Pakistan`s serious governance challenges and required next steps
20 June, 2011
By Dr Sohail Mahmood
Pakistan is faced with a serious governance challenge primarily manifested through the continuing complexity of fighting the Global War on Terror and the ailing economy. The Government has been paralyzed by terrorist incidents and the Abbotabad incident. It does not even have a counter insurgency strategy of any substance to fight off the terrorist challenges. The Pakistan Army is exhausted because of the Global war on Terror actions. Another looming conflict is soon going to appear when the US demands Pakistan to do more in the Global war on Terrorism.
The Islamic radical phenomenon is too deeply entrenched in Pakistani society and institutions and cannot be easily eradicated. A mushrooming effect happens when a known Islamic radical entity is ended. Another simply grows in that space available. Plus, the reaction to the killing of Osama bin Laden will continue for a while. Our intelligence agencies have been weakened because of lost focus. The military brass is itself unfocused as it is not only responsible for the security of the country but also its foreign relations. The Army chief calls the shots in Pakistan. The Gilani government is crippled because of corruption, incapacity and political bickering with the Opposition. The morale is at its lowest in history.
A real crisis is looming across the horizon in the shape of greater interventions by the US and India. The Government of Pakistan does not have a foreign policy to speak of. It only reacts to events by external powers, especially the US and India. It does not have an agency like Homeland Security in the US that can become the thrust of the fight against Islamic terrorism. Meanwhile, the political parties are discredited because of their actions, the bureaucracy demoralized because of bad governance, society divided on sectarian, linguistic and ethnic social cleavages. Most importantly, the youth are loosing hope in the Pakistani dream. In fact the country’s educational institutions are in a shambles and the youth are frustrated as a result.
Given the recent stark failures of the Pakistan military, it is time for serious introspection and a rethink of our country’s direction. Firstly, the Army brass has not responded to the terrorist challenges in a serious way and has instead reacted to recent public criticism. This is unwarranted development, to say the least. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan is in a mess because of repeated military interventions. However, this does not absolve the civilian leadership of their duty to salvage the country. The tragedy with Pakistan is that the civilian leadership has been generally as bad as military rule, if not even worse. The high expectations of the people on the coming of the Gilani government have been now dashed to the ground.
We need to rethink our foreign policy. Dependence on the US and succumbing to its dictates has weakened us considerably. There is hardly much convergence in our national interest and that of US. Pakistan needs a friendly government next door in Afghanistan to protect itself from regional destabilization. The Karzai government in Afghanistan is a grave failure. Corruption, ineffective governance, and incapacity are the norm and not the exception in Afghanistan. Although the same can be said of the Gillani government also. But Pakistan is no banana republic. Given its large nuclear arsenal, it is one of the strongest military powers in the world.
Afghanistan meanwhile has become a waste basket cause and an example of bad planning and poor governance. It is in our national interest that the Taliban have a share of power in the Karzai government. The US and Karzai government are already negotiating with the Taliban to achieve that end. Do not confuse the Afghanistan Taliban with the al-Qaeda. They are very different creatures. The al Qaida has a regional agenda of sorts and is pitted against Arab despots and their American backers. The Afghanistan Taliban are simply out to regain power in their native land. It has been about ten years now that they lost out to the Karzai government installed by the US in Kabul.
Karzai is just an American puppet not to be taken seriously. The real masters of Afghanistan are the Americans. It is in our national inters that the Global War against Terrorism be ended immediately as the al Qaeda’s leadership has been crippled. Osama is now dead thanks to US military intervention inside Pakistan. The US accused Pakistan of supporting the Afghan Taliban. Especially the Haqqani group and that of Mullah Omer.
Meanwhile, the US supports Indian interference inside Baluchistan and allows Indian agents to cross the border and supply the Baluchistan Liberation Army with weapons and other assistance and also the CIA has carried out several clandestine operations inside Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan has more than once pointed out that the CIA is behind bomb blasts in the country’s numerous shrines. The US accused Pakistan of playing a double game only to do exactly the same thing itself. The time is now for a candid discussion of the matter.
Undoubtedly, the Pakistan army is assisting some elements of the Afghan Taliban only because they are considered as strategies assets and future Afghan power holders. Pakistan has to negotiate with the US an end of Indian interference in Baluchistan and most importantly, independence of Kashmir. Only the US has the prestige and status with India that can possibly take our two countries towards an eventual solution. Pakistan needs to convince the US that it would be ready to suspend expansion of its nuclear arsenal once there is tangible progress towards a viable and permanent solution in Kashmir.
Let us be clear in out strategic goals. We want regional peace and that is only possible with the solution to the Kashmir dispute. Nothing else will convince the powerful Pakistan military establishment to suspend the further development of the nuclear arsenals. Remember the country with the most rapid expansion of nuclear weapons is Pakistan. This is indeed ironic because Pakistan is also a country imploding from within. Our nuclear weapons cannot save us from this landslide. Bad governance and corruption is now endemic in the country. The Pakistan military leadership must realize that having such a large nuclear establishment is not helping matters at all. We are facing an unconventional war and nuclear weapons are of no use here.
The primary threat is from within, as rightly acknowledged by the Army brass just recently. A grand bargain of sorts must earnestly be now negotiated with the US. Clearly, we have to protect our national interests and not of the US. The US must leave the region immediately beginning with Pakistan itself. The CIA network in Pakistan must immediately be dismantled and the use of our bases for drone attacks must cease also. Most importantly, the army must not carry out any operation in North Waziristan. It must rethink its entire war strategy. This is not a war of our making. We had nothing to do with al Qaeda and we did not invite al Qaeda here. The Afghan Taliban are future power holders in Kabul and we cannot and should not just eliminate them on American asking. Only a smaller police operation is needed not a full-fledged war in North Waziristan. We can and should bide our time because we need to immediately revamp our intelligence resources.
Given the recent failures of our intelligence services, both military and civilian, we need to immediately focus on their strengthening. Meanwhile, the North Waziristan operation can be put on hold. The point is that superior intelligence can prevent collateral damage. We need more capacity in carrying out very limited surgical strikes like that undertaken by the Americans themselves. Some 40,000 Pakistanis have been killed in the Global War on Terror and now is the time to end it.
Pakistan has suffered more than any other country in the world. It is about time we told the US that as far as we are concerned the war is over so to speak. We must concentrate on fighting our own Islamic radicals who have taken up arms against the Pakistani state. This is not a war but mainly a counter –terrorism problem much like what India has witnessed in the last few decades. Meaning that it must be taken as basically police operations only. No massive use of force is necessary here. Plus, the real battle is to win over the dissatisfied local populace through economic and social development. Only here can the battle be won. This is not a conventional war but an extraordinary unconventional conflict which requires us to use new weapons and tactics to fight and win. We have to act smart and think out of the box. Things are very different than Pakistan’s experiences in previous wars with India.
Most urgently, is a rethink of entire strategy and of creating an entirely new institution for that purpose. The Global war on Terror has shaken yup Pakistan as never before. Our troops are spread thin all the over the country. More importantly, they are now exhausted because of this Global war on Terror. We need to bring all our national assets on one forum. The example of the US is most helpful.
After 9/11 the US created a new super agency – Homeland Security that brought synergy and focus on fighting the new Global war on Terror. Pakistan must immediately create its own version of the Homeland Security agency on an emergency basis. We need to develop new capabilities to fight the terrorism phenomenon and end this conflict sooner than later. Our entire Intelligence agencies, both military and civilian, must be on the same page on this score. Lessons have to be learnt from our recent failures of our military. Our present crisis management capabilities are woefully inadequate to meet the complex nature of challenges engulfing us. A new Homeland agency will be the focus of the entire effort. Today, our military and civilian agencies have no coordination mechanisms to speak of. This has to be changed immediately.
Plus, the Cabinet Committee of Defense needs to be given teeth. It is without any institutional support as yet. This committee is the only place where our top military and civilian leadership are able to meet to discuss security matters. This should be institutionalized by providing it with a secretariat and research capabilities. Experts in both security matters and international relations must examine our challenges in a scientific manner. This is a permanent body responsible to give input on national security affairs. Since we do not have a National Security Council this will prove adequate to handle the national security affairs of the country.
Lastly, we need to focus on economic development. There is no better strategy to fight poverty than economic development. Our economy is too small. Therefore, we need to focus on building it immediately. Undoubtedly, the political economy of Pakistan faced a grave crisis. The new budget that was presented in the National Assembly was wholly inadequate. On the positive side: record year of exports at $24 billion and also home remittances at $12 billion, a stable exchange rate, and inflation is down to 13% from a very high of 25% in 2008. The money earmarked in the new budget for the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) has also been increased to Rs730 billion. However, on the negative side: unemployment and poverty have increased; investment has dwindled to nothing, failure to revamp the public-sector enterprises that are gobbling scarce resources of the Government of Pakistan.
Most importantly, failure of the Government of Pakistan was to increase the tax-to-GDP ratio which is about 10%, one of the lowest in the world. The total amount of the budget is less than Rs2 trillion. Only 2% Pakistanis pay taxes which is shameful, to say the least. Plus, the economy is expected to grow by a meager 2.4% barely enough to cater to the rapid population increase witnessed in the country.
In sum, the economic crisis persists. The only saving grace in this very dismal situation is the growing public awareness of Pakistan’s hour of danger. This awareness has largely happened because of a strident media. Notwithstanding the defaults, and there are many, the Pakistani media has done well to make the people aware of the situation in the country. There is still hope because of this development alone. A crisis is also an opportunity to change.
Let us boldly act and change Pakistan from within. We do not have the luxury of time. Let us act immediately. The future of Pakistan depends on such rethinking. A frank and open discussion ion these issues must commence immediately. Remember there are no sacred cows within Pakistan. Notwithstanding the opinion of the military brass, the Islamic republic of Pakistan is the only thing sacred for us and not it’s military. Let the debate begin.