Pakistan’s tough challenges
Maleeha LodhiPakistan’s principal challenge lies within – defeating militancy and extremism, reviving the economy, resolving the energy crisis, educating its children and generating jobs to absorb the youth bulge in our population to avert a looming demographic disaster. The implications of all these problems for national security are apparent and can be ignored only at great peril.
Thus the strategic choices most consequential to Pakistan’s future concern these internal challenges. However, the challenge within is, in several ways, linked to Pakistan’s external environment, not least because a peaceful neighbourhood is crucial for Pakistan to focus unhindered and undistracted on solving deep-seated domestic problems.
Unfortunately, the tyranny of geography – a volatile neighbourhood and the main faultlines of geopolitics – and the burden of history have consistently put security at the top of Pakistan’s national agenda. It is no different today. At present Pakistan confronts a number of conventional and asymmetric, traditional and non-traditional challenges, hard and soft threats.
Externally, Pakistan’s twin challenges are its relations with India and Afghanistan.
The international environment is unsettled and in flux, with global power shifts reordering relationships across the world. The predominant trend is one of competition rather than cooperation. Great power geopolitics is witnessing a resurgence with competition intensifying between the major powers.
The three major global strategic developments of our time all have direct implications for Pakistan’s security. One, the spreading turmoil in the Middle East crystallised by the collapse of the post-World War order in the Arab world; two, the rise of China and the US pivot to Asia, which has opened a new Great Game on this continent; and three, renewed tensions between a resurgent Russia and the West, in what is being widely depicted as a new Cold War.
The danger posed by ISIS militants and their threat to seek allies and recruits in our region is one that Pakistan’s security planners take very seriously, even as the military offensive in North Waziristan and actions elsewhere in the country continue to shrink the space for terrorist groups.
America’s ‘pivot’ is also consequential to Pakistan’s security challenges. The pivot is widely seen here, as elsewhere in Asia, as aimed to contain China’s rise, even as America simultaneously pursues economic engagement with Beijing.
If this policy involves an endeavour to build India as a counterweight to China, this will have implications for South Asian stability. US plans to supply India advanced weaponry and technology will accentuate the growing conventional and strategic asymmetry between Pakistan and India and further undermine the delicate regional equilibrium.
Three, renewed tensions in Europe have already produced a closer relationship between Russia and China. Moscow is likely to adopt a more balanced posture in South Asia, opening the prospects of cooperation with Pakistan on a range of issues including Afghanistan, counter-terrorism as well as defence and security.
This is already being reflected in greater diplomatic engagement between the two countries. The Russian defence minister’s recent visit to Pakistan indicates this as well as military and economic agreements forged by the two countries.
Pakistan faces a full spectrum of security challenges – terrorism and militancy, conventional threats and the imperative to ensure the credibility of its nuclear deterrence.
Countering militancy and violent extremism will remain the country’s overriding security goal. The present military campaign in North Waziristan follows two earlier, effective operations in South Waziristan and Swat, even though both have yet to complete their post-conflict stabilisation phase.
Aimed at dismantling the last hub of assorted militants in Fata, Zarb-e-Azb has already disrupted the terrorist network, destroyed its command and control, dismantled sanctuaries and established the state’s writ in the area cleared. However, the operation is not yet over and confronts a tougher challenge ahead – clearing and taking control of Shawal valley.
Accompanied by less publicised, intelligence-led crackdowns in cities across the country – over 2,400 – the counter-terrorism effort has put militants on the run and degraded their capabilities. But the threat from a syndicate of militant organisations, especially sectarian groups, is far from over.
The progress accomplished in the tribal areas will need to be sustained through the build and transfer phases by political reform and economic development. Much will also depend on cooperative counter terrorism actions by Afghanistan against those elements of the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan and their associates who have sought sanctuaries across the Western border.