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Pakistan's Top Challenge

 

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse Apr 16, 2010

The 18th amendment, coupled with the unusual surge in Pakistan’s crackdown against militants in the Kurram, Orakzai Khyber and Mohmand tribal regions, and preceded by the Pakistan-US strategic dialogue in late March should augur well in the immediate to medium term for Pakistan – at least as far as the counter-insurgency campaign is concerned.

Without Baitullah Mehsud and Hakeemullah Mehsud, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan appears to be in a sort of disarray and represents a golden opportunity for the Pakistani Army to consolidate its anti-militant gains in the tribal areas.
At the operational level, it all augurs well for the future. The real challenge is intellectual, and in this context three major challenges stare Pakistan in the face, factors that will most likely impact the country’s future politico-economic course;

a) the collusion between religious militancy and the crime

b) the right-wing religious and intellectual discourse that is impacting minds across the country, and

c) the course of relations with the US

The radical Islamist groups - blinded by an obscurantist ideology, pampered by vested interests and bulging with a skewed sense of power - the militants are drunk on their own elixir and more vulnerable than they realize. Only time will tell whether and how long will take to conclusively defeat what has now become a global challenge, a vicious ideology, influenced by Al Qaeda, that cuts across national borders to attracting zealous followers ready to die and kill. These militants’ contempt for, and rejection of, societies governed by universal democratic values undoubtedly represents a common threat to us all.

Many of the religio-political militants – for monetary benefits – collude with criminal gangs as well as government informers.

Besides, a number of non-state actors that the military establishment and the civilian authorities have been using for espionage and counter-insurgency, curry favour with the militants as well.

The second challenge comes from right-wing political discourse. This unholy alliance, not only thrives off the patronage by the officials and the nexus with the militants, but also off a narrative that is premised on self-pity and embedded in conspiracy theories.
As far as the third challenging element revolves around the Pak-US relations; the strategic dialogue marks a relatively good beginning in a relationship that remained strained by suspicions and allegations for quite some time.

The foundation for this dialogue comes from factor such as a) the increased cooperation between the Pakistani ground and air force and the US military establishment on the one hand, and the personal rapport that the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and Centcom chief General David Petraeus have cultivated with General Kayani and the head of the ISI, General Ahmed Shuja Pasha on the other.

Based on this, the collective picture that emerges from the ever-expanding list of Pakistani successes and increasing incidences of US-Pakistan military cooperation suggests ever-increasing US-Pakistan understanding, also acknowledged by President Barrack Obama when he met with Prime Minister Gilani. The crackdown on Afghan Taliban leaders living in Pakistan also underscores a fundamental shift in Pakistan's relations with the United States and other NATO members fighting in Afghanistan.

Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, most Pakistani and US observers argue, has played a central role in turning the tide on the insurgents and bringing about a fundamental strategic shift in Pakistan’s security paradigm, which for decades has looked to militant groups as crucial allies.

A new appreciation for Pakistan’s drive against its militants has been growing outside the administration as well. Prominent journalists such as David Ignatius, Op-Ed columnists for the Washington Post, recently pleaded with his readers to take a sympathetic view of Pakistan’s gradual turn-around. The article recounted “several little-noticed steps” that the Obama administration has taken: One is to implicitly accept Pakistan's status as a declared nuclear weapons state and thereby counter conspiracy theories that the United States is secretly plotting to seize Pakistani nukes. The United States is also trying to combat Pakistani fears about covert U.S. military or intelligence activities. And the administration has repeated Obama's assurance last June that "We have no intention of sending U.S. troops into Pakistan."

To effectively address Pakistani concerns and improve its image, the U.S. needs to look at Pakistan with a long-term view and an eye towards strategic engagement, rather than a need-based transitory partnership. It will have to balance its expanding corporate and strategic relationship with India with the need to engage Pakistan for the long-haul. While the US government decided early in 2010 to establish a Quick Reaction Force for the protection of its ever-expanding diplomatic and development personnel in Pakistan, it hopes the new 1.5. billion annual aid package under the Kerry-Lugar Act would address some of Pakistan’s pressing financial and energy needs, and improve America’s image among Pakistanis.

And to take on these threats, Pakistan shall also have to look inward, a kind of introspection that its civilian and military ruling elite requires to fix pressing problems. Rather than externalizing their internal issues, the leadership shall have to address issues such as good governance, rule of law and also mainstreaming of areas meanwhile notorious as FATAs.

The short-term counter-insurgency, it seems, is bearing fruit, but the medium to long-term success would greatly hinge on Pakistani civilian leadership to address pressing daily life issues of the man on street. A much bigger challenge, however, would be to protect these people from the dangerous intellectual discourse that in essence hardly differs from the Taliban and al Qaeda narrative. Countering it represents a far more serious challenge than taking care of a few thousand armed militants and their deadly suicide bombings.

The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk