Challenges before Pak’s new regime

Dr Sudershan Kumar
18th August 2018 witnessed the commencement of a new era in Pakistan with the ascendance of Imran Khan the leader of Pakistan Tehreek -e -Insaf (PTI) party to the post of the Prime Minister of his country. This victory virtually stands on three strong pillars i.e. Mullahs, Militants and Military (M3). Therefore, the various factors and considerations facilitating the cricketer turned politician’s ascendance to the post of Prime Minister need introspection. Of course his communication skills and charisma did assist him but significantly it was the powerful military and its Inter Service Intelligence agency (ISI), that paved the way for his elevation to the post of Prime Minister of Pakistan. In fact, Khan has been toeing the line of power full military and has even adopted an approach which fits in well for the powerful military and ISI. In pursuance of the same approach , in fact, Imran Khan had even denounced Afghan war and his party had held demonstrations against the supply routes provided to NATO forces operating in Afghanistan. He even went to the extent of criticizing Nawaz Sharif’s policies which provided legitimacy to military’s anti Nawaz Sharif agenda.
In return power full military of Pakistan not only extended support to PTI party, but also managed support from radical/militant organizations such as Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (which advocates for strict and anti blasphemy law), Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Lashkar Jhangvi. Even the founder of Hartkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) Fazlur Rehman Khalil came out in support of Imran Khan. All this transpired amidst the back drop of speculations with eye brows being raised both by opposition parties in Pakistan and at international arena about the transparency in the elections but all in vain. Pakistan election commission rubbished those claims. This has further corroborated the facts that Pak army generals have always played a decisive role in installing weak civilian governments in past also. Pakistan’s military leadership never allowed any civilian leader to emerge stronger. Any civilian leader who tried to cross red lines vis -a-vis army was either put in jail or eliminated on one pretext or other. The glaring examples being of Nawaz Sharif and Z.A. Bhutto. Nawaz, Sharif ,who tried to show dominance in handling Pak’s internal and external matters and started ploughing different line was shown the door. Pak court sentenced him for ten years imprisonment. Earlier also Z.A. Bhutto was shown the door by general Zia ul Haq, the then dictator of Pakistan .In fact Bhutto was sentenced to death.
This time, on a nation wide telecast, Imran Khan talked up of Naya Pakistan and also highlighted the issues with which the whole Pak society as well as the country are plagued with, but the tough question still stands whether the new Pak Prime Minister would be able to bring Pak out of this mesh. The question stands more pertinent in view of the three pillars in Pakistan i.e. Mullahs, Militants and Military(M3) who are known to exert their own authority in their own ways. Therefore, a herculean task lies before the new Pak premier first to rein in the first two (i.e. Mullah’s & Militants) and evolve an innovative strategy to manage military and civilian equation in such a way that the powerful military allows him to complete full term as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The seventy years history of Pakistan itself reverberates constant failures where none of the Pakistani Prime Ministers were allowed by the powerful military to complete full term except for the previous government of Nawaz Sharif, who completed full term from 2013 to 2018. Therefore, it is up to the skill of new Prime Minister Imran Khan to muster support from Pak army not only in taking hard and bold decisions in tackling sectarian violence, sagging economy and global isolation but also reigning in Mullahs and Militant outfits who enjoy extra constitutional authority at the behest of army and have also established deep roots in Pakistan’s society. Importantly, the growing violence in Pakistan based on sectarian differences is emerging as a grave concern. This sectarian divide is a misfortune for any society but in Pakistan it is a pitiful tragedy that Pak citizens are involved in division into different ethnics groups, even though it is the second largest muslim population country next to Indonesia in the world. The foundation of civil society in Pakistan at the time of its creation was mainly based on multi ethnics, multi religion and multilingual parameters. Prior to 1980 before Soviet invasion on Afghanistan, sectarian violence in Pak was hardly any issue. But policies adopted by various Pak rulers over the past years especially by General Zia-ul-Haq has pushed Pak society into fundamentalism, fanaticism and radicalization. This further compounded into intolerance towards other sects, communal hatred and sectarian killings. As per reports, there are nine sectarian based organizations in Pakistan. These organizations have been affiliated with Shia and Sunni sects. These organizations are further having eleven extremist wings. These wings are quite active in Pakistan. In a span of three decades nearly 3000 violence incidents have occurred in Pakistan which resulted into 5037 deaths and nearly 10,000 getting injured. Besides, Pakistan has notoriously become a safe haven and a global hub for various militant organisations . Prominent among them being Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Taliban, Al- Qaeda, Lashkar Jhangvi, Tehrik-i-Taliban and many other splinter groups. Some of these terror groups even enjoy patronage of powerful Pakistani military and its spy agency ISI. These terror outfits besides targeting the state of Pakistan and Shia sects, mainly are focused to create unrest in India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Also there are nearly 235 religious organizations and 80,000 madarassas scattered throughout Pakistan. Many of these are unregistered and have become foster centres for militants. Millions of students are enrolled in these madrassas and majority of them come from families facing feudalism, poverty, lack of awareness and illiteracy. Children of these families have only two options either abandon education or join religious madrassas. These madrassas act as instigating centres where the children are brain washed to the extent that ultimately they come out as extremists with staunch believers in the fight for jihad. Further these were materialized for vested interests. All these have propelled the Pak society on the brink of a civil war. Hence bold and innovative actions are required to reverse this trend. Furthermore, it should be eye opener for every one that when in previous government the law minister Zahid Hamid tried to change clause related to finality of Prophet Mohammad(PBUH) in the constitution, the religious party namely Tehreek e Labbaik laid a seize to the extent that it paralysed the whole nation. The stalemate between government and the supporters of Tehreek- e- Labbaik ended only after the resignation of minister. Pak military negotiated this settlement fully agreeing to and succumbing to the demands of radical elements. Furthermore, in first week of August 2018, unidentified militants burnt down 12 schools ,mostly all girl’ institutions in Gilgit Baltistan. This incident of school burning should act as a wake up call for Imran Khan about the mess and chaos he needs to handle and also act against militants. But can the new Prime Minister Imran Khan initiate any action against miscreants with out the support of the military ? This million dollar question waits to be answered.
Secondly, the most significant aspect which needs immediate attention by new Pak government is Pakistan’s economy, which is 25th largest in purchase power parity and 42nd largest in terms of nominal gross domestic products. Needless to mention here that Pak economy is in shambles its revival in near future remains a distant dream. Moreover Pak’s track record is dismal on all fronts. Suspension of American aid and inclusion of Pak in global watchdog list by the FATF has further added woes to the crumbling economy. Its economy survives on bail out packages from global organizations IMF (International Monetary Fund), and allies like China and US. Pak has received nearly dozen bail out packages in the past four decades. Even now the country urgently needs a minimum of three billion US dollars to avoid default on loans. But the recent alteration in relations with US which have been hit to a very low tide in Pak US may have some repercussion on this aspect also as US is the largest contributor of funds to IMF and may put some restrictions on bail out package by IMF. Although , China being an all weather friend of Pak may help Pak to overcome this precarious situation. But ironically it would be at some cost . As evidently even in CPEC investments most of the deals executed between two nations lack transparency. Many in Pakistan have started speculating the role of China and even raised their voices against the mode of implementation and also the ability to repay loans to China. Although new Government in Pak has initiated some austerity measures but they are not sufficient. Ultimately Pak Government has to evolve a national consensus and workout means to come out of this unhealthy situation and prepare a road map for revival of its economy.
Thirdly and the most important aspect is the reshaping of its foreign policy. This will largely depend on the powerful military and its spy agency ISI and how much they allow the new civilian Government to accommodate and address all the concerns pertaining to the national and international level especially in dealing with US, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh. Pak army’s and ISI ‘ s dominant role in foreign policy and defence affairs is a very well acquainted fact. Pertinently the policies pursued by Pak military over the last three decades against its neighbours have not yielded much dividends , but in turn pushed Pakistan’s society dangerously into fundamentalism and radicalization ,crippled its economy and even has segregated diplomatically on all fronts. Ties with US have stooped down further to the extent that in Jaunary 2018 Donald Trump had accused Pakistan of lies and duplicity in war against terror. US decision of cutting 300 million dollars aid to Pakistan has further aggravated the situation. Analysts feel that this uncanny chill in US Pak relations will ultimately drift Pakistan from US camp to Chinese side. As Beijing has been an “all weather friend and a strategic partner so to tide over this economic crisis in the face of denial from world bank , there is a possibility that Pak may once again approach China for some loans ,which it may get on very harsh terms. This in other terms means total surrender and almost sitting in the ”LAP OF CHINA”. If it happens ,than it would be the worst scenario not only for South Asian countries but for the entire world. There fore the need of the hour for the new Government is to work out a national consensus on its foreign policy issues and evolve a strategy to demolish terror hubs from its soil so that world regains confidence in its actions. There fore, the author is of the view that it will be a formidable challenge and a humongous task for the new regime to out line vision for Naya Pakistan and the relations with India, Afghanistan and United states. The out reach of Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for resumption of dialogue with India is a step in right direction but in lieu of the wavering stands in the past, this needs extreme caution from our side. Moreover with the forthcoming 2019 general elections around the corner, the present Government may not take any risk of holding dialogue with Pakistan unless they see visible change on ground.
(The author is former Director General DRDO & Special Secretary MOD GoI)