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 US-Russia rivalries and proxy conflict born during the Cold War as well as the emergence of US-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 US 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, US-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 US 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-US 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, US 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 US.
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-US relations will remain Afghanistan and the outcome of US-Taliban dialogues. While the US 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 US 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 US 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 US forces from Syria and Afghanistan are reflective of more inward looking US policies due to public disenchantment with wars and as a prelude to US Presidential Elections in 2020. As things stand, Pak-US 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 US 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.