The PML-N government has assumed power in very trying circumstances. It faces multidimensional challenges. The two most urgent ones are the economy and security; both are intrinsically interdependent and interlinked. We cannot have one without the other. And they must be tackled as such. The other ones like power generation and terrorism become subsets of these major challenges.Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has just returned from an ostensibly epoch-making visit to China, establishing a great rapport with the new Chinese leadership. The most important outcome of his visit is the agreement on creating the Kashgar-Gwadar Economic Corridor (KGEC). It will definitely be a “game changer” that will massively influence the geo-political, geo-economic and geo-strategic dimensions of South Asia, the Greater Middle East Region (GMER) and Central Asia. Its ripple effects will be felt as far away as North Africa, the Mediterranean, Russia, Western Europe and even across the Atlantic to North America. It will be the harbinger of many more trade routes or economic corridors to emerge and crisscross the region - all passing through Pakistan, in particular, Balochistan. Pakistan’s economy is set to benefit wholesomely from the KGEC and related developments. It must not allow this opportunity to be frittered away or blocked by meddlesome hostile countries. As a requirement of the KGEC, the Karakoram Highway (KKH) is being upgraded, expanded and a railway link is being created between Kashgar and Gwadar. The KGEC will carry gas and oil pipelines to Xinjiang, in addition to boosting regional trade and economies. The IP and TAP(I-?) gas pipelines must now swing north and end up in Xinjiang. The US supported New Silk Road Project (NSRP), which of necessity has to go through Pakistan, could integrate with the KGEC and link up with Gwadar as well as Xinjiang. Furthermore, the CARs and the countries of the GCC, ECO and SCO are well positioned to benefit from this economic corridor. India would obviously have to sort out its issues with Pakistan to benefit from the KGEC and other trade corridors as they emerge. Pakistan is thus likely to acquire a priceless leverage over India. It must not waste it through undue haste, misplaced bonhomie and the incomprehensible eagerness of the PML-N government to engage the Indians at any cost. They must be made to wait; till the price is right. The KGEC will prove to be a red herring for some hostile countries and their intelligence agencies, which are already busy in trying to destabilise Balochistan. They are most likely to redouble their efforts to deny China access to the Straits of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. They must find it totally unpalatable even ironic to see that as the US/Nato/Isaf combine is egressing from the region China is making its ingress! The timing of this move (KGEC) is remarkable. Is it a harbinger of a veritable paradigm shift in the balance of power at the regional and global levels? The entire economic plan (including the KGEC) that the PML-N government is trying to formulate and implement will be wrought to naught if the malaise of terrorism is not tackled and successfully neutralised, first. The PML-N government must first formulate an all-encompassing National Security Policy (NSP). This must be a whole-of-nation exercise in which all political parties, civil society, armed forces, LEAs, institutions, organisations et al must participate. It has to be a unanimously agreed document that amongst other things addresses the major security and existentialist threats in the global and regional contexts and then leads to unified strategies to counter their impacts within the country. It must address the issue of terrorism and enunciate the desired end state in absolutely unambiguous terms. It must spell out how the terrorists are to be dealt with. Are they to be totally destroyed as viable militant groups or weakened sufficiently and then negotiated with or expelled from within Pakistan’s territories, or negotiated with and rehabilitated within the society or accepted per se as a fait accompli? Whatever end the PML-N chooses to pursue will determine the operational strategy to be adopted. It must also lead to creating the desired environment for Pakistan’s economy to resurge. If the end state chosen and the ways and means adopted do not create the right environment for the economy to perk up, then it would tantamount to an abject failure of policy formulation and decision making, a failure of operational strategy, a poor understanding of statecraft or a simple lack of political will. Operationally, Pakistan must first seek to isolate the terrorists within the AfPak Region by blocking of all international communications and movements of funds, supplies, recruits, etc to them. Thereafter, the nexus between the various groups must be irretrievably broken. Then those amenable to meaningful negotiations must be weaned away from the mavericks, which must be reduced piecemeal. Further, Pakistan must legislate and enforce stringent laws that give special powers to the armed forces and other LEAs taking part in counter-terrorism operations. Under these laws, all such cases must be dealt with on a daily basis and justice be done within 45-60 days. The armed forces and the LEAs must have total immunity under the law as long as they operate within its limits. Furthermore, there must be a credible Witness Protection Programme that must provide complete protection to the judges, prosecutors, personnel of the armed forces, intelligence outfits, LEAs and, most importantly, to all witnesses appearing in the cases. On a case to case basis, witnesses and their families may be relocated abroad under new identities. The PML-N government must take such tangible steps to effectively fight this scourge of terrorism. The writ of the government must be unchallengeable in any part of the country. We have an opportunity of a lifetime to revive and develop our economy. The KGEC could be the harbinger of massive economic gains for Pakistan in the future. Let the PML-N government not waste it through a lack of political will or misplaced fears, priorities and preferences.

The writer is a retired brigadier and a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand. Currently, he is on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).