Pakistan is currently confronted with growing internal and external challenges with serious implications for its long-term prosperity and security. Internally, the country, after Nawaz Sharif’s ouster from power following a controversial Supreme Court judgment arrived at through controversial judicial procedures, seems to be in a state of disarray, notwithstanding the smooth manner in which Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was elected as the Prime Minister to succeed him. The foregoing is not an argument to spare Nawaz Sharif and his family members from judicial scrutiny relating to charges of financial corruption or other financial improprieties against them. They should be held accountable just like other citizens of Pakistan. However, their right to a fair trial, which is guaranteed by the constitution, must also be fully respected. Hopefully, the detailed order of the Supreme Court dismissing the review petitions of Nawaz Sharif and his family members will answer the questions being raised by the various Pakistani jurists about its judgment and set at rest the doubts being expressed by them.
Pending the general elections next year, the incumbent Prime Minister, lacking the mandate and the authority which comes with leading a party to victory at the elections, at best would be able merely to carry on the day-to-day work of the government. It would not be reasonable to expect him to take major policy decisions in response to the grave challenges facing the country either on the internal or the external front. Considering the unceremonious manner in which Nawaz Sharif was ousted, it is doubtful that Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and his government would be allowed to take any major policy decisions unless they are in consonance with the establishment’s desires and preferences. So, as a Senator recently put it, we now have a disturbing model of governance in which the driver is manipulated and controlled by elements operating unseen from the back-seat, thus, presenting a dangerous combination of power without responsibility or accountability.
This development is particularly worrisome when the country is in need of a strong hand at the helm of affairs in the interest of safeguarding its political stability, upholding the principle of civilian supremacy, ensuring social and economic justice, and establishing the rule of law. The danger is that a weak political leadership at the Centre, pursuing a narrow interpretation of the concept of national security ignoring its political, economic, and diplomatic dimensions, may give rise to centrifugal tendencies, thus, further destabilizing the country politically. The need of the hour for Pakistan is to adopt a comprehensive approach to national security covering its political, economic, diplomatic, and military dimensions. (The readers, who are interested in the concept of comprehensive security, may wish to go through my book, Pakistan and a World in Disorder—-A Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century, published recently by Palgrave Macmillan from New York.) It was the narrow interpretation of national security focusing on the military dimension to the neglect of the rest, which led to the national disaster of 1971 and the dismemberment of the country. Assurances by the incumbent Chief of the Army Staff of support to the constitutional rule and the principle of civilian supremacy are welcome and would certainly help in calming down the situation. These assurances hopefully reflect the realization on the part of the military establishment that the strengthening of the constitutional rule and the elected civilian governments is a must for enhancing internal political stability and for the formulation of national security policies in the best interest of the country. However, one must at the same time acknowledge that the past record of the military destabilizing or even overthrowing elected governments with the subsequent validation by the superior judiciary is far from reassuring.
A politically weakened government at the Centre, as is the case at present, is the last thing that the country needs in coming to grips with the serious economic challenges confronting it in the form of slow GDP growth rate, heavy current account and budgetary deficits, rapidly growing national debt, decline in exports, growing inequalities of income and wealth, the virtual breakdown of the educational system, the continuing energy crisis, and slow growth rates of the agricultural and industrial sectors. The situation becomes even more alarming as Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who should be playing a leading role in dealing with the economic problems of the country, is under trial on charges of having assets beyond his known sources of income. Realistically speaking, therefore, the economic situation is unlikely to undergo any dramatic change for the better till after the elections next year when a government with the fresh mandate of the people may be in a better position to tackle the country’s economic problems.
The economic woes of the country have serious implications for its internal and external security. Besides internal political stability, the rapid pace of Pakistan’s economic progress is an indispensable condition for safeguarding its security. Historically speaking, those states have emerged as victorious in any contest between nations, especially in the post-industrial revolution era, which enjoyed an advantage over their adversaries in material resources, economic strength, and scientific and technological advancement. Pakistan’s economic malaise, therefore, cannot but have a negative impact on its external security. The fact that we are lagging further behind India in terms of economic progress with the passage of time should be a cause for serious concern for our policy makers, both civilian and military. Perhaps the most important task facing the next elected government would be the carrying out of wide-ranging economic reforms to accelerate Pakistan’s economic, scientific, and technological progress.
Finally, there is no denying the fact that Pakistan is confronted with an extremely challenging regional and international security environment. At the regional level, besides the enduring security threat emanating from India, Pakistan also faces considerable security risks because of the continuing armed conflict in Afghanistan and the possible nightmare scenario of a two-front situation. The issue of terrorism not only poses a serious threat to the country’s internal stability and cohesion despite the operations launched against the terrorist networks, but also carries negative implications for our national security at regional and global levels as reflected by the threatening statements made by the US under the Trump administration and the recent declaration issued by the BRICS summit from Beijing. At the global level, the world is undergoing tectonic shifts in political alignments. The growing Sino-US rivalry is undoubtedly the most important development of the 21st century, which is radically transforming the global security environment. Our policy makers must bring about necessary policy adjustments in response to these developments, particularly the growing strategic partnership between the US and India. We must explore and develop other options besides the strengthening of our strategic cooperation with China and the expeditious implementation of CPEC project. In particular, we should discard the policy of benign neglect to which we had consigned our Iran policy during the past decade and a half.
A pro-active foreign policy which is closely synchronized with the country’s security, economic, and internal political policies so as to form a coherent whole in the form of a grand strategy in the service of the national aims and interests should be the order of the day for our Foreign Office. Needless to say that we must also maintain a credible security deterrent at the lowest level of armed forces and armaments to discourage any military adventurism against Pakistan by India or any other adversary.