Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Foreign policy challenges for Premier Nawaz Sharif - Arab News

Pakistan is confronted with a slew of formidable challenges on the internal and external fronts as the new regime is poised to be installed under the stewardship of Muhammad Nawaz Sharif after his resounding victory in the just concluded elections. Terrorism that poses existentialist threat to Pakistan, diabolical economic situation, burgeoning power crisis and the self-defeating foreign policy waiting to be re-calibrated in line with the new geo-political realities in our region, are some of the issues that will test the political acumen, sagacity, vision and ability of Nawaz Sharif to tide them over.
Unfortunately, the external factors like the situation in Afghanistan unfurled in the wake of war on terrorism, which Pakistan is fighting as a frontline state in collaboration with US and its allies, have had a very adverse impact on the law and order situation in the country with the resultant instability undermining the flow of foreign investment in the country. Even domestic investments have also exhibited a perturbing nosedive leading to accentuation of unemployment situation in the country, further compounded by the most severest and unprecedented energy crisis in the country. Fixing the economy is no doubt one of the top most priorities of Nawaz Sharif, but as is evident from the foregoing, it will to a great extent depend on peace returning to Afghanistan. Besides it will also test the ability of Nawaz Sharif to first orchestrate smooth pull out of the US-NATO troops and equipment from Afghanistan, and then facilitating a rapprochement between the Taleban and the Afghan regime and between the Taleban and Karzai's northern allies. Merely pullout of US troops by 2014 is not going to resolve the Afghan conundrum. Reconciliation between the Afghan factions in the backdrop of US pullout is much more important as far as peace in that war-ravaged country is concerned. The analysts are expressing the fear that until and unless the stakeholders in Afghanistan do not agree to end fighting and animosity between them, the country might relapse into anarchy that was witnessed after US withdrawal from Afghanistan in the wake of Russian pull out. That could be very disastrous for Pakistan. So peace in Afghanistan is not only important for the Afghans themselves but is equally vital for Pakistan. The situation undoubtedly is very convoluted. Besides winning the Afghan confidence as an honest broker of peace, Pakistan will have to review the entire security paradigm that has not only failed to deliver but created myriad of threats for its own security. So far the military establishment has been running the foreign policy component pertaining to Afghanistan and India which might have to be revisited because much will depend on Nawaz's ability to change the civil-military imbalance. There are however already some visible portents suggesting that the military was willing to let the new Prime Minister give a chance to his perceived policy initiatives.
One very encouraging factor in regards to dealing with terrorism and bringing peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the trust and goodwill that Nawaz Sharif enjoys with the Afghan Taleban and Tahrik-i-Taleban (TTP). The TTP has on many occasions expressed positive sentiments about him and of late also responded optimistically to his repeated stance on holding talks with them. Nawaz Sharif during his last two stints as prime minister has dealt with leaders of the seven Afghan factions who fought against the soviets and the Taleban. He was instrumental in bringing the warlords twice to the negotiating table that resulted in the Peshawar and Islamabad accords which envisaged end of fighting, formation of a government through elections and the drawing up of a constitution for the country. But unfortunately those attempts failed to materialize due to the revival of old animosities and the interventions of some foreign powers. Nawaz Sharif for the third time succeeded in arranging talks between the Taleban and the Northern Alliance in Islamabad. As prime minister he accorded recognition to the Taleban government before any other country. Those were indeed spectacular achievements of Nawaz Sharif that endeared him well with the Taleban, Northern Alliance and to some extent with the Karzai government.
Although the ground realities have radically changed since the 90's and new players and factors have been added to the situation, due to re-emergence of strong alliance in the north between Gen. Dostum and Hizb-e-Wahdat, called Northern Front of Afghanistan, fissures among Taleban and Karzai seemingly losing control, yet it can be hoped that Nawaz Sharif through his experience in dealing with Afghan leaders, his vision and determination is better placed to pull off a miracle in Afghanistan. Another very encouraging reality is that China will also be watching with growing optimism and support the efforts of Nawaz Sharif in bringing peace to Afghanistan and an end to terrorism in the region. Nawaz Sharif has been a staunch advocate of improving relations with India and abandoning the security doctrine that has been built around threats from that country; very rightly so.

His efforts of warming to India during his two stints as prime minister however did not go well with the army and he eventually became a victim of these initiatives when Gen. Pervez Musharraf removed him through a coup in October 1999. Nawaz Sharif however still seems absolutely convinced that improving relations with India was utmost necessary for peace and progress in the region and has made no secrets about it. In a statement after the victory he made it clear that he would restart that effort from where he had left. Fortunately for him the developments since 1999 also strongly support his view of rapprochement with India and there is a strong and well considered view within the country that we need to revisit our security doctrine. The army leadership more or less is prepared to give a chance to the new thinking too. A hand-shake with India is also significant with regards to the developments in Afghanistan where US is contemplating a bigger role for her in the years to come. If Sharif is able to achieve what he contemplates in regards to burying the hatchet with India, it will indeed usher an era of economic prosperity and peace in the region. Iran is another stakeholder in Afghanistan.
Nawaz Sharif will also have to handle the new found bonhomie between Pakistan and Iran with all the shrewdness he can muster.
Relations with US are also of utmost importance for Pakistan. It is gratifying to note that despite his anti-US rhetoric during the election campaign he has now given positive indications about Pakistan's continued engagement with US. That is a pragmatic attitude and sign of a leader ready to recognize the ground realities. Pakistan needs US for peace in Afghanistan as much as the latter needs Pakistan. Further Pakistan would require the support of US in obtaining loans from IMF and the world bank to revive its economy, which will in fact equip Nawaz Sharif with the power and aplomb that he needs to stem the rot on the internal and external fronts.

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