NAW Interview With T.V. Paul

T.V. Paul T V Paulis James McGill Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science at McGill University, Montreal, and a leading scholar of international security, regional security, and South Asia. He was director (founding) of the McGill/University of Montreal Center for International Peace and Security Studies (CIPSS) during 2009-12. His 15 books include: The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World (Oxford University Press, 2014); Status in World Politics (co-edited, Cambridge University Press, 2014); Globalization and the National Security State (co-authored, Oxford University Press, 2010); The Tradition of Non-use of Nuclear Weapons (Stanford University Press 2009); India in the World Order: Searching for Major Power Status(co-authored, Cambridge University Press 2002); The India-Pakistan Conflict: An Enduring Rivalry(Cambridge University Press, 2005); and South Asia’s Weak States: Understanding the Regional Insecurity Predicament (Stanford University Press 2010). More on the author can be found at:

NAW- Tell us about your book, ‘The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World.’ What research did you carry out for it? You must have visited Pakistan, what is the sentiment of policy makers in Pakistan? Are they worried that it’s a failed state?

The Warrior State (Random House India, 2014, originally published by Oxford University Press, New York, 2014) is an effort to explain Pakistan’s failure to achieve security, prosperity and national unity despite an intense focus on defence preparedness over the past 66 years. This is a puzzle in contrast with the European examples or South Korea and Taiwan where war preparations have led to a greater economic and political development.  It took me over seven years of research and interactions with many former policy makers of Pakistan, US and India. I have visited Pakistan once. Pakistani decision makers or ex-officials you meet tend to blame the outside world for their difficulties, but they don’t consider it a failed state, nor do I. I call it a very weak state. My effort is to show that the primary reason for Pakistan’s weakness is the particular policy choices that the country has made over the past six decades.

NAW- The geostrategic curse that you talk about should also be equally valid for India considering its hostile neighbours such as Pakistan, China (which isn’t exactly very friendly in spite of being India’s trade partner) and to some extent even Bangladesh which frequently imports terrorists and refugees into West Bengal and Assam but India has managed to move forward while Pakistan hasn’t. So in a sense, isn’t it got to do more with the inefficient system of governance in Pakistan than just its location?

The concept as applied in this book implies that if a country receives considerable external assistance or resources for its involvement in a greater power struggle or other geopolitical conflicts, its elite has limited incentive to innovate its economy or create a developmental state. While India and Bangladesh have many pathologies similar to Pakistan, they are not in the same league as far as geostrategic curse is concerned.  The concept is similar to “resource curse” or “foreign aid curse” discussed in the developmental economics field. Pakistan has not undertaken even the minimal economic and land reforms that India has. It also hasn’t focused on international trade especially during the last two decades anywhere near India or Bangladesh.  As a result, Pakistan has periodic economic crises that are met with economic aid from the US, World Bank, IMF, China, Saudi Arabia etc.

NAW- Where does Pakistan go from here? There is clearly a lack of vision for the country and apart from its continued insistence on quarrelling with India on Kashmir and its continued interference in Afghanistan, the country doesn’t seem to have a clear plan as to where it wants to be in the new world order. What would you suggest Pakistan should do to put its house in order?

This is a good question. The Pakistani elite, especially the military elite is stuck in a hard real-politic strategy which draws its core ideas from the British colonial era and Koranic concepts of war, especially of the asymmetric variety. The main purpose of the state is protection of territory or gaining Kashmir through coercive means, and keeping Afghanistan as a vassal state which is somewhat similar to the British strategy during the colonial period. With this strategy, they hope to keep the Pashtuns divided.  If they ever want to succeed as a modern nation-state, the Pakistani elite has to take cues from Korea,Taiwan and Indonesia, countries that have managed to become developmental states and democracies after being controlled by military for decades. The elite has to reduce intense rivalries with neighbouring countries and focus on economic development based on land reforms, proper educational system, especially technical education, and greater international trade. The creation of a middle class with progressive ideas and values is essential for Pakistan to get out of its current difficulties.

NAW- When America first asked for a base to invade Afghanistan after 9/11, it approached India first but it refused. Pakistan agreed and looking back, the decision did bring aid but it also brought about home grown terrorism for Pakistan. This two thronged policy of pretending to be friends with US and cultivating terrorists in its backyard has hit Islamabad very hard. Was the decision a mistake and could Pakistan have chosen a different approach rather than choosing to become an American ally?

In the post 9/11 international context and US determination to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Pakistan had little choice but to be involved in the US invasion plans.  Geographically, it is the easiest route to land-locked Afghanistan and the Taliban drew its support from both official Pakistan and the Islamist insurgents Islamabad nurtured and protected along the lawless Afghan-Pakistan border regions.  Had Pakistan not been involved, US would probably still have engaged in bombing attacks of the Taliban hideouts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  India doesn’t offer the geographical assets that Pakistan does.  So General Pervez Musharraf took an about turn in the Pakistani policy and helped topple the Taliban regime. However instinctively, the Pakistani military and ISI continued to play “double games,” that is, maintaining a posture of support to the US in return for economic and military aid while at the same time supporting elements of the Afghan Taliban that they considered as their strategic assets.  In this environment, the somewhat independent Pakistani Taliban has strengthened their position and began a series of attacks within Pakistan aimed at turning it into an Islamic emirate.  The Pakistani army and civilian elite have been attempting to suppress them and at times have offered peace negotiations, but these haven’t had a palpable effect on the Pakistani Taliban.  The fundamental problem for the Pakistani elite is their inability to adapt their foreign and security policies to the requirements of peace internally and externally without playing intense geopolitical games.

The Warrior State

NAW- In spite of the fact that Pakistan has focussed on being a warrior state, strangely it has lost control over Baluchistan and the government isn’t really visible in many tribal areas of the country. People living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa still do not follow the visa regime and Afghans from the other side can easily cross, so can Pakistanis. Did Pakistan err in its basic approach with defence becoming paranoid about foreign threats and in the process neglecting defence on the home front?

You are quite right. That is a topic of focus in the book. Pakistan’s obsession with external security, i.e. military or territorial security and strategic parity with India has not made it capable of integrating the country peacefully. The use of coercion internally has alienated different ethnic groups and sectarian groups. The purpose of the Pakistani state is narrow and as such the population is not encouraged to help build a more prosperous or egalitarian society. A developmental state, founded on economic and welfare goals, will be necessary to make Pakistan more successful as an integrated nation-state. It cannot impose one brand of Islam, i.e, the Sunni version, on Pakistan’s minorities, especially Islamic ones and then expect national unity.

NAW- The easiest way to go bankrupt for a country is to engage in continuous warfare. America in spite of frequent back stabbing by Pakistan continues to support the country. For how long do you think the US Congress will keep funding Pakistan’s economy without getting concrete actions in return? And for how long can the US afford to keep fighting in foreign nations?

The US support is likely to continue as so long as Washington has a stake in Afghanistan. The monetary amount is now smaller than the initial years and may even come down as the US does not need much by way of transportation of goods and materials through Pakistan. US support may be extended through the IMF and World Bank or by US allies like Saudi Arabia.

America has now withdrawn from Iraq and will be doing so from Afghanistan without a proper endgame. President Obama has declared limited commitments, although this may change as conditions evolve in Afghanistan as and when the new US president is inaugurated in 2017. The US still has the economic capacity to wage some more battles as it spends just over 4 percent of its GDP on defence. The big challenge will be confronting both China and Russia at the same time, if these two countries end up as big enemies of the US while simultaneously facing terrorist groups worldwide.

NAW- American forces will soon be withdrawing from Afghanistan. India has so far been reluctant to engage directly with the country. USSR after the drubbing it received from Afghanis doesn’t want anything to do directly with the country. So that leaves none other than Pakistan which will undoubtedly step in. So how do you see the restructuring of the geo-political scenario after US forces withdraw completely? Do we see another Iraq in the making?

All regional states involved in Afghanistan are in waiting mode for now. India is supporting civilian reconstruction of Afghanistan along with limited military training and weapons aid to the Afghan government. All future outcomes will depend on how effective the next Afghan government will be in containing the Taliban and eventually making it irrelevant. The Pakistani ISI and military are waiting in the wings, but there is no evidence of a 1990’s style intervention by them as of yet. So, much diplomacy is needed and India along with the US, Pakistan, Russia, China and Iran as well as Central Asian states should use this as an opportunity to build a durable peace in Afghanistan as a renewed violence or Taliban victory is not in the interests of any, including Pakistan. Islamabad will be hit by another round of refugees and more internal conflicts as the Pakistani Taliban, will then push for its goals within Pakistan. A joint plan is needed for the economic development of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s lawless border regions. Energy cooperation based on gas and oil pipelines, mineral exploration as well as hydro power could be a basis for such cooperation.

“Despite having devoted considerable energy and resources to its national security over the last 65 years, Pakistan remains a hotbed of international terrorism, religious extremism, and nuclear proliferation: the world’s most dangerous powder keg. In The Warrior State, noted international relations and South Asia scholar T.V. Paul poses a fascinating puzzle. In many states across the developing world, military-led regimes have experienced impressive and stable economic growth and over time have evolved into at least partially democratic states. Yet Pakistan, a state in which the military has outsized power, has been a conspicuous failure. What explains Pakistan’s unique inability to progress? While there are many factors, the “geostrategic curse” looms large. Since its founding, the country has been at the center of a series of major geopolitical struggles – US-Soviet rivalry, the India-Pakistan struggle, and – most recently – the post 9/11 wars. No matter how ineffective the regime is, it always ends up being the recipient of massive amounts of aid. Moreover, given the constant state of geopolitical crisis, the state always prioritizes the military at the expense of political and economic development. Incorporating a rich theoretical explanation into a swift narrative, drawing insights from history, international relations, sociology, religious studies, political science, and comparative development, The Warrior State presents a deep, multidimensional, and readable account of how such an acutely troubled and unstable country became the way it is, as well as the forces that keep it mired in instability.” 

Praise for The Warrior State-

Paul lucidly and comprehensively explains the historical circumstances that led to a dearth of strong political leaders or political parties [in Pakistan] with a democratic sense or commitment…. This sobering study will appeal to anyone interested in the region. Publishers Weekly, Nov. 25, 2013.

The Warrior State is compelling, thought-provoking, and extremely well written, without the wordiness and redundancy that seem to plague academic works. New York Journal of Books, Feb 2014

Grim yet thoughtful….An insightful and harsh portrait of a dysfunctional nation. Kirkus Review, Dec. 1, 2013.

Professor Paul’s brilliant study is essential to the understanding of the contemporary world’s most complex country. M.J. Akbar

Countries have armies, but in Pakistan’s case, it is an army which has a country. TV Paul’s insightful study tells us just why that is the case and what it will take to change things. Manoj Joshi

A sadly accurate assessment of the wasteful weakness of Pakistan’s predominant focus on military expenditure rather than its civil economic development, and on preparations for war rather than on peaceful co-operation with its neighbors.’ Stanley Wolpert

Pakistan and its army sometimes seem to be the same entity. They are not, and no other book than The Warrior State better places Pakistan’s army and the state in their international and comparative settings.  It will be essential to scholars of the Subcontinent and of international and comparative politics as well as all those interested knowing why this country became the way it did. Stephen P. Cohen, Brookings Institution.

In The Warrior State, T.V. Paul clarifies why nuclear-armed Pakistan continues to neglect all other aspects of development to maintain military parity with India. This book is a valuable addition to the literature on Pakistan’s dysfunction and that dysfunction’s nexus with militarism and Jihadi militancy. Husain Haqqani, Boston University.

The Warrior State is a provocative and insightful review of Pakistan’s tortured politics filled with interesting comparisons to other Muslim and emerging states. Bruce Riedel, Brookings Institution.

A timely commentary on Pakistan’s perennial search for stability. Shuja Nawaz, Atlantic Council.


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