Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and its ties with radical groups

Logo of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence organization. It depicts Pakistan's national animal, Markhor, eating a snake [Wikipedia]

▲ Logo of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence organization. It depicts Pakistan's national animal, Markhor, eating a snake [Wikipedia]

ESSAYManuel Lamela

Jihadism continues to be one of the main threats Pakistan faces. Its impact on Pakistani society at the political, economic and social levels is evident, it continues to be the source of greatest uncertainty, which acts as a barrier to any company that is interested in investing in the Asian country. Although the situation concerning terrorist attacks on national soil has improved, jihadism is an endemic problem in the region and medium-term prospects are not positive. The atmosphere of extreme volatility and insistence that is breathed does not help in generating confidence. If we add to this the general idea that Pakistan's institutions are not very strong due to their close links with certain radical groups, the result is a not very optimistic scenario. In this essay, we will deal with the current situation of jihadism in Pakistan, offering a multidisciplinary approach that helps to situate itself in the complicated reality that the country is experiencing.




1. Jihadism in the region, a risk assessment

Through this graph, we will analyze the probability and impact of various risk factors concerning jihadist activity in the region. All factors refer to hypothetical situations that may develop in the short or medium term. The increase in jihadist activity in the region will depend on how many of these predictions are fulfilled.

Risk Factors:

R1: US-Taliban treaty fails, creating more instability in the region. If the United States is not able to make a proper exit from Afghanistan, we may find ourselves in a similar situation to that experienced during the 1990s. Such scenario will once again plunge the region into a fierce civil war between government forces and Taliban groups. The proposed scenario becomes increasingly plausible if we look at the recent American actions regarding foreign policy.

R2: Pakistan two-head strategy facing terrorism collapse. Pakistan’s strategy in dealing with jihadism is extremely risky, it’s collapse would lead to a schism in the way the Asian state deals with its most immediate challenges. The chances of this strategy failing in the medium term are considerably high due to its structure, which makes it unsustainable over the time.

R3: Violations of the LoC by the two sides in the conflict. Given the frequency with which these events occur, their impact is residual, but it must be taken into account that it in an environment of high tension and other factors, continuous violations of the LoC may be the spark that leads to an increase in terrorist attacks in the region.

R4: Agreement between the afghan Taliban and the government. Despite the recent agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Albduallah, it seems unlikely that he will be able to reach a lasting settlement with the Taliban, given the latter's pretensions. If it is true that if it happens, the agreement will have a great impact that will even transcend Afghan borders.

R5: Afghan Taliban make a coup d’état to the afghan government. In relation to the previous point, despite the pact between the government and the opposition, it seems likely that instability will continue to exist in the country, so a coup attempt by the Taliban seems more likely than a peaceful solution in the medium or long term

R6: U.S. Democrat party wins the 2020 elections. Broadly speaking, both Republican and Democratic parties are betting on focusing their efforts on containing the growth of their great rival, China.

R7: U.S. withdraw its troops from Afghanistan regarding the result of the peace process. This is closely related to the previous point as it responds to a basic geopolitical issue.

R8: New agreement between India and Pakistan regarding the LoC.  If produced, this would bring both states closer together and help reduce jihadist attacks in the Kashmir region. However, if we look at recent events, such a possibility seems distant at present.



2. The ties between the ISI and the Taliban and other radical groups

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been accused on many occasions of being closely linked to various radical groups; for example, they have recently been involved with the radicalization of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh[1]. Although Islamabad continues strongly denying such accusations, reality shows us that cooperation between the ISI and various terrorist organizations has been fundamental to their proliferation and settlement both on national territory and in the neighboring states of India and Afghanistan. The West has not been able to fully understand the nature of this relationship and its link to terrorism. The various complaints to the ISI have been loaded with different arguments of different kinds, lacking in unity and coherence. Unlike popular opinion, this analysis will point to the confused and undefined Pakistani nationalism as the main cause of this close relationship.

The Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, together with the Intelligence Bureau and the Military Intelligence, constitute the intelligence services of the Pakistani State, the most important of which is the ISI. ISI can be described as the intellectual core and center of gravity of the army. Its broad functions are the protection of Pakistan's national security and the promotion and defense of Pakistan's interests abroad. Despite the image created around the ISI, in general terms its activities and functions are based on the same "values" as other intelligence agencies such as the MI6, the CIA, etc. They all operate under the common ideal of protecting national interests, the essential foundation of intelligence centers without which they are worthless. We must rationalize their actions on the ground, move away from inquisitive accusations and try to observe what are the ideals that move the group, their connection with the government of Islamabad and the Pakistani society in general.

2.1. The Afghan Taliban

To understand the idiosyncrasy of the ISI we must go back to the war in Afghanistan[2], it is from this moment that the center begins to build an image of itself, independent of the rest of the armed forces. From the ISI we can see the victory of the Mujahideen on Afghan territory as their own, a great achievement that shapes their thinking and vision. But this understanding does not emerge in isolation and independently, as most Pakistani society views the Afghan Taliban as legitimate warriors and defenders of an honorable cause[3]. The Mujahideen victory over the USSR was a real turning point in Pakistani history, the foundation of modern Pakistani nationalism begins from this point. The year 1989 gave rise to a social catharsis from which the ISI was not excluded.

Along with this ideological component, it is also important to highlight the strategic aspect; we are dealing with a question of nationalism, of defending patriotic interests. Since the emergence of the Taliban, Pakistan has not hesitated to support them for major strategic reasons, as there has always been a fear that an unstable Afghanistan would end up being controlled directly or indirectly by India, an encircle strategy[4]. Faced with this dangerous scenario, the Taliban are Islamabad's only asset on the ground. It is for this reason, and not only for religious commitment, that this bond is produced, although over time it is strengthened and expanded. Therefore, at first, it is Pakistani nationalism and its foreign interests that are the cause of this situation, it seeks to influence neighboring Afghanistan to make the situation as beneficial as possible for Pakistan. Later on, when we discuss the situation of the Taliban on the national territory, we will address the issue of Pakistani nationalism and how its weak construction causes great problems for the state itself. But on Afghan territory, from what has been explained above, we can conclude that this relationship will continue shortly, it does not seem likely that this will change unless there are great changes of impossible prediction. The ISI will continue to have a significant influence on these groups and will continue its covert operations to promote and defend the Taliban, although it should be noted that the peace treaty between the Taliban and the US[5] is an important factor to take into account, this issue will be developed once the situation of the Taliban at the internal level is explained.

2.2. The Pakistani Taliban (Al-Qaeda[6] and the TTP)

The Taliban groups operating in Pakistan are an extension of those operating in neighboring Afghanistan. They belong to the same terrorist network and seek similar objectives, differentiated only by the place of action. Despite this obvious similarity, from Islamabad and increasingly from the whole of Pakistani society, the two groups are observed in a completely different way. On the one hand, as we said earlier, for most Pakistanis, the Afghan Taliban are fighting a legitimate and just war, that of liberating the region from foreign rule. However, groups operating in Pakistan are considered enemies of the state and the people. Although there was some support among the popular classes, especially in the Pashtun regions, this support has gradually been lost due to the multitude of atrocities against the civilian population that have recently been committed. The attack carried out by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)[7] in the Army Public School in Peshawar in the year 2014 generated a great stir in society, turning it against these radical groups. This duality marks Pakistan's strategy in dealing with terrorism both globally and internationally. While acting as an accomplice and protector of this groups in Afghanistan, he pursues his counterparts on their territory. We have to say that the operations carried out by the armed forces have been effective, especially the Zarb-e-Azb operation carried out in 2014 in North Waziristan, where the ISI played a fundamental role in identifying and classifying the different objectives. The position of the TTP in the region has been decimated, leaving it quite weakened. As can be seen in this scenario, there is no support at the institutional level from the ISI[8], as they are involved in the fight against these radical organizations. However, on an individual level if these informal links appear. This informal network is favored by the tribal character of Pakistani society, it can appear in different forms but often draw on ties of Kinship, friendship or social obligation[9]. Due to the nature of this type of relationship, it is impossible to know to what extent the ISI's activity is conditioned and how many of its members are linked to Taliban groups. However, we would like to point out that these unions are informal and individual and not institutional, which provides a certain degree of security and control, at least for the time being, the situation may vary greatly due to the lack of transparency.

2.3. ISI and the radical groups that operate in Kashmir

Another part of the board is made up of the radical groups that focus their terrorist attention on the conflict with India over control of Kashmir, the most important of which are: Lashkar-e-Taiba (Let) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). Both groups have committed real atrocities over the past decades, the most notorious being the one committed by LeT in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008. There are numerous testimonies, in particular, that of the American citizen David Haedy, which point to the cooperation of the ISI in carrying out the aforementioned attack.[10]

Recently, Hafiz Saeed, founder of Let and intellectual planner of the bloody attack, was arrested. The news generated some turmoil both locally and internationally and opened the debate as to whether Pakistan had finally decided to act against the radical groups operating in Kashmir. We are once again faced with a complex situation, although the arrest shows a certain amount of willpower, it is no more than a way of making up for the situation and relaxing international pressure. The above coincides with the FATF's[11] assessment of Pakistan's status within the institution, which is of great importance for the short-term future of the country's economy. Beyond rhetoric, there is no convincing evidence that suggests that Pakistan has made a move against those groups. The link and support provided by the ISI in this situation are again closely linked to strategic and ideological issues. Since its foundation, Pakistani foreign policy has revolved around India[12], as we saw on the Afghan stage. Pakistani nationalism is based on the maxim that India and the Hindus are the greatest threat to the future of the state. Given the significance of the conflict for Pakistani society, there has been no hesitation in using radical groups to gain advantages on the ground. From Pakistan perspective, it is considered that this group of terrorists are an essential asset when it comes to putting pressure on India and avoiding the complete loss of the territory, they are used as a negotiating tool and a brake on Indian interests in the region.

As we can see, the core between the ISI and certain terrorist groups is based on deep-seated nationalism, which has led both members of the ISI and society, in general, to identify with the ideas of certain radical groups. They have benefited from the situation by bringing together a huge amount of power, becoming a threat to the state itself. The latter has compromised the government of Pakistan, sometimes leaving it with little room for maneuver. The immense infrastructure and capacity of influence that Let has thanks to its charitable arm Jamaat-ud-Dawa, formed with re-localized terrorists, is a clear example of the latter. A revolt led by this group could put Islamabad in a serious predicament, so the actions taken both in Kashmir and internally to try to avoid the situation should be measured very well. The existing cooperation between the ISI and these radical groups is compromised by the development of the conflict in Kashmir, which may increase or decrease depending on the situation. What is certain, because of the above, is that it will not go unnoticed and will continue to play a key role in the future. These relationships, this two-way game could drag Pakistan soon into an internal conflict, which could compromise its very existence as a nation.


[3] Lieven, Anatol. Pakistan a Hard Country. 1st ed. London: Penguin, 2012.

[4] United States Institute for PeaceThe India-Pakistan Rivalry In Afghanistan, 2020.

[5] Maizland, Lindsay. "U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal: What To Know". Council On Foreign Relations, 2020.

[6] Blanchard, Christopher M. Al Qaeda: Statements And Evolving Ideology. PDF, 2007.

[7] Mapping Militant Organizations. “Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.” Stanford University. Last modified July 2018.

[9] Lieven, Anatol. Pakistan a Hard Country. 1st ed. London: Penguin, 2012.

[10] Lieven, Anatol. Pakistan a Hard Country. 1st ed. London: Penguin, 2012.

[12] "India And Pakistan: Forever Rivals?". Aljazeera.Com, 2017.

Marcos internacionales relevantes para la extracción y uso de recursos espaciales

Visión sobre extracción de minerales en un asteroide, de [Christopher Barnatt]

▲ Visión sobre extracción de minerales en un asteroide, de [Christopher Barnatt]



[Documento de 14 páginas. Descargar en PDF]



Recuerda el astrofísico estadounidense, Michio Kaku, que cuando el presidente Thomas Jefferson compró Luisiana a Napoleón (en 1803) por la astronómica cifra de 15 millones de dólares, estuvo una larga temporada sumido en el más profundo espanto. La razón de ello estribaba en el hecho de que desconoció por largo tiempo si el referenciado territorio (en su mayor parte inexplorado) escondía fabulosas riquezas o, por el contrario, era un páramo sin mayor valor… El paso del tiempo demostró con creces lo primero, así como acreditó que fue entonces cuando se inició la marcha de los pioneros americanos: aquellos sujetos que –al igual que los “Adelantados” castellanos y extremeños en el siglo XVI– se lanzaban hacia lo desconocido en aras de obtener fortuna, descubrir nuevas maravillas y mejorar su posición social.

Los Jefferson de hoy en día, son los Musk y los Bezos, empresarios norteamericanos dueños de enormes emporios financieros, comerciales y tecnológicos, quienes, de la mano de nuevos “pioneros” (un mix entre Julio Verne/Arthur C. Clark y Neil Amstrong/John Glenn) buscan alcanzar la nueva frontera de la Humanidad: la explotación comercial y minera del Espacio Ultraterrestre.

Ante semejante desafío, muchas son las preguntas que podemos (y debemos) formularnos. Aquí intentaremos dar respuesta (siquiera someramente) a si la normativa internacional y nacional existente relativa a la explotación minera de la Luna y de los cuerpos celestes, constituye –o no–, un marco suficiente para la regulación de tales actividades proyectadas.

Carrera por los recursos espaciales: de la minería al control de rutas

Propuesta de base lunar para obtención de helio, tomada de [Christopher Barnatt]

▲ Propuesta de base lunar para obtención de helio, tomada de [Christopher Barnatt]



[Documento de 8 páginas. Descargar en PDF]



El interés económico por los recursos del espacio, o al menos la expectativa razonable acerca de la rentabilidad que puede suponer su obtención, explica en gran medida la creciente implicación de la inversión privada en los viajes espaciales.

Más allá de la industria relacionada con los satélites artificiales, de gran pujanza comercial, y también de la que sirve a propósitos científicos y de defensa, donde el sector estatal sigue teniendo un papel dirigente, la posibilidad de explotar materias primas de alto valor presentes en los cuerpos celestes –de entrada, en los asteroides más próximos a la Tierra y en la Luna– ha despertado una suerte de fiebre del oro que está alentando la nueva carrera espacial.

La épica de los nuevos barones del espacio –Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos– ha acaparado el relato público, pero junto a ellos existen otros New Space Players, de perfiles variados. Detrás de todos hay un creciente grupo de socios capitalistas e inquietos inversores dispuestos a arriesgar activos en espera de ganancias.

Hablar de fiebre resulta ciertamente exagerado por cuanto aún está por demostrar el provecho económico real que puede lograrse de la minería espacial –la obtención de platino, por ejemplo, o del helio lunar–, pues si bien se está dando un abaratamiento de la tecnología que financieramente permite dar nuevos pasos en el espacio exterior, traer a la Tierra toneladas de materiales tiene un coste que en la mayoría de los casos resta sentido monetario a la operación.

Bastaría, no obstante, que en ciertas situaciones fuera rentable para que se incrementara el número de misiones espaciales, y se supone que ese tráfico por sí mismo generaría la necesidad de una infraestructura en el exterior, al menos con estaciones donde repostar combustible –tan caro de elevar al firmamento–, fabricado a partir de materia prima hallada en el espacio (el agua de los polos lunares se podría transformar en propelente). Es esa expectativa, con cierta base de razonabilidad, la que alimenta las inversiones que se están realizando.

A su vez, la mayor actividad espacial y la competencia por obtener los recursos buscados proyectan más allá de nuestro planeta los conceptos de la geopolítica desarrollados para la Tierra. La ubicación de los países (hay localizaciones especialmente adecuadas para los lanzamientos espaciales) y el control de ciertas rutas (la sucesión de las órbitas más convenientes en los vuelos) son parte de la nueva astropolítica.

La militarización del espacio: el desarrollo de satélites inspectores por EEUU y Rusia

Avión espacial no tripulado estadounidense X-37B, al regreso de su cuarta misión, en 2017 [US Air Force]

▲ Avión espacial no tripulado estadounidense X-37B, al regreso de su cuarta misión, en 2017 [US Air Force]



[Documento de 10 páginas. Descargar en PDF]



La militarización del espacio es una realidad. Las grandes potencias han dado el paso de poner en órbita satélites que pueden atacar y destruir los aparatos espaciales del adversario o de terceros Estados. Las consecuencias para el que sufre estos ataques pueden ser catastróficas, porque sus sistemas de comunicaciones, de navegación y de defensa quedarán parcial o totalmente inutilizados. Este escenario plantea, como en la guerra nuclear, la posibilidad de un ataque preventivo destinado a evitar quedar en manos del adversario en un eventual conflicto bélico. Los Estados Unidos y Rusia disponen de la capacidad de realizar estas acciones, pero el resto de potencias no quieren estar a la zaga. El resto intenta seguir a las grandes potencias, que son las que dictan las reglas del sistema.

Las grandes potencias se disputan también en el espacio el mantenimiento de la primacía en el sistema internacional global y tratan de asegurarse de que, en caso de enfrentamiento, puedan inutilizar y destruir la capacidad de mando y control, comunicaciones, inteligencia, vigilancia y reconocimiento (ISR) del adversario, porque sin satélites se reduce su capacidad de defensa frente al poder demoledor de las armas guiadas de precisión. De ello se deduce la regla de que quien domine el espacio dominará la Tierra en un conflicto bélico.

Este es uno de los principios fundamentales de la obra de Friedman sobre el poder en las relaciones internacionales en este siglo, cuando afirma que las guerras del futuro se librarán en el espacio porque los adversarios buscarán destruir los sistemas espaciales que les permiten seleccionar objetivos y los satélites de navegación y comunicaciones para inutilizar su capacidad bélica.

En consecuencia, tanto los Estados Unidos como Rusia, y también China, financian grandes programas espaciales y desarrollan nuevas tecnologías destinadas a obtener satélites no convencionales y aviones espaciales, por lo que se puede hablar sin ambages de la militarización del espacio, como veremos en los siguientes epígrafes.

Pero, antes de continuar, debemos recordar que existe un tratado internacional de carácter multilateral, denominado Tratado sobre el Espacio Ultraterrestre, que firmaron inicialmente los Estados Unidos, el Reino Unido y la Unión Soviética el 27 de enero de 1967, que establece una serie de limitaciones a las operaciones en el espacio. Según este tratado cualquier país que lance un objeto al espacio “retendrá su jurisdicción y control sobre tal objeto, así como sobre todo el personal que vaya en él, mientras se encuentre en el espacio o en cuerpo celeste” (artículo 8). También establece que cualquier país “será responsable internacionalmente de los daños causados a otro Estado parte (…) por dicho objeto o sus partes componentes en la Tierra, en el espacio aéreo o en el espacio ultraterrestre” (artículo 7).  Esto significa que cualquier satélite espacial puede acercarse a un aparato de otro país, seguirlo o realizar observaciones remotas, pero no puede alterar o interrumpir su operatividad de ninguna manera. Es preciso aclarar que, aunque estén prohibidas las armas nucleares y las de destrucción masiva en el espacio, no existe ninguna limitación a la instalación de armas convencionales en los satélites espaciales. A instancias de Rusia y China la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas ha venido impulsando desde 2007 un proyecto de tratado multilateral que prohíba las armas en el espacio exterior, el uso de la fuerza o la amenaza de uso contra objetos espaciales, pero ha sido rechazado sistemáticamente por los Estados Unidos.

Vuelta a la exploración del espacio

Además del regreso a la Luna y la llegada a Marte, también se aceleran programas de viajes a asteroides [NASA]

▲ Además del regreso a la Luna y la llegada a Marte, también se aceleran programas de viajes a asteroides [NASA]



[Documento de 8 páginas. Descargar en PDF]



Desde tiempos inmemoriales el ser humano se ha imaginado fuera de la Tierra, explorando otros mundos. Uno de los primeros relatos data del siglo II d.C., Luciano de Samosata escribía un libro en el que sus personajes llegaban a la Luna gracias al impulso de un remolino de viento y allí desarrollaban sus aventuras. Desde entonces se pueden encontrar numerosas novelas o relatos de ciencia ficción que discurrían en la Luna, en Marte, otros cuerpos de nuestro Sistema Solar o incluso más allá. De alguna forma todos ellos perdieron un poco de su ficción a mediados del siglo pasado, con los primeros pasos de un astronauta en nuestro satélite. Aunque desgraciadamente lo que parecía el inicio de una nueva era no fue más allá de 5 misiones a lo largo de 2 años.

La primera etapa se inició cuando el presidente Kennedy pronunció su famosa frase: “We choose to go to the Moon... We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too”. Aunque quizás en el comienzo estaba escrito el final: el único objetivo era demostrar que EEUU eran los líderes tecnológicos por encima de la URSS, y cuando esto se consiguió el proyecto se paró.

Espacio: nuevo dominio militar y económico

Escena sobre anclaje en un asteroide para desarrollar actividad minera, de [Christopher Barnatt]

▲ Escena sobre anclaje en un asteroide para desarrollar actividad minera, de [Christopher Barnatt]



[Documento de 8 páginas. Descargar en PDF]



La nueva carrera espacial se asienta sobre fundamentos más sólidos y duraderos –especialmente el interés económico– que la primera, que estuvo basada en la competencia ideológica y el prestigio internacional. En la nueva Guerra Fría hay también desarrollos espaciales que obedecen a la pugna estratégica de las grandes potencias, como ocurrió entre las décadas de 1950 y de 1970, pero hoy a los aspectos de exploración y defensa se unen también los intereses comerciales: las empresas están tomado el relevo en muchos aspectos al protagonismo de los Estados.

Por más que resulte discutible hablar de nueva era espacial, dado que desde el emblemático lanzamiento del Sputnik en 1957 no ha dejado de programarse actividad en distintas regiones del espacio, incluida la presencia humana (aunque acabaron los viajes tripulados a la Luna, ha habido viajes y estancias en la baja órbita terrestre), lo cierto es que hemos entrado en una nueva fase.

Hollywood, que tan bien refleja la realidad social y las aspiraciones generacionales de cada tiempo, sirve de espejo. Después de un tiempo sin especiales producciones relativas al espacio, desde 2013 el género vive un resurgimiento, con nuevos matices. Películas como Gravity, Interstellar y Marte ilustran el momento del despegue de una renovada ambición que, tras el horizonte corto del programa de transbordadores –reconocido como un error por la NASA, al focalizarse en la órbita baja de la Tierra–, entronca con la secuencia lógica de las perspectivas que abría la llegada del hombre a la Luna: bases lunares, viajes tripulados a Marte y colonización del espacio.

A nivel de imaginario colectivo, la nueva era espacial parte de la casilla donde “terminó” la previa, aquel día de diciembre de 1972 en que Gene Cernan, astronauta del Apolo 17, abandonó la Luna. De algún modo, en todo este tiempo se ha dado “la tristeza de pensar que en 1973 habíamos alcanzado como especie el punto máximo de nuestra evolución” y que después aquello se paró: “mientras crecíamos nos prometieron mochilas-cohete, y a cambio tenemos Instagram”, constata el gráfico comentario de uno de los coguionistas de Interstellar.

Algo parecido es lo que había expresado George W. Bush cuando en 2004 encargó a la NASA comenzar a preparar la vuelta del hombre a la Luna: “En los últimos treinta años, ningún ser humano ha puesto el pie en otro mundo o se ha aventurado en el espacio más allá de 386 millas [621 kilómetros de altitud], aproximadamente la distancia de Washington, DC, a Boston, Massachusetts”.

Podría fijarse ese 2004 como el comienzo de la nueva era espacial, no solo porque desde entonces viajes tripulados a la Luna y a Marte vuelven a estar en la mirilla de la NASA, sino porque entonces tuvo lugar lo que se ha considerado como el primer hito de la exploración espacial privada con el vuelo experimental del SpaceShipOne: era el primer acceso de un piloto particular al espacio orbital, algo que hasta entonces era considerado como un ámbito exclusivo del gobierno.

La prioridad estadounidense pasó luego de la Luna a alguno de los asteroides y después a Marte, para volver a ocupar el viaje a nuestro satélite el primer lugar de la agenda espacial. Regresando a la Luna la idea de “vuelta” a la exploración del espacio adquiere una especial significación.

Nueva era espacial. Ahora va en serio



[Descargar el PDF del Journal completo]


El horizonte vuelve a estar arriba:

Potencias y empresas pugnan por el espacio


Asistimos a una nueva era espacial, que está aquí para quedarse. Esta vez va en serio. No será un cultivo de una sola floración, como la llegada del ser humano a la Luna, que pronto se agosta. El regreso de la tensión geopolítica a la Tierra tiene también su proyección en el espacio, concebido no ya como un lugar de incursión o territorio de apoyo estratégico sino como un dominio en sí mismo, de la misma importancia y proximidad que los otros (tierra, mar, aire... y red). Aunque la prioridad espacial de las superpotencias pueda verse modulada en función de los vaivenes de las relaciones internacionales, es tal la dependencia de los satélites artificiales adquirida por la humanidad que el espacio forma ya parte definitivamente de nuestro directo entorno. Con todo, es el despertado interés económico por las perspectivas de negocio del sector espacial, manifestado en la carrera de diversas empresas privadas por hacerse con actividades que antes, por las ingentes exigencias presupuestarias, solo asumían ciertos estados, lo que asegura la continuidad de una etapa que se abre para no cerrarse.

El horizonte vuelve a esta arriba –regreso a la Luna, vuelo a Marte, minería de asteroides– tras los esfuerzos no sostenidos llevados a cabo hace medio siglo. A ese horizonte hemos querido dedicar la edición de Global Affairs Journal de este año, después del lanzamiento de esta publicación de carácter monográfico en 2019 con el foco en otra cuestión de gran importancia estratégica, la geopolítica de la demografía y los retos demográficos de las grandes potencias. Así que bienvenidos y ¡buen viaje a las estrellas!






p. 5 [versión PDF]



Introducción del director de GASS

p. 6-13 [versión PDF]



Javier Gómez-Elvira

Director del Departamento de Cargas Útiles de INTA

p. 14-21 [versión PDF]




Luis V. Pérez Gil

Experto en Fuerza Espacial, Universidad de La Laguna

p. 22-31 [versión PDF]




Emili J. Blasco

Profesor de Geopolítica Aplicada, Universidad de Navarra

p. 32-39 [versión PDF]




Mario Pereira

Profesor de Derecho, Universidad de Navarra

p. 40-54 [versión PDF]



L. V. Pérez Gil, E. J. Blasco

Ramón Barba, Ángel Martos

p. 54-56 [versión PDF]

East/West Punjab, from Sikhism to water sharing

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, also called Kartarpur Sahib, is a Sikh holy place in Kartarpur, in the Pakistani Punjab [Wikimedia Commons]

▲ Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, also called Kartarpur Sahib, is a Sikh holy place in Kartarpur, in the Pakistani Punjab [Wikimedia Commons]

ESSAYPablo Viana

Punjab region has been part of India until the year 1947, when the Punjab province of British India was divided in two parts, East Punjab (India) and West Punjab (Pakistan) due to religious reasons. After the division a lot of internal violence occurred, and many people were displaced.

East and West Punjab

The partition of Punjab proved to be one of the most violent, brutal, savage debasements in the history of humankind. The undivided Punjab, of which West Punjab forms a major region today, was home to a large minority population of Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus unto 1947 apart from the Muslim majority[1]. This minority population of Punjabi Sikhs called for the creation of a new state in the 1970s, with the name of Khalistan, but it was detained by India, sending troops to stop the militants. Terrorist attacks against the Sikh majority emerged, by those who did not accept the creation of the state of Khalistan and wished to stay in India.

The Sikh population is the dominant religious ethnicity in East Punjab (58%) followed by the Hindu (39%). Sikhism and Islamism are both monotheistic religions, they do believe on the same concept of God, although it is different on each religion. Sikhism was developed during the 16th and 17th century in the context of conflict in between Hinduism and Islamism. It is important to mention Sikhism if we talk about Punjab, as its origins were in Punjab, but most important in recent times, is that the Guru Nanak Dev[2] was buried in Pakistani territory. Four kilometres from the international border the Sikh shrine was conceded to Pakistan at the time of British India’s Partition in 1947. For followers of Sikhism this new border that cut through Punjab proved especially problematic. Sikhs overwhelmingly chose India over the newly formed Pakistan as the state that would best protect their interests (there are an estimated 50,000 Sikhs living in Pakistan today, compared to the 24 million in India). However, in making this choice, Sikhs became isolated from several holy sites, creating a religious disconnection that has proved a constant spiritual and emotional dilemma for the community[3].

In order to let the Sikhist population visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib[4], the Kartarpur Corridor was created in November 2019. However, there is an incessant suspicion in between India and Pakistan that question Pakistan motives. Although it seems like a generous move work of the Pakistani government, there is a clear perception that Pakistan is engaged in an act of deception[5]. Thus, although this scenario might seem at first beneficial for the rapprochement of East and West Punjab, it is not at all. Pakistan is involved in a rhetorical policy which could end up worsening its relations with India.

The division of Punjab in 1947 was like the division of Pakistan and India on that same year. Territorial disputes have been an issue that defines very well India-Pakistan relations since the independence. In the case of Punjab, there has not been a territorial debate. The division was clear and has been respected ever since. Why would Pakistan and/or India be willing to unify Punjab? There is no reason. East and West Punjab represent two different nations and three religions. If we think about reunifying Pakistan and India, the conclusion is the same (although more dramatic); too many discrepancies and recent unrest to think about bringing back together the nations. However, if the Kartarpur Corridor could be placed out of bonds for the territorial disputes between Pakistan and India (e.g. Kashmir), Islamabad and New Delhi could use this situation as a model to find out which are the pressure points and trying to find a path for identifying common solutions. In order to achieve this, there should be a clear behaviour by both parts of cooperation. Sadly, in recent times both Pakistan and India have discrepancies regarding many topics and suspicious behaviours that clearly show that they won’t be interested in complicating more the situation in Punjab searching for unification. The riots of 1947 left a terrific era on the region and now that both sides are established and no major disputes have emerged (except for Sikh nationalism), the situation should and will most likely remain as it is.

The Indus Water Treaty

The Indus Waters Treaty was signed in 1960 after nine years of negotiations between India and Pakistan with the help of the World Bank, which is also a signatory. Seen as one of the most successful international treaties, it has survived frequent tensions, including conflict, and has provided a framework for irrigation and hydropower development for more than half a century. The Treaty basically provides a mechanism for exchange of information and cooperation between Pakistan and India regarding the use of their rivers. This mechanism is well known as the Permanent Indus Commission. The Treaty also sets forth distinct procedures to handle issues which may arise: “questions” are handled by the Commission; “differences” are to be resolved by a Neutral Expert; and “disputes” are to be referred to a seven-member arbitral tribunal called the “Court of Arbitration.” As a signatory to the Treaty, the World Bank’s role is limited and procedural[6].    

Since 1948, India has been confident on the fact that East Punjab and the acceding states have a prior and superior claim to the rivers flowing through their territory. This leaves West Punjab in disadvantage regarding water resources, as East Punjab can access the highest sections of the rivers. Even under a unified control designed to ensure equitable distribution of water, in years of low river flow cultivators on tail distributaries always tended to accuse those on the upper reaches of taking an undue amount of the water, and after partition any temporary shortage, whatever the cause, could easily be attributed to political motives. It was therefore wise of Pakistan-indeed it became imperative-to cut the new feeder from the Ravi for this area and thus become independent of distributaries in East Punjab[7]. The Treaty acknowledges the control of the eastern rivers to India, and to the western rivers to Pakistan.

The main issue of water distribution in between East and West Punjab is then a matter of geography. Even though West Punjab covers more territory than East Punjab, and the water flow of West Punjab is almost three times the water flow of East Punjab rivers, the Indus Water Treaty gives the following advantage to India: since Pakistan rivers receive much more water flow from India, the treaty allowed India to use western rivers water for limited irrigation use and unlimited use for power generation, domestic, industrial and non-consumptive uses such as navigation, floating of property, fish culture and this is where the disputes mainly came from, as Pakistan has objected all Indian hydro-electric projects on western rivers irrespective of size and layout.

It is worth mentioning that with the World Bank mediating the Treaty in between India and Pakistan, the water access will not be curtailed, and since the ratification of the Treaty, India and Pakistan have not engaged in any water wars. Although there have been many tensions the disputes have been via legal procedures, but they haven’t caused any major cause for conflict. Today, both countries are strengthening their relationship, and the scenario is not likely to get worse, it is actually the opposite, and the Indus Water Treaty is one of the few livelihoods of the relationship. If the tensions do not cease, the World Bank should consider the possibility of amending the treaty, obviously if both Pakistan and India are willing to cooperate, although with the current environment, a renegotiation of the treaty would probably bring more complications. There is no shred of evidence that India has violated the Indus Water Treaty or that it is stealing Pakistan’s water[8], although Pakistan does blame India for breaching the treaty, as showed before. This is pointed out by Hindu politicians as an attempt by Pakistan to divert the attention of its own public from the real issues of gross mismanagement of water resources[9].

Pakistan has a more hostile attitude regarding water distribution, trying to find a way to impeach India, meanwhile India focuses on the development of hydro-electric projects. India won’t stop providing water to the West Punjab, as the treaty is still in force and is fulfilled by both parts. Pakistan should reconsider its role and its benefits received thanks to the treaty and meditate about the constant pressure towards India, as pushing over the limit could mean a more hostile activity carried out by India, which in the worst case scenario (although not likely to happen) could mean a breakdown of the treaty.

[1] The Punjab in 1920s – A Case study of Muslims, Zarina Salamat, Royal Book Company, Karachi, 1997. table 45, pp. 136.

[2] Guru Nanak Dev was the founder of Sikhism (1469-1540)

[3] Wyeth, G. (Dec 28, 2019). Opening the Gates: The Kartarpur Corridor. Australian Institute of International Affairs.

[4] Site where Guru Nanak Dev settled the Sikh community, and lived for 18 years after his death in 1539.

[5] Islamabad promoted the activity of Sikhs For Justice including the will to establish the state of Khalistan.

Pakistan: Jihadism and drug trafficking, the threats from within

Attack in Kashmir linked to groups of Pakistani origin [twitted by @ANI]

▲ Attack in Kashmir linked to groups of Pakistani origin [twitted by @ANI]

ESSAYIsabel Calderas [Ignacio Lucas as research assistant]

There is a myriad of security concerns regarding external factors when it comes to Pakistan: India, Afghanistan, the Saudi Arabia-Iran split and the United States, to name a few. However, there are also two main concerns that come from within: jihadism and organized crime. They are interconnected but differ in many ways. The latter is frequently overlooked to focus on the former, but both have the capacity of affecting the country, internally and externally, as the effectiveness of dealing with them impacts the perception the international community has of Pakistan. While internally disrupting, these problems also have international reach, as such groups often export their activities, adversely affecting at a global scale. Therefore, international actors put so much pressure on Pakistan to control them. Historically, there has been much scepticism over the government’s ability, or even willingness to solve these risks. We will examine both problems separately, identifying the impact they have on the national and international arena, as well as the government’s approach to dealing with either and the future risks they entail.


Pakistan’s education system has become a central part of the country’s radicalization phenomenon[1], in the materialization of madrassas. These schools, which teach a more puritanical version of Islam than had traditionally been practiced in Pakistan, have been directly linked to the rise of jihadist groups[2]. Saudi Arabia, who has always had very close relations with Pakistan, played a key role in their development, by funding the Ahl-e-Hadith and Deobandi madrassas since the 1970s. The Iranian revolution bolstered the Saudi’s imperative to control Sunnism in Pakistan, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan gave them the vehicle to do so[3]. In these schools, which teach a biased view of the world, students display low tolerance for minorities and are more likely to turn to jihadism.

Saudi and American funding of madrassas during the Soviet occupation helped the Pakistani army’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), become more powerful, as they channelled millions of dollars to them, a lot of which went into the madrassas which sent mujahedeen fighters to fight for their cause[4]. The Taliban’s origins can also be traced to these, as the militia was raised mainly from Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and Saudi-funded madrassas[5].

Madrassas are especially popular in the poorer provinces of the country, where parents send their children to them for several non-religious reasons. First, because the Qur’an is written in Arabic and madrassas teach this language[6]. The dire situation of many families forces millions of Pakistanis to migrate to neighbouring, oil-rich Arabic-speaking countries, from where they send remittances home to help support their families. Secondly, the public-school system in Pakistan is weak, often failing to teach basic reading skills[7], something the madrassas do teach.

Partly in response to the international pressure[8] it has been under to fight terrorism within its territory; Pakistan has tried to reform the madrassas. The government has stated its intention to bring madrassas under the umbrella of the education ministry, financing these schools by allocating cash otherwise destined to fund anti-terrorism security operations[9]. It plans to add subjects like science to the curriculum, to lessen the focus on Islamic teachings. However, this faces several challenges, among which the resistance from the teachers and clerical authorities who run the madrassas outstands[10].

Before moving on to the prominent radical groups in Pakistan, we would like to make a brief summary on a different cause of radicalization: the unintended effect of the drone strategy adopted by the United States.

The United States has increasingly chosen to target its radical enemies in Pakistan through the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), which can be highly effective in neutralizing objectives, but also pose a series of risks, like the killing of innocent civilians that are in the neighbouring area. This American strategy, which Pakistan has publicly criticized, has fomented anti-American sentiment among the Pakistanis, at a ratio on average of every person killed resulting in the radicalization of several more people[11]. The growing unpopularity of drone strikes has further weakened relations between both governments, but shows no signs of changing in the future, if recent attacks carried by the U.S. are any indication. Pakistan’s efforts to de-radicalize its population will continue to be undermined by the U.S. drone strikes[12].

Pakistan’s anti-terrorism strategy is linked to its geostrategic and regional interests, especially dealing with its eastern and western neighbours[13]. There are many radical groups operating within their territory, and the government’s strategy towards them shifts depending on their goal[14]. Groups like the Afghan Taliban, who target foreign invasions in their own country, and Al Qaeda, whose jihad against the West is on a global scale, have been allowed to use Pakistani territory to coordinate operations and take refuge. Their strategy is quite different for Pakistani Taliban group, Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) who, despite being allied with the Afghan Taliban, has a different goal: to oust the Pakistani government and impose Sharia law[15]. Most of the military’s campaigns aimed at cracking down on radicals have been targeted at weakening groups affiliated with TTP. Lastly, there are those groups with whom some branches of the Pakistani government directly collaborate with.

Pakistan has been known to use jihadi organizations to advance its security objectives through proxy conflicts.  Pakistan’s policy of waging war through terrorist groups is planned, coordinated, and conducted by the Pakistani Army, specifically the ISI[16] who, as previously mentioned, plays a vital role in running the State.

Although this has been a longstanding cause of tension between the Pakistani and the American governments, the U.S. has made no progress in persuading or compelling the Pakistani military to sever ties with the radical groups[17], even though the Pakistani government has stated that it has, over the past year, ‘fought and eradicated the menace of terrorism from its soil’ by carrying out arrests, seizing property and freezing bank accounts of groups proscribed by the United States and the United Nations[18]. Their actions have been enough to keep them off the FATF’s blacklist for financing terrorism and money laundering[19], which would prevent them from getting financing, but concerns remain about ISI’s involvement with radical groups, the future of the relations between them, the overall activity of these groups from within Pakistani territory, and the risk of a future attack to its neighbours.

We will use two of Pakistan’s main proxy groups, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, to analyse the feasibility of an attack in the near future.

1.1. Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT)

Created to support the resistance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, LeT now focuses on the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Kashmir, the highest priorities for the Pakistani military’s foreign policy. The Ahl-e-Hadith group is led by its founder, Hafiz Saeed. Its headquarters are in Punjab. Unlike its counterparts, it is a well-organized, unified, and hierarchical organization, which has become highly institutionalized in the last thirty years. As a result, it has not suffered any major losses or any fractures since its inception[20].

Since the Mumbai attacks in 2008 (which also involved ISI), for which LeT were responsible, its close relationship with the military has defined the group’s operations, most noticeably by restraining their actions in India, which reflects both the Pakistani military’s desire to avoid international pressure and conflict with their neighbour and the group’s capability to contain its members. The group has calibrated its activities, although it possesses the capability to expand its violence. Its outlets for violence have been Afghanistan and Kashmir, which align with the Pakistani military’s agenda: to bring Afghanistan under Pakistan’s sphere of influence while keeping India off-balance in Kashmir[21]. The recent U.S.-Taliban deal in Afghanistan and militarization of Kashmir by India may change this. LeT has benefitted handsomely for its loyalty, receiving unparalleled protection, patronage, and privilege from the military. However, after twelve years of restraint, Lashkar undoubtedly faces pressures from within its ranks to strike against India again, especially now that Narendra Modi is prime minister.

1.2. Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM)

The Deobandi organization, led by its founder Masood Azhar, has had close bonds with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban since they came into light in 2000. With the commencement of the war on terror in Afghanistan, JeM reciprocated by launching an attack on the Indian Parliament on December 2001, in cooperation with LeT. However, it ignored the Pakistani military’s will in 2019 when it launched the Pulwama attack, after which the government of Pakistan launched a countrywide crackdown on them, taking leaders and members into preventive custody[22].

1.3. Risk assessment

Although it has gone rogue before, Jaish-e-Muhammad has been weakened by the recent government’s crackdown. What remains of the group, consolidated under Masood Azhar, has repaired ties with the military. Although JeM has demonstrated it still possesses formidable capability in Indian Kashmir, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba represents the main concern for an attack on India in the near future.

Lashkar has been both the most reliable and loyal of all the proxy groups and has also proven it does not take major action without prior approval from the ISI, which could become a problem. Pakistan has adopted a policy of maintaining plausible deniability for any attacks in order to avoid international pressure after 9/11, thus LeT’s close ties with the military make it more likely that its actions will provoke a war between the two countries.

The United States has tried for several years to get Pakistan to stop using proxies. There are several scenarios in which Lashkar would break from the Pakistani state (or vice versa), but they are farfetched and beyond foreign influence: a) a change in Pakistan’s security calculus, b) a resolution on Kashmir, c) a shift in Lashkar’s responsiveness and d) a major Lashkar attack in the West[23].

a) A change in Pakistan’s security calculus is the least likely, as the India-centric understanding of Pakistan’s interests and circumstances is deeply embedded in the psyche of the security establishment[24].

b) A resolution on Kashmir would trouble Lashkar, who seeks full unification of all Kashmir with Pakistan, which would not be the outcome of a negotiated resolution. More so, Modi’s recent decision regarding article 370 puts this possibility even further into the future.

c) A shift in Lashkar responsiveness would be caused by the internal pressures to perform another attack, after more than a decade of abiding by the security establishment’s will. If perceived as too powerful of insufficiently responsive, ISI would most likely seek to dismantle the group, as they did with Jaish-e-Muhammad, by focusing on the rogue elements and leaving Lashkar smaller but more responsive. This presents a threat, as the group would not allow itself to be simply dismantled but would probably resist to the point of becoming hostile[25].

d) The last option, a major Lashkar attack in the West, is also unlikely, as the group has not undertaken any major attack without perceived greenlight from ISI.

This does not mean that an attack from LeT can be ruled out. ISI could allow the group to carry out an attack if, in the absence of a better reason, it feels that the pressure from within the group will start causing dissent and fractures, just like it happened in 2008. It is in ISI’s best interest that Lashkar remains a strong, united ally. Knowing this, it is important to note that a large-scale attack in India by Lashkar is arguably the most likely trigger to a full-blown conflict between the two nations. Even a smaller-scale attack has the potential of provoking India, especially under Modi.

If such an attack where to happen, India would not be expected to display a weak-kneed gesture, as PM Modi’s policy is that of a tough and powerful approach in defence vis-à-vis both Pakistan and China. This has already been made evident by its retaliation for the Fidayeen attack at Uri brigade headquarters by Jaish-e-Muhammad in 2016[26]. It has now become evident that if Pakistan continues to harbour terrorist groups against India as its strategic assets, there will be no military restraint by India as long as Modi is in power, who will respond with massive retaliation. In its fragile economic condition, Pakistan will not be able to sustain a long-drawn war effort[27].

On the other hand, Afghanistan, which has been the other focus of Pakistan’s proxy groups, is now undergoing a process which could result in a major organizational shift. The Taliban insurgent movement has been able survive this long due to the sanctuary and support provided by Pakistan[28]. Furthermore, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba’s participation in the Afghan insurgency furthered the Pakistani military’s goal of having a friendly, anti-India partner on its western border[29]. The development and outcome of the intra-Afghan talks will determine the continued use of proxies in the country. However, we can realistically assume that, at least in the near future, radical groups will maintain some degree of activity in Afghanistan.

It is highly unlikely that the Pakistani intelligence establishment will stop engaging with radical groups, as it sees in them a very useful strategic tool for achieving its security goals. However, Pakistan’s plausible deniability approach will come into question, as its close ties with Lashkar-e-Tayyiba make it increasingly hard for it to deny involvement in its acts with any credibility. Regarding India, any kind of offensive from this group could result in a large-scale conflict. This is precisely the most likely scenario to occur, as Modi’s history with Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and their twelve-year-long “hiatus” from impactful attacks could propel the organization to take action that will impact the whole region.


Drug trafficking constitutes an important problem for Pakistan. It originates in Afghanistan, from where thousands of tonnes are smuggled out every year, using Pakistan as a passageway to provide the world with heroin and opioids[30]. The following concept map has been elaborated with information from diverse sources[31] to present the different aspects of the problem aimed to better comprehend the complex situation.


Source: Encyclopedia Britannica


Afghanistan, one of the world’s largest heroin producers, has supplied up to 60% and 80% of the U.S. and European markets, respectively. The landlocked country takes advantage of its blurred border line, and the remoteness and inaccessibility of the sparsely populated bordering regions with Pakistan, using it as a conduct to send its drugs globally. The Pakistani government is under a lot of pressure from the international community to fight and minimize drug trafficking from its territory.

Pakistan feels a special kind of pressure from the European Union, as its GSP+ status could be affected if it does not control this problem. The GSP+ is dependent on the implementation of 27 international conventions related to human rights, labour rights, protection of the environment and good governance, including the UN Convention on Fighting Illegal Drugs[32]. Pakistan was granted GSP+ status in 2014 and has shown commitment to maintaining ratifications and meeting reporting obligations to the UN Treaty bodies[33]. However, one of the aspects of the scheme is its “temporary withdrawal and safeguard” measure, which means the preferences can be immediately withdrawn if the country is unable to control drug trafficking effectively[34]. This has not been the case, and the EU has recognized Pakistan’s efforts in the fight on drugs; the UN has also removed it from the list of cannabis resin production countries[35]. Anti-corruption frameworks have been strengthened, along with legislation review and awareness building, but they have been advised that better coordination between law enforcement agencies is needed[36].

The GSP+ status is very important to Pakistan, as the European Union is their first trade partner, absorbing over a third of their total exports in 2018, followed by the U.S., China and Afghanistan[37]. The Union can use this as leverage to obtain concessions from Pakistan. However, the approach they have taken so far has been of collaboration in many areas, including transnational organized crime, money laundering and counter-narcotics[38]. In this sense, the EU ambassador to Pakistan recently stated that the new Strategic Engagement Plan of 2019 would “further boost their relations in diverse fields”[39].

Even with combined efforts, erradicating the drug trafficking problem in Pakistan has proven to be very difficult. This is because production of the drug is not done in its territory, and even if border patrols are strengthened, it will be very hard to stop drugs from coming in from its neighbour if the Afghan government doesn’t take appropriate measures themselves.


Source: Encyclopedia Britannica


A “5 whys” exercise has led us to understand that the root cause of the problem is the fact that most farmers in Afghanistan are too poor to turn to different crops. A nearly two decade war has ravaged the country’s land, leaving opium crops, which are cheaper and easier to maintain, as the only option for most farmers in this agrarian nation. A substantial investment in the country’s agriculture to produce more economic options would be needed if any serious advance is expected to be made in stopping illegal drug trafficking. These investments will have to be a joint effort of the international community, and funding for the government will also be necessary, if stability is to be reached. Unless this is done, opium will likely remain entangled in the rural economy, the Taliban insurgency, and the government corruption whose sum is the Afghan conundrum[40]. And as long as this does not happen, it is highly unlikely that Pakistan will be able to make any substantial progress in its effort to fight illicit drugs.

[1] Khurshid Khan and Afifa Kiran, “Emerging Tendencies of Radicalization in Pakistan,” Strategic Studies, vol. 32, 2012.

[2] Hassan N. Gardezi, “Pakistan: The Power of Intelligence Agencies,” South Asia Citizenz Web, 2011,

[3] Madiha Afzal, “Saudi Arabia’s Hold on Pakistan,” 2019,

[4] Gardezi, “Pakistan: The Power of Intelligence Agencies.”

[5] Ibid.

[6] Myriam Renaud, “Pakistan’s Plan to Reform Madrasas Ignores Why Parents Enrol Children in First Place,” The Globe Post, May 20, 2019,

[7] Ibid.

[8] Drazen Jorgic and Asif Shahzad, “Pakistan Begins Crackdown on Mlitant Groups amid Global Pressure,” Reuters, March 5, 2019,

[9] Saad Sayeed, “Pakistan Plans to Bring 20,000 Madrasas under Government Control,” Reuters, April 29, 2019.

[10] Renaud, “Pakistan’s Plan to Reform Madrasas Ignores Why Parents Enrol Children in First Place.”

[11] International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clininc (Stanford Law Review) and Global Justice Clinic (NYE School of Law), “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan,” 2012,

[12] Saba Noor, “Radicalization to De-Radicalization: The Case of Pakistan,” Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses 5, no. 8 (2013): 16–19.

[13] Muhammad Iqbal Roy and Abdul Rehman, “Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism Strategy (2001-2019): Evolution, Paradigms, Prospects and Challenges,” Journal of Politics and International Studies 5, no. July-December (2019): 1–13.

[14] Madiha Afzal, “A Country of Radicals? Not Quite,” in Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State (Brookings Institution Press, 2018), 208,

[15] Ibid.

[16] John Crisafulli et al., “Recommendations for Success in Afghanistan,” 2019,

[17] Tricia Bacon, “The Evolution of Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Tayyiba,” Orbis, no. Winter (2019): 27–43.

[18] Susannah George and Shaiq Hussain, “Pakistan Hopes Its Steps to Fight Terrorism Will Keep It off a Global Blacklist,” The Washington Post, February 21, 2020.

[19] Husain Haqqani, “FAFT’s Grey List Suits Pakistan’s Jihadi Ambitions. It Only Worries Entering the Black List,” Hudson Institute, February 28, 2020.

[20] Bacon, “The Evolution of Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Tayyiba.”

[21] Ibid.

[22] Farhan Zahid, “Profile of Jaish-e-Muhammad and Leader Masood Azhar,” Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses 11, no. 4 (2019): 1–5,

[23] Tricia Bacon, “Preventing the Next Lashkar-e-Tayyiba Attack,” The Washington Quarterly 42, no. 1 (2019): 53–70.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Abhinav Pandya, “The Future of Indo-Pak Relations after the Pulwama Attack,” Perspectives on Terrorism 13, no. 2 (2019): 65–68,

[27] Ibid.

[28] Crisafulli et al., “Recommendations for Success in Afghanistan.”

[29] Bacon, “The Evolution of Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Tayyiba.”

[30] Alfred W McCoy, “How the Heroin Trade Explains the US-UK Failure in Afghanistan,” The Guardian, January 9, 2018,

[31] Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray and Dr. Shanthie Mariet D Souza, “The Afghanistan-India Drug Trail - Analysis,” Eurasia Review, August ,; Mehmood Hassan Khan, “Kashmir and Power Politics,” Defence Journal 23, no. 2 (2019); McCoy, “How the Heroin Trade Explains the US-UK Failure in Afghanistan”; Pakistan United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Country Office, “Illicit Drug Trends in Pakistan,” 2008, Drug Trends Report_Pakistan_rev1.pdf; “Country Profile - Pakistan,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2020,

[32] European Commission, “Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP),” 2020,

[33] High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, “The EU Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance ('GSP+’) Assessment of Pakistan Covering the Period 2018-2019” (Brussels, 2020).

[34] Dr. Zobi Fatima, “A Brief Overview of GSP+ for Pakistan,” Pakistan Journal of European Studies 34, no. 2 (2018),

[35] High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, “The EU Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance ('GSP+’) Assessment of Pakistan Covering the Period 2018-2019.”

[36] Fatima, “A Brief Overview of GSP+ for Pakistan.”

[37] UN Comtrade Analytics, “Trade Dashboard,” accessed March 27, 2020,

[38] European External Action Services, “EU-Pakistan Five Year Engagement Plan” (European Union, 2017),; European Union External Services, “EU-Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan 2019” (European Union, 2019),

[39] “EU Ready to Help Pakistan in Expanding Its Reports: Androulla,” Business Recorder, October 23, 2019.

[40] McCoy, “How the Heroin Trade Explains the US-UK Failure in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan, an introduction to its strategic parameters

Prime Minister Imran Kahn, at the United Nations General Assembly, in 2019 [UN]

▲ Prime Minister Imran Kahn, at the United Nations General Assembly, in 2019 [UN]

ESSAY / M. Biera, H. Labotka, A. Palacios

The geographical location of a country is capable of determining its destiny. This is the thesis defended by Whiting Fox in his book "History from a Geographical Perspective". In particular, he highlights the importance of the link between history and geography in order to point to a determinism in which a country's aspirations are largely limited (or not) by its physical place in the world.[1]

Countries try to overcome these limitations by trying to build on their internal strengths. In the case of Pakistan, these are few, but very relevant in a regional context dominated by the balance of power and military deterrence.

The first factor that we highlight in this sense is related to Pakistan's nuclear capacity. In spite of having officially admitted it in 1998, Pakistan has been a country with nuclear capacity, at least, since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's government started its nuclear program in 1974 under the name of Project-706 as a reaction to the once very advanced Indian nuclear program.[2]

The second factor is its military strength. Despite the fact that they have publicly refused to participate in politics, the truth is that all governments since 1947, whether civil or military, have had direct or indirect military support.[3] The governments of Ayub Khan or former army chief Zia Ul-Haq, both through a coup d'état, are faithful examples of this capacity for influence.[4]

The existence of an efficient army provides internal stability in two ways: first, as a bastion of national unity. This effect is quite relevant if we take into account the territorial claims arising from the ethnic division caused by the Durand Line. Secondly, it succeeds in maintaining the state's monopoly on force, preventing its disintegration as a result of internal ethnic disputes and terrorism instigated by Afghanistan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA region).[5]

Despite its internal strengths, Pakistan is located in one of the most insecure geographical areas in the world, where border conflicts are intermingled with religious and identity-based elements. Indeed, the endless conflict over Kashmir against India in the northeastern part of the Pakistani border or the serious internal situation in Afghanistan have been weighing down the country for decades, both geo-politically and economically. The dynamics of regional alliances are not very favourable for Pakistan either, especially when US preferences, Pakistan's main ally, seem to be mutating towards a realignment with India, Pakistan's main enemy.[6] 

On the positive side, a number of projects are underway in Central Asia that may provide an opportunity for Pakistan to re-launch its economy and obtain higher standards of stability domestically. The most relevant is the New Silk Road undertaken by China. This project has Pakistan as a cornerstone in its strategy in Asia, while it depends on it to achieve an outlet to the sea in the eastern border of the country and investments exceeding 11 billion dollars are expected in Pakistan alone[7]. In this way, a realignment with China can help Pakistan combat the apparent American disengagement from Pakistani interests.

For all these reasons, it is difficult to speak of Pakistan as a country capable of carving out its own destiny, but rather as a country held hostage to regional power dynamics. Throughout this document, a review of the regional phenomena mentioned will be made in order to analyze Pakistan's behavior in the face of the different challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.


Right after the downfall of the British colony of the East Indies colonies in 1947 and the partition of India the Dominion of Pakistan was formed, now known by the title of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Partition of India divided the former British colony into two separated territories, the Dominion of Pakistan and the Dominion of India. By then, Pakistan included East Pakistan (modern day) Pakistan and Oriental Pakistan (now known as Bangladesh).

It is interesting to point out that the first form of government that Pakistan experienced was something similar to a democracy, being its founding father and first Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Political history in Pakistan consists of a series of eras, some democratically led and others ruled by the military branch which controls a big portion of the country.

—The rise of Pakistan as a Muslim democracy: 1957-1958. The era of Ali Jinnah and the First Indo-Pakistani war.

—In 1958 General Ayub Khan achieved to complete a coup d’état in Pakistan due to the corruption and instability.

—In 1971 General Khan resigned his position and appointed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as president, but, lasted only 6 years. The political instability was not fruitful and rivalry between political parties was. But in 1977 General Zia-ul-Haq imposed a new order in Pakistan.

—From 1977 to 1988 Zia-ul-Haq imposed an Islamic state.

—In the elections of 1988 right after Zia-ul-Haq’s death, President Benazir Bhutto became the very first female leader of Pakistan. This period, up to 1999 is characterized by its democracy but also, by the Kargil War.

—In 1999 General Musharraf took control of the presidency and turned it 90º degrees, opening its economy and politics. In 2007 Musharraf announced his resignation leaving open a new democratic era characterized by the War on Terror of the United States in Afghanistan and the Premiership of Imran Khan.



Human and physical geography

The capital of Pakistan is Islamabad, and as of 2012 houses a population of 1,9 million people. While the national language of Pakistan is English, the official language is Urdu; however, it is not spoken as a native language. Afghanistan is Pakistan’s neighbor to the northwest, with China to the north, as well as Iran to the west, and India to the east and south.[8]

Pakistan is unique in the way that it possesses many a geological formation, like forests, plains, hills, etcetera. It sits along the Arabian Sea and is home to the northern Karakoram mountain range, and lies above Iranian, Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. There are three dominant geographical regions that make up Pakistan: the Indus Plain, which owes its name to the river Indus of which Pakistan’s dominant rivers merge; the Balochistan Plateau, and the northern highlands, which include the 2nd highest mountain peak in the world, and the Mount Godwin Austen.[9] Pakistan’s traditional regions are a consequence of progression. These regions are echoed by the administrative distribution into the provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which includes FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and Balochistan.

Each of these regions is “ethnically and linguistically distinct.”[10] But why is it important to understand Pakistan’s geography? The reason is, and will be discussed further in detail in this paper, the fact that “terror is geographical” and Pakistan is “at the epicenter of the neo-realist, militarist geopolitics of anti-terrorism and its well-known manifestation the ‘global war on terror’...”[11]

Punjabi make up more than 50% of the ethnic division in Pakistan, and the smallest division is the Balochi. We should note that Balochistan, however small, is an antagonistic region for the Pakistani government. The reason is because it is a “base for many extremist and secessionist groups.” This is also important because CPEC, the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is anticipated to greatly impact the area, as a large portion of the initiative is to be constructed in that region. The impact of CPEC is hoped to make that region more economically stable and change the demography of this region.[12]

The majority of Pakistani people are Sunni Muslims, and maintain Islamic tradition. However, there is a significant number of Shiite Muslims. Religion in Pakistan is so important that it is represented in the government, most obviously within the Islamic Assembly (Jamāʿat-i Islāmī) party which was created in 1941.[13]

This is important. The reason being is that there is a history of sympithism for Islamic extremism by the government, and giving rise to the expansion of the ideas of this extremism. Historically, Pakistan has not had a strict policy against jihadis, and this lack of policy has poorly affected Pakistan’s foreign policy, especially its relationship with the United States, which will be touched upon in this paper.

Current Situation: Domestic politics, the military and the economy

Imran Khan was elected and took office on August 18th, 2018. Before then, the previous administrations had been overshadowed by suspicions of corruption. What also remained important was the fact that his election comes after years of a dominating political power, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Imran Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) surfaced as the majority in the Pakistan’s National Assembly. However, there is some debate by specialists on how prepared the new prime minister is to take on this extensive task.

Economically, Pakistan was in a bad shape even before the global Coronavirus-related crisis. In October 2019, the IMF predicted that the country's GDP would increase only 2.4% in 2020, compared with 5,2% registered in 2017 and 5,5% in 2018; inflation would arrive to 13% in 2020, three times the registered figure of 2017 and 2018, and gross debt would peak at 78.6%, ten points up from 2017 and 2018.[14] This context led to the Pakistani government to ask for a loan to the IMF, and a $6 billion loan was agreed in July 2019. In addition, Pakistan got a $2 billion from China. Later on, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the IMF worsened its estimations on Pakistan's economy, and predicted that its GDP would grow minus 1.5% in 2020 and 2% in 2021.[15]

Throughout its history, Pakistan has been a classic example of a “praetorian state”, where the military dominates the political institutions and regular functioning. The political evolution is represented by a routine change “between democratic, military, or semi military regime types.” There were three critical pursuits towards a democratic state that are worth mentioning, that started in 1972 and resulted in the rise of democratically elected leaders. In addition to these elections, the emergence of new political parties also took place, permitting us to make reference to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).[16]

Civilian - military relations are characterized by the understanding that the military is what ensures the country’s “national sovereignty and moral integrity”. There resides the ambiguity: the intervention of the military regarding the institution of a democracy, and the sabotage by the same military leading it to its demise. In addition to this, to the people of Pakistan, the military has retained the impression that the government is incapable of maintaining a productive and functioning state, and is incompetent in its executing of pertaining affairs. The role of the military in Pakistani politics has hindered any hope of the country implementing a stable democracy. To say the least, the relationship between the government and the resistance is a consistent struggle.[17]

The military has extended its role today with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The involvement of the military has affected “four out of five key areas of civilian control”. Decision making was an area that was to be shared by the military and the people of Pakistan, but has since turned into an opportunity for the military to exercise its control due to the fact that CPEC is not only a “corporate mega project” but also a huge economic opportunity, and the military in Pakistan continues to be the leading force in the creation of the guidelines pertaining to national defense and internal security. Furthermore, accusations of corruption have not helped; the Panama Papers were “documents [exposing] the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders.”[18] These findings further the belief that Pakistan’s leaders are incompetent and incapable of effectively governing the country, and giving the military more of a reason to continue and increase its interference. In consequence, the involvement of civilians in policy making is declining steadily, and little by little the military seeks to achieve complete autonomy from the government, and an increased partnership with China. It is safe to say that CPEC would have been an opportunity to improve military and civilian relationships, however it seems to be an opportunity lost as it appears the military is creating a government capable of functioning as a legitimate operation.[19]


[1] Gottmann, J., & Fox, E. W. (1973). History in Geographic Perspective: The Other France. Geographical Review.

[2] Tariq Ali (2009). The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power

[3] Marquina, A. (2010). La Política de Seguridad y Defensa de la Unión Europea. 28, 441–446.

[4] Tariq Ali (2009). Ibíd.

[5] Sánchez de Rojas Díaz, E. (2016). ¿Es Paquistán uno de los países más conflictivos del mundo? Los orígenes del terrorismo en Paquistán.

[6] Ríos, X. (2020). India se alinea con EE.UU

[8] Szczepanski, Kallie. "Pakistan | Facts and History." ThoughtCo. 

[9] Pakistan Insider. “Pakistan's Geography, Climate, and Environment.” Pakistan Insider, February 9, 2012.

[10] Burki, Shahid Javed, and Lawrence Ziring. “Pakistan.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., March 6, 2020.

[11] Mustafa, Daanish, Nausheen Anwar, and Amiera Sawas. “Gender, Global Terror, and Everyday Violence in Urban Pakistan.” Elsevier. Elsevier Ltd., December 4, 2018

[12] Bhattacharjee, Dhrubajyoti. “China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).” Indian Council of World Affairs, May 12, 2015

[13] Burki, Shahid Javed, and Lawrence Ziring. Ibíd.

[14] IMF, “Economic Outlook”, October 2019.

[15]  IMF, “World Economic Outlook”, April 2020.

[16]  Wolf, Siegfried O. “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Civil-Military Relations and Democracy in Pakistan.” SADF Working Paper, no. 2 (September 13, 2016)

[17] Ibíd.

[18]Giant Leak of Offshore Financial Records Exposes Global Array of Crime and Corruption.The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, April 3, 2016. 

[19] Wolf, Siegfried O. Ibíd.