadership, Military, Police, Judiciary and Civil Service – has been poor. While contrary to that, the graph on Pakistan prepared by the same organization suggests that the country’s performance in these five institutions has been good [Military], moderate [Judiciary and Civil Service], and weak [Leadership and Police]. This clearly shows a major difference between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistan is a country being run under a democratic system. Every national institution is working, taking the country as a whole ahead. Most of the indicators in the fields of economy, education, health, employment, infrastructural development etc., are showing signs of growth.

In the perspective of the ongoing conflict in Pakistan, Mosharraf Zaidi, an eminent columnist, describes some features of the country as: “Pakistan is a country of nearly 180 million people. We speak at least eight major languages. We sustain 10 cities with more than one million people. We make telecom companies rich beyond their wildest dreams, buying up and using more than 85 million active mobile phone subscriptions. We love to watch politics on over 25 news channels. We reject violent extremism in poll after poll- both the IRI and Pew Global Attitudes Survey confirm this. We reject religious political parties in election after election – the desperate and confused religious political establishment confirms that.”7

As for law and order, what Pakistan has to face today is the direct consequence of the US-led Jihad against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and then the US invasion of Afghanistan that began with the bombing of Kabul on 7 October  2001 in the aftermath of 9/11 terror attacks. There was no suicide attack, bomb blasts, Taliban phenomenon, militancy etc., before that event. Though Pakistan was dragged into the problem, but even then it performed well in curbing militancy on its soil. This is the Qaeda leadership to the United States. The country’s army has carried out many successful operations in FATA including Mohmand, Bajaur, Khyber and also in Swat. The militants’ hideouts were pounded by the military jets, totally destroying or displacing them in these areas.

The Swat operation is an example of outstanding military success in the shortest possible time. More than three million Internally Displaced Persons [IDPs] have now returned home in the Malakand Division and are living peacefully there. There has been no parallel success in Afghanistan despite the presence of about 120,000 foreign forces there for about eight years. The situation in the two countries cannot be equated.

On 17 October 2009, the army embarked on the Rah-e Nejat operation against the Taliban in South Waziristan – the headquarters of the militants in Pakistan. This has also been a resounding success and the militants have fled the area. In desperation they have increased the frequency of terrorist attacks in the country’s major cities. Despite the mounting civilian casualties this has not dampened the resolve of the people to completely eradicate terrorism and extremist violence from their soil as is evident from their unstinted support to the military operation.

As for the Afghan economy, agriculture is the mainstay but less than 10 percent of the land is cultivated, a large percentage of the arable land was damaged by warfare. Formerly subsistence crops including wheat and other grains, fruits, and nuts were grown but now the opium poppy, mainly for the international illegal drug trade, is the most important cash crop, and the country is the world’s largest producer of opium.

As a result of civil war, exports have dwindled to a minimum, except for the illegal trade in opium and hashish. The country has also become an important producer of heroin, which is derived from opium. Afghanistan is heavily dependent on international assistance. clean water, electricity, medical care and jobs. Criminality, insecurity, and the Afghan Government’s inability to extend the rule of law to all parts of the country, pose challenges to future economic growth. It will probably take the remainder of the decade and continuing donor aid and attention to significantly raise Afghanistan’s living standards from its current level, among the lowest in the world. Other long-term challenges include: budget sustainability, job creation, corruption, government capacity, and rebuilding the war torn infrastructure.

Pakistan, however, from the time of its independence, started with a purely agricultural economy, but soon its industrial sector gathered momentum and in the 1960s the country became a model of growth. There have however been setbacks but despite this Pakistan is considered one the growing economies of the world.

An official statement claims that Pakistan’s economy is the 26th largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power, and the 47th largest in absolute dollar terms. In 2005, it was the third fastest growing economy in Asia. Pakistan’s economy mainly encompasses textiles, chemicals, food processing, agriculture and other industries.8

The economic figures mentioned in the previous pages show that Pakistan’s economy has been continuously growing, suggesting that the country is moving ahead. Pakistan does not need foreign aid to pay salaries to its security personnel. The country has a big defense budget with a focus on modernizing and strengthening its defense capability.

Similarly, there is no comparison between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the fields of politics and military. Afghanistan does not have any political structure because the country has not known peace for decades. Pakistan on the other hand, despite its problems, has functioning political parties with their own manifestos and is emerging as a stable democracy.

Pakistan has the world’s 6th   largest army – numbering at least 600,000. While in Afghanistan, the active personnel are about 190,000, who along with the presence of 120,000 foreign troops have not been able to establish sustainable peace.

This paper attempts to reiterate known facts in a dispassionate manner. The inescapable conclusion is that since Pakistan and Afghanistan clearly stand apart as two different countries in historical, social, economic and political perspective, the terminology ‘Af-Pak’ is inappropriate and does not reflect the reality on the ground.


1              Ann Jones, www.tundra-security.com

2              Channel 4 News, Afghanistan: a brief history, 2009,

3              Afghanistan: a Brief History, 2009, http://www.hopeforafghanchildren.org/learn-more/afghan-intro/. Accessed on Oct 20 2009.

4              Country   Profiles,  Fund   for   Peace,   2009   http://www.fundforpeace.org/web/index. php?option=com_content&task=view&id=387&Itemid=544.   Accessed   on   Oct   22, 2009.

5              Ashraf  Wani,  Mohammad,  Indicators  show  Pakistan  Economy  Picking  up  Speed, Associated Press of Pakistan, Sep 16, 2009, http://www.app.com.pk/en_/index.php? option=com_content&task=view&id=86073&Itemid=57. Website accessed on Oct 27 2009.

6              Pugliese, David, “Taliban has permanent presence in 80 percent of Afghanistan, say ICOS”. Sep 10, 2009. http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/archive/2009/09/10/taliban-has-permanent-presence-in-80-percent-of-afghanistan-says- icos.aspx. Accessed on October 25, 2009

7              Zaidi, Musharraf, “The Truth of this conflict”, The News, November 17, 2009

8              Economy of Trade of Pakistan; http://www.embassyofpakistan.com/economy_trade.php. Accessed on October 27, 2009