It will be better to offer certain considerations for reflection, rather than make sweeping dogmatic assertions.”
(Alfred T. Mahan)
National security is defined as the ability of a country to protect itself from the threat of violence or attack, both from internal and external enemies. In detail, it refers to the security of a nation state, including its citizens, economy and institutions. Its discharge is the duty of the government, which in turn relies on a range of measures, including political, economic, social and military power as well as diplomacy to ensure implementation of national security goals. Since independence, Pakistan has been faced with security dilemmas primarily originating from an unfinished agenda of ‘partition’ and a hostile neighborhood, both in the East and West. The security paradigms of 70 yester years have by and large remained constant with more additions than subtractions, which necessitate a dispassionate analysis and objective appraisal.
Security imperatives are the prime derivative of the geographical placement of a country. Pakistan’s placement in a highly volatile region offers both opportunities and liabilities. It shares borders with Afghanistan that has been in the throes of war and insurgency for decades; Iran with regional and ideological aspirations; and, an increasingly nationalistic, right-centric India. It is situated at the mouth of Arabian Sea and is one of two nuclear regional powers. Despite this, Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns are as much a function of its geography as they are of its own creation. The location alone by virtue of its transit to Central and South Asia, China and port vicinity to the Gulf could have transformed Pakistan as an economic and transit hub like Dubai or Singapore but alas remains elusive.
The security landscape does not recognize calendars and some aspects could be a constant for decades, while few milieus could change forms and intensity. Therefore, it may be imperative to review the security situation prior to the onset of a new year to evolve viable and comprehensive responses. I shall dwell on the security challenges facing Pakistan under the logical headings of External and Internal, though both have intrinsic linkages.
The international security environment remains volatile and uncertain with the resurgence of U.S.-Russia rivalries and proxy conflict born during the Cold War as well as the emergence of U.S.-China tensions. These conflicts manifest themselves in a variety of forms, besides the new ones ranging from environmental issues, resource capture, human and drug trafficking to ethnic and ideological conflicts which continue to further charge the regional and international security mosaic. These and other recent events, notable being U.S. and China’s rivalry, trade wars and other recent events in the immediate neighborhood have had a profound impact on our security dynamics. Due to its geographical location, ideological identity, nuclear and missile capability, psycho-social significance, and geo-economic potential, Pakistan remains a center for international interest, not all of which is constructive!
India has and will remain the prime security threat to Pakistan and its security. The longest unresolved issue of Kashmir remains the prime bone of contention. The in power government of Narendra Modi with extreme rightist lineage has, since oath taking, desisted any overtures to normalization of relations, and least of all resolve bilateral disputes. In fact due to uncongenial policies of BJP government, SAARC, which Pakistan is to host, has not been convened for three years. This avoidance by India has denied it revival of integration into its region. The previous two governments of Congress under Dr. Manmohan Singh and BJP led by late Vajpayee had exhibited pragmatic sense of adaptability and a sincere desire for the normalization of relations through regular structured dialogues. During the last Congress party government, India and Pakistan had reached on the verge of resolving the Kashmir dispute on the basis of former President Musharraf’s ‘Four Point’ formula. The April-May 2019 General Elections in India are likely to be a watershed event as it would determine the orientation of India either as a secular or hardline Hindu state. Besides kinetic conflicts, India has extensively waged hybrid war against Pakistan to destabilize it, weaken the writ of the state and mar its international credibility. The response to this kind of warfare by state and non-state actors demands a totally new thinking and approach, different from the perspective of military preparedness and embracing the outlook of national preparedness for the evolving threats. In my assessment, any political dispensation in India after elections is likely to resume dialogue process with Pakistan as there is a growing opinion amongst intelligentsia, media and leaders of opinion that Pakistan-centric policies have affected India’s regional and international stature. Buoyed Sikh Movement in support of Khalistan, intense Kashmir struggle by third generation of Kashmiris along with 12-16 secessionist movements have created a major internal qualm for India.
Peace elusive Afghanistan will continue to pose a security threat to Pakistan, both directly and through clandestine means, of fomenting ethnic strife and terrorism emanating from Afghan soil. Three important events are likely to shape the modicum of this threat, viz; forthcoming Presidential elections, U.S.-Taliban talks and the construction of border fence along Pak-Afghan border. Presidential Elections scheduled in July 2019 pose a challenge to the current President Ashraf Ghani by a serious aspirant in Abdullah Abdullah, the current Chief Executive, and Zalmay Khalilzad, spearheading talks with the Taliban. The ongoing direct talks between U.S. and Taliban facilitated by Pakistan after three years of abortive Murree talks, augur well for peace in Afghanistan. A settlement, duly guaranteed by the regional powers and other stakeholders, could pave way for a face-saving total withdrawal of U.S. forces, which is a win-win for all elements and for Pak-U.S. relations. The announced withdrawal of 7,000 U.S. troops after talks with Taliban reflects a successful first round as part of a negotiated settlement with Taliban. Yet without a political settlement, which is still a long shot, U.S. military withdrawal could have serious risks both for Afghanistan, Pakistan and even to the free world at large as it could be viewed by Salafi-Jihadist groups as a triumph against U.S. The likely completion of 2430 km border fence along the Pak-Afghan border in the last month of 2019 would impede cross-border movement and in its wake take away sting from U.S. and Afghanistan’s accusation of involvement of Pakistan-based elements in terrorist activities inside Afghanistan besides giving legitimacy to the ‘Durand Line’. Afghan-based Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and ISIS’ acts of terrorism inside Pakistan and the sponsored Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) will continue to pose security challenges in 2019 as well but their volume is directly linked to the three important developments likely to take shape in Afghanistan.
The litmus test of Pak-U.S. relations will remain Afghanistan and the outcome of U.S.-Taliban dialogues. While the U.S. does not pose any direct security challenge to Pakistan, it could continue to exert indirect pressure on Pakistan through international monetary agencies, adding separatist movements, waging Fifth Generation Warfare and supporting India and Afghanistan to foment destabilization. The U.S. is in a dilemma based on historical evidence that it is hard, if not impossible, to strike a balance between belligerent India and Pakistan. American support to one has invariably elicited an adverse response from the other. The possibility of threat by U.S. to Pakistan’s nuclear installments will remain a reality which in turn entails the highest level of vigilance. CPEC related opposition to Pakistan will also be more visible in the new year through overt intervention with monetary agencies and covert clandestine operations through non-state actors. The recently announced withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan are reflective of more inward looking U.S. policies due to public disenchantment with wars and as a prelude to U.S. Presidential Elections in 2020. As things stand, Pak-U.S. interests in security and economic wellbeing are poised to diverge even further, unless there is a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan with Pakistan giving and enforcing guarantees.
Iran-Pakistan relations while apparently cordial could have security implications due to cross-border violations and sympathy towards Iran by sectarian affiliated population, given the history of Iranian projection of its ideology. The dormant issue of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, under U.S. and Saudi pressures and U.S. compounded by Pakistan’s excessive reliance on Saudi financial package to support the precarious economy. Iran’s involvement in Afghanistan and harboring a large population of Afghan refugees makes it an important stakeholder in Afghan peace with no voice. Pakistan, through astute diplomacy, can solicit Iranian support for a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, failing which it can also act as a spoiler.
Economic instability, ethnicity and sectarianism are fundamental variables of internal security threats to Pakistan and are likely to persist. Religious extremism and intolerance has created an unenviable international image of Pakistan and has harmed its interests. Pakistan’s continuous involvement and fight against terrorism since 9/11, with more than 80,000 causalities and USD 104 billion in economic sufferings has taken a heavy toll on its power potential. The peril of terrorism will remain the most potent and real threat to Pakistan for the foreseeable future despite the successful outcomes of military based kinetic and non-kinetic operations. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with more than USD 66 billion by China has been the biggest ever direct investment in Pakistan and could be a ‘Game Changer’ only if adroitly handled. The past governments have exploited this opportunity to their political and personal advantages both in term of projects and the completion timelines (early harvest). The accruing interests on loan have not been professionally negotiated in the interest of Pakistan. The project requires an overall review, written framework and state guarantees to safeguard Pakistan’s economic and strategic interests and avoid snares like in the case of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka and acquisition of farm land in Tajikistan. The bold pursuance of national interests by Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammad is an example to emulate. The recent policies and measures initiated by the government for the economic recovery could remain elusive in the absence of genuine socio-economic development which has provided ethno-sectarian elements and regional forces grounds to exploit. In the context of Pakistan, internal front is more vulnerable than the potency of an external threat. There are innumerable internal security challenges facing the nation today and in future, but I shall confine explication to only the persuasive few:
Economy. The state of a nation’s economy is the single most important determinant in its ability to protect itself, to project power and its national security. Pakistan’s economy has remained weak during most political dispensations. The main liabilities are establishment costs, debt servicing, unfavorable ratio between exports and imports, paltry forex reserves and low tax base. The IMF and World Bank projected forecast for the growth of economy in the range of 4 percent and high inflation rate (7.5 %) implies that it will fail to create enough jobs especially for the new entrants, resulting in higher unemployment, rise in poverty, growing civil unrest and a weakened national security. The alarming rise in external debts both due to heavy borrowing during the last decade and continuous devaluation of rupee, now at USD 92 billion, has a direct bearing on our sovereignty and nuclear status. Weak economy is also likely to affect the defence capability and sustenance of operations against terrorists. The macroeconomic initiative by the new government in the realm of broadening of tax base, control of money laundering and corruption, borrowing from friendly countries etc., could ease the economic predicament to an extent but requires a long-term sustained solution. It must be imbibed by both public at large and the economic managers that fault lines of economy cannot be corrected in months or even in a year and require long-term policies and sustained efforts. Likewise, firefighting measures like abrupt hike of 1.5% interest rates by State Bank, devaluation of rupee, abrupt actions by NAB and FBR have all added up to dampen the overall business climate. To give boost to the economy there is a need to reduce the cost of the bureaucracy by wide-ranging structural reforms, good macroeconomic policies, boost to exports and investment in human resources.
Water Scarcity. Shortage of water despite availability of resources is very much of our own making. Since the decade of 60s we have neither built any major dam nor adopted measures for the conservation of water. This is despite the example of India building more than 3200 major and medium dams upstream till 2012. In fact, Pakistan receives 145 Million Acre Feet (MAF) of water but preserves only 14 MAF, in every monsoon alone we waste as much as 34 MAF of water into the sea. The loss of this water in financial terms comes to Rs. 25 billion. Now suddenly it has dawned upon us that if we do not mend our ways, we will be a ‘water-stressed’ country by 2025, giving insufficient time for building Diamer-Bhasha Dam that requires construction period of 12 years. The water regulation ability of India, weaknesses of Indus Waters Treaty and politicization of the most viable water storage project of Kalabagh Dam have created a security dilemma for the nation. The problem is likely to aggravate further in the coming years due to falling levels of subsurface water, global warming and silting of canals and dams. In my view, all feasible dams should be built but most immediate solution to our agriculture and water woes is building Kalabagh Dam which would require half of the construction time and cost as compared to Diamer-Bhasha Dam. This would require addressing the genuine concerns of the provinces by adjustments in the structural design, political ownership through passing of a resolution by the Parliament and endorsement by the Supreme Court. Besides dams there is an immediate need to create awareness for the conservation of water, meter water connections to avoid wastage and recycling water for irrigation uses etc.
Energy Shortage. Pakistan continues to face an average shortage of 4,000 megawatts in the power sector owing to a disconnect between installed power capacity and actual generation. The situation has been further aggravated by the ever accumulating circular debts. Over 140 million Pakistanis either have no access to the power grid or suffer over 12 hours of load-shedding daily. The cost of not doing business due to power outage is Rs. 472 billion for commercial, Rs. 314 billion for industrial and Rs. 89 billion for agriculture sectors. Besides non-building of dams, lack of alternate sources of gas supplies and stalled Pak-Iran gas pipeline have all contributed towards energy shortages for the present demand pattern while for the future the situation remains more bleak. Besides retardation of GDP growth, energy shortfalls have the potential for protests leading to a law and order situation. Short-term solutions reside in negotiating supplies of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) at competitive rates while for the long-term Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Gas Pipeline or revival of Pak-Iran gas pipeline at an opportune time could be the possible solutions.
Corruption. Corruption in Pakistan is widespread, particularly in the government and other public service departments like Police, Land Revenue, Customs, Income Tax, and WAPDA to name a few. Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perception Index ranks Pakistan at 117 out of 180 countries. The problem of corruption is existent since independence. The prime reasons have been lack of transparent and fair accountability apparatus, non-building of institutions and discretionary cum delayed judicial dispensation. Accountability has mostly been used for political victimization rather than to reform the society. Most of the political leaders at the helm of affairs since decades face charges of corruption and money laundering. If the leaders are dishonest, the trickle-down effects would be obvious. According to former Chairman NAB, Admiral (Retd) Fasih Bokhari, in 2012 the daily corruption figures amounted to Rs. 10-12 billions which must have increased manifold today. Black or undocumented economy is a thriving business and amounts to almost equal of the regular economy. Ishaq Dar, a former Finance Minister, stated before the National Assembly that USD 200 billion of Pakistanis are stashed in Swiss Bank accounts alone. The recent measures taken by the NAB, Supreme Court and the Government are likely to address the issue to an extent but in order for it to be effective these measures have to be transparent and across the board.
Sectarian Intolerance. After a peaceful co-existence, Shia-Sunni sectarian rivalry has affected the Pakistani nation since last three decades and remains a vulnerability even in the foreseeable future. This is both an attribute of proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran and policy of appeasement by the state. Sectarian antagonism is not restricted to Sunni-Shia feud but includes Ahmadis, Ismailis, Hindu and Christian religious groups. Banned militant outfits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Muhammad are reportedly still in sectarian war with outside support and funding. The implementation modalities of Blasphemy Law targeting mostly minorities and the recent rise of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasul Allah (TLYR) by Barelvi Sunnis and rise of its street and political powers are the harbinger of an intensified sectarian battle. The simmering enmity is likely to continue in a low key manner unless there is a major sectarian related incident or outside influence to either fuel or exploit the strife.
Religious Extremism. Pakistan’s international image is tainted by religious extremism and an intolerant society. Pakistan was created in the name of religion but the aim was not to turn it into a theocratic state but a homeland where Muslims of subcontinent could establish a social welfare state for economic, identity purposes and where they could practice Islam as the dominant religion. The later years, in particular post Zia era and Afghan Jihad, have witnessed a transformation towards a more radical and orthodox Islamic state. The reasons for this shift range from instability of political institutions, economic disorder, military interventions and international events like 9/11 and mistreatment of Muslims in the West to cite a few. Extremism is being propagated by thousands of religious sanctuaries all over Pakistan. Even if they are not involved in militancy, their teachings of persecution of members of other sects and Christians, Hindus and preparing them only for the life hereafter than present, make them intolerant members of the society. Similarly, there is no criterion for Imam of a mosque who also contributes to fueling sectarian hatred and intolerance. No Muslim country has progressed without the control of madrassas and mosques. In most countries Friday sermons are issued by the State and madrassas having the same syllabus as other educational institutes. Majority of Pakistanis are practicing Muslims while a small minority is extremist and another ultra-modern. This majority has been made hostage by extremists who want to impose their will onto others even by the use of force. Unless this ‘silent majority’ makes its presence felt and the State does not exercise its writ on madrassas and mosques, the conundrum of extremism would remain part of the society.
National Spirit – Pakistan First. Pakistani nationalism is the manifestation of the political, cultural, linguistic, historical, religious and geographical expression of patriotism by the people of Pakistan, of pride in the history, heritage and identity of Pakistan and vision for its future. Unlike the secular nationalism, Pakistani moorings of nationalism are closely twined with the religion of Islam. Despite more than seven decades of existence, Pakistan has not integrated into one nation to realize the dream of its Founding Fathers. We remain divided on ethnic and religious lines and except for sporadic display of national spirit in times of war and on national calamities, the true spirit of patriotism to pursue interests of the motherland in earnest are lacking. There are frequent inter-province accusations of usurping rights, share of water, gas and allocation of development funds by the Federation etc. A sizeable populace orientates itself with the Muslim Ummah. There are 22 Arab Nations and they align themselves first with Arabhood and then Islam. The sense of patriotism can be a force multiplier for the progress and salvation of a nation, both at individual and collective levels. The Constitution of Pakistan has laid down Council of Common Interests to foster interprovince harmony. There is a need to convene its meetings frequently to address genuine grievances of the federating units.
Since its independence, Pakistan has been faced with multiple security challenges both due to its geo-strategic location and historic settings; notwithstanding its own contribution due to faulty policies. These imperatives have compounded over the years accruing to bad governance, rampant corruption, fight against terrorism, sectarian strife and hostile neighborhood. The biggest asset of Pakistan is its human resource with 64% of population under 29 years. Pakistan is a recognized nuclear and missile power with seventh largest pool of scientists in the world. Our foremost failure has been leadership which has placed self-interest before that of the Nation. An honest and sincere leadership can steer the fragile economy and put Pakistan on the path of progress.
The writer is former Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He has also been Commander Lahore Corps and remained Military Secretary to the President. He is the author of 'Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan' (published 1983).
E-mail: [email protected]
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