WASHINGTON: Instability in Pakistan could destabilise the entire region and lead to war, warns former US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad while explaining why he is interested in recent developments in the country.

Mr Khalilzad, who negotiated a US deal with the Taliban that led to withdrawal of Nato forces from Afghanistan, has recently posted a series of tweets on the situation in Pakistan. In those tweets, he urged Pakistani politicians and the establishment not to allow the situation to get out of hand and resolve their differences through talks.

In an interview with Dawn, he ex­­plained how Pakistan’s domestic di­­sputes forced him to share his views.

Asked what’s the cause of his increased interest in Pakistan, he said: “I am concerned about the deepening triple crisis in Pakistan: economic, political and security. Pakistan is becoming unstable, poorer, and less secure.”

He pointed out that state institutions, including the judiciary and the military, were becoming internally politicised and if the country continues on this course, it would “be a tragedy for Pakistan and its people”. “Economic activity will stall, poverty will increase, civil unrest will disrupt daily life,” Mr Khalilzad added.

Balance of power

He said he was worried also because “given Pakistan’s size and importance, its problems can also change the balance of power in the region and even lead to war”.

For instance, “an adversary might see opportunity in Pakistan’s disarray, or its own military may decide to create a diversion by externalising the conflict,” he added.

The immediate cause of this crisis, he says, “is the lack of rules of engagement among key political and military leaders of Pakistan,” which has “produced a zero-sum approach to power and inadequate respect for rule of law by some key leaders”.

Asked if Pakistan can come out of this crisis unharmed, he said: “I think it remains possible, but only if key persons and institutions start to put the national interest above their personal ambitions, grudges, and manoeuvrings.”

Mr Khalilzad warned that the crisis could have a serious impact on the region. “In the extreme it can affect the regional order to the disadvantage of Pakistan, and can even lead to increased problems of terrorism, large number of refugees, etc.”

The crisis, he said, was already having a negative impact on the economy. The rupee, he noted, had lost as much as 50 per cent of its value to the dollar, industrial production was down, and foreigners were putting their planned investment on hold or cancelling some plans altogether.

Mr Khalilzad, however, said that he was not worried about the safety of nuclear assets because “Pakistan’s record on this issue has been good. But, of course, a political collapse in Pakistan, God forbid — will raise concerns around the world on this issue”, he pointed out.

Mr Khalilzad noted that Pakistan has “rich natural resources, fertile land, hard-working people, an educated class, and energetic entrepreneurs.

“It should be a leader in the region. Instead, it now looks utterly dysfunctional, untrustworthy, and volatile, and economic activity is stalled.”

Mr Khalilzad said he did not view the situation in a partisan political way. “It’s clear to me that America, regardless of which party is in power, needs to be concerned about the crisis and should try to be helpful both directly when appropriate and via our international and regional partners and international organisations such as the IMF.”

Asked why he was supporting Imran Khan and not those in the PDM government, he said: “I admire Imran Khan for his tenacity and for his commitment to his country, and I believe that the manner in which he is being treated is extra-judicial, dangerous and unfair.”

But he clarified that his tweets were “principally motivated by my concerns for Pakistan as a whole, and the damage that the triple crisis is doing to the country.”

Explaining how this situation can be defused, he said: “I favour an agreement among the key leaders for overcoming these crises by re-establishing an orderly, predictable process. … The best option is a politically neutral establishment, rule of law, democracy, and elections.”

Mr Khalilzad said that “my views are a product of my own observations and concerns” and not influenced by his friends in the PTI.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2023

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