Erring on both fronts: The civil military divide is the biggest hindrance in putting the house in order
On the domestic front, former PM Nawaz Sharif’s aggressive posturing towards the “deep state” has created more polarization and uncertainty, aggravated further in part by sensationalism in partisan media.
Moreover, ahead of the next general election in 2018, political parties are shaping up their fierce rallying narratives to woo the voters. The rhetoric is one full of vitriolic blame-game and confrontation especially in wake of Nawaz Sharif’s ouster. And it is to become more hostile and pungent as we draw closer to the electioneering season.
Then there is the dangerous political mainstreaming of radical sectarian and militant groups that may eventually amount to radicalizing mainstream politics itself.
These indicators together paint a dismal picture of overall domestic political landscape that features political uncertainty, friction among institutions and fear of rise of radical religious right.
Similarly, on the external front, especially in wake of Trump’s announcement of South Asia strategy, the ongoing diplomatic row has turned up the heat that needs to be handled with sober and thoroughly thought out public diplomacy. On the external front, although a full-time Foreign Minister took charge and things have started moving, our approach remains largely reactionary and not proactive. Recently, the Foreign Office and the diplomatic machinery seem to have jolted into (re)action only after Trump’s announcement of South Asia strategy and BRICS summit.
Even after the BRICS summit, when Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif conceded that internationally banned outfits – LeT and JeM – did actually exist in Pakistan and that we will continue to face embarrassment, there was quite hysterical uproar over his remarks. In any event, the fact remains that international pressure is mounting on Pakistan over hosting their favorite militants with China also joining the chorus.
On this front, Pakistan has come to be known for harboring militants thus the persistent demands to “do more”. For us, it is time for clear-headed introspection and Asif’s honest remarks may be a point to start it with.
In this dismal domestic and foreign context laid out above, there is however some leads we should pay heed to:
Domestic politics and foreign relations go together, one feeding into the other. We have to admit that the current friction between civil and military institutions is reflected both in domestic politics – aggression and intervention – as well as in foreign affairs-overshadowed by Afghanistan and India centric security apparatus. Disconnect between the two dissipates any initiative meant to reconcile the differences. It does not bode well for political stability as well as coherent proactive regional diplomacy. It is advisable that civil (read PML-N) and military institutions put an end to their turf war of old days and see the bigger picture shaping up in the region. Only then we can truly implement NAP in spirit at home and also confidently sell our narrative of peace to the global community.
In this bigger picture that is shaping up, regional economic interdependence is of essence to us. In this sphere, we can benefit by bringing new ideas to the table through proactive diplomatic efforts. For instance, currently we seek to serve as a North-South trade route. Our geo-strategic location in the region grants us a unique position capitalizing on which we can also serve as East-West trade route. It will literally put us right at the center of regional economic interdependence. Similarly, for our stance on the Kashmir issue, we should, for instance, push for sustainable trade between the people of Kashmir on both sides of LoC. It will economically empower the people living in the conflict zone, increase cost of poor Pak-India bilateral relations and above all signify Pakistan’s proactive efforts for peace and economic ties. Essentially in order to improve our global reputation, proactive foreign policy and regional diplomatic initiatives should guide us.
On mainstreaming of radicals and militant groups at home, the fear is that it may also radicalize mainstream politics altogether. It must be noted that a public debate on this issue with clear terms of so-called mainstreaming should be encouraged instead of doing it in a behind-the-scene manner. Stealthy peddling of these groups makes international headlines and embarrasses us. We have to put down our foot here and redraw faultiness in response to new realities.
Finally, the most important of all is to admit in all sincerity that we have to put our house in order on both fronts, simultaneously. And keep doing that. We can’t sing to us the sweetest lullaby of All is Well all the time. Not only must civilians and military be on the same page, they must also be seen to be on the same page. We have certainly come a long way in fighting the menace of terrorism and have made a lot of sacrifices for it. To acknowledge it, sure the world may have a lot of catching-up to do but for us there is still a long way to go.