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Pakistan’s Dangerous Pyramid

An analysis of Pakistan’s internal and external problems is in order here. At the risk of sounding repetitive, it may be said that Pakistan is literally passing through the most critical phase of its existence.

Pakistan continues to lurch from one crisis to the other. Each day, the Sun dawns with graver news for the people of Pakistan. It appears they have now become accustomed to such saddening news, given the frequency of events which have been happening at a massive speed. Television channels continue to broadcast such news and repeat them on hourly basis. You can imagine the effect it has on the people who switch on their TV sets to see what is happening around.

An analysis of Pakistan’s internal and external problems is in order here. At the risk of sounding repetitive, it may be said that Pakistan is literally passing through the most critical phase of its existence. How Pakistan negotiates through this maize will determine the direction the country is headed into. Years 2013 and 2014 are two most important years for the country because people get ready to vote in the upcoming general election.

This is for the first time in Pakistan’s chequered political history that a civilian government is going to complete its tenure and a smooth transition of power is in sight. The second important aspect is the planned US withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The post-withdrawal scenario presents both a set of opportunities as well as challenges depending upon how Pakistani leadership, both civilian and military, plays its cards.

More than anything else, Pakistan’s external interests at eastern and western borders largely hinge upon her ability to steer itself out of multiple internal conflicts. The unending wave of terrorism, exploding economy and the prospect of a weak civilian government and a hung parliament, following the 2013 election are some of Pakistan’s key internal problems.

The killing of 110 people of the Hazara community in Quetta in a span of 40 days brings home the need of a clear and consensual anti-terror policy. The terrorist forces seem to have launched a fresh and more determined offensive at places of their own choosing. The entire country seems to be on fire with law-enforcement agencies appearing helpless before the terrorist forces. Karachi, the provincial hub of Pakistan, has come to be known for its bloodied history. It is a city where blood is cheaper than water. Target killing, arson and violence have become order of the day. There is no writ of the government. The city’s captains of trade and industry are said to be relocating their businesses in Dubai, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and other countries.

As law and order deteriorates across the country, political parties appear more divided than before on how to fight the menace of terrorism and extremism. The lack of political consensus is driven by political considerations as they get ready to go to polls later this year. Following 9/11, the world revisited its security doctrines and brought about reforms in models of homeland security. Pakistan failed to evolve broad contours of its anti-terrorism policy with the result that policy confusion is responsible for systemic paralysis the country seems to suffer from. There has been marked lack of comprehensive policy against terrorism for the last five years.

Pakistan needs fundamental reforms to fix its economy. Foreign reserves are depleting with every passing day. The government has shied away from fixing structural issues such as imposition of Reformed GST, or Value Added Tax, brining agriculture and stock market under the tax net. Economic experts are of the view that given the current state of national economy, the country would have to go to IMF for another bailout package to prop up its depleting foreign reserves. However, IMF wants ‘deepest and broadest’ consensus among political leadership for meeting the conditionality of the Fund as well as tough reforms that the government will need to implement. The caretaker setup would have hard time at the helms in this regard.

 This is for the first time in Pakistan’s chequered political history that a civilian government is going to complete its tenure and a smooth transition of power is in sight.
 Political assessments predict that it is difficult for any single political party to garner tangible support, sufficient for it to form a government at the centre. International Republican Institute’s recent survey has only confirmed the perceptions that a hung parliament will come into being and a coalition government will be in place at the federal level. In such a scenario, it will be difficult for the government to bring about fundamental reforms in the economic sector.

Externally, those who believed that Pakistan and India had come a long way off and were headed in the right direction so far as revival of a composite dialogue was concerned will need to review their opinions.

The recent exchange of gunfire between Pakistan and India at the border is indicative to the fact that foundation of their relations remains weak and fledgling. So much so that even a single incident or unintended provocation has the potential to derail the peace process. The way India leadership responded in the backdrop of the LoC incident did not help matters.

Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh declared to call off his visit to Pakistan, going to the extent of saying that it was difficult for India to have business as ‘usual’ with Pakistan. Contrary to the Indian leadership’s attitude, the conduct of Pakistani military and civilian leadership has been quite composed and measured.

Since General Musharraf’s times, Pakistan has been making unilateral concessions to India. The trend did not stop when the democratic government was ushered in power. President Zardari also made normalization of ties with India — the topmost point of his agenda during five years in office. So much so the PPP-led government has almost granted the ‘Most-Favoured Nation’ status to India in spite of tough resistance from the rightist lobbies. It now appears after the recent incident that Pakistan’s peace overtures have fallen on deaf ears without any reciprocity from the India side.

As Pakistan’s internal problems multiply, there is a strong possibility that India would like to fish in Pakistan’s troubled waters in Balochistan. It would also increase its efforts to undercut Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, which will hurt Pakistan’s legitimate interests grievously.

 The unending wave of terrorism, exploding economy and the prospect of a weak civilian government and a hung parliament, following the 2013 election are some of Pakistan’s key internal problems.
 On the western border, Pakistan faces the toughest test. Its security and stability is directly linked to peace and security in Afghanistan. The key question for Pakistan relates to the political arrangement after the US drawdown from there. Islamabad dreads the repeat of a scenario after the collapse of USSR when the US left Afghanistan in the lurch to fend for itself. Pakistan had to face the blowback in terms of massive migration of Afghan refugees as well as the mushroom growth of terrorism in its tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

However, much will depend on how Pakistan calibrates its Afghan policy. Will Pakistan like to follow the old policy of having a ‘friendly government’ in Kabul or support a broad-based government there?

The recent release of key Afghan leaders from captivity by Pakistan is an important development. It reflects Pakistan’s seriousness to encourage the intra-Afghan peace and the reconciliation process enabling the Afghan parties to thrash out a power sharing deal.

In the run-up to withdrawal of ISAF and NATO forces from Afghanistan, Pakistan will have to deal at two fronts: the US and Afghan groups. Islamabad needs to align its interests with those of other parties and secure a common ground. But for any effort to be successful, Pakistan should first pay serious attention to its internal mess. The country does not afford turmoil for an extended period of time. If it stabilizes its domestic situation, it will have increased space at the external level to safeguard its strategic interest vis-à-vis US, Afghanistan and India.

It is in this context that the 2013 election is of utmost importance and will be watched with great interest both by the people of Pakistan and our ‘friends’.

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