Spearhead Analysis – 31.12.2014
2014 ended on the saddest note possible—the cold blooded brutal murder of more than 130 children of the Army Public School in Peshawar with their teachers and school staff. It is hard to imagine a worst atrocity. Earlier in the year the Jinnah Airport in Karachi and a naval base had been attacked and then there was the attack on the audience that included women and children, watching the change of guard’s ceremony at the Wagah border post. The military promptly stepped up the already underway Operation Zarb e Azb counter insurgency operation in North Waziristan and elsewhere, hanged two terrorists convicted by courts martial (after the Prime Minister lifted the moratorium on the death penalty) and joined the politicians in crafting a response to the atrocity claimed by the TTP (Tehreek Taliban Pakistan). The military and the politicians reached consensus on a National Action Plan to be prepared by a Committee and the Committee passed on the task to a Working Group that quickly delivered a 20 point Action Plan announced in a midnight address by the Prime Minister. More Committees that include the military and the ISI are now debating issues like military courts to try terrorists, strangulation of funding to terrorist and extremist organizations, madressah registration and reform, publication and airing of hate inciting material, the Afghan refugees, the IDP’s and many other points that need long overdue action. Still in the works is a unanimously agreed socio-psycho-ideological narrative that gives the country strategic direction against the menace of extremism, militancy and terror. Hopefully 2015 will not see backtracking and the forward momentum will continue and gain traction.
The last days of 2014 were marked by the end of the NATO /US war against terror in Afghanistan as Operation Enduring Freedom ended with the withdrawal of US forces and Operation Support began with 10800 residual forces. These are to reduce to 5000 in 2015 and to zero in 2016. Their task will be to provide training and other non-combat support to the Afghan National Security Forces. Judging by the upsurge in violence in 2014 a difficult time is in store for the Afghan National Unity Government in 2015 whose formation was a significant achievement in 2014—as was the Bilateral Agreement that it signed with the US. The ray of hope in 2015 is that the overtures for cooperation between the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan made in 2014 will strengthen in 2015 based on a convergence of interests and what is now a common threat. The danger is that Indian interference and its sponsorship of Afghan based elements to destabilize Pakistan might create problems. China’s interest and growing influence in Afghanistan may tempt others to encourage India. The bilateral relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan will be tested in 2015 and should not be found wanting.
Equally important is the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan currently stalled by India. Now that the state elections in Indian Held Kashmir are over with India satisfied by the 62% voter turnout, and involved in the political wrangling that follows a hung result, it is possible, but not likely that India will note the absence of any Pakistan based interference during the election process in November- December. The few but deadly acts of violence were internal and indigenous because the separatists are there and their aspirations remain unmet. There is also the menacing ‘conversion to Hinduism” campaign of the Rastriya Swamisayek Sangh (RSS)—a radical extremist Hindu nationalist organization that supports the BJP government of Narendra Modi. Much will depend on the policy and course of action that India adopts towards Pakistan where the perception is that India is hell bent on exploiting and exacerbating Pakistan’s vulnerabilities and difficulties through all means. Inevitably such policies provoke responses. The hope is that saner voices will prevail and that the two countries will resume dialogue in 2015 to resolve their issues.
The turmoil in the Middle East now attributed to US interventions In Iraq and Syria has led to the virtual fragmentation of those states and the anti Sunni policies of the Iraqi regime that succeeded US withdrawal has spawned to the phenomenon called the Islamic State. This ‘state’ is attracting fighters and supporters worldwide, it has revenue generating capacity and it is targeting areas in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan even as its copy cat organizations spring up in Africa and elsewhere. The negative trend in these developments is clearly discernible especially for Pakistan and this must figure in the comprehensive response that Pakistan is evolving for the threats in 2015 and beyond.
Finally an economic turnaround based on internal security and foreign relations has to be Pakistan’s priority in 2015. There is a general economic downward move globally. Russia is coping with US policies against it over Ukraine and turning to China. There are cconomic disparities within Europe as some economies become more and more fragile. Japan is in a recession. The US economy is slowly recovering and falling oil prices create unpredictability. Pakistan has very ambitious infrastructure and energy plans lined up with Chinese support. It remained largely unaffected by the 2008 global recession but now it has to focus on governance, regulatory mechanisms, and prioritization and above all on internal stability that also has an external dimension. 2015 will bring challenges but also opportunities. Institutionalized decision making and credible, competent teams working on issues can deliver results. The focus must remain on capacity building even if there has to be temporary reliance on one institution.
(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)