PAKISTAN today has achieved a measure of political, security and economic stability — due largely to the strategic clarity imposed by the ‘security establishment’ — and happenstance. Domestic and externally sponsored terrorism has been reduced though not eliminated. Pakistan has not succumbed to India’s belligerence and bullying.
The spreading turmoil in Afghanistan has, so far, had a limited fallout on Pakistan. Relations with the US appear to be on an even keel. The strategic relationship with China is being consolidated including under the rubric of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. New prospects of cooperation have been opened with Russia and Iran, although the ties with traditional friends in the Gulf have deteriorated significantly. The economy has stabilised and shows promise of growth. There are no dark clouds on the domestic political horizon.
Yet, this stability is fragile and incomplete. With the ‘correlation of forces’ in perpetual motion, equilibriums cannot always be preserved by inaction. There are present and impending threats to Pakistan’s stability which require a dynamic response.
The most immediate threat continues to be posed by terrorism and extremist violence. The ubiquitous military campaigns undertaken must be followed by comprehensive action — political, economic, social and cultural — to ensure sustained success. In this context, the vocal complaint from the military of civilian laxity in implementing the much heralded National Action Plan is disturbing. Hopefully, all arms of the government will be energised in the wake of the army’s complaint.
Our stability is dependent on achieving equitable economic development and evolving stable governance.
Policy action is also essential to insulate Pakistan from the escalating chaos and conflict in Afghanistan. The collapse of the dysfunctional and frequently hostile Kabul government, the splintering of the Afghan Taliban, the emergence of terrorists of the self-styled Islamic State, and a Hobbesian civil war in Afghanistan, could erode Pakistan’s stability. It must, therefore, contribute to the thankless task of Afghan reconciliation.
But, rather than hosting public dialogues between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban, and making promises which it may not be able to fulfil, Pakistan should undertake quiet efforts to promote reconciliation and reduce the violence in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan’s own interests — to eliminate the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and its cross-border attacks — must remain central. The Afghan Taliban must be convinced to break all links with the TTP and Kabul (and its patrons) must also be responsive to Pakistan’s concerns regarding the TTP and India’s military and intelligence activities in Afghanistan.
India continues to pose the major threat to Pakistan’s security and stability. Normalisation will remain a chimera while Narendra Modi rules in New Delhi. Pakistan should adopt a policy of ‘dignified distance’ from the Bharatiya Janata Party government.
Unfortunately, the BJP’s domestic decline — as manifested in the Delhi and Bihar elections — may lead Modi to embark on a chauvinist adventure against Pakistan to revive popular support. Thus, Pakistan must maintain ‘full-spectrum deterrence’ against an increasingly militarised India and reject discriminatory restraints. But Pakistan can offer reciprocal restraint to India to prevent the ‘nuclear nightmare’ which can result from a conflict between the two countries.
On terrorism too, Pakistan should insist on reciprocity. Since the previous government agreed to outlaw the pro-Kashmiri Lashkar-e-Taiba, Islamabad has been obliged to swim against the tide of domestic opinion while acting against it. This is all the more reason to expose and outlaw India’s state-sponsored terrorism against Pakistan which Indian officials have proudly admitted.
Nor can Pakistan remain passive on Kashmir. Even if Pakistan does nothing, the Kashmiris will, sooner rather than later, rise in another revolt against India’s heavy-handed occupation. Inevitably, Pakistan will be blamed for the resulting violence and ‘terrorism’. To avert another Pakistan-India crisis, if not to fulfil its political and moral obligation to the Kashmiris, Pakistan must promote an active diplomatic effort to halt India’s oppression and secure the inalienable rights of the Kashmiri people.
Growing great power rivalry may also threaten Pakistan’s stability. Pakistan’s strategic relationship with China is pivotal to its security. The closer American alignment with India to contain China may produce further and more blatant attempts by Washington to extract unilateral strategic concessions from Pakistan. These must be boldly rejected.
To do so, Pakistan needs to reduce its financial dependence on the West. However, promoting cooperation with the US wherever interests are convergent — counterterrorism, Afghanistan, investment, development — can also help to maintain a balanced relationship with the US.
Islamabad has been wise to avoid involvement in the sectarian wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Delicate diplomacy will continue to be required to balance relations between an unshackled Iran and an angry Saudi Arabia as they vie for regional influence. Pakistan’s priority must be to ensure that no Pakistani groups become associated with the self-styled Islamic State or other extremist Sunni or Shia groups engaged in these conflicts.
Ultimately, Pakistan’s stability is dependent on achieving equitable economic development and evolving a stable system of political governance.
Pakistan’s present economic balance has been achieved mainly by exogenous and temporary factors — low oil prices, remittances, bond sales and IMF support. To sustain and accelerate growth, Pakistan needs to expand government revenues, restructure its energy policies, reform its loss-making state corporations and mobilise significant domestic and foreign investment. Without growing prosperity and jobs, socio-economic strife will not be averted for long within the country.
A shaky ‘democracy’ has survived — but only just — for several years. It is an inconvenient fact that the country’s present relative stability would not have been possible without the firm guiding hand of the Pakistan military. Reforms in Pakistan’s political and governance structures — to enhance accountability, efficiency and honesty of elected representatives and the sprawling bureaucracy — are essential and overdue. The present interregnum of relative stability is a good time to embark on these reforms.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2015