Thinking Citizen Blog — Pakistan (I) — a Large and Growing Nuclear Arsenal, a History of Harboring and Training Terrorists, a Frightening Combination

Thinking Citizen Blog — Monday is Foreign Policy Day

Today’ s Topic — Pakistan (I) — a large and growing nuclear arsenal, a history of harboring and training terrorists, a frightening combination

Former US Secretary of State Jim Mattis recently called Pakistan “the scariest country on earth.” In 2014, Carlotta Gall, Pulitzer Prize winner and currently Istanbul bureau chief of the New York Times published a book called “The Wrong Enemy” in which she argued forcefully that the real enemy in Afghanistan is not the Taliban but their puppet masters in Pakistan — namely the ISI (the intelligence service now headed by Faiz Hameed). The combination of a large and growing nuclear arsenal, strong anti-American sentiment, a long history of Islamization and use of terrorists (including Bin Laden) as assets makes the situation in Pakistan so frightening as to seriously discourage thinking or talking about it at all. Today, a little background on the geography, demography, economy of Pakistan. And then a focus on first, the relations between Pakistan, India, China, and Bangladesh and then on the Islamization of Pakistan under General Zia in the context of the Soviet-Afghan War and US and Saudi support for the Afghan mujahideen. This is the first of a projected series on a fascinating country. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. Geography: Pakistan borders on Iran in the southwest, Afghanistan to the west and north, China to the north, India to the east, and the Arabian Sea to the south. Its capital of Islamabad is located in the foothills of the Himalayas to the north, very close to the border with India. Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, is on the Arabian coast. Islamabad is a planned city that replaced Karachi as the capital in 1963. Extraordinary variety of terrain — from the coastal plain to the second highest mountain in the world (K2) and with everything in between — forests, desserts, plateaus. “Its western borders include the Khyber Pass and Bolan Pass that have served as traditional migration routes between Central Eurasia and South Asia.”

2. Demography: 210 million people up from 32 million in 1947. Ethnic groups: Punjabis (northeast): 44%, Pashtuns (west central and north), 15%. Sindhis (southeast), 14%, Sarakies (east central), 8%, Balochis (southwest), 4%. Fertility rate: 3.56 children per woman. A young nation: 35% under the age of 15, median age 23.4 (versus 38 for US, 28 for India).

3. Economy: GDP per capita (nominal): $1355 versus $1877 for Bangladesh and $1876 for India. but the shadow economy is estimated to be 36% of the total and not counted in these numbers. Labor force by sector: agriculture 37%, industry 24%, services 39%. Major industries: textile and apparel, food processing, pharmaceuticals. Export partners: US (17%), China (7%), UAE (7%). Import partners: China 23%, UAE 15%, Singapore 6%. Principal export: textiles. Principal import: petroleum.

INDIA, BANGLADESH, CHINA — complicated story that includes genocide

1. Pakistan split off from India in 1947 but it must be remembered that a.) when it did so it included what is now Bangladesh, population 160 million currently, and b.) that although the country was conceived as a home for Muslims, almost 200 million Muslims remain in India.

2. Pakistan has considered India an existential threat and its special relationship with China is considered key to reducing that threat, as is its large and expanding nuclear arsenal.

3. The India-Pakistan War of 1971 was triggered by the West Pakistani genocide of Bengalis earlier in the year (casualties estimated at between 300,000 and 3,000,000). The result of the war was the independence of Bangladesh and Pakistan’s loss of “half of its navy, a quarter of its air force, and a third of its army.”


1. The Islamization of Pakistan began in earnest under General Zia who deposed President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a military coup in 1973.

2. Throughout the 1980s, Zia was given support by both the United States and Saudi Arabia to strengthen the Afghan mujahideen who were seen by Americans as freedom fighters against the Soviet aggressors.

3. Malala Yousafzai chronicles the negative impact on women of Zia’s policies in her book, “I Am Malala.”

NB: After being deposed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was executed in 1979. His daughter Benazir Bhutto (Harvard Class of 1973) served as Prime Minister twice (1988–1990, 1996–1998). A liberal and a secularist she was assassinated in 2007. “The Salafi Jihadi group al-Queda claimed responsibility, although the involvement of the Pakistani Taliban and rogue elements of the intelligence services was widely suspected.” At the time Bin Laden was being harbored in his Islamabad compound and, according to Carlota Gall was working as a de facto asset of the ISI.

FOOTNOTE: Carlota Gall — don’t miss the video below under any circumstances. Especially, 13:13–24:13 in which the author explains why she wrote “The Wrong Enemy” — perhaps the most important book on foreign policy written in the last 50 years.

The Wrong Enemy

Carlotta Gall

Faiz Hameed

Inter-Services Intelligence



Geography of Pakistan

Demographics of Pakistan


1971 Bangladesh genocide

Indo-Pakistani wars and conflicts

Islamization in Pakistan

Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq

I Am Malala

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto

Khyber Pass

Mattis says the most dangerous country in the world is Pakistan


Here is a link to the last three years of posts organized by theme:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest or most important thing you learned in the last week, month, or year related to foreign policy. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in our life related to foreign policy.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something important you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is the key to depth of thought. The prospect of imminent publication, like hanging and final exams, concentrates the mind. A useful life long habit.



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