Anyone who has ever spent time in a Pakistani archive will tell you one thing: there have rarely, if ever, been any points in the country’s history when it was not passing through a critical juncture. That is the impression one receives when going through old news reports and official government documents. In the seven decades since independence, this is a narrative that has remained remarkably consistent; Pakistan is on the cusp of greatness, measured in terms of economic progress and prosperity, and the only things standing in the way of realising this potential are the nefarious machinations of hostile foreign powers and the diabolical plans of treacherous internal enemies. Therefore, the argument goes, any and all measures that need to be taken to navigate through these circumstances are justified in the name of the greater good, and a grateful nation will look back on these troubled times with gratitude, recognising how their sacrifices played a role in securing a better future for Pakistan.

The problem, of course, is that things have never really panned out this way. After all, critical junctures are a dime a dozen in Pakistan’s history. Was it a critical juncture when emergency rule was imposed in Punjab in 1949 as the Muslim League government at the time collapsed amidst ruthless factional infighting and wanton corruption? How about when the anti-Ahmadi riots of 1953 took place? Perhaps the clashes that took place in East Pakistan throughout the 1950s and early 1960s were also part of an extended critical juncture in which issues around the status of the Bengali language and the economic exploitation of the province were nothing more than cunning ideological ruses used by an implacable enemy to destabilise Pakistan? Was it a critical juncture when India and Pakistan went to war in 1965? Was Ayub Khan correct all along when he accused Fatima Jinnah of being an Indian agent earlier that same year? Was the popular movement that overthrew Ayub Khan something that grew out of discontent around the regime’s economic record, or was it too an attempt to undermine Pakistan from within? Surely 1971 was a critical juncture, when East Pakistan became the independent nation of Bangladesh. As far as our official histories are considered, the criticalness of this juncture was greater than any before it because it represented the maturation of years-long Indian schemes to break up the nation. No blame could, of course, be placed on the shoulders of a West Pakistani political establishment that had been accused of generating the pressures that eventually led to the creation of Bangladesh. Much the same could be said for the civil war fought in Balochistan from 1973-1977 and the military operastion against the MRD in Sindh in 1983, both of which were undoubtedly the result of attempts by shadowy international players to create yet more critical junctures for Pakistan to navigate.

There are more critical junctures that Pakistan has had to endure over the years. Was it a critical juncture in 1977 when Bhutto’s whirlwind tour of Pakistan following his ouster, and the potential it created for opposition to the new military regime, arguably provided the pretext for his hanging? What about 1979, when the Soviet Union was poised to overrun the country after seizing Afghanistan, prompting the mandarins of our foreign policy and security establishment to align themselves with the United States and weaponise religious fanaticism in order to secure Pakistan’s interests? How about 1988, when Benazir Bhutto’s ascension to power was greeted with widespread skepticism and the belief that civilian politicians, at least of a particular persuasion, could not be trusted with the country’s strategic interests? Maybe it was a critical juncture when the successive caretaker governments that came to power amidst the political instability of the 1990s turned to the IMF to remedy Pakistan’s economic problems. Certainly 1998 was a critical juncture when the entire world showed its true colours by unreasonably imposing sanctions on Pakistan after the country conducted its nuclear tests. The War on Terror has been another long-running critical juncture, as religious militants (obviously foreign-funded and not at all connected to the state’s explicitly stated policy of using Islamist proxies to wage war) and perfidious Western ‘allies’ united to undermine, partition, and destroy Pakistan. The proof of this can be seen in the powerpoint presentations and reports that used to circulate in the media in the early 2000s providing definitive evidence of CIA plots that conveniently spelt out exactly how Pakistan would be dismembered.

Pakistan’s latest critical juncture might, of course, by the most critical of all. If the government is to be believed, dozens of foreign intelligence agencies are heavily invested in destroying Pakistan’s future by sabotaging CPEC and weakening the country’s institutions through 5th generation hybrid warfare that makes use of witting and unwitting agents within Pakistan itself to brainwash the nation’s youth and dilute its ideological clarity. If corrective measures are not taken, including making dissidents disappear, brutally cracking down on peaceful protest movements, eroding civil liberties, restricting press freedom, and so on, very bad things will happen. The imperatives of national security and the needs of the nation, as defined by the powers-that-be that remain thankfully immune to the ideological poison being sent there way, require that the people of the Pakistan sacrifice their freedoms at this time so that they can be secured in the future.

We have been here before, of course, and probably will be again. Pakistan’s critical junctures have never ended, nor have the compromises they have entailed. The question, of course, is this: if we have always experienced these junctures, and if the sacrifices they have required have always been made, why have things not improved as promised? Either the junctures were not quite as critical as suggested, or the proposed solutions were not the ones that were required. We would do well to reflect on this point going forward.


The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.