Pakistan emerged as a sovereign state after the departure of the British from the former Subcontinent region. At the time of independence, the governance system of the British was adopted to ensure a smooth transition period. However, over time, numerous changes have been made in the system to make it more responsive to the needs of the people. In this context, the further devolution of power through the 18th constitutional amendment and the decision to merge Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) are important. Both these decisions were made to tackle the prevalent developmental and security concerns of the state.
Pakistan’s internal as well as external security is inextricably linked to its geographical location. On one side, Pakistan is strategically well-placed to (a) gain access to the resource rich countries of Central Asia and (b) provide an easy access to and from the massive Chinese markets. However, on the other hand, it has tensions with three out of four of its neighbors. Moreover, its porous border with Afghanistan, which is ground zero for the war on terrorism, makes it vulnerable to penetration of antagonistic non-state actors who have used Pakistan’s land to not only disrupt its international relations but also to destabilize the country’s internal peace situation. These pressures along with the ever-existing threat from the country’s larger and hostile neighbor – India – have played a role in transforming the country into a state which is obsessed with security.
Huge human, physical and economic losses in the post 9/11 era led the state to take drastic measures to curb the menace of terrorism. Consequently, a military operation – Zarb e Azb – was launched in the 2014 against terrorists of all hues and color. To ensure the success of Zarb – Azb, another military operation by the name of Radd-ul-Fasaad to disarm and eliminate terrorist sleeper cells across Pakistan was launched. As a result of these operations, the security situation has improved significantly. This is evident from the report of National Internal Security Policy (NISP) which shows that incidents of terrorist acts have come down to 175 in 2018 from 2,061 in 2010. Additionally, incidents of sectarian violence were also reported to be zero in 2018 as compared to 180 in 2011.
To consolidate the efforts of the armed forces to root out the menace of terrorism, the National Action Plan (NAP) was designed to change the existing narrative of extremism and violent terrorism. NAP also devised a plan to tackle the issues of hate speech, glorification of terrorism, madrasa registration, terror financing and regulation of cyber space and media. Implementation on the measures decided upon in NAP has led to a reduction in promotion and financing of terrorism in the country.
However, Pakistan is still facing problems of security and extremism in the country. NISP has identified six major areas of concerns for country namely; alienation and frustration of youth, exclusionary identity narratives, regional inequalities, lack of social justice and rule of law, lack of accountability and political inclusion and foreign linkages. It has also identified ways to curb extremism and terrorism on sustainable basis. These include implementation of rule of law, extension of writ of the state, improvement in governance and service delivery, institutional reforms, creation of shared vision and imposition of social justice and political stability. Moreover, to address the issues of cross-border terrorism and penetration of foreign terrorists, Pakistan needs to engage with the international community and seek their cooperation to comprehensively deal with the issue of these unconventional threats.
The prevalent security dynamics have led Pakistan to realign its diplomatic alliances and use its strategic importance by formulating a comprehensive plan. To this end, Pakistan has forged new security and economic alliances in the region as opposed to relying solely on its relations with the West. Pakistan was recently given full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Membership in SCO has also allowed Pakistan to mend its relations with Russia. Additionally, participation in the Belt and Route Initiative will provide it the opportunity to have greater access to international markets.
Pakistan is also attempting to rebuild its international image and project its soft image by making efforts on the diplomatic front. In this regard, Pakistan’s efforts in the UN and UN’s peacekeeping missions along with its invitation to resolve bilateral issues with India even in the face of Indian belligerence are important. Pakistan is also trying to maintain a balance in its relations with other Muslim countries that have disputes among each other such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. This is because Pakistan does not wish to be dragged into the issues of other nations at a point where it has just managed to pull itself out of the mess created by the war in Afghanistan. However, its inclination towards China, especially after initiating the CPEC project, has cast a shadow on its relations with the USA. As a result, Pakistan has had to face harsh terms when dealing with the US and other international organizations which are largely under the influence of America.
The diplomatic and economic difficulties Pakistan faces by strained relations with the US are somewhat offset by the support offered by China. China is cooperating with Pakistan in bringing about an economic revival through CPEC. This project will help by attracting the much needed foreign investment and reinvigorating the industrial sector. These, in turn, will alleviate the issue of unemployment, help improve the skill set of the population and make Pakistani workforces competitive in the international labor market. Moreover, as this project will help connect the neglected areas of Balochistan with mainstream economic hubs, it is expected to have a multiplier effect in terms of human development.
However, Pakistan realizes that it is important to have cordial relations with all the countries if it wants to curb terrorism and have its economy takeoff. It is, therefore, continuously striving to mend its relations with the international community including India.
Present government is consistently offering India to engage in meaningful and purpose-oriented dialogue. Pakistan deems it necessary to tackle the issues of poverty, food insecurity, low literacy rate and others. Pakistan opened Kartarpur border to facilitate Sikh community from India to freely move to their religious sites. Pakistan is also offering Hindu community to visit Pakistan to pay their respect to their religious sites. Trade and economic cooperation is another area where Pakistan offered India to join hands and work out a win-win situation in region.
Pakistan is also striving hard to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan. It has used its influence to bring Taliban on table. Pakistan is also offering Afghanistan to become part of CPEC. It is very important, as Afghanistan is in dire need of economic assistance and cooperation. Both countries are working to formalize a doable actionable plan. China is now also leading the process and establishes a tri-lateral group to facilitate and speed up the process.
Despite these efforts Pakistan is still facing maligning campaign from India and Afghanistan. They are trying hard to disturb peace in country. India is on its heels to declare Pakistan a terrorist country. However, these countries need to understand that this attitude will not help anyone. It will only impact the people and the war on poverty and food insecurity will remain a dream.
Executive Director Zalmi Foundation, Member Advisory Board CGSS