Recent history in Pakistan seems to bear a similarity to events in Iran during the rule of the Shah. The recent leadership of Pakistan has been similar in several ways to that of the Shah. In both countries the leaders were strongly backed by the United States. Both were involved in repressing or attacking their own people. In Iran, this led the revolution of 1979 which created an Islamic Republic. Could something similar happen in Pakistan?
In 1953, the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammed Mosaddeq, was replaced by the Shah in a US and British led coup. The US and their CIA provided funding and support to the Shah during his resign, and helped to establish the dreaded SAVAK secret police force. SAVAK tortured and executed thousands during the Shah's rule, and imprisoned many more.
1n Pakistan, the democratically elected leader, Nawaz Sharif was deposed in a military coup in 1999 by General Musharraf. While the US was not involved in this coup, the Bush administration strongly supported Musharraf after 9/11 and provided him with significant funding. Musharraf was pressured to resign in 2008 and Pakistan did elect a new leader, Asif Ali Zardari, though he has maintained close ties to the US and has continued similar policies. Under the Obama administration, the US has remained a strong backer of Zardari and is continuing to provide aid to his government.
After 9/11 Musharraf was threatened by the US to side with them against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Under pressure from the US, and worried about closer ties between India and the US, Musharraf agreed and provided the US with the use of three airbases, as well as other support. In the following years, the Pakistan army took an active role in the war, with forces operating at the Afghan border and well as pursuing domestic al-qaeda and Taliban militants.
In recent years, Pakistan has supported and permitted (though sometimes reluctantly) the United States use of unmanned drones to bomb suspected militant sites within Pakistani territory. This bombing has escalated considerably in the past couple years. For nationalistic reasons, and concern over civilian casualties, the Pakistani public has been very critical of these attacks and many consider them attacks on Pakistani sovereignty or even acts of terror. In a recent visit to Pakistan, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was sharply questioned over these attacks.
Earlier this year, the Pakistani military began a major escalation in their fight against the Taliban with an assault on the Swat Valley region. This resulted in the displacement of over 2 million people, and many casualties among militants, army and civilians. More recently, there is an offensive underway in South Waziristan, which has triggered large bombings and civilian casualties. All schools across the nation have been closed for an indefinite period of time.
A recent poll by Gallup Pakistan was undertaken to gauge public sentiment. The results should not be too surprising given the above. Only 9 percent of Pakistanis support the drone attacks, while 67 percent oppose. More people support dialogue with the Taliban than military action (43 percent to 41). President Zardari has the support of only 11 percent of the population (with his party having only 20 percent support). Perhaps more telling, only 11 percent consider the Taliban the greatest threat to Pakistan, while 59 percent consider the United States the largest threat. Clearly, the US is deeply unpopular in Pakistan, and the vast majority of people do not support their government's alliance with the US.
Another issue is that of US aid. The US congress has passed an aid package for Pakistan, which imposes several conditions, including one which critics suggest results in US oversight of the Pakistani military. Pakistanis have responded with street protests and claim this is a violation of Pakistani sovereignty. It is possible the US will modify the bill to improve the language, but the damage is already done. Pakistanis are distrustful of any aid from the US. Another large complaint is that US contractors are operating with impunity within Pakistan, and that they are carrying weapons illegally.
There are many differences between Iran and Pakistan, of course, and one situation can never parallel another completely. Also, even when there are similar situations, the outcome can sometimes be different. Still, there are lessons to be learned from history. A government supported by a foreign power most citizens do not like or identify with, that represses and kills its own people, is not in a stable situation. There are many examples in history of such situations others than Iran, and many of them have had similar outcomes.
Pakistan's alignment with the US and US interests appears to be the largest factor causing instability within that country. The majority of Pakistanis do not support this role nor any domestic government that follows it. I will predict that unless there is an election in Pakistan of a government that follows the will of its people more closely, the likelihood of a revolution, coup, or breakup will increase over time. Eventually the situation will become untenable, and one of these outcomes will come to pass.