Homework for Nawazhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/homework-for-nawaz/

Homework for Nawaz

He may have to fix Pakistan’s foreign policy to end internal turbulence

He may have to fix Pakistan’s foreign policy to end internal turbulence

It is agreed on all hands that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will have three issues to address immediately after being inducted as the next government in Islamabad: the national economy,relations with the Pakistan army and peace with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The problem,however,is that the economy is mired in law-and-order problems caused by attacks from the Taliban and their Punjabi affiliates. Terrorism cannot be tackled without sorting out relations with the army; as for the Taliban,they have announced once again that they would be willing to talk peace.

On May 18,Geo TV staged a discussion on these three issues with two establishment ladies,ex-foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar and ex-ambassador to Washington Maleeha Lodhi,sitting opposite columnist Ayaz Amir and Brigadier (retired) Asad Munir. Lodhi wanted a “national security plan” before the PML-N could take such important steps as normalising relations with India. She was opposed to what the modern state calls “economic diplomacy” as the touchstone of foreign policy. Khar too opposed frontloading of the economy in foreign policy,calling it “begging-bowl”,with a pointed reference to national “honour”. She however disagreed with Lodhi that Pakistan return to the doctrine of the national security state (which Pakistan already is).

Men discussants were on a different tack. Brigadier Munir’s parting comment was that Pakistan should give up cross-border meddling in neighbouring states and should fight the Taliban. Amir was more direct: the army should disband its non-state actor terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba,Jaish-e-Muhammad and other Lashkars (like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi). It was hoped that Nawaz Sharif will achieve some meeting of minds with the military leadership which runs the country’s foreign policy. The discussion was flawed in so far as it accepted the received wisdom that foreign policy depended on internal harmony. Pakistan defies the textbook definition of foreign policy,in so far as its internal disharmony is caused by the instruments it used to advance its foreign policy in the shape of non-state actors. Normally,this would mean: fix your foreign policy to end internal turbulence.


As for the Pakistan army,the daily The News on May 16 published a shocking report on the nexus between a possibly factionalised Pakistan army and the TTP and its affiliates. It quoted,from a new English-language publication of the TTP,the statement of Adnan Rasheed,an air force mechanic sentenced to death for trying to kill General Musharraf. The assassination plan was hatched by Idaratul Pakistan,a radical secret unit inside the air force. Rasheed was mysteriously shifted from the death row in Rawalpindi to the distant prison of Bannu on the border with the Tribal Areas,from where he was sprung by the Taliban along with hundreds of other convicts in April 2012. Rasheed is now a commander in the TTP which announced that it had spent Rs 2 crore on the jailbreak project,implying that the shifting of Rasheed to Bannu was partly achieved through bribery.

Rasheed says in the article: “Allah Almighty opened my eyes when Jaish-e-Muhammad split into two factions. It dawned upon me that [Jaish leader Masood Azhar had been working under ISI’s command. So,I went to my ameer of Idaratul Pakistan,Dr Y,and told him: ‘Brother we are wronged! There is no difference between us and Jaish-e-Muhammad. We are soldiers in uniform and they are soldiers without uniform.’ Dr Y told me that the shura of Idaratul Pakistan had appointed me ameer for the Pakistan Air Force.”

Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan are preparing themselves for the coming peace talks. To facilitate this process,the former is aligning his PML-N with the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) of Maulana Fazlur Rehman in the National Assembly,and the latter with the Jamaat Islami in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP),both known for their secret communication channels with the Taliban. Meanwhile,TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan has renewed his offer of talks,but if the new rulers of Pakistan think the TTP would stop killing people before talks,they are in for a surprise. In his response to the past “conditionality” from Pakistan of stopping killing people before talks,Ehsan stated that the Taliban would do that only after seeing “some progress” during the talks. This clearly means that the TTP will put forward the precondition of release of their killers and demand removal of the army from the Tribal Areas before they stop killing.

Sharif’s clearly expressed intent to normalise with India will come up against a very powerful element in Punjab,serving as a pivot in Pakistan’s India-centric security policy: Hafiz Saeed of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and his Defence of Pakistan Council composed of other religious and jihadi outfits. According to reports in the press,it was his group’s effort that resulted in the killing of Indian spy-terrorist Sarabjit Singh in captivity in Lahore. Singh’s lawyer Owais Sheikh was kidnapped and thrashed cruelly by “unknown persons”,which was followed by the murder of Saeed’s own lieutenant Khalid Bashir in Sheikhupura near Lahore. Saeed has accused “foreign enemies of Pakistan and their internal friends” of this assassination. Rumours are,Bashir was killed because of a rift inside the JuD.

Nawaz Sharif’s trade initiative with India will face opposition from the establishment in Islamabad (read Foreign Office) and Rawalpindi (read the Pakistan army and its affiliated “think tanks”). In the background,another hurdle looms large: India’s relations with China,which the Indians don’t see improving in the near future — and that brings the Pak-China relationship into the equation as a decider. Pakistan is said to look at the world through the distorting prism of India. One may add that the establishment in Pakistan sees relations with India through the lens of its all-weather friendship with China.

Today,anti-Americanism in Pakistan is universal — as expressed in unanimous parliamentary resolutions — and there is a defensive shift in the worldview of the political parties during and after the 2013 elections. As army chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani tries to moderate this environment and make it more realistic by announcing that Pakistan’s problem number one was extremism and that the country was endangered from within rather than from without,he runs the risk of being isolated politically as well as within the army. Once a self-declared India-centric,his effort at balancing a foreign policy he had earlier pushed in an isolationist direction might come to naught.

Does China inhibit Pakistan in its plan of breaking out of isolationism by opening up with India? Many Pakistani diplomats have cautioned against reading self-serving signals in China’s policy towards India,but senior adviser to America’s late Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan,Richard Holbrooke,Vali Nasr puts it bluntly in his book The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat (2013): “China does not like it when Pakistan pushes too hard with India,or provokes American anger. China wants Pakistan as a strategic base,not a source of fresh headaches. Waves of extremists trained in Pakistan may stoke fires of separatism in Xinjiang,and,as happened before,countless Chinese engineers can be abducted by Pakistani tribesmen for ransom; yet China’s true anger at Pakistan is directed at its threat of a regional power play. China wants to use Pakistan to serve Chinese interests,and it will not be made a pawn in Islamabad’s regional games. So it was that even as China was stepping up its investment in Pakistan’s military capability,it was winding down its support for Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.”

The writer is a consulting editor with ‘Newsweek Pakistan’