The polarizing May 11 elections won’t make governing Pakistan any easier. Here’s what the next government in Islamabad must do to fix the dysfunction.
Elections tend to hand down economies battered by deficits. Pakistan has experienced upheaval after each election—with White Papers issued by newly-elected governments lowering expectations by announcing how the problems left behind by their predecessors are actually terminal crises no one can resolve. Elections leak precious funds and damage an already listing ship of state. Running Pakistan is not easy, and it certainly won’t be any easier after the May 11 elections, which look set to be highly contentious and polarizing.
If democracy is to be the norm, whichever party, or set of parties, that leads the next federal government will have to work on shedding Pakistan’s honor-based isolationist foreign policy that has a direct bearing on the economy, peace and security within its borders, and regional cooperation.
Here’s what the next government needs to do, with single-mindedness: clamp down on terrorists; closing down, for instance, the terror training camps in Muzaffarabad and Mansehra, allegedly being run by nonstate actors, to give the country the law and order it has lacked for a decade. Push for normalization of relations with India through free trade, engage with it in seriousness on climate change that is reducing the rivers of South Asia to sand dunes, and cooperate with both India and China on Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops from there. The world has to be dissuaded from sanctioning the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline. Corruption has to be brought down to tolerable levels in a year if not in “90 days.” Loss making state enterprises must be gotten rid of to give the economy a chance to breathe. We have to be able to go to the International Monetary Fund once again, with some credibility. And finally, the ongoing suo moto duel-unto-death between the judiciary and elected representatives must end.
Whoever wins on Election Day will have to run a dysfunctional state whose population has internalized extremism of the Taliban variety and whose state functionaries are too scared to fight the war against terrorism, resulting in not a single terrorist being punished by the courts. The first cliff to climb will be an economy haunted by a paralyzing energy crisis while the state remains hostage to a foreign policy undermined by self-defeating notions of national honor.
Because of the security lock imposed on seeking new options, Pakistan is almost certain to stick to its old perceptions of Afghanistan on the western border and of India on the eastern front. The process of normalization of relations with India through free trade and freer movement of people across borders will remain stuck, and there will be no advance on efforts to come to an understanding with China and India—the two major players in Afghanistan after the exit of foreign forces—with Pakistan still unable to draw a line between terrorism that harms Pakistan and terrorism that advances its foreign policy.
At the fag-end of President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party’s term in power, the IMF was not keen to come to Pakistan’s rescue. This was an understandable caution since on numerous previous occasions Islamabad was unable to complete the programs it had signed up for with the institution. Any approach to the IMF will be haunted by Pakistan’s fixed Afghanistan policy.
Shahid Kardar, an ex-president of the State Bank of Pakistan, wrote recently: “If we cooperate and play ball by facilitating the safe and early exit from Afghanistan [of U.S.-NATO forces], the Americans should be able to persuade the European members of the IMF board to forge less stringent conditions for the new program, although we would not get more than $5 billion against the $8 billion we would be repaying the IMF.”
Pakistan will be forced to neglect its economy again in favor of advancing its anti-U.S. “populist” foreign policy that reduced the flow of desperately needed economic development assistance to a mere trickle last year. The State Bank in its report for fiscal year 2012 was alarmed at the deficit run up by the government, which it estimated at 8.5 percent of gross domestic product.
Switching Off the Economy
The projected growth rate of 4.3 percent for the current fiscal year will also be scuttled by the political chaos that will ensue after the likely hung Parliament produced by the elections. The euphoria at the completion of five years in office by the last incumbent government will give way to regrets and proposals that power-tenures be cut short. Democracy and the coming elections may appear to have come at a heavy cost.
Governance gets switched off in the run-up months to the elections. The Musharraf era left behind a circular debt of some Rs. 100 billion, the PPP has bequeathed Rs. 364 billion, add to that the bankrupt state sector enterprises and you have a separate mountain of receivables amounting to Rs. 524 billion.
The ongoing suo moto duel-unto-death between the judges and elected pols must end.
Governance was seriously undermined by five years of institutional competition permitting the rise to preeminence of the Supreme Court that thought nothing of trespassing in the economic domain. No one will be held accountable for the damage thus inflicted on the economy. Lack of movement on foreign policy issues has made the post-elections scene bleaker than ever before. Populist shifts of perception on the part of state institutions and the media on such issues as Lal Masjid and Aafia Siddiqui have contributed to the unnatural stiffening of policy while dealing with the outside world. This populism will hogtie the next incumbents in Islamabad and fix the country in the amber of honor-driven dysfunction.
The new government will hear the bad news that production of gas in Pakistan has depleted rapidly—down to a fourth of its original capacity—and that buying gas and its alternatives is no longer easy because of nonpayment of dues to related institutions. The Pakistan State Oil Company that pays for all imports meant for the energy sector is owed Rs. 114.67 billion. PSO itself owes Rs. 22.17 billion to local refineries.
Living with the Indian Bugbear
Relations with India will not improve. President Zardari, who spearheaded the PPP’s pragmatic foreign policy toward India after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks and with the U.S. after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, came to grief in both cases (in the latter case nearly getting convicted for treason under Article 6 ). This precedent will daunt the next setup into staying in the old groove.
This can also mean an escalation in cross-border incidents, like those that flared in December and scuttled the free-trade move which would have eased the award of Most Favored Nation status to India “inside 2012,” as promised by Islamabad. (The status was in part meant to equip Pakistan to challenge India on its protectionism while implementing the free-trade agreement.) There will likely be an escalation of threat perceptions of “encirclement by India” in Rawalpindi followed by a more hawkish, rejectionist stance on Afghanistan, where India is seen in unholy cohabitation with the Kabul government.
The equation with India is far more important than any future government will realize—mainly because of the “strategic” veto exercised by Pakistan Army. Pakistan-India trade has gone on despite this veto. In 2001-2002, this was just over $200 million; by 2007-2008, it had soared to $2.2 billion. According to a U.S. think tank, “Though the 2008 Mumbai attacks caused a brief decline, trade volume eventually picked up, climbing to $2.6 billion in 2010-2011. And between April and December of 2012—a period that saw the launch of a new integrated checkpoint at Atari-Wagah and a milestone visa agreement—Pakistan’s exports to India increased by two thirds.”
The looming civil war in Afghanistan after the U.S.-NATO withdrawal in 2014 will unfold during the tenure of the next government. Most Pakistanis think that after the Americans leave, it will be a free-for-all in Afghanistan the same way as it happened after the exit of the Soviets. Some observers think not.
Pakistan may not survive the ‘fundraising’ campaign by its nonstate actors through kidnappings and bank robberies.
Anatol Lieven, author of Pakistan: a Hard Country, says: “According to a treaty signed by the United States and the Karzai administration, U.S. military bases, aircraft, special forces, and advisers will remain in Afghanistan at least until the treaty expires in 2024. These U.S. forces will be tasked with targeting remaining elements of Al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan and Pakistan; but equally importantly, they will be there to prop up the existing Afghan state against overthrow by the Taliban. The advisers will continue to train the Afghan security forces. So whatever happens in Afghanistan after next year, the United States military will be in the middle of it—unless of course it is forced to evacuate in a hurry.”
If Lieven is proved right and Afghanistan is not abandoned, then Pakistan’s post-2013 government is in a fix. It will have to acquiesce in a civil war fought by Pakistan’s nonstate actors to the final destruction of Pakistan’s internal peace. Pakistan will fight the 300,000-strong Afghan National Army and bear up under a lot of drones that may strike further inland than the tribal areas. The most likely post-withdrawal scenario is that there will be civil war in Afghanistan. A parallel war will take place between the Afghan National Army and nonstate actors from Pakistan. One palpable indicator of this war is the current massive exodus of Afghan businessmen from the country.
The Taliban will have 25,000 men, counting on the basis of the maximum muster managed so far. The uneven battlefield will be equalized by inserting additional fighters from Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban will raid across the Durand Line, but the manpower they mobilize will have to be supplemented.
Pakistan expects the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami, and ragtag warlords of the federally-administered tribal areas and Malakand to battle the Afghan Army already. But manpower will still be needed to even the scales and speed up defections. The Taliban will be helped by the Punjabi Taliban, of which the Asian Tigers are already aligned with the Haqqanis. The Defense of Pakistan Council headed by the powerful Jamat-ud-Dawah will oblige with more Punjabi manpower. Its leader, Hafiz Saeed, often claims he alone can muster 100,000 men. He might send them to Afghanistan to fight India there instead of infiltrating them into Kashmir.
Pakistan is home to the unofficial armies that will enter Afghanistan but it hardly controls them. Therefore, the blowback from Afghanistan this time will be transformational for Pakistan. It may not survive the “fundraising” campaign by its nonstate actors through kidnappings and bank robberies in its major cities. This trend among the allegedly state-supported jihadi outfits has been in evidence.
What the next government will be most hard put to face is the growing alienation of Pakistanis with democracy and a compensating support of the Army. A recent survey commissioned by the British Council found that the Pakistani mind, as represented by 18 to 29 year olds, preferred the Army and Islam to the currently functioning democratic institutions. They all want change: not a change strengthening democracy and its institutions, but a revolution that brings about an Islamic order already pledged by Al Qaeda’s current chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in his book about Pakistan, The Morning and the Lamp. If the youth of Pakistan expresses its allegiance to the thinking of the terrorists and to the force that is fighting them, then we are in for a period of inchoate policy certain to booby-trap an already punch-drunk economy.
No Way, ANA
The next government will find it difficult to regain the autonomy of action normally expected of an elected government with a majority in Parliament. The opposition will force it to negotiate tamely with two powerful institutional leaders—Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani—at the cost of a considerably watered-down power to act, at least until the end of 2013 when both men are expected to retire.
Pakistan’s youth seem to want a revolution that brings about an Islamic order already pledged by Al Qaeda.
General Kayani cannot be expected to be an individualist. He frequently expresses what can be taken to be the point of view of his top brass. The mind of the Pakistan Army was partially revealed recently by Vali Nasr, a professor and former U.S. State Department official, in Foreign Policy, narrating what he dubbed the White House’s shabby treatment of his late boss, Richard Holbrooke, after the latter was appointed as special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
According to Nasr, Kayani gave U.S. President Barack Obama a paper which said in a nutshell: “You are not going to win the war, and you are not going to transform Afghanistan. This place has devoured empires before you; it will defy you as well. Stop your grandiose plans, and let’s get practical, sit down, and discuss how you will leave, and what is an end-state we can both live with.”
Pakistan under Kayani’s foreign policy tutelage is seen today as willing to “reduce its reliance on hardcore Islamist Pakhtuns and open up with the northern factions,” but this will likely not happen given the deeply embedded hatred of Pakistan in northern Afghanistan; and Pakistan, despite attempts in the past, has not been able to overcome its antipathy toward the Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara communities because of their tendency to look to India to balance the domination of the Pakhtun.
Kayani’s view of the Afghan Army was also unvarnished in the extreme as Nasr explained how ANA will expand to 400,000-strong when the Americans leave Afghanistan in 2014: “Don’t do it. You will fail. Then you will leave and that half-trained Army will break into militias that will be a problem for Pakistan. I don’t believe that the Congress is going to pay $9 billion a year for this 400,000-man force.”
Most people in the world would lean to the view of Kayani, rejecting the more sanguine assessment by author Lieven. But supporting the general’s point of view would carry dire consequences for Pakistan. He is not in favor of getting the Army to fight the terrorists in Pakistan—all Al Qaeda affiliates who were once Pakistan’s means of fighting the asymmetrical war with India. And everybody in Pakistan knows that the police will not be able to take the field against these well-trained guerrillas, especially after the general’s tough foreign policy has barricaded the country against any U.S.-European counterterrorism assistance.
Prediction: the next government will do nothing about the country’s overpopulation since this would be taking on the ideology of the country and those who, including the Taliban, stand behind it.
A joint study by two think tanks, America’s Stimson Center and Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute, released in February looked at the demographic profile of India and Pakistan in relation to the per capita water availability from Indus Basin rivers. It warned: “An evaluation calculates that total annual availability of renewable water on the Indian portion of the Indus Basin will slip from 2,109 cubic meters per capita in 2000 to 1,732 cubic meters in 2050. On the Pakistani portion of the basin, yearly per capita water availability is expected to slide from 1,332 cubic meters to 545 cubic meters.” Since the issue requires immediate efforts with long-gestation results, the next government will focus more on increasing conflict than palliating it by cooperating with India on population increase and environmental degradation.
Prediction: In 2008, on the eve of the elections, the consensus among the political parties was that education was the country’s No. 1 problem. No one paid attention to the crisis of declining or defective literacy after being elected in the provinces. Far from removing the intellectually challenging ideological defects that render education toxic, the next government will laboriously ignore the sector and leave the problem for coming governments to wrestle with.
The crisis in the Islamic world today is that of education in the wake of the dominance of religion over secular nationalism of the past century. Pakistani leaders find themselves intellectually ill-equipped to understand the nature of knowledge and its harnessing to ethical behavior. This leeching of the collective mind will continue across many elections and their baleful fallout.
This article was originally published at: Weekly Newsweek
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.