To say that Pakistan is at the crossroads would be an understatement. It is, in fact, at the edge of a precipice and ready to burst at the seams. The Quaid must be turning in his grave to see what we have done to Pakistan and his vision about it. Indeed, it is a self-inflicted disaster. The existentialist threat that we face today, unfortunately, is a sequel to the pursuance of an imprudent security paradigm that sought strategic depth in Afghanistan and the use of non-state actors to achieve foreign policy objectives.

The Frankenstein called the Taliban, who, according to former DG ISI General Shuja Pasha, was a joint product of CIA and ISI have now become the biggest threat to Pakistan’s security. In addition, Afghanistan, instead of providing strategic depth to Pakistan, has become the biggest destabilising factor for it. It seems that the nation is paying through its nose in Balochistan for the blunder of using such outfits to resolve several contentious issues.

Nevertheless, it is an open secret that right from the beginning our military establishment has been exclusively handling affairs pertaining to Kashmir and Afghanistan in line with the security policy evolved by it, while successive civilian governments have just sat on the fence doing nothing.

Historically speaking, the military establishment all along has been nurturing deep sense of contempt for the civilian leadership and even when they were not ruling the country directly, they have been pulling the strings from behind the stage by maintaining disdainful patronage for them. Proof of this mindset is amply provided in the Charter of Democracy signed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif during their exile.

It was, perhaps, this mindset that prompted Musharraf to indulge into a wreckless adventurism in Kargil, without authorisation from the Prime Minister, which not only sabotaged the peace process initiated by the Sharif government, but also proved to be a disaster militarily, besides earning us the image of a bad guy. Reportedly, President Bill Clinton at one point, during discussions on the Kargil adventure with Sharif, threatened the latter to declare Pakistan as an aggressor.

There is a saying: “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others.” The architects of the policy of using non-state actors to accomplish foreign policy objectives, regrettably, never considered their own vulnerabilities. Their naiveté led them to believe that the other side would never be able to know who was behind those elements and, hence, there would be no retaliation or repercussions for Pakistan. How absurd?

Sectarianism, which along with terrorism is the biggest challenge confronting Pakistan, unfortunately also, has the imprints of patronage by the establishment that raised its ugly head during the Zia era.

It is time to atone for the past follies. The civilian leadership needs to assert itself and take some tough decisions in the larger interest of the country. It is heartening to note that even the military establishment has started acknowledging the fact that Pakistan faced greater threat from within than our eastern borders.

The country can be extricated from the quicksand, i.e. by revisiting our policies on Afghanistan and India, showing zero tolerance for the sectarian outfits and adopting a decisive consensus policy to defeat terrorism.

PM Sharif’s evident determination to improve relations with India and restart the process from where he left is beyond any reproach. It is, indeed, a very prudent approach in line with the ground realities, changed regional security environment and the global outlook on resolving disputes among states.

During a briefing session in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he emphasised the need for a comprehensive strategy for composite dialogue with India and also declared unequivocally that Pakistan would neither support any Afghan group, nor interfere in the affairs of the neighbouring country.

It is easier said than done. PM Sharif faces a very convoluted situation. Conceptually, it is hard to take an issue with what he is contemplating to achieve, but revisiting the whole range of policies will be an arduous undertaking in view of the complexities involved and the likely reservations of the top brass. Much will, however, depend on the leadership qualities of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his ability to convince and bring around all the stakeholders to his viewpoint, in regards to the issues confronting the country.

The writer is a freelance columnist.