Our Beacon Forum

Great Challenges for the great IK
By:Asif Haroon, Islamabad
Date: Wednesday, 22 August 2018, 11:45 pm

Imran Khan (IK) has assumed charge of the government at a time when Pakistan is in dire economic strait and the disenfranchised people socially traumatized. It is politically polarized, economically weak and is carrying a huge burden of foreign debt and circular debt. Foreign exchange reserves have dipped to about $10 billion while fiscal deficit and current account deficit have ballooned.

Pakistan is faced with looming water crisis and has still not overcome the menace of terrorism. Regionalism has gained strength as can be seen from the emergence of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement in FATA/Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), simmering in Gilgit-Baltistan and in AJK, and foreign abetted terrorism in Baluchistan.

IK has promised a lot and is expected to show results in next 100 days. He is determined to bring back the $200 billion looted wealth from abroad, end culture of corruption and pomposity, introduce simplicity and austerity, carryout across the board accountability, restore merit, provide jobs to ten million people, and 50 lacs houses to the poor, provide clean drinking water, make the country green by planting trees, carryout electoral, bureaucratic, judicial, education, health and police reforms, build Diamer Bhasha dam, implement 20-point National Action Plan. He intends to convert PM House and Governor Houses into public places and has taken a lead by shifting to the 3-bed house of military secretary, has cut down servants from 520 to two and fleet of cars to two. On the occasion of oath taking ceremony, only tea and biscuits were served.

At the outset he has made mistakes which are censured by his critics. In his bid to complete the number game in the Centre and in Punjab, he had to induct independents and members from PML-Q and MQM whom he had severely disparaged and vowed that he will never take them on board. In his 21-member cabinet, 18 are from other parties and only three from PTI. Most censured act is the selection of chief minister Punjab about which apart from PTI, all are of the view that it is not a wise choice. Handing over portfolio of defence minister to former CM KP Pervez Khattak is viewed as a poor choice. Placing of jailed three-time PM Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam on exit control list, while ignoring absconder Gen Musharraf living in self-imposed exile and wanted by the trial court is also not well received.

The country is faced with major challenges on the foreign policy front. Pakistan’s foreign policy is often visualized through the prism of the country’s unpredictable relations with Afghanistan, the eternal rivalry and perpetual tension on the Line of Control (LoC) with its much bigger neighbor India and the love-hate relationship with the United States. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of Middle East also figure out notably in the foreign policy framework. The US, western world, Israel and Afghanistan are heavily tilted towards India and have formed a strategic nexus. China and Turkey are the only two countries upon which Pakistan can depend upon but both are faced with US sanctions.

While IK did not explain his government foreign policy in his inaugural address to the nation on August 18, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s news conference soon after taking charge of office in Islamabad on August 20 quietened the critics. Besides passing on a message of peace to the governments and people of Afghanistan and India, Qureshi also tried to dispel the general impression that the security establishment is the real formulator of Pakistan’s foreign policy. He made it clear that the foreign policy will be made at the Foreign Office of Pakistan.

Strained relations with USA

Relationship with the US is at the lowest ebb. Insecurity in Afghanistan has been one of the major reasons for the ups and downs in relations between the two countries. After spending billions of dollars and sacrificing the lives of more than 2,300 American men and women over the past 17 years, the US wants to terminate the war and exit with honor.

Miffed by the defiance of Pakistan, the US is prompting Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to black list Pakistan if it refuses to mend its ways. The FATF, the global financial watchdog, has placed Pakistan on the grey list at a time when the country needs an immediate bailout package of $12 billion. To this end a meeting has already taken place few days ago and the next meeting is scheduled in October. The US has already frozen aid to Pakistan for the country’s alleged failure to take serious steps in fighting terrorism and extremism.

Since Trump’s security speech on Afghanistan on August 22, 2017, the US has been distancing itself from Pakistan and is now at the verge of cutting off relations and imposing sanctions. After several punitive steps, the Trump administration has now instructed the IMF to give loan to Pakistan only if it receives an assurance that the money will neither be used to repay the loans to China, nor for the development of CPEC. It has made it clear that help will be rendered if IK becomes compliant to a degree of undercutting his domestic credibility and dipping Pakistan’s relations with China. CPEC has become a bigger threat than nuclear program for USA since it breaks the strategic encirclement and containment of China, and also poses a threat to the US hegemony in Asia.

The Trump administration, in its latest attempt to put pressure on Pakistan, has started to close various training programs for Pakistani military officials. Trump’s decision to shut down military training programs that have kept the two countries’ security institutions engaged means that Washington’s influence will further reduce over the country, particularly when it comes to the question of engaging with the national security establishment in Pakistan.

The US stand to lose more by withdrawing the training than just the prospects of future relations with the Pakistan military. They have only two plausible access routes to Central Asia. One passes through Iran and the other via Pakistan. Having already severed relations with Iran, it makes no sense to push Pakistan into a corner at the same time as well. The US has all along been giving a raw deal to Pakistan. Drone attacks, raids on military posts, refusal to reimburse costs of logistics supplies, cessation of military aid, do more mantra etc. are the rewards doled out for the huge sacrifices rendered.

Presumably, Washington take it for granted that Pakistan's dependence on the US for spare parts and stores for her existing military equipment is such that it over-rides all other considerations.

The US changed stance towards Pakistan and its heavy tilt towards India will certainly become a factor that will further drive away Pakistan’s national security apparatus when it comes to developing strategic ties with other states that are willing to fill the void being left by the US.

The possibility that Washington may resuscitate the military training program for Islamabad in the near future cannot be ruled out. Pakistan cannot afford to wait for any such development to take place. Pakistan is bound to feel alarmed and threatened enough to consider instituting suitable measures to protect her security that may not suit the US in the future. Pakistan has already signed a military training agreement with Russia and the first group of Pakistani military officers is expected to arrive in Russia soon. According to the agreement, the Pakistani military officials will receive training in Russia’s military institutes.

The decision is likely to further isolate Washington’s remaining pockets of influence in Pakistan. Pakistan’s national security establishment, which prefers to maintain a working relationship with the US, particularly in the area of security cooperation, is not going to appreciate a decision that directly targets its institutional professional development and outreach. It will only leave Washington more secluded when it comes to developing a direct connection with Pakistan’s security institutions.

Furthermore, an effort to segregate Pakistan militarily at a time when the US is trying to directly engage the Afghan Taliban doesn’t bode well for any effort to revive the Afghan peace process. Pakistan has big stakes in the Afghan peace process and an eventual settlement will have to incorporate Pakistan’s concerns. In that context, the ongoing targeting of the country’s security apparatus would simply create more distrust among both countries’ national security institutions, which are directly engaged in Afghanistan.

Pak Army’s resolute stance against Indian aggressive posturing and on Kashmir issue and its insistence to reduce Indian influence in Afghanistan irrespective of what the puppet Afghan regime in Kabul may want are not to the liking of Washington. To keep Pakistan under pressure, the US-Afghan-India trio keep hurling unsubstantiated allegations of providing safe havens to Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network. Imran is also accused of having a soft corner towards the Taliban.

The military leadership has concluded that the US is not a reliable bilateral and regional partner. GHQ has decided to abstain from doing more at the cost of harming Pakistan’s national interests. This change in posture has angered the US. The US policy makers are feeling upset that Imran Khan will “lubricate the military agenda”, since he is viewed as a pawn of the military, likely to pursue GHQ dictated national security policy.