Maintaining security

Published March 17, 2024
The writer is a security analyst.
The writer is a security analyst.

THE new government has been sworn in and, as expected, has made the revival of the economy its top priority.

Everything is set for the continuity of policies formulated during the PDM coalition government’s rule, even with the change of a few faces brought in to negotiate with international lenders. No change in foreign and internal security policies is expected either, as both had been synchronised with the objective of reviving the economy.

Handling security-related policy affairs in Pakistan is considered a slippery slope, and civilian governments usually avoid intervening, leaving matters in the hands of the establishment. Security is a minefield for civilians, and both the PPP and PML-N have had a bitter experience handling affairs in this area.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari are both more pragmatic individuals and will try their utmost not to intervene in security affairs, which could disturb civil-military relations. There are very few chances that any standing committee of the Lower and Upper Houses will disturb the continuity of security policies.

It is true that parliamentary oversight over security affairs is essential to deal with existing challenges and to ensure transparency and accountability in the actions of institutions. However, the existing approach has been evolved keeping the economy in mind, and the establishment will not tolerate any deviation in the execution of the policy formulated.

The existing security framework has been built on the ‘doctrine of strength’, and there is little likelihood of a change in direction. This means that the authorities here will continue to put pressure on the Afghan Taliban to crack down on the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and other militant groups operating from Afghan soil. On its part, Kabul is likely to resist this pressure, and insist on a dialogue between Pakistan and the TTP. While the Taliban may have been facilitating backdoor communication between the two, prospects for peace remain dim. Pakistan demands a complete surrender and the renunciation of violence, which is not acceptable to the TTP and the Afghan Taliban.

It is likely that Pakistan will maintain some distance from the Taliban regime. This is partly due to pressure from its allies and lenders, who disapprove of close ties, such as those Pakistan had with the Taliban in the 1990s. However, China’s approach towards the Taliban is different. China is willing to give the Taliban regime a chance to prove itself. While China may not openly criticise Pakistan’s Afghan policy (the TTP, the Islamic State-Khorasan and the Taliban’s support for Baloch insurgents all threaten Chinese interests in Pakistan), Beijing will likely caution Pakistan against distancing itself too much from the Taliban, as re-engagement could become difficult at a later stage.

Handling security-related affairs in Pakistan is considered a slippery slope.

Pakistan would like to continue to maintain its existing relationship with India, avoiding any escalation. Pakistan prioritises peaceful relations with Iran. However, the Iranians will respond decisively to any perceived violation of their sovereignty, as demonstrated by the swift retaliation to the Jan 16 incident, when Iran conducted missile strikes in Pakistani territory, claiming to target a militant outfit.

Pakistan seeks investment from the Gulf countries and China and will fully address the security concerns of these partners. Pakistan has already established a comprehensive mechanism to address China’s specific security interests.

The security needs of the Gulf countries would be different, and these countries would need a robust private and public security sector to meet the concerns of Gulf investors. This focus goes beyond traditional military defence and emphasises the role of law-enforcement agencies such as police and the counterterrorism departments. The federal and provincial governments may play a nominal role in evolving mechanisms, except by providing support through regulations and legislation if required.

The most pressing challenge will likely come from Balochistan, where the insurgency is changing tactics, complicating both military and political engagement for the state. In his maiden speech after taking oath, Balochistan Chief Minister Sarfraz Bugti indicated that his government would also attempt a negotiation strategy with the insurgents. This statement directly contradicts his previous philosophy of brutally crushing the insurgency.

Despite concerns within the party, Bugti joined the PPP before the election and was elected chief minister. He is considered to be the establishment’s man, and his willingness to reconcile with the insurgents will be a significant test for him. Bugti has also stated that he will develop another programme, similar to the Balochistan package initiated by the PPP government in 2009 and continued under the PML-N and PTI governments. This programme was essentially an amnesty scheme for insurgents who were willing to lay down their arms. However, it failed due to poor planning and massive corruption.

The establishment’s dominance in the security field does not absolve the federal government of its own responsibilities. Its top priority will be addressing political agitation with a zero-tolerance approach. This would mean preventing religious-political parties and the PTI from launching protest movements in the streets of the federal and provincial capitals.

For the security establishment, political turmoil damages the country’s image and investor confidence more than terrorism in the peripheries. The National Accountability Bureau and the Federal Investigation Agency will fully support the government in dealing with the opposition and maintaining order in the country.

No one will stop the National Counter Terrorism Authority from drafting a few more versions of the National Internal Security Policy and other policies to counter violent extremism, which the federal cabinet will happily approve. After all, such policy drafts help boost the government’s image in the donor and lender community. However, like previous policies, these drafts will remain on the shelf.

Few are likely to highlight the missing persons issue, shrinking civil liberties and the decline of democratic values. Those who try to exploit such issues, which could harm the image of the country, would be punished severely by those in power who see this as harmful to the country’s image. Not even an Asad Toor would be able to survive.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2024

Editorial

Ominous demands
18 May, 2024

Ominous demands

THE cash-strapped government opened talks with the IMF this week in search of a larger and longer bailout. Nobody...
Property leaks
18 May, 2024

Property leaks

THE leaked Dubai property data reported on by media organisations around the world earlier this week seems to have...
Heat warnings
18 May, 2024

Heat warnings

STARTING next week, the country must brace for brutal heatwaves. The NDMA warns of severe conditions with...
Dangerous law
Updated 17 May, 2024

Dangerous law

It must remember that the same law can be weaponised against it one day, just as Peca was when the PTI took power.
Uncalled for pressure
17 May, 2024

Uncalled for pressure

THE recent press conferences by Senators Faisal Vawda and Talal Chaudhry, where they demanded evidence from judges...
KP tussle
17 May, 2024

KP tussle

THE growing war of words between KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur and Governor Faisal Karim Kundi is affecting...