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The chief’s choice

Published Dec 06, 2016 01:35am

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INCOMING army chief Gen Bajwa takes over at a time when Pakistan is already on the road to recovery. Since 2010, the country has experienced a significant reduction in terrorist violence. The economy has also begun to rebound. Gen Bajwa and the civilian government could keep doing more of the same to achieve further incremental progress. But this would reflect a ‘good enough’ approach. It’ll definitely keep Pakistan out of the ICU but we’ll still be weak and frail.

Would the general consider what it would take to make Pakistan a truly economically successful and peaceful country that is respected by the world? Will he be willing to introspect and identify the deepest binding constraints holding Pakistan back and where his institution may have been part of the problem?

What may he discover?

First, that Pakistan’s current strategic paradigm guarantees that it will remain economically mediocre. A big reason is the security establishment’s regional outlook. Since the 1990s, when regional trading blocs became fashionable, overwhelming evidence has pointed to a direct correlation between strong regional economic interaction and national growth and progress of the countries involved. In our case, it would mean opening up economically to India.


What are the options for peace?


Naysayers argue that rather than singling out the India piece, we need to focus on domestic economic reforms, explore alternative trading and investment partners, and recognise that CPEC is a game changer. The general should sit with trade economists to understand the flaws in this contention. Even when we add up realistic appraisals of possible reforms, includes CPEC, and factor in new export markets Pakistan can tap, we still end up well short of what the country needs to keep competing with India and other peer countries.

More importantly, it is absolute, not relative, gains that matter. We need to be concerned about the additional growth we would generate from acting as a trade and transit hub for the near and far neighbourhood and the force-multiplier effect it would have rather than what India or others might get out of the arrangement. Plainly, the new chief must know that keeping the region closed guarantees that India and Pakistan’s differential will continue to grow in New Delhi’s favour.

Thinking through alternatives, he should consult political economists who can demonstrate policy options to allow greater regional integration without capitulating to India — rather, while strengthening Pakistan’s hand over the long run. I have repeatedly elaborated on these options in my columns.

Next, how does Pakistan go from the recent improvements in fighting domestic terrorism to durable peace? The answer one universally gets from experts is that the next counterterrorism phase is likely to be focused on urban areas and requires exemplary coordination between the military and civilians on implementing the National Action Plan.

The army chief has two challenges here. One, that the civilian sector is exceptionally weak. He can’t do much about it. Two, that civilian politicos and law-enforcement institutions feel that the security establishment operates more as a master than a friend. This, he must fix.

In researching for my edited book Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Challenge some years ago, I was alarmed at just how deep the distrust between civilian law-enforcement and intelligence and the military was. At times, the civilian sphere echoed views of the establishment’s intentions not much different from what one hears in the most critical quarters of the Western world. The military, on its part, not only finds these views exaggerated and misinformed, but tends to see its civilian counterparts as apathetic and worthless.

With such a disconnect, you can’t hope for much in terms of coordination. If so, efforts in pursuit of NAP will remain disjointed and suboptimal. Militant outfits will be the ultimate beneficiaries, and both the civilians and military fighting them will continue to incur losses.

Finally, little respect for Pakistan internationally implies all sorts of losses in terms of economic activity, increased risk of global isolation, etc.

If the general is a realist, he’ll realise the basic problem: Pakistan’s security policy runs smack in the face of the interests of world’s only superpower and its chief partners in South Asia. The US-led international community has forged a universal consensus that policies linked to violent non-state actors specifically of the Islamist bent are no longer acceptable. The apparent inability or unwillingness to tackle allegedly Pakistan-based violent actors aimed at Afghanistan and India defies this consensus. Fair or not, till this holds, Pakistan’s global perception will keep taking a major hit.

Gen Bajwa should work with his team to identify policy choices that protect Pakistan’s national interests, but without undermining or antagonising the US. Incidentally, this is exactly the advice his predecessors and Pakistan’s civilian leaders have consistently received from China.

Pakistan needs more than a good enough approach from its civilian and military leadership. The new army chief can set the tone for his institution.

The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington, DC.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2016



The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (20) Closed



IK Dec 06, 2016 01:47am

Very Good article

Zak Dec 06, 2016 02:51am

We have China and our future lies in total political, economic integration with Chinese mainland on the lines of HK, We don't need India but we need Kashmir territory under our control .

Feroz Dec 06, 2016 05:28am

Use of non State actors has affected Pakistan's image adversely, bringing both diplomatic isolation as well as economic stagnation due to lack of FDI. Time to move on with better policies and strategies.

Haider Dec 06, 2016 07:22am

Atleast somebody's talking sense

GilGit Dec 06, 2016 08:01am

I agree. We need to become the central hub for trade in South Asia and open up our economy (even to India) to ensure that that the power differential between us and India doesn't keep growing at the current rate. We have immense potential to make this a reality and dramatically improve our economy, but does our establishment have the will and foresight to take us down this new path?

vs Dec 06, 2016 08:16am

Well said ..it's high time Pakistan need to consider the suggestion seriously

wellwisher Dec 06, 2016 08:35am

right advise, will be ignored

AJax Dec 06, 2016 08:36am

Man, Pakistan needs lots of work. Good article that describes the "issues"

Akil Akhtar Dec 06, 2016 08:55am

We need to be strong to have peace....

Last Word Dec 06, 2016 09:41am

A meaningful and apt analysis. The new Pakistan's Army Chief can prove to be a game changer for internal as well as external situation scenarios. Pakistan can easily switch over from a security state to a vibrant economy by changing its decades old policy on non-state actors focusing solely on its economy. When half of the world is fighting terrorism, Pakistan can ill-afford to support the same on the basis of its national interests which has found no takers at the international level. This is evident from the setbacks suffered on this issue for the past six months in terms of US support, isolation at regional and international forums along with rising tension with neighbours.

Nagi Dec 06, 2016 09:54am

Right approach to tackle current Pakistan issues. I hope someone read them and act upon them

Sh Khan Dec 06, 2016 04:55pm

@wellwisher - Can you Mr Yousaf to write about PM's corruption, he will never do this? Chief is very well educated. Has done professional courses and training, and after 40 years of experience, he got this job, writer must keep this in mind.

Riz Dec 06, 2016 05:35pm

Moeed, a very astute analysis ..like all your previous articles. Its a shame, people read but dont comprehend! Bottom line is without peace there is no progress.

Riz Dec 06, 2016 05:37pm

@Zak. Please read this article again..and try to understand what the writer is saying!!

Ram Dec 06, 2016 06:20pm

Dear Yusuf Sir, since long you are trying to make Pakistani understand the importance of economy. I don't know, who will listen to you. But, I ensure you are listened and understood by many in India. You being highly patriotic to pakistan writes the economic facts. Great article

Sachin Dec 06, 2016 07:06pm

The highest calibre newssite in Southasia Dawn. The best quality of writers and thinkers - Dawn. Admirer from India.

ANSARI Dec 06, 2016 09:36pm

We've tried out the US and look where it got us. We've suffered massively because of the War on Terror. Sure thing it's a need of the hour to have our neighbours trading with us for the economy to progress if we want to be on level terms with our neighbouring arch nemesis. But let's be honest, the US isn't really interested in Pakistan anymore besides the freight overland the latter provides for the NATO. Strategically, India has become the partner of the US and Pakistan seems only to be a transitional state for the transportation of NATO disposition.

Ash20 Dec 06, 2016 11:48pm

Another article with clarity from Moeed but unfortunately nobody is listening.

AW Dec 07, 2016 01:24am

Very sensible recommendations

AW Dec 07, 2016 01:33am

Accurate and candid analysis. Would the decision makers listen?