PAKISTAN IN THE DOLDRUMS

Canberra, 22 October 2012
A number of analysts have opined that Pakistan is in a lot of trouble. This is perhaps a grave understatement—the country is fully enmeshed in a series of issues that all spell ‘disaster’ in capital letters and is hurtling downhill at a speed that defies comprehension. A nation where a 15-year old girl is shot in the head and neck only because she was a vociferous advocate for children’s, particularly girl’s, right to education and a group of fundamentalist can claim responsibility without the fear of being prosecuted has to be on the brink of collapse. Are there no right-thinking people in the nation who can see what is going on? Or are these people, assuming that there are at least a few of them left, far to marginalised in a society that is precariously close to becoming dysfunctional that they have no voice to stop the inexorable descent of the country into certain chaos? The issue is that Pakistan is far too central a state to be permitted to descend into chaos because the noise of its implosion, when it happens, will scatter with the winds, directly affecting the neighbouring nations and cascading on to the global scenario. What ails Pakistan?
The Failing Army
In the recent past several instances, for example the terrorist attack on Minhas Air Force Base in August this year and the attack on Mehran Naval Base in May 2011, highlight the inability of the state to secure its vital installations immediately bringing into question the stated security of its nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that a number of terrorist organisations with aims that are inimical to the well-being of Pakistan in its current state operate with impunity within the nation. They have repeatedly attacked well defended military targets. Most analysts agree that such actions cannot succeed without inside help and therefore it is believed that fundamentalist elements have also infiltrated the rank and file of the Pakistani military forces. It has to be assumed that the combined final objective of these initiatives is to gain control of nuclear warheads. A terrorist organisation obtaining even one nuclear device is a nightmare scenario for all nations and cannot be allowed to happen. Yet the rest of the world can do very little to avert such a scenario because Pakistan is a sovereign state and direct intervention to prevent nuclear terrorism is bound to bring about a backlash from multiple sources that will only exacerbate the on-going chaos at a faster pace.
The effectiveness and stature of the Pakistani Army is today only a very small fraction of what it used to be in its heydays under the dictator General Zia ul-Haq. It has a Chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, who seems to be either indifferent to the mounting problems and deteriorating security issues of the country or incapable of initiating any action to stem the tide and taking the necessary actions to their logical conclusion. At least for the moment, the Army is on the back foot in their attempts to clean up the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of terrorists. The Army’s fundamental approach to the issue seems to be flawed. Further, its ability to conduct operations on the wide scale that is required to succeed in this operation is coming into question and its credibility, as it is at a low level, is being gradually eroded further. The lack of success and mounting casualties have forced the Army to consider peace deals with the terrorists although it finds the terms that have been laid out by the terrorists unacceptable. The demands are reported to include the imposition of the Sharia in NWFP, the release of Maulana Ghazi arrested during the commando action at the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July 2007, and stopping all military operations in the tribal areas. Presumably these are nonnegotiable for the terrorists and unacceptable for the Army.
The Army has also suffered from the tensions with the US and other forces operating as the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan that has led to an extremely strained relationship between them. The request from the US to initiate action against the Haqqani network—operating against the ISAF forces in Afghanistan and effectively based in safe havens in Pakistan has been almost completely ignored by the Pakistan Army hierarchy. This has now become a point of contention in all their bilateral dealings without a solution in sight which has not endeared them to the US. On the other hand the US has not stopped drone-attacks across the border even though these raids are causing increased anti-American rhetoric and protests in Pakistan. Since the al Qaeda militants and Taliban fighters continue to carryout cross-border raids against the ISAF inside Afghanistan, mounting these raids from safe bases in Pakistan it seems increasingly likely that the US will approve cross-border raids by Special Forces in ‘hot pursuit’ into Pakistan territory. If such operations take place on a regular basis it could well become the last straw that breaks the tenuous relationship once and for all. The result would be greater flexibility afforded to al Qaeda and Taliban to operate even more freely from bases in Pakistan. The fact that this is a double-edged sword that will harm Pakistan’s stability as much as it inconveniences the ISAF seems to be lost on the Pakistani military hierarchy.
There are only two conclusions to be drawn from this: one, that the Pakistani military capabilities have been eroded to an extent where they are incapable of defeating the militant elements in the NWFP and FATA; two, that the military command hierarchy has been fully compromised by the infiltration of fundamental elements into the Army who will not let any decision that is detrimental to the Afghan insurgency to be implemented. In either case, it is indicative of the dismantling of the Pakistan Army, which is the last institution standing that country.  
Pakistan’s Afghanistan Policy
The success of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was premised on three fundamental factors; that the Taliban Government would be defeated and removed, that the newly ordained Afghan government would be able to take charge of the security of the nation, and that an acceptable level of political reconciliation would take place between the different warring tribes that would create an environment conducive to the establishment of processes that in turn would bring about lasting peace. Only the first part went according to plan—the Taliban were defeated and removed from power. Thereafter things started to take a life of their own. The planners had not taken into consideration the level of corruption that would paralyse the new government, making it difficult to assure the success of a security transfer even after a decade of counter-insurgency operations. They also did not cater for the long-term resilience of the Taliban and their ability to resurge in a morphed form. Even though they were completely routed in 2001, from 2004 onwards the Taliban has been waging a robust and mostly effective insurgency against the ‘invading’ forces. Therefore, the currently they are being included, albeit in a circumspect manner, in the political process—an unthinkable situation even as late as four years back. Since the Taliban is directly reliant on the Pakistan Army for their safe havens, arms and ammunition and other resources necessary to wage an effective insurgency, Pakistan automatically assumes a critical and defining role in any transition in Afghanistan with the ability to wreck or support any peace process as it wishes.
Throughout the more than ten-year Afghanistan conflict Pakistan has played a double game. On the one hand it provided logistical support to the NATO-US forces by permitting the movement of men and materiel through its territory while at the same time providing safe havens for the Afghan Taliban. It is more than likely that Pakistan will instigate and support a Taliban takeover of Kabul, once the hand over from foreign control is complete. However, this support to Taliban has elicited a high price against Pakistan’s domestic stability. The Afghan Taliban resident in the FATA has spawned the Pakistani Taliban bent upon establishing a strict Islamic rule bound by the Sharia in Islamabad. The use violent means that has brought about increased instability in the country. This is not lost on some elements of the Pakistani Army leadership who therefore oppose a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, clearly understanding the impact such a takeover would have on the fragile stability of Pakistan itself. In spite of this selective awareness, the long-term implications of a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan next door seems to be lost in the humdrum of a large number of other domestic issues that dominate the political and societal sphere of Pakistan.
In February this year, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, stated that Pakistan will support all initiatives that are all-inclusive, that are Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-driven. This is perhaps the only indication that Pakistan is willing to be at least seen as playing a supportive rather than disruptive role in the normalisation process in Afghanistan. Whether this is merely lip-service to what Pakistan perceives the international community wants to hear or it is a calculated and analysed response to the issue and deciding on a safer option can only be determined as the drama of ISAF withdrawal from Afghanistan unfolds. Watch this space!
The other aspect of Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan, overt and mostly covert, is its paranoia regarding India’s involvement in the peace process. In fact Pakistan’s antipathy to India has been the foundation of its traditional Afghanistan policy, predominantly to provide strategic depth that is otherwise not available to it. However, there has also been a softer approach in the reluctant acceptance that it is essential for India to play a part for whatever solution is arrived at in Afghanistan to be successfully implemented. Whether this accommodating attitude will continue when Afghanistan is finally left to fend for itself and the scramble to influence whoever comes into power in the fledgling state begins will have to be seen. It is more than likely that a covert struggle for dominance would develop between Pakistan and India. This would add to the anti-India zeal prevalent in Pakistan and indirectly increase the destabilising trend brought about through anti-establishment protests. In the final analysis, a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in everybody’s interest, particularly Pakistan and India and of course the broader region. The exit of the international coalition—at least perceived to be done in undue haste in order to meet an arbitrarily set deadline—when there is very limited chance of a sustainable political and security apparatus firmly in place is bound to push Afghanistan into incessant civil war, a war that Pakistan will not be able to keep out of. The repercussions on Pakistan will be far greater than even those felt in Afghanistan itself.
The Political and Social Turmoil
From a political perspective, Pakistan is not yet a failed state since it has the semblance of a functioning parliament, judiciary and other law enforcement apparatus. But it cannot be denied that it is currently ruled by a failed leadership that has led to political turbulence, a continuing stand-off between the central government and the judiciary over matters of alleged corruption of the President Asif Ali Zardari, weak institutions that are incapable of providing even the most basic modicum of governance and a military infiltrated by supporters of groups committed to Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. Perhaps more alarming than the current state of affairs is the fact that there does not seem to be any attempt emanating from within the country to directly address these problems that are edging the nation ever closer to becoming a failed one!
The economy is the other source of serious concern. Pakistan’s economy has not only been stagnant for a noticeable period of time but is considered to be in a fully unstable state and incapable, at least in its present state, to be able to move forward in the correct path. Inflation is already in double digits and is likely to go up further, almost crippling an already burdened economy. It is not inconceivable that with other pressures within the country mounting, the economy will spin out of control with all the ominous fallouts that such a state of affairs brings with it. The least of the troubles for the government will be an increase in the discontent amongst the people that will find expression in spontaneous and organised social violence. Perhaps the fact that such a situation is the least of the worries says it all! In the case of Pakistan the violence and protests that are bound to follow further economic down turn are almost always controlled by fundamentalist activists and it is suspected that some of the violence may not even be as spontaneous as they are made out to be. This is a worrying trend and could lead to an easily combustible socio-political situation that will need only very limited catalyst to explode.  
There is another sparsely reported carnage that has been taking place in Pakistan that is gradually altering the demography of the nation. According to World Minority Rights Report 2011, Pakistan ranks as the sixth worst country in terms of violence against and persecution of minorities. Although there were a sizeable number of minority communities within Pakistan at the time of it gaining independence in 1947, there are hardly any left now. Most of these communities, other than a very small group of the Christian and Sikh faith, have either been systematically eliminated or have fled the country whenever opportunities arose. Having almost fully eliminated other religious minorities the ire of the fundamentalists is now turned against the minority Shia Muslim population. Thousands of Shia Muslims have been killed over the past few years and with over 400 murdered in recent months alone the killings can now be considered genocide. That these murders have continued over the years with no law enforcement agency even making token attempts to put an end to it indicates a situation wherein the government is at least covertly complicit in the move and also that there is a methodical demographic engineering taking place to change the face of Pakistan.
The involvement of Wahhabi fundamentalists in these attacks have been reported from 1988, when under the dictatorship of General Zia ul-Haq, a large number of Shias residing in the peaceful Gilgit area were massacred in a particularly ruthless fashion. From then on, the genocide of the Shias has continued unabated and unchallenged by any government agency. The social fabric of Pakistan is now being gradually torn and rendered by fundamentalist organisations mostly funded externally with the government playing the role of an innocent and unconcerned bystander. This attitude will only exacerbate the situation and play into the hands of forces inimical to the security and stability of the nation. At least for now, the government and the broader public do not seem to understand the grave long-term implications of the actions being undertaken by the fundamentalists who want to return the nation to medieval times through intimidation and extreme violence.    
Solutions?
Are there any solutions to the plethora of problems that confront a nation that is on the brink of collapse? The answer has to be yes. There are solutions to all the problems that Pakistan is currently facing. First and foremost the nation needs good and transparent governance to ensure that there is political accountability—the government has to take responsibility for the security of the people and stability of the nation. While trying to establish minimum necessary stability the economy has to steadied and brought back on an even keel so that inflation can be checked and then reversed. There needs to be checks and balances established to keep the Army and its intelligence agencies in the barracks and to gradually defang the fundamentalist infiltration that has taken place within the Army as well as in all key policy and governance areas. The list of things to be done on a war footing should also include containing judicial activism, and providing more powers to law enforcement agencies while ensuring transparency and answerability.
The issue in Pakistan is not whether there is a solution or not. Theoretical solutions do not translate easily to practice, especially when the situation has reached a point where the question is not of solutions, but whether there is the collective will to enforce those solutions. Failure will definitely see the nation fall off the brink at which it currently stands. For the moment there does not seem to be any redemption in sight for the ills that plague the country. At best the nation will continue its blundering way without actually imploding and joining the ranks of failed states. If it fails, the repercussions would be disastrous for the region, and by implication, for the world. The signs do not augur well.   
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About Sanu kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS)

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