The tyranny of geography has imposed heavy burdens on Pakistan and its people. Geographic location, a volatile neighbourhood, and the headwinds of global geopolitics driven by great power interests have long placed the country at the centre of many regional storms. Today the country faces a complex security environment with a multiplicity of traditional and non-traditional threats — both hard and soft. There are many imposing challenges that the country faces. Some are enduring in nature; others of more recent origin. Some are the unintended consequences of Pakistan’s own past policies. Others, the result of wars imposed from outside. The country needs to summon the will, capacity and imagination to address all of them.
The world today is in strategic flux. Diffusion of power and lack of global problem solving mechanisms are making international affairs more unpredictable. Pakistan has to confront the challenges of this fluid external environment even as it deals with pressing internal problems. Pakistan faces several strategic and security challenges – from its east and west and from internal threats. A promising start has been made to normalise relations with India. But while the political and business ties have improved, the strategic relationship remains fraught. This is because of the unresolved state of disputes, includingKashmir. Trade liberalisation has been the centerpiece of normalisation. But the question is whether a positive economic trajectory in relations can be sustained without movement on political disputes? This is especially relevant in the context of strategic developments.
The world today is in strategic flux. Diffusion of power and lack of global problem solving mechanisms are making international affairs more unpredictable. Pakistan has to confront the challenges of this fluid external environment even as it deals with pressing internal problems. Pakistan faces several strategic and security challenges – from its east and west and from internal threats.
The situation in Afghanistan has also posed enduring strategic dilemmas for Pakistan. Islamabad’s security anxieties are being heightened by the uncertainties of the looming 2014 transition when most Nato combat forces will depart Afghanistan. Having suffered from the blowback of three decades of strife and war in Afghanistan, continued instability on the western front has serious repercussions for Pakistan.
Pakistan has long called for ending the war in Afghanistan by a negotiated political solution. The nightmare scenario forPakistan is any post- 2014 descent into chaos and a replay of any 1990s-type scenario, which proved so devastating for the region. Effective management of the 2014 transition is thus critical for Pakistan’s internal stability, already affected by the spread of militancy into its tribal areas and beyond. The US-led western alliance has a withdrawal deadline, which is 2014, predicated on the questionable assumption that Afghan security forces will be able to take charge of security. Only in recent weeks have diplomatic efforts been mounted to explore possibilities for a peace process involving dialogue with the Taliban. The prospects remain uncertain.
This presents Pakistan with sharp dilemmas of how to respond to a possible security vacuum as the Nato withdrawal proceeds. Fears grow about more turmoil spilling over into its tribal areas and another influx of Afghan refugees to add to around 3 million already in the country, still the world’s largest displaced population. The sanctuaries that Pakistani Taliban militants have found in Kunar and Nuristan, from where they conduct cross-border attacks allude to the possibility of an escalating threat if the security vacuum widens in Afghanistan.
More turmoil in Afghanistan will aggravate the country’s internal security when the threat from militancy from a syndicate of violent groups is far from being overcome. Two major military operations in Swat and South Waziristan and ongoing actions elsewhere have driven militants out of some of their bases and halted their advance into the settled areas. But sanctuaries of assorted militants in North Waziristan still have to be tackled. The goal of defeating militancy is not yet within reach. Violent extremism remains a daunting challenge and will preoccupy the country’s army and law enforcement agencies and dominate the country’s threat perceptions for years to come.
While complex external dynamics will present Pakistan with daunting challenges, the most important strategic choices lie within. Only an economically stable and tolerant nation, which secures itself at home, can be in a position to meet challenges from outside.
(Dr. Maleeha Lodhi served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and United Kingdom.)