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Pakistan’s triple front

Published Feb 03, 2013 12:10am


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PAKISTAN is at another inflexion point in its eventful history. It confronts strategic challenges simultaneously on three fronts: internal, western and eastern.

The internal challenge is most palpable: economic stagnation; growing poverty and inequality; looming financial collapse; pervasive corruption; regional disaffection and endemic terrorist and sectarian violence. A political system controlled by feudal and money power appears impervious to cleansing change.

In the coming days, three possible scenarios could unfold. Optimistically, the strict and fair implementation of the constitution’s Articles 62 and 63 could result in the election of new, honest and competent representatives. But the odds are that the entrenched system will beat back reform. Either as a consequence, or anticipating this, Pakistan may experience yet another military intervention to impose change.

If business continues as usual, the country confronts the real prospect of economic collapse and popular revolt. This will intensify the threats from the western and eastern fronts.

Afghanistan is the second front.

US President Obama is determined to withdraw quickly from “America’s longest war”. Unless managed well, for Pakistan, an Afghanistan without America could be as bad as one with the latter.

One factor in determining the future conditions in Afghanistan is whether the US leaves behind troops there and how many. There is an internal debate between the US generals, who want a large rump presence not only to train Afghans but to continue to conduct counterterrorism operations “against Al Qaeda”, and the White House, which does not want to throw good money and lives after bad in Afghanistan.

While a continued US military presence may help to prop up the regime left behind in Kabul, it would probably foreclose any possibility of a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban during and after the US withdrawal. Also, both Pakistan and Iran will construe this as posing a threat of future intervention.

Despite hopes engendered by recent informal engagements and Pakistan’s release of Taliban prisoners, the prospects of peace talks and a settlement between the US and the Taliban are not bright. Differences on both process and substance are too significant. The best one can hope for is a truce during US withdrawal. The real negotiations for the future governance of Afghanistan are likely to take place among the Afghan parties after America has left.

Pakistan will need to make a strategic choice: whether to revert to a frontal endeavour to secure a friendly government in Kabul; or to work with others for genuine national reconciliation in Afghanistan. The choice is obvious. Without peace in Afghanistan, there will be no peace on Pakistan’s western border regions.

But the choice is not entirely Pakistan’s. Other powers may decide to play the “hard game”. Pakistan’s internal turmoil and strategic confusion may encourage India, and some of its friends, to shut out Pakistan’s legitimate interests in Afghanistan and to persist in alleged interference in Balochistan and complicity in cross-border attacks against Pakistan.

Islamabad must make clear that its desire to contribute to genuine peace in Afghanistan is accompanied by a determination to respond vigorously to threats to its security, territorial integrity and vital interests.

The eastern challenge is by far the most pervasive.

The recent outburst of war talk from India should be a wake-up call for those among our leaders who naively thought that bonhomie and unilateral concessions by Pakistan are the path to peace with India.

The reality is that Pakistan and India have an adversarial relationship rooted in history; epitomised by Kashmir and other unresolved disputes; and manifested in the wars fought and their ongoing military rivalry.

On more than one occasion in recent years, Pakistan would have been attacked by India were it not a nuclear power. This strategic capability remains vital for Pakistan’s security. The current and prospective chaos in Pakistan could create a justification and an opportunity for those who have plans to neutralise this capability.

Without a serious dialogue on their disputes or their military relationship and nuclear doctrines — and with an uncontrolled arms race propelled by India’s Great Power ambitions — the danger of a Pakistan-India war happening sooner or later, and escalating to the nuclear level, is very real.

It is time for those who wish to avoid an epic catastrophe — particularly the US which has done the most to feed India’s delusions of grandeur — to bring the Indian hawks down to earth.

It is only through a sincere and sustained dialogue, based on mutual respect and reciprocity, that Pakistan and India can address their deep differences and manage their difficult relationship. Indian arrogance and belligerence and Pakistani turmoil and pusillanimity are a recipe for eventual disaster.

Today, more than ever, Pakistan needs wise and honest leadership to face its triple-front challenge.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.


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

Comments (45) Closed

vjjjjjjjjjjj Feb 04, 2013 05:29pm
Most of the times I feel the comments below the articles with high rating are far more informative, well researched and down to earth.
APC Feb 03, 2013 11:24pm
No it is not. Does anybody care about it? Blame on others all the time while doing little to show the willingness to improve. Pathetic.
Sam Feb 03, 2013 08:26am
We . indians, do not want a war with Pakistan. Infact we do not want to do anything with Pakistan, be it war or peace.
AHA Feb 04, 2013 12:11pm
Well said. However, most of that 'dole' is in the form of military assistance, and that too because Pakistan has willingly acted as a hired hand for the US>
ahmed2030 Feb 03, 2013 08:58am
Very balanced and comprehensive analysis from a seasoned diplomat. The part relating to Eastern front is particularly interesting, while Pakistan should pursue peace with India and should continue to prevent any extremist group using Pakistani territory to launch attacks against India, it should not be oblivious of jingoistic sentiment in India on this issue. Our so called liberals should also understand that its not Pakistan that is obsessed with India, its the other way round. One has to be totally blind and deaf not to be able to figure out that its India that confronts Pakistan negatively in ALL the spheres. And many of the terrorist incidents in Pakistan have strengthened India FAR MORE than any fundamentalist Islamic movement in Pakistan or Afghanistan or any militancy in Baluchistan. Now I think I should wear my helmet and bullet proof jacket to withstand continuous firing from our Indian "friends". Comments from Indians far outnumbering those from Pakistan is yet another proof their obsession with Pakistan !
Amer Mahdi Feb 03, 2013 09:09am
I agree totally with the writer. Unfortunately Pakistan's tragedy is that none of the politicians are taking these challenges seriously. Pakistan can't afford such useless incompetent government in five more years. I hope & pay the Pakistani nation this time would use the votes toget rid of the Zardari's & Shareefs. God Bless Pakistan!
HNY2013 Feb 04, 2013 12:38pm
What are the statistical facts: in last five years which border has seen more action..... West or East?
UNITED STATES OF INDIA Feb 03, 2013 09:05am
Dont worry dear..Eastern is SAFEST frontier for pakistan.....
Akram Feb 03, 2013 11:40am
"US has done the most to feed Indias delusions of grandeur" Spot on !!.Come on Indians for your daily roll-call please. Lets have lots of thumbs down.
Bharat Feb 04, 2013 03:17pm
author assumes, India wants to attack Pakistan? From Indian point of view why attack Pakistan? Doesnt India have enough problems of its own, attack Pakistan, win the war and do what with Pakistan.?? India has enough Jehadis of its own, does it want to add more to the list, absolutely no. if Pakistan stops jehadi attacks, India will be more than happy to leave it alone, nuclear state or non nuclear state.
karim Feb 04, 2013 02:27pm
A fine mess Pakistani elite have put the country in. Insecure internally, in the East and the West. The khakis and their sycophants in the Foreign Service needs to be brought to heel otherwise we will be in a mess.
Just Guess Feb 03, 2013 10:41pm
Happy now?
HNY2013 Feb 03, 2013 10:35pm
"Keep your friends closer, but keep your enemies even closer"..............
Rahmat Feb 03, 2013 04:40pm
Akram Sahab, If it were not for the US dole - Pakistan would have been history long ago. By the way do you know what delusion means or is it just another english word for you that you know nothing about.
HNY2013 Feb 03, 2013 10:28pm
Wait till the nuclear deterrents fall in hands of the militants.....tic toc tic toc
dkm Feb 03, 2013 09:23pm
There are more comments from indian side is because a large number of indians are well educated and wish to be well informed.
Ram Feb 03, 2013 10:11am
For a patient with AIDS, a harmless bacterium becomes a life-threatening killer. If Pakistan is internally strong, which it is not, then a bunch of trouble-makers anywhere can cause more trouble than the Indian army. The only thing, and I repeat the only thing. which can make a change for Pakistan is to make peace with India, shut the terrorist camps, start normal trade and business relationships, in short be a normal nation like everyone else. And as for Kashmir, it's time to make the LoC irrelevant and settle with the formula which our leaders had previously agreed. Will this happen? I don't think so. Given the propensity of the Pakistani Establishment to look at everything in the world through the prism of India. Snakes will be grown in its own backyard (to quote Ms. Clinton) which will cause more trouble to the residents of the house than its neighbours. Opportunities for business will be denied which will deny the chance for the average citizen to move ahead. Feudal power structures will be encouraged, disempowering a significant part of the population. Those who can will flee the country, taking their capital with them. To expect Mr. Akram to look at the bigger picture is foolishness on our part.
Raj Feb 03, 2013 01:28pm
Not long ago, Pakistan's friends were, Allah, Army and America. Now America is not a friend any more. It is yet to be seen if China would replace them! Mr. Munir will have plenty of time to think about his!
DarKnight Feb 03, 2013 10:00am
Blame everything on others for your mistake.........
Caz Feb 03, 2013 07:32pm
Absolutely right. India despite its many problems is bigger , better and stronger than pakistan.Why would it want to have a failed state pakistan as a milstone round its neck. The reality is that pakistan's existential problems arise from the fact that it has no basis to exist. Afghanistan does not accept the Durand Line as the border with Pakistan because Pakistan has usurped Afghan territory which the colonial master Britain had kept as a buffer for strategic reasons by bribing the tribals of that area. Intellectual honesty is not a trait to be found in pakistan.
jamil Feb 03, 2013 08:46pm
Just like Indians and Americans blame Pakistan for their failures in Afghanistan
pathanoo Feb 03, 2013 08:07pm
QUDOS!!!! Inderjeet Singh. Spoken so logically. One thing about is impossible to deny. And, you have spoken it.
pathanoo Feb 03, 2013 08:05pm
And imploding the are, Aditya. India and the rest of the world should get out of the way and let Pakistan commit harakiri. It is doing such a marvelous job of it.
Shubs Feb 04, 2013 11:38am
The writer is a former Pakistani ambassador to the UN. What else did you expect? This is his bread and butter.
Inderjeet Singh Feb 03, 2013 02:30pm
I'll confine my comments to one aspect of this article - the idea that "On more than one occasion in recent years, Pakistan would have been attacked by India were it not a nuclear power". I'm not sure if this displays a willful blindness, a cynical and selective display of the facts, or the notion that the author is obliged to maintain the 'party line' given his job history. I suppose it really doesn't matter. I'm assuming that the author is referring to the situation following the attack on the Indian Parliament, and the situation following the 160 people killed in Mumbai. Baldly stated, I suppose the position is true - if it had not been for the fact the Pakistan possessed nuclear weapons, the pressure within India to retaliate militarily was immense and might have been acceded to - hardly surprising. However this pressure didn't occur in a vacuum - no one in India woke up one morning thinking "let's go attack Pakistan just because we can". It was a direct consequence of the situation created by the Pakistani state - whether through neglect (the most charitable interpretation) or through active complicity - whereby groups of people felt that they could go into a neighbouring country, do whatever they felt like, and there would either be no blowback because of the nuclear umbrella or there WOULD be blowback, leading (perhaps) to the Greater Triumph of Islam (or whatever it was they wanted to trigger). For the author to state that as a result it was/is desirable for Pakistan to maintain nuclear deterrence is to exactly reverse causes and effects. Since Pakistan went nuclear, jihadis have apparently felt that they could attack a much larger neighbour with impunity, since the outcome would be good either way - if there is no response then the neighbour is exposed as passive/cowardly and if there is then perhaps the Apocalypse is nigh, which is of course a Good Thing. Far from being a necessary counterweight to India, Pakistan's nuclear capability has simply emboldened some aspects of the Pakistani state (?) extremists (?) to take ever-greater risks. As a sovereign country, Pakistan is free to develop a nuclear capability or not - but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that "this is all that is keeping us from being overrun by India". Let me put it another way - if you were ruling India, would you REALLY want to invade Pakistan, and in addition to your own already immense problems, take on a additional group of people that would be bitterly hostile at best? Why? So Pakistan should and of course will do whatever it wants with its money and talent and lives - but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that this is in some way to "counter the Indian threat".
aditya Feb 03, 2013 02:15pm
india and indians want absolutely nothing to do with pakistan..its yr narcissism that thinks anybody would want to rule over 170 million homicidal people..stay where you ll are and implode
rohan Feb 04, 2013 02:34am
Pakistan's biggest problem is internal. extremism, sectarian voilance, intolerance. Pakistan's biggest asset is that they have neighbour like India. Writer should have mentioned India in positive way. See what pakistan military is facing in northwestern border, FATA, is no where compared to what they are facing with Indian border. This article is not well researched. .
Jagdish Feb 03, 2013 03:50pm
Keep burying your head in the sand :-) Fyi - It is not just the USA, the rest of the world include Europe and OECD hold India in higher esteem..
Cyrus Howell Feb 03, 2013 03:50pm
Yes. We do.
azim Feb 03, 2013 05:37pm
Some of the good thinking coming from Indians that they dont want to fight with Pakistan. Please advise your media as well who is always talking about Pakistan and compare it with Pakistani media where there is hardly any mention of India
Feroz Feb 03, 2013 03:54am
He who writes his destiny, creates it. India will rise to the level it desires only if it works to achieve the success. Pakistan will get where it has to based on the policies it follows. What Munir Akram and I think about or feel is absolutely irrelevant.
abbastoronto Feb 03, 2013 04:00am
Time will tell
andy (ON, Canada) Feb 03, 2013 03:28pm
Are you not entertained by that statement, like a typical pakistani? what achievements do the pakistanis have 'to get even early symptoms of delusion of grandeur'?...NOTHING! sad hmm?
Just Guess Feb 03, 2013 04:17am
What you in Pakistan need to realize is that your government uses terrorism as a policy tool. Till you continue with policy there will not be any peace within Pakistan and with its neighbors.
Rahul Feb 03, 2013 05:33pm
Even Allah is not helping them now, look at the state that they have landed in!
BJK Feb 03, 2013 04:29am
Looks like Akram sahib expects the glory days of Khaki rule to return with a vengeance -- and would not mind a piece of the action for himself if and when that comes about.
andy (ON, Canada) Feb 03, 2013 03:23pm
The writer seems too irritated with whatever growth India has achieved on the economic front. In next decade or so India's economy will be 16 times that of Pakistan and in not so distant future Pakistan will have nothing to lose if a confrontation starts with India. India needs to be careful. The author has done justice to his being an Ex-ambassador of Pak to UN......not unexpected at all.
andy (ON, Canada) Feb 03, 2013 03:29pm
and suicidal people!
Arju Feb 03, 2013 05:35am
Right. But unfortunately, all recent analysis somehow misses the roll of pakistani military on all these fronts. It has knowingly failed to contain the religous violence on side, taking unstrategic risks on the line of control, and has failed to control and command its internal wings. The containment doctrine using proxy groups against the neighbour has not been successful. The generals belong either on the fronts to protect the nation or in barracks to build discipline and courage to the new generation of soldiers but never in active political arena, either local or international. Any subordination attempt should be punished with severe consequences and not with posh rewards or extensions in the service. Guarantor of existance is never the so called nuclear doctrine, but the will of common people to standup and fight for the survival of the nation. But first, we need food, we need shelter and we need rule of law - and not poltical gangs of delirious megalomanics smiling day in and day out on our faces, insulting our commonsense continuosly, and fooling us every time when they need our votes.
ahmed41 Feb 03, 2013 05:53am
Actually there is a 4th front also : Economic development and poverty alleviation
Jagdish Feb 03, 2013 06:10am
A good analysis, though unfortunately not untainted by prejudice and bias. A more professional analysis could have helped readers and the people of the subcontinent better. Agree on the internal challenges facing pakistan..the political system needs time to mature, army is not the panacea for all ills. Opening up to liberalization, adopting reforms and a progressive outlook will strengthen the economy and bring investments and jobs. The security state view of maintaining Afghanistan as a strategic depth does not serve Pakistan interests..both sovereign nations should focus internally to sort out the mess. The bogey of India has been raised several times...but it is now agreed by experts also in Pakistan that the wars in 1947, 1965, 1971, the Kargil war has been started by Pakistan army. The attacks on Indian Parliament, Mumbai Attacks have had links originating in Pakistan. India is too preoccupied with accelerating their economic progress and securing a global position than in starting a war with Pakistan which will derail their economic progress. In today's world wars are not won solely on basis of conventional military strengths and on strengths of nuclear weapons, but on the strength of economic progress, political sagacity, soft power to influence the international community. Equations and dialogue between nations like in case of individuals in our social structure is unfortunately based on economic progress and geo-political needs. Let both nations stop looking behind their shoulders suspiciously at each other and work hard for betterment of people.
Guru Feb 03, 2013 06:20am
Munir Akram continues in his articles what he used to do in UN - India bashing. Could the author elaborate on what Pak has done unilaterally, that India has not? India has granted MFN status eons back & Pak continues to hold it back till now. He is right on one area though - That nuclear power has prevented wars, particularly after Mumbai attacks. But don't stretch that a bit too far as both sides know that only tactical nuclear weapons will get used & that too not on population centers. Even there, India has stated a 'No first use policy", Pak has not. So you know who has the itchy trigger..
jaihoon Feb 03, 2013 06:21am
First and foremost, Pakistani leaders (military and civilian) need soul-searching and would be well -advised to revisit their flawed strategy towards Afghanistan, and to realize that peace and security in Pakistan is inexorably linked with peace and security in Afghanistan. One can only hope this realization dawn on the delusional Pakistani leaders sooner than later.
shazada zahid malik loan Feb 03, 2013 07:04am
A very good assessment for Pakistanis to make choices given the coming elections - For I, if I was to participate in elections I would make sure that the PPP is obliteraterd and is not allowed to come to power, even if that party is to win the democratic elections. The PPP has demonstrated its total lack of (or understanding) good governance.
raika45 Feb 03, 2013 07:21am
The quote " The danger of a Pakistan-India war happening sooner or later, and escalating to the nuclear level,is very real" No country in it's right mind will take such a first step without facing the wrath of the rest of the world.Such a statement coming from a man who was your former ambassador to the UN ?