The Road to be Taken

Spearhead Analysis-24.01.2020

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address at The World Economic Forum in Davos was brilliant. He very clearly laid out Pakistan’s disassociation with past conflicts at the behest of others and emphatically stated that Pakistan would never get into such a situation again. He said that Pakistan had suffered grievously because of the blowback from such past involvements and had paid a heavy price to sideline the forces that were tarnishing its image in the world and posing a very serious threat to the security of Pakistan. His message that Pakistan wanted peace in its neighborhood so that east- west trade could flourish was loud and clear. Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world that has successfully defeated terrorism to ensure internal security and denial of space to non-state actors. There was no ambiguity in Imran’s declarations.

In discussions and other interactions, the Prime Minister highlighted the danger of a false flag operation by India to offset the reaction to its revocation of the special status of Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution as well as the internal unrest and violence sweeping across India in protest at India’s newly minted discriminatory citizenship laws. India also faces an economic downturn and a tarnished international image because of rampant rapes in the country and mob related violence against Muslims. The lockdown in Kashmir is now more than six months old with no let-up in the atrocities against the Kashmiris. Imran Khan emphasized the fact that military action and violence was not the answer to conflict situations especially when both India and Pakistan had nuclear capability. He offered peace, dialogue and a reduction of tensions with all the neighbors and in this context highlighted Pakistan’s efforts to support and push the talks in Afghanistan that could end the conflict there. Imran’s views found resonance and people were reminded of his equally brilliant address at the UN General Assembly in September last year.

Imran Khan’s meeting with President Trump at Davos was positive with both voicing converging views on the Afghanistan peace process and President Trump offering to help ease tensions with India. The meeting did highlight the increasingly transactional nature of the relationship with the US though the resumption of the IMET program is welcome news. A good relationship with the US is important for Pakistan for many reasons. Pakistan was also quick to respond to the criticism voiced by the Acting Assistant Secretary US Department of State with reassurance and the advice that the CPEC needs to be seen for what it is—an opportunity for economic, cultural and educational cooperation and not as a threat to any state in the region or beyond. The bottom line is that China and Pakistan have a strategic relationship and the US has a strategic relationship with India. Pakistan and India do need to take steps to reduce the chances of a conflict and create prospects for regional trade—President Trump could certainly help start the process.

While there is no doubt that Pakistan is doing well with foreign policy the same cannot be said for governance, economic and political stability. The Prime Minister seems to understand the plight of the people as they face inflation and food insecurity but the problem is that the road to fiscal stabilization is studded with economic hardship at least through 2020. Bungled policies that create unbearable situations for the people add to the despondency and political wrangling between and within political parties adds confusion to the situation. If the country has to go through this transitional hardship, then what is needed are steps to give good governance and a fully functional political institution. People should not be in a state of uncertainty and fear. In an era of oligarchs in control of democracies Pakistan is fortunate to have a committed leader with no baggage or skeletons and a military that is in full support of his government. This is an opportunity that should not be lost. Only a competent and credible team at the helm can ensure this.

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