Tough De­ci­sions

Ma­jor for­eign pol­icy chal­lenges lie ahead for Nawaz Sharif and it re­mains un­cer­tain whether he will be able to ma­neu­ver them in Pak­istan’s fa­vor.

Southasia - - COVER STORY FOREIGN POLICY - By Talat Ma­sood

The peace over­tures and of­fer of talks to the Pak­istani Tal­iban by Nawaz Sharif would be wel­comed by the Afghan regime pro­vided th­ese re­sult in their join­ing the po­lit­i­cal main­stream and not be di­verted to fight side by side with their Afghan coun­ter­parts.

In his two pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tions, our third time Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif has been heav­ily pre­oc­cu­pied with do­mes­tic is­sues. He has en­gaged in for­eign pol­icy when cir­cum­stances prac­ti­cally forced him, oth­er­wise his in­ter­est was min­i­mal and it was mostly re­ac­tive. There were how­ever a few oc­ca­sions such as when Pak­istan con­ducted the nu­clear tests in 1998 or when the Kargil fi­asco trig­gered a se­ri­ous in­ter­na­tional cri­sis.

This time the PML govern­ment of Nawaz Sharif is as­sum­ing power when the coun­try is faced with acute do­mes­tic and for­eign pol­icy chal­lenges. On the do­mes­tic front is the on­go­ing in­sur­gency in FATA, in­creas­ing ter­ror­ist at­tacks, an acute en­ergy cri­sis and a fal­ter­ing econ­omy. Com­bat­ing th­ese do­mes­tic is­sues will need peace­ful bor­ders and in­ter­na­tional sup­port both at the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal level. Equally de­mand­ing at­ten­tion of the govern­ment is the ex­ter­nal sce­nario; es­pe­cially re­la­tions with In­dia, Afghanistan and the US. And the ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal sit­u­a­tion is in­ter­twined.

From the re­cent state­ments of Nawaz Sharif it is am­ply clear that he has ac­corded high pri­or­ity to mov­ing for­ward with In­dia on the peace process. He plans to build from where his ef­forts at rec­on­cil­i­a­tion were abruptly cut off in 1999, fol­low­ing the mil­i­tary coup. The In­dian lead­er­ship has re­sponded pos­i­tively, but cau­tiously. It seems they would be closely watch­ing the po­lit­i­cal govern­ment’s con­trol over for­eign pol­icy and es­pe­cially mat­ters that af­fect In­dia. In his pre elec­tion in­ter­ac­tion with the In­dian me­dia, Nawaz Sharif has ex­pressed his de­ter­mi­na­tion to pur­sue the ju­di­cial case against the per­pe­tra­tors of the Mum­bai in­ci­dent and con­trol the ji­hadi ele­ments in Pak­istan. To what ex­tent he would suc­ceed in tak­ing along the mil­i­tary on th­ese sen­si­tive is­sues would be of great sig­nif­i­cance for the In­dian lead­er­ship. If Nawaz Sharif can demon­strate that he can take cal­cu­lated risks on the In­di­aPak­istan track and move faster than other politi­cians it would be re­as­sur­ing for the In­dian lead­er­ship. He has strong cre­den­tials to build a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with In­dia and be a re­li­able part­ner in the quest for peace. If he is able to build a rep­u­ta­tion for bet­ter gov­er­nance, is per­son­ally un­cor­rupt and takes in­cre­men­tal steps to bring the mil­i­tary un­der in­sti­tu­tional con­trol of the ex­ec­u­tive then he will man­age to fa­cil­i­tate build­ing bridges with In­dia.

It is ex­pected that Nawaz Sharif will im­press upon his In­dian coun­ter­part that no sub­stan­tive and en­dur­ing re­la­tion­ship can be forged with­out move­ment on core is­sues, even if th­ese are kept on the back­burner for a few years. With In­dian elec­tions not far away in 2014, Prime Min­is­ter Singh’s space for ma­neu­ver on the core is­sues of Jammu & Kash­mir, Si­achen and Sir Creek in the near term will be very limited.

Mean­while, the two coun­tries should press for­ward on less con­tentious is­sues of trade and com­merce, eas­ing of the visa regime and cul­tural ex­changes and cre­ate an ami­able en­vi­ron­ment. The visit of Mr. Lamba as a back chan­nel emis­sary of PM Man­mo­han Singh, soon af­ter the elec­tions was good sig­nal­ing and a wel­come de­vel­op­ment that needs to be fol­lowed up.

With the on­go­ing withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, man­ag­ing re­la­tions with Afghanistan and the U.S. for the new govern­ment would be cru­cial. Pres­i­dent Karzai’s rather ag­gres­sive and un­pre­dictable be­hav­ior to­ward Pak­istan, es­pe­cially since the last few months, makes mat­ters more com­plex. By scape-goat­ing Pak­istan for all of Afghanistan’s woes, Pres­i­dent Karzai, whose term of of­fice ex­pires in 2014, hopes he will re­ha­bil­i­tate his po­lit­i­cal stand­ing and de­flect at­ten­tion from his govern­ment’s poor record in gov­er­nance and cor­rupt rep­u­ta­tion.

No doubt, Pres­i­dent Karzai has cer­tain ex­pec­ta­tions from Pak­istan that re­main un­ful­filled. He has been press­ing Pak­istan to re­lease the Afghan Tal­iban and use its in­flu­ence to bring them to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. About ten to twelve Tal­iban lead­ers were re­leased last year but the process has since stopped. The Tal­iban lead­er­ship re­fuses to en­gage in dia­logue with the Afghan govern­ment and wants to deal di­rectly with the U.S. More im­por­tantly, Pres­i­dent Karzai wants Pak­istan to en­sure that the Pak­istani Tal­iban do not join the fight with the Afghan Tal­iban in the event that peace ef­forts fail. Nawaz Sharif will try to im­prove re­la­tions

with Pres­i­dent Karzai and reach out to the North­ern Al­liance and other power cen­ters in Afghanistan. Ad­dress­ing the con­cerns of Afghan lead­er­ship would be a dif­fi­cult task for the new govern­ment.

The peace over­tures and of­fer of talks to the Pak­istani Tal­iban by Nawaz Sharif would be wel­comed by the Afghan regime pro­vided th­ese re­sult in their join­ing the po­lit­i­cal main­stream and not be di­verted to fight side by side with their Afghan coun­ter­parts.

From the PML (N) govern­ment’s side, it will be wary to any ex­ces­sive strate­gic space be­ing pro­vided by Afghanistan to In­dia. Al­ready agree­ments ex­ist whereby the In­dian mil­i­tary is pro­vid­ing train­ing and sup­ply­ing weapon sys­tems for the Afghan se­cu­rity forces. De­spite the re­stricted space for ma­neu­ver, the new govern­ment will make se­ri­ous ef­forts at im­prov­ing re­la­tions with Afghanistan.

At a time when U.S. forces are with­draw­ing from Afghanistan, re­la­tions with it ac­quire spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance. The use of drones will be a ma­jor ir­ri­tant. The pol­icy on drones an­nounced re­cently by Pres­i­dent Obama re­stricts its use world­wide with the ex­cep­tion of Pak­istan and Afghanistan. De­spite protests from our po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, drone strikes in the tribal re­gion will con­tinue dur­ing the withdrawal phase from Afghanistan to keep pres­sure on the Afghan Tal­iban and Al Qaeda re­sid­ing in the sanc­tu­ar­ies of the tribal re­gion. The re­spon­si­bil­ity of their use will rest with the CIA. It is pos­si­ble that the fre­quency of strikes may be re­duced to par­tially mol­lify the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, but will not com­pletely stop.

Pak­istan will have to come up with a more holis­tic ap­proach to­wards deal­ing with the TTP. Nawaz Sharif op­poses the use of drones and is in fa­vor of dia­logue with the Tal­iban. If Wash­ing­ton were to ac­cede to Pak­istan’s de­mand on drones, which of course is un­likely, and the govern­ment en­gages in dia­logue with the TTP un­con­di­tion­ally, it would be giv­ing them com­plete freedom to ex­pand and con­sol­i­date their po­si­tion.

The abil­ity of Pak­istan to pro­vide safe pas­sage to weapons and equip­ment of U.S. and NATO forces dur­ing the withdrawal phase will be an im­por­tant fac­tor in build­ing con­fi­dence and trust with th­ese coun­tries.

The U.S. also ex­pects that the Pak­istan army un­der­take mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in North Waziris­tan against the Haqqani net­work but of late has been re­strained in press­ing on this de­mand in pub­lic. Un­less Pak­istan re­gains con­trol over th­ese un­governed ar­eas, the re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. and Afghanistan will re­main tense and un­pre­dictable. The sanc­tu­ar­ies in North Waziris­tan and other parts of the tribal re­gion have be­come the haven of ter­ror­ists and crim­i­nals that are desta­bi­liz­ing the coun­try and are a threat to its neigh­bors. No re­spon­si­ble govern­ment can af­ford to ig­nore th­ese hard re­al­i­ties.

The new govern­ment will have to ef­fec­tively ad­dress th­ese is­sues if it wants to sus­tain the sup­port of its peo­ple and re­gain cred­i­bil­ity abroad. Talat Ma­sood is a re­tired Lieu­tenant Gen­eral of the Pak­istan Army Corps of Engi­neers. Gen­eral Ma­sood holds a Masters de­gree in De­fense and Strate­gic Stud­ies and has also served as a vis­it­ing fel­low at the Stim­son Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. He was a con­sul­tant for the lead­ing U.S. de­fense man­u­fac­turer United De­fense Limited Part­ner­ship (UDLP) for five years. He cur­rently writes on national se­cu­rity, weapons pro­lif­er­a­tion, and has been cov­er­ing Pak­istan and In­dia’s nu­clear pro­gram.

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