The region and the world are in a state of transition. The US forces, after a decade of fighting, are pulling out of Afghanistan and willing to negotiate with Afghan Taliban, which was a taboo a couple of years back. There is a shift in US policy to concentrate on Asia Pacific. The Presidents of the US and of Iran have talked to each other after as long as a period as 34 years. If there is a U-turn in their relationship, there is a possibility of the development of a nexus, in future, amongst India, Iran and America.
China is concentrating on its economic growth and is not likely to confront with any power in the near future, least of all the US. India has traditionally close relations with Iran and Russia, has developed strategic ties with the US and is in the process of having better relations with China. There are elections in five Indian states during this month and the general elections are due to be held in May 2014. Elections in Afghanistan are due early next year.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s supreme leader Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed last week. Mulla Fazalullah has replaced him. He is rigid and could not be trusted by the government. The Taliban have a perception that the drone attack which killed Hakeemullah was launched in collaboration with the government of Pakistan and that they would retaliate.
Pakistanis are divided on the issue of dealing with the militants. Those who are perpetrating terrorism are viewed with sympathy in some quarters. There is a pressure on the government to confront with the US on the issue of drone strikes. There is a demand to stop the movement of NATO trucks passing through Pakistan without considering its pros and cons. They forget that, in the past, when the NATO supply route was cut off, the drone strikes did not stop, and the US used the Uzbekistan route though it was costly. Now, if the relations of the US and Iran improve, the US can use an equally cost effective route through Iranian Chahbahar port, which route from Afghanistan to Persian Gulf was developed with Indian help. Thus whatever leverage Pakistan has with the US will be denied to it and there is no guarantee that drone strikes would stop, unless Pakistan restores its writ in Waziristan and ensures that no terrorist moves to Afghanistan from Pakistani soil.
It is in the interest of Pakistan that the US withdraws and the insurgency in Afghanistan comes to an end. If there is peace in Afghanistan, there would be peace in Pakistan. Pakistan’s current troubles had started with the Afghan war commencing in 1978. It promoted trans-border migration and the massive influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan introduced a gun culture in the country. The Iranian revolution in 1979 unleashed a wave of sectarianism in the country. It would be hard to dismiss allegations of funding from outside that is said to be promoting a proxy war in which the two sectarian groups are involved. Several members of the transnational terrorist groups fighting against the US occupation forces and their allied government in Afghanistan also moved into Pakistan. They oppose Pakistan for its ties with the pro-US Afghan government and its role in the war on terror as an ally of the United States.
Internally, Pakistan has several issues to deal with. It is a victim of terrorism. It lost about 40,000 civilians and 4000 security personnel, and much more than this number were wounded or disabled. Monetarily, Pakistan has suffered a loss of approximately US$ 100 billion on one count or the other in the war against terror.
Pakistan needs peace and security so that it can deal with the problems faced by the country such as economic development, religious and ethnic communalism, poverty, corruption, proliferation of weapons, poor state of law and order, protection of the life and property of the people and improving their quality of life. Pakistan has also to deal with such issues as the polarization between modernists and the traditionalists, between the liberals and the orthodoxy. Paradoxically, on the one hand, the country produces broad minded educated individuals, such as academics and technocrats, who compete successfully with the rest of the world, on the other, misguided fundamentalists and extremists are on a rampage across the country.
Jihadism that was initially sparked by the Kashmir’s struggle for independence later developed manifold when it was entrenched in the war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The non-resolution of Kashmir dispute has resulted in Indo-Pak wars and is perpetuating a culture of defiance and violence. Jihadis have become so emboldened that they are targeting those who oppose them including the security forces of Pakistan. This is helped by their misguided radicalism, gun culture, relaxation in enforcement of rule of law and weakening of the writ of the government in certain areas, as well as the reported external hand in the mischief.
The name of religion is being exploited by certain leaders and misinterpreted by some others to promote their interests and objectives. There seems general reluctance, possibly out of fear, to criticize and condemn the radical militants, thus suppressing the expression of progressive ideas. The radicalism is against the tolerant and progressive concept of those who are responsible for the establishment of Pakistan. Currently, Muslims have grown more conscious of their sectarian and regional identity variations.
What is to be done? The people should not be led away by emotions but all forces — political parties, civil society, religious scholars, media and the armed forces — need to be on one-page to address the problems faced by the country. There is always sanity in collective wisdom, which should be used. Pakistanis are capable of demonstrating remarkable national unity as was the case during the struggle for independence in 1946-47and thereafter during wars and natural calamities like the unprecedented 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods. There is a need for similar unity, solidarity and urge in dealing with the extraordinary internal and external issues faced by the country.