No policy clarity

Updated March 30, 2014

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AT present, the pervasive characteristic of Pakistan’s security policies — regarding the TTP, Afghanistan and India — is reactive incoherence.

TTP: Despite the TTP’s escalated violence, the government has persisted in its preference for ‘talks’. The objectives sought to be achieved are unclear. Obviously, the government cannot accommodate any of the main demands of the TTP without compromising Pakistan’s Constitution and the country’s progress and prosperity. What is required in essence is the TTP’s surrender. Can this be achieved through talks and at this time?

The right time to negotiate with the TTP would be once it is militarily and politically on the defensive. This is the lesson of other successful counter insurgencies. Islamabad has reversed this order.

Nor can negotiations succeed unless these are conducted with the ‘principals’. Neither of the negotiating committees contains these. The TTP is a hydra-headed monster, which includes a score of extremist parties and groups, with diverse aims, composition, locations and affiliations. A large number of its members are foreigners — Arabs, Uzbeks and Afghans. Its affiliations are complex: Al Qaeda supports it; Afghan intelligence collaborates with it, and Indian intelligence has infiltrated it. Can negotiations succeed with these elements? Perhaps the government is smarter than presumed and will utilise these talks to divide the TTP into the good, bad and ugly. Perhaps it needs to go through the motions of these talks to justify the military action that will be inevitably required to defeat the TTP. Whatever the policy, it needs to be clearly articulated and secure public support. Else, it will fail.

Afghanistan: The ongoing transition in Afghanistan is likely to be messy and potentially dangerous for Pakistan. Yet, Islamabad is strangely silent on the developments next door. There has been no concerted response to President Karzai’s repeated diatribes against Pakistan and its security forces and agencies. Nor has any view been expressed on the US plans to leave behind a rump force in Afghanistan post-2014.

Even if Washington secures Afghan agreement to this, sustaining this reduced force will be difficult. Thus, unless a negotiated peace is achieved, Afghanistan is likely to descend into civil war. This will spread to Pakistan and also compromise Pakistan’s goal of neutralising the TTP.

Pakistan is well placed to promote a negotiated peace in Afghanistan. But to do so, it has to exercise its reputed influence with the Afghan Taliban; separate them from the TTP; build confidence with the successors of the Northern Alliance; promote dialogue with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China to forge regional support for a negotiated settlement.

India: The Pakistan government has made several gestures and pleas for good relations with India. These overtures have not been reciprocated. New Delhi has refused to engage with Pakistan except on terrorism and trade. It is obviously a tactical imperative for Pakistan to ease tensions with its eastern neighbour, particularly while it is preoccupied with internal security challenges and the difficult situation on its western border. But the gestures made to India need to be calculated and well-timed. Above all, these should not compromise Pakistan’s vital interests or positions.

The thesis that trade is the panacea for resolving Pakistan’s problems with India is naive and fallacious. Policies should not be adopted merely to ‘look good’. Offering MFN status to India on the eve of its elections and while the US and EU are filing WTO complaints against Indian trade restrictions, is to say the least, bad timing.

Islamabad needs to recognise, as New Delhi has, that Pakistan-India relations will remain adversarial. The primary requirement is to manage relations in ways that avoid crises and conflicts. Two issues are central to such management: Kashmir and the military balance. India’s ongoing repression in Kashmir can erupt at any time into widespread violence and spark a crisis. Pakistan needs to deploy its diplomacy to halt Indian excesses in Indian-held Kashmir and draw world attention to the legitimate aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Absent this, the Indian narrative of ‘Pakistan-sponsored terrorism’ will gain greater credibility.

Second, the international community must be made to realise that India’s feverish arms build-up is likely to create a situation where a future crisis or conflict between Pakistan and India can escalate quickly to the nuclear level. Unfortunately, this danger was not projected by Pakistan at the recent Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague.

The management of relations with India will become immensely more difficult if Narendra Modi becomes prime minister. Being business friendly is Modi’s slogan; in essence he remains a Hindu supremacist. His animus towards Pakistan, and Indian Muslims, may soon become visible. How will Pakistan respond?

There are three preconditions for policy clarity and their effective implementation.

One, a strategic vision. Is Pakistan’s leadership still guided by Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan as a democratic, progressive and tolerant state? If so, our policy direction should be clearly opposed to that of the religious extremists. Two, effective and professional institutions. Unfortunately, barring pockets of brilliance, Pakistan’s institutions of governance have steadily deteriorated over the past six decades. Three, consultation and coordination. Unless the executive and its ministries, parliament and the judiciary, as well as the armed forces, operate in unison, incoherence will not be overcome in policy formulation or execution.

Pakistan needs to get its policy house in order. The Ukraine crisis has illustrated how internal confusion, corruption and chaos can quickly become an existential threat to a nation.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.