Resilient Pakistan

By now several things are clear. There is going to be no political catastrophe in Pakistan. In spite of all the ongoing struggles the government is likely to complete its tenure and change will come through the elections. The economy may be in dire straits but it is not headed for a collapse-the informal economy, the agro economy and remittances are keeping the country afloat. There is not going to be a military or military backed coup—this is something of the past and just does not figure in the present national and global environment. Judicial activism will go just this far and no further because the consequences can be unpredictable and the judges understand this. Democracy is there to stay in Pakistan regardless of all the hype about civil-military confrontations over issues like the ‘memo’ etc. The military understands the environment and is clearly supportive of democracy. So what is the furor all about? There is of course a vibrant media that loves to stir the pot to boiling point. There are the institutions battling for turf. Above all there is a collective instinctive urge to hem in the forces that could harm the country and to impose constraints on thoughts and actions that cannot ever be in the national interest—this is the strategic end sought through cumulative tactical responses to the various crisis situations.

This does not mean that there are no problems. There are many serious challenges. The economy has to be managed by focusing on the issues that impact negatively on it. The internal security situation needs attention and law and order must improve to provide human security. Governance has to address the grievances of the people. It is in the interest of the government as well as the contenders for political power to address these problems. The doomsday scenarios being propagated are, however, not warranted because the country is functional and its institutions remain viable with the potential to improve capacity to deal with the challenges. The North Western area and Baluchistan bear the impact of the blow back from the protracted struggle in Afghanistan and militancy threatens to raise its head in the Central part of the country. In this context the decisive shift to a strategy of reconciliation with the Taliban is a most significant development with the US making concessions to push the Qatar option while Pakistan and Afghanistan, though supportive of US efforts, have a longer view of their neighborhood and are discussing bilaterally among themselves and with Saudi Arabia. Change for the better is bound to come and soon because France has signaled an early pull-out of its forces from Afghanistan.

It is this evolving environment that drives the political activity in Pakistan as elections come nearer. This activity has gained momentum with new forces entering the field—most notably Imran Khan’s party and the religious political parties. They have all made impressive showings in recent rallies and what they are saying needs to be noted. They are all for democracy and the political system and they are against any interference in that process. They are all talking of an improved bilateral relationship with India and Afghanistan and a policy that moves Pakistan from a security state to a welfare state by channeling resources in the right direction. They want much greater focus on the economy and the people. They are not against the US-Pakistan relationship but they are mindful of the fact that about 87 percent of the population has a negative view of the US because of the several events in 2011 that fractured this relationship. It does not help when the US Secretary of Defense comes up with the revelation that a Pakistani citizen was used to confirm Osama’s location—in Pakistan this translates into subverting and recruiting its citizen. It also does not help when a US Representative talks of ‘carving out Baluchistan’ after his discussions with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan! The stand-off on the Salala incident that led to the stoppage of NATO logistics through Pakistan has also become a rallying point for political statements pushing the matter further and further into a corner.

Pakistan has to be mindful of the larger picture. The US drawing India into the Asia Pacific region, the US- India Strategic Partnership, the US- Afghanistan Strategic Partnership, the UK-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership and the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership. The US and EU moves on Iran and the possible consequences also raise concerns but India’s firm stance on oil from Iran and Pakistan’s stance on the gas pipeline from Iran indicate that regional and national concerns are more important than extra-regional interests even though those remain important considerations. It is in overall regional and international interest that the US-Pakistan Bilateral Relationship normalizes to the extent possible and as soon as possible and for this there has to be an understanding of Pakistan’s concerns and constraints especially after recent events.

(Spearhead analyses are a collaborative effort and not attributable to a single individual)

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