SPEAKING FREELY Challenges loom for post-2014 Pakistan
By Arshad Mahmood
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
Three important questions are linked with the departure of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014: the future shape of Afghanistan; the spillover of Kabul's internal dynamics to regional politics, peace and stability with specific reference to Pakistan; and, the response of the international community.
Political analysts of variant schools of thought have divergent
views on all three key issues. The followers of Frances Fukuyama's neoliberal philosophy adopt an "inside-out" approach in examining future Afghan behavior - domestically, regionally and internationally - in relations to its endogenous arrangements.
Just as Fukuyama claimed that the collapse of the Soviet Union was triumph of liberal ideological philosophy, his cliques too believe today that the withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan will result in Afghan internal stability promoting regional stability and international security.
The same hypothesis is even pronounced among most Pakistani analysts who denote the US withdrawal to the end of the war on terror. They see an end to the ongoing violence in Pakistan and the commencement of renowned era of perpetual peace in the country. Secondly, they expect a significant reduction and eventually riddance of US drones attacks on Pakistani soil; and thirdly, a revival of unfettered economic activities with return of foreign investors.
The chief exponents of this optimistic proposition of Pakistan's post-2014 scenario are not mainly the religious-political elements but a blend of political parties and individual leaders, defense and security analysts, non-state actors, and academia who - considering the US 2001 intervention and its ever since presence in Afghanistan as root-cause of Pakistan's startling security and economic situation - have been raising their voices in social media and leading anti-US campaign throughout the country.
The realist faction in contrast maintains the opposite perspective. As per the contemporary neoclassical realist theory, a state's behavior in international system is a product of systematic variables - like the distribution of power capabilities among states as well cognitive variables like threat perception and domestic variables like state institutions, elites, and societal actors. The cumulative effect of all such variables influences the freedom of action of decision-makers and results in either strengthening or disturbing a state's center of gravity (CoG).
The enduring war on terror has not only badly affected the social fiber of Pakistan but to a great extent has disturbed its CoG. This ontological judgment forces the neoclassical realist political thinkers to believe that real challenges for Islamabad lie ahead when the US-led coalition leaves Afghanistan in 2014.
Unfolding the pot-2014 scenario, the realist pundits make certain circumstantial assumptions. The US withdrawal plan includes leaving a sizeable force in Afghanistan and handing over the Afghan security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF).
Three elements are crucially associated with the success of the strategy: the capacity and transparency of Afghan government; capabilities of ANSF; and the Taliban factor. Unfortunately, all the three factors raise serious concerns about the future of Afghan domestic environment as well its spill over to Pakistan.
After the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, the US failed to form a broad-based Afghan government which had been a long-stalled UN desire. The Karzai government, despite full support from international community, has remained weak and rampant with corruption. Several faction leaders - representing the Afghan ethnic and regional power structure - have already begun to plan for 2014.Generally, the Afghan masses rely on such informal powerbrokers - rather than the government - to protect them with the possible conflicts with Taliban after 2014.
Hence, in the absence of international security mission, there is likely to be a vacuum in Afghanistan power structure inviting Taliban to fill the gaps.
The ANSF is a blend of three principle components: Afghan National Army, Afghan National Air Force and Afghan National Police. The effectiveness, professionalism and state of its readiness to assume the ensuing security responsibilities are questionable as it suffers from both quality and quantity imbalances.
Apart from suffering from critical deficiencies in equipment and weaponry, there are numerous shortcomings in their training. Furthermore, drug abuse, desertion, and violence remain persistent challenges within police, whereas the army faces serious issues of ethnic factionalism.
Above all, the Taliban are a reality in Afghanistan. Ever since their ouster from power in 2001, the Taliban have proved resilient, enjoyed political and psychological support in the south and been running a parallel government structure - undermining the US-supported Karzai government.
Since 2010, both the US and Afghan officials have been pursuing talks with Taliban for a negotiated settlement to the Afghanistan conflict. But prospects for such a settlement have always remained uncertain.
The recent episode of stalled Doha process has caused exasperation in both Washington and Kabul. The complete failure of incorporating Taliban in peace process could spark turmoil rather than stitch up a genuine, peaceful transition of power - essential for the safe completion of the 2014 military drawdown.
The prevailing and perceived future Afghan scenarios encompass potentially disastrous long-term consequences for Pakistan. Despite unprecedented sacrifices in the war on terror, the international community still considers Pakistan as part of the problem rather than its solution. The US strongly believes that Taliban and al-Qaeda have their sanctuaries situated inside Pakistan which is a core reason of instability in Afghanistan.
Pakistan and the US have been fighting war on terror as disenchanted allies. The tangent approaches which both the nations have been following during the war, corroborate their diverging interests and variant recipes for Afghan solution.
The prevailing acrimony is likely to even widen the gulf in future Pakistan-US future relations - posing several pragmatic challenges to the newly elected democratic government in Pakistan.
Realists sense that the overall situation: firstly, may isolate Pakistan internationally on the pretext of exporting terrorism from Pakistani soil - especially North Waziristan; secondly, increase intensity of signature drone attacks in FATA; and, thirdly, further exacerbate the internal law and order situation with in Pakistan.
Above all one cannot ignore the Indian factor in Afghanistan. Indian involvement in Afghanistan is a true reflection of Kautiliyan philosophy that regards neighbors as enemies and an enemy's immediate neighbor as a friend.
Due to its geo-strategic proximity and a potential threat to Pakistan on its Western border, Afghanistan is a vital component in the Indian regional policy. Pakistan, conversely, visualizes Indian influence in Afghanistan as part of its double envelopment movement, and a source of fueling unrest in FATA, KPK and Balochistan.
India has already established over one dozen consulates in Afghanistan and invested heavily - nearly $2 billion in 2012 only - to establish its hold in Kabul. This is neither out of sheer love with the poor Afghanistan masses nor to facilitate the US in achieving a clean break in 2014, but to meet its own strategic objectives.
Pakistan's decision makers and its think tank need to respond to the emerging multi-directional and multi dimensional intrigues / threats to its security. It's better to complete the homework today than resorting to firefighting tomorrow.
The holding of All Parties Conference (APC) is a step in the right direction so as to bring all stakeholders on one page. A further delay would only reinforce the chaotic theory and help our foes. However, the decisions taken should not prove to be paperwork only - as was the fate of previous APCs - rather, the practical manifestation as its hallmark.
Formulation of long-awaited National Security Strategy - encompassing all the facets of national security - is recommended to be the top government priority. A two-point agenda can serve as cornerstone of our national security policy: one, denial of our soil to both internal as well external elements for exporting violence; two, denial an access to our soil to foreign forces causing violence and instability within country.
Instituting a National Security Command Authority may be evaluated as it would help in accomplishing concentration of resources and economy of efforts - both key principles of war.
Nations do face challenges - it's part of nation making recipe - but only those nations survive and excel whose leadership takes timely and right decisions. While addressing the first constituent assembly on August 11, 1947, the father of the nation - Quaid-e-Azam Muhammah Ali Jinnah - expounded his vision of making Pakistan a proud and prosperous nation. We can do that - even today - by forgetting the past, burying the hatchet and taking decisions in the best national interests of the country.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Arshad Mahmood is a scholar M Phil (IR) at the National Defence University, Islamabad and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org