Time for Decisions

Spearhead Analysis – 12.12.2013

Time for DecisionsThe political leadership in Pakistan has to be the decision maker and the complexity of the strategic environment requires this leadership to have a much greater role in defense and security planning than ever before. It is, therefore, up to the political leadership to create institutionalized tiers for decision making that ensure expert input and harness the inherent organizational and structural strength of the military in the overall orchestration of state power. Obviously the tiers that are created will be the ones that the political leadership is most comfortable with but there has to be cooperative and constructive interface between the political and military leadership at the decision making level. Such an arrangement will do away with the oft repeated mantra of military dominance over national security and foreign policies and start projecting the image of a state that is fully informed about its external and internal environment and has the capacity to meet challenges and exploit opportunities in pursuit of its interests. No state in today’s globalized world can afford the image of a state in limbo as far as decision-making is concerned or a state that is being slowly overwhelmed by its internal problems – certainly not a state with nuclear weapons.

The strategic environment that is evolving has three dimensions relevant to Pakistan. There is the ‘big picture’ or the world view, there is the external environment and there is the internal environment. Al three are intertwined and require comprehensive national policies to deal with the challenges at the political leadership level. Positional authority by virtue of elections or appointments cannot ever be a substitute for visionary leadership. Absence of leadership at the strategic level can be especially disastrous. A review of past decisions clearly highlights that a faulty strategic decision once taken takes years to correct and that too after paying a heavy price. Shortcomings, if any, at the leadership level are usually made up by forging teams with credible and demonstrated skills and expertise.

A global rebalancing of power seems to be taking place. This has to do with China’s rise, with the economic shift from the west to the east and the US pivot to Asia or more specifically, but not exclusively, to the Asia Pacific. The US preference for diplomacy over conflict in the Greater Middle East, the desire to retain bases and forces in Afghanistan, the interim agreement with Iran, the Nuclear agreement with India and India’s slow shift to a maritime strategy and the reassertion of power by Japan and South Korea are all part of the rebalancing taking place because of the pivot. Its effect on Russia, China and other states is inevitable. Already China has announced an ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) in the East China Sea area. The implications and consequences are playing out slowly.

Pakistan’s external environment has changed. There is the US-India Strategic Relationship, the US-Afghanistan Strategic Agreement and the Bilateral Security Agreement being negotiated, there is the India–Afghanistan Strategic Agreement and there is the evolving US-Iran relationship that has far reaching implications. No longer can Pakistan bank on separate and exclusive bilateral relationships with its neighbors, the US and other powers because it has to have a comprehensive foreign policy that takes into account the linkages that have sprung up around it. The economic decline and the internal security situation will be major factors in the decision to forge a foreign policy that breaks with the past and charts a new direction.

The world notes with awe and fear the fact that India and Pakistan continue their nuclear development and build–up with no restraint or plateau in sight. Economic decline, radicalization, unresolved issues and internal fissures that spark violence in society add to the concerns. Pakistan faces a low-level separatist movement in its south west and an insurgency in its north west – both linked to the conflict in Afghanistan and both being exploited by outside powers in indirect ways. This peripheral destabilization gets linked to ethnic and sectarian violence and to criminal mafias and hard line extremist militants in the major urban centers. Economic decline, inflation, lack of human security and growing disparities add to the internal degradation. A comprehensive security policy that effectively counters these trends would start changing the situation rapidly because Pakistan has capacity, institutional strength and a most resilient and dynamic society that keeps the country fully functional even in the face of stresses.

Should the Peace and Reconciliation process in Afghanistan fail and should the dialogue with insurgents fail then Pakistan would be faced with a scenario where the various agreements and past alliances would bring India, Iran, the US, NATO, Central Asian countries, Russia and even China on the side of a post Karzai Afghanistan with the Taliban mixture on the other side. Which side will Pakistan choose? It’s time to heed the writing on the wall, take stock of the evolving environment and reorient policies. Hard decisions are called for.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)