The anticipated but delayed visit of US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is underway. In a consensus building exercise China and India were extended destinations. The two burning issues will be whether Taliban leadership will talk to the incumbent Afghan regime and what will be India’s role (a preferred US ally) in the Afghan settlement. The strategic perspective of each negotiating party to the issue is divergent.

China has been part of the Quadrilateral Cooperation Group (QCG) including Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States. In Middle East, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar are three countries along with Pakistan in Taliban diplomacy. President Trump’s commitment to reducing force levels in Afghanistan followed by the desire “to promote dialogue among Afghans, ensure that all concerned parties reach a solution that allows every Afghan citizen to enjoy equal rights and responsibilities under the rule of law” means that diplomacy and not military force is emerging as the preferred option. This is ‘better late than never’. 

The roadmap to peace is complicated considering Afghan history of a loose federation, Taliban reluctance to negotiate with the Afghan regime and US preferential treatment of India. Any power sharing option should be ‘not less’ if not more than the Afghan reconciliation formula of 1996 sponsored by Pakistan. Given the role of US backed Afghan government, it will depend on how USA alters its core strategic objectives of nearly four decades. Untangling the Afghan mess will be laborious but not impossible. 

Not to undermine efforts for peace, the process resonate siege warfare. It is most likely to be in nature of poliorcetics or seigecraft; low-intensity conflict characterised by each party thinking it holds a tenable position. Given the interplay of interests of each partner, it is daunting. 

USA considers itself the most powerful economic and military power. Afghan regime feels that like in the past, it needs full US backing. US calculus relies heavily on India to fill the gap. Pakistan wants India out while Taliban do not wish to talk to a regime that espouses US interests. Interest of Iran and Russia complicate the situation. Shared interests and mutual vulnerabilities logically pitch USA, Afghan regime and India against Pakistan and Afghan Resistance; and therefore the China rush. 

For Pakistan, it is of utmost importance to prioritise its core interests that are beyond Afghanistan. This means persuasive and hard negotiations while finding means to identify the chinks in the perforated armour. All internal vulnerabilities have to be addressed, lest it becomes another phase of siege facilitated by a management system pervious to interventions.

Having reached this far due to the law enforcement agencies and intelligence services, does Pakistan’s civilian establishment have a battle plan to outlive and defeat such a scenario? 

This scenario is foreseen as a partly kinetic but primarily non-kinetic phenomenon also called a Hybrid Threat. These are operations other than a visible conflict. The enemy is floating, non-recognisable and strikes at a point and time of choosing. He catches off guard. Pakistan’s polarised and divisive politics, bad economic management and many fault-lines are critically vulnerable to these forces of disruption.

Warding off such threats is neither a military responsibility nor that of foreign office. It needs insight, foresight and visions for futures. It warrants a painstaking effort at identifying strengths and weaknesses to create hypotheses of each element and how best, turn it to advantage. This is the much needed ‘battle plan’ in the POLIORCETIC PHASE of Afghan diplomacy and beyond to make Pakistan a formidable regional actor. 

But at the management level, not much has changed. Without establishing linkages, events are being handled piecemeal. There is no formidable plan across the entire spectrum to ward off consistent and unrecognisable features of a hybrid threat? Consciously or unconsciously, many amongst us are part of this disruption.

The government is handling issues in isolation on day to day bases. It is improbable that Pakistan is contemplating enough to take advantage of its geostrategic advantage to reposition itself as a strong regional actor? Is the government cognisant that devoid of national strength, the world will keep referring to Pakistan’s strategic nuisance?  The balance needs tilting. 

To meet such a challenge, has Pakistan created the basic architectural contours of its national power in the immediate, intermediate and long terms? Such a plan is only possible when Pakistan’s planning commission and ministries, experts and parliamentary committees work in unison to make Pakistan strong. There is no such indication from the government, the parliament or the media. 

Barring Pakistan’s defensive deterrence and struggling foreign office, the national power of the country depends on the ability of economic management to convert the realisable potentials to indices. Investment in humans is most important. Unemployment and poverty reflect bad governance and economic priorities. Beyond a slogan, where is the game plan of arresting the rot? 

For a long time Pakistan was considered a derelict ship caught between the rock and deep sea. The water line of the hull was considered to have gaping holes that needed to be plugged before the astern could be stabilised. The people turned out and voted for an ‘out of box’ solution. What they expected was a twin mode of firefighting and durable planning. Firefighting meant arresting the rot and preventing diverse forms of flight. Durable planning meant short, mid and long term development plans. 

Most commentators agreed that Pakistan’s internal threat far outweighed any external threat. Manipulative political economy, bad governance, corruption and nepotism were loud and clear.  Frequent reference to Hitmen was an admission that Pakistan was being subjected to economic manipulation by external and internal actors. It was therefore logical to reset the economic template. 

There is an intense ongoing war on Pakistan’s internal front that the government has just begun to realise. In the interim, full advantage was taken by vested interests to sink the ship deeper. 

The stock exchange was deliberately sunk to make billions in windfalls. The government could never ascertain how and why it happened. Some commentators called it ‘Cold Blood’.

IMF or no IMF created uncertainty and dampened the fighting spirit. Indiscreet statements cost Pakistan billions in debt. Much needed foreign injection of funds evaporated. 

Finally the State Bank of Pakistan asserted its autonomous status by spiraling devaluation in double digits. This resulted in a corresponding increase in Pakistan’s external debt. Yes, the same bank whose head scuttled a settlement of Swiss offshore assets. 

Despite knowing that Pakistan’s consumer economy is controlled by a few cartels and oligarchs, important decisions to put them in check were either neglected or postponed. Demand and supply has affected all sectors. Agriculture sector that could have delivered within six months was neglected. While the sugar mafia is busy fetching export subsidies, the sugar cane is being sold to cattle farms and jaggery manufacturers. 

Pakistan faces defining times that require astute decision making based on elaborate plans. The government, after the initial huddle must prioritise even if it means a purge at all levels. Once all is in place, Pakistan will emerge as a strong country and tough negotiator. Hybrid threats the most dangerous element of poliorcetics will fade away.


The writer is a political economist and a television anchor person.