WASHINGTON, June 28: The Afghanistan war may be lost on the battlefields of Pakistan, where Pakistan authorities are fighting a vicious conflict against a home-grown insurgency spawned by the war across its western frontier, warns a report released on Monday by the Atlantic Council.
“The situation in Pakistan remains on edge,” warns Shuja Nawaz, director of the Council’s South Asia Centre, who wrote the report, “Pakistan in the Danger Zone: a Tenuous US-Pakistan Relationship”.
Domestic politics remain in a constant state of flux, with some progress towards a democratic polity overshadowed by periodic upheavals and conflicts between the ruling coalition and the emerging judiciary.”
The report points out that while the Pakistani military succeeded in dislocating the home-grown terrorists but the necessary civilian effort to complement military action is still not evident. The government does not appear to have the will or the ability to muster support for longer-term reform or sustainable policies.
The Pakistani economy appears to have stabilised somewhat; but security, governance and energy shortages are major challenges that require strong, consistent, incorruptible leadership rather than political brinkmanship, cronyism and corruption that remains endemic nationwide. Recent constitutional developments offer a glimmer of hope that may allow the civilian government to restore confidence in its ability to deliver both on the domestic and external front.
But the government needs to stop relying on external actors to bail it out and take matters into its own hands.
The report warns that unless some game-changing steps are taken by both sides, the US-Pakistan relationship may also be heading into another serious downturn, marked by continuing mistrust and a disconnect between the public posturing and private dialogues. The United States and Pakistan appear to have different objectives while speaking about common goals.
“The US is looking for a safe military exit out of a stabilised Afghanistan while ensuring that Al Qaeda does not re-emerge. Pakistan seeks to secure its own territory against an active home-grown insurgency, while keeping a wary eye on India to its east.”
“Increasingly, domestic political imperatives seem to be colouring the rhetoric and pushing policy between these two allies,” warns Mr Nawaz. “The 2010 mid-term elections and a sputtering economy at home feed the US desire to end the Afghan war.”
The report notes that America’s European allies in Afghanistan have been missing in action in Pakistan. They have not been able to establish their own relationship with Pakistan in a manner that would engender mutual trust and confidence. They have a minimal presence on the economic development scene in this key country bordering Afghanistan.
“Pakistan can begin to turn things around if given the resources and the support it needs from the United States, the international financial institutions and other friends,” says Mr Nawaz.
“But it will also have to take on some major tasks itself, to reorder the political system, rearrange its economic priorities and truly return power to the people and their representatives.”
Without tackling these daunting tasks, Pakistan risks political and economic slide. The nexus between security and governance remains critical. Pakistan’s civilian government must begin to govern and to prosecute the war against militancy on a war footing, not as a part-time activity or a purely military venture outsourced to its army, the report adds.
The civilian government must take control of strategy and work with the military to prepare to take over territory that the military wrests back from the insurgency.
The council notes that the United States also needs to take some immediate actions to open up its markets to more Pakistani exports by reducing tariffs on Pakistan’s exports, as it has done for dozens of other countries across the globe.
The US must truly roll back the stringent visa restrictions and undue checking of travellers from Pakistan, a move that has further enraged public opinion, especially among the middle class.
“In other words, the United States must begin to treat Pakistan as an ally so Pakistan can return the favour,” says Mr Nawaz.
For the longer run, he urges the US to shift to visible and effective heavy infrastructure development and energy investments, and begins investing in the signature projects in the education and health sectors that will not only have longer term impact but also be visible to the general public as a result of US assistance.
“The biggest game changer in terms of public perception will be discussion of an energy-oriented civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan that will treat it on par with neighbour India, but at the same time begin to draw it into the safeguards network of the International Atomic Energy Agency and thereby dissuade it from any recidivist tendencies towards proliferation,” says Mr Nawaz.
“At the same time, removal of US pressure against an Iran-Pakistan oil pipeline that could be extended to India would be seen as a positive step toward helping the US’ friends in South Asia.”