Spearhead Analysis – 04.07.2016

Glass half fullThere have been several events that need to be considered for their direct and indirect impact on Pakistan. The bomb attacks in Kabul that point to the resilient capacity of the Afghan Taliban. The US decision to prolong the stay of US troops in Afghanistan and to support the counter terror efforts in Afghanistan with bombing raids besides Special Forces and intelligence. The stand-off between the Pakistani and Afghan security forces over a border post on the Pak-Afghan border. The attack on Istanbul Airport that follows the pattern of a string of previous such attacks. The implications of the vicious killings in Bangladesh and the recent armed attack on diplomats in a secure part of the capital Dhaka; Britain’s surprise vote to exit from the European Union that has opened up a Pandora’s Box: the high profile violence in Karachi that reignited fears of internal destabilization, fears of Pakistan’s international isolation, collusion between external forces to destabilize Pakistan and concerns about centrifugal forces emerging.

The full spectrum of the internal situation in Afghanistan and the Afghan- Pakistan relationship in the context of US-India, US-Afghanistan, India-Afghanistan and India-Iran ties indicates that a complex protracted situation will continue and Pakistan will have to safe guard its interests by orchestrating multiple centers of power. The strategic center of gravity will remain in Pakistan because of its long land border with Afghanistan, its Pashtun population and its military and intelligence superiority over Afghanistan. The Achilles heel will be the presence of the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan in Afghanistan with its myriad linkages within Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Turkey’s predicament has lessons for Pakistan. The expectation was that in the declining Middle East environment Turkey would stand out as an example of functional democracy in an Islamic state and that it would evolve policies to insulate itself against the forces unleashed by the violence around it. Unfortunately all the negative aspects of the situation have come to Turkey because of its policy towards the Kurds, its inability to control the transit of European fighters to the ranks of the Islamic State and its involvement with those fighting the Assad regime in Syria. The result is an array of threats that could be acting against Turkey even though the most recent attack has been claimed by the Islamic State. Pakistan needs to study its own situation in the context of Turkey and evolve policies that are a departure from the past and focused on the present and the future. Democracy in Pakistan is important.

Bangladesh is in flux. It is a prime example of a country pursuing policies for international approval in total disregard of its internal dynamics. The government’s attitude, its hard line policies and actions have unleashed forces that now challenge the capacity of the state. While appeasement invariably leads to loss of influence and control a failure to calibrate action with other means can lead to unforeseen consequences. This situation has relevance for Pakistan as it acts to stabilize internally at its own pace with international opinion showing impatience and external forces acting to exploit the situation.

Brexit is an event that warrants analysis. The first question being asked is whether the vote was really needed because it seems to have been ordered because of disagreements within the ruling party. It has exposed divides; the older generation voted to leave while the younger wanted to remain, Scotland and Ireland voted to remain while England and Wales voted to exit and there is a view emerging that perhaps the entire situation was never full analyzed or explained because some are asking what is the European Union. The general perception is that while Brexit will counter the negative impact of immigration but its economic fallout will be serious. Scotland may ask for a second referendum to decide its future or Ireland and Scotland may opt to remain within the European Union. The future of the European Union is uncertain and France’s decision will be crucial. It is in this environment of flux that Pakistan must act to ward off any negative impact and reset its political, trade and economic policies.

Finally Pakistan needs to understand the inherent fragility in an environment created and controlled by the use of the military instrument in isolation without capacity building and reform. The violence in Karachi has highlighted this as has the situation with Afghanistan and the ill-considered expression of views. Pakistan has to frame policies in its greater national interest and most importantly it should start taking critical economic decisions that impact on the people and lead to inclusive growth and a just distribution of wealth. The Pakistan Economic Watch has given a positive view of the economy but the fact remains that structural reforms, institutionalized decision making, effective governance and firm federal handling of the country are factors that cannot be ignored. The first priority has to be a secure internal environment with clearly visible capacity building to indicate the sustainability of the gains made. An internal environment that is politically and economically stable will lead to consolidation of gains by the security policy — and the security policy too must take cognizance of changed realities. This is the internal environment that will lead to an active foreign policy, a change of the country’s image and its future directions.  Pakistan has strength that needs to be harnessed and projected.

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