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Defence challenges


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THE recent elections constitute a milestone in the country’s history; the earlier coalition government was rejected with not an insignificant degree of humiliation. This is a lesson that the incoming government ought to internalise: its future may well be the same unless its performance is different.

Incoming prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif will have his hands full; several matters are in dire straits and Pakistan has, in international eyes, become virtually a pariah state. The people are suffering due to the energy crisis and soaring unemployment rates while violent extremism is rapidly engulfing the country as a result of a lack of consensus among the political parties.

If history is any guide, Mian Sahib has always made controversial decisions regarding the selection of his chief of army staff; he has also had an up-and-down relationship with the armed forces. He has conducted the relations on the basis of personal preferences but the army is a disciplined and organised institution and its decisions follow a chain of command, through appropriate forums.

Normally, the most competent and possibly the most senior general ought to be appointed to the position of the army chief. But Mr Sharif was, in the past, averse to creating an institutional mechanism to deal with the armed forces and to understand and debate defence issues.

If Mr Sharif is averse to the idea of the National Security Council (NSC), then he has the option of strengthening the Defence Cabinet Committee with civilian defence experts and which should have a permanent secretariat; this secretariat could also draw suggestions from think tanks and other stakeholders. The country’s defence policy cannot be resolved through mere bonhomie between the prime minister and the chief of army staff.

There are also some reports that Mr Sharif is mulling over appointing a national security adviser. If this is the case, such an adviser should not be reduced to a ceremonial post. He should have competent staff at his disposal to gauge threats in the regional and global contexts and formulate the country’s defence policies in the best national interests.

The recommendations of this body and the suggestions of the GHQ should be juxtaposed and debated thoroughly at the Defence Cabinet Committee. Only then will we be able to devise an appropriate defence policy. Once this is achieved, other policies such as that on the foreign front will follow.

Mian Sahib has many plus points; he is well-received by Pakistan’s trading community and he is a diehard nationalist. He could turn the tide on the energy crises, corruption and unemployment through better governance and management, as his party has demonstrated in Punjab. He wants to improve relations with India which is not a bad idea but he appears to be soft on terrorism, which is a priority issue.

If the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government in KP doesn’t cooperate with the federal PML-N government, this could further complicate issues (although both parties’ take on terrorism is the same).

An improvement in relations with India is a good idea but the pros and cons needs to be discussed thoroughly. We have already been making distinct efforts in this regard but some hawks there have taken this as weakness and compulsion. Possible adverse effects on Pakistan’s trade will also need to be factored into the equation.

Curbing terrorism through negotiations and a mindset that says ‘this is not our war’ or ‘military solutions have never worked’ are mere political sloganeering. This is too simplistic a view about a monstrous issue that is eating into the vitals of the country.

However, since this has been the PML-N and the PTI’s political view, articulated through their election campaigns, they have all the right to pursue it to its logical end and the nation should pray for its success.

Yet I must utter a word of caution. The politicians should remember previous negotiations with the extremists and militants: the militants have always laced the offer of talks with preconditions such as the release of their most wanted men and have used the time gained to eliminate important personalities in government and society. They know that talks are just a farce, notwithstanding the seriousness on the government’s part.

The outcome of the decision to make an effort at negotiations is that either they will succeed — although the Taliban have spurned the talks offer at the moment following a drone attack that killed a TTP leader — or at least these two mainstream parties will be convinced that the solution to the problem is not as simple as they had thought. They may realise that the solution lies somewhere else. And this will bring consensus amongst political parties; the opinion of the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazal is best ignored.

We should also remember that we are part of the international community which is keenly watching the policy the new government will form on terrorism.

The writer is a retired brigadier, former home secretary of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and former secretary Fata.

Comments (14) Closed

gautam Jun 03, 2013 10:08am

He wants to improve relations with India which is not a bad idea .............

Pakistan has no choice. A terrorist labelled country with pathetic economic situation, Pakistan cannot afford to have frictions with India. Another misadventure will break the country. Remember 1965, which followed 1971.

G.A. Jun 04, 2013 12:10pm
As regards to peace talks with Taliban it's best to let PTI and PML see first hand whether the talks are workable. The onus would also be on TTP knowing full well that if talks fail, these parties would too turn on them with force and then there would be no confusion left amongst Pakistanis that TTP needs to be met with force with the entire nation behind the government.
Pakistani Jun 04, 2013 07:31am
Please stop this typical Indian rant. Why don't you sort your mess out before giving advise to anyone else. You have enough socio economic problems of your own and should serve your energy in trying to solve them first. Now lets have few comparisons between China and India shall we: China's energy consumption is 598% more than India, China has 200 billionaires, China
Zupta Jun 04, 2013 11:18pm
Why not suggest the same thing to your own government too, or it is different for your country.
Ken in Carmichael Jun 03, 2013 09:27pm
Surely you mean to only reduce the armed services. Soldiers with shoot to kill orders, not policemen, are required to protect nuclear weapons, even in a world without external enemies. This is a world where every nation has external enemies, both sovereign and terrorist. May God reduce both.
Silajit Jun 03, 2013 03:26pm
I cannot believe this person thinks that there are cons to improving relations. Also, there is no secret that Pakistan is in dire straits. So yes, some of the peace initiatives are coming from a position of weakness. Regardless of the posture, what is relevant is that India is NOT expecting is anything more than what was being expected previously. ie. let's make peace on all fronts and shut down and lock up militants, jehadis and freedom fighters that want to kill people in neighboring countries. That will set the stage for permanent peace.
ahmed rashid Jun 03, 2013 01:49pm
an excellent piece on what needs to be done as soon as possible.
Ravindra Sharma Jun 03, 2013 12:06pm
Please look at the situation in your so called all weather friend China whose internal security budget is more than the defence budget . Tight your internal security , increase your paramilitary forces to combat extremists and terrorists and make Pakistan a prosperous , peaceful and strong nation.
samar Jun 04, 2013 02:51pm
Good advice even for India.
Irrfaan Akhtaar Jun 04, 2013 02:22pm
India will come into pakistan and party there
iqbal carrim Jun 03, 2013 05:23am
Pakistan in ICU : restoration of law and order is a sine qua non for survival. This means a redeployment of all resources at its command - civil,military,economic.For the time being,the greatest danger to Pakistan is from within and it is not a short term treatment.
BRR Jun 03, 2013 04:40am
The challenges are not articulated clearly. Only the political issues related to defense have been described. Poor writing.
a.k.lal Jun 03, 2013 04:19am
get rid of armed forces.spend the money on human upliftment.strengthen police forces
Bubba Jun 04, 2013 10:51am
The author misses the "elephant in the room" - he doesn't control the military so it really doesn't matter what what experts he hires to advise him or what views he develops on defense. The rest of the World knows who controls defense and foreign policy - maybe it's time for Pakistani's to understand who controls what in their own country.