Senator Sherry Rehman, President, The Jinnah Institute Islamabad
As Pakistan transitions from a centrally run federation to a democracy where power is far more diffused than it used to be five years ago, the tackle and task of governance exhibit gaps at multiple levels.
The first and most obvious lag between policy and its execution in Pakistan shows up in the size and heft of the dragnet against terrorisme and violent extremism. The space still publicly available to a sizable group of militant outfits roils the national mainstream, but in a parallel dynamic, different levels of action against key groups has clearly begun. In countering this challenge, capacity and sequencing is clearly a regular juggle, but a major obstacle has also surfaced in official reluctance to tackle a critical mass of banned outfits in South Punjab.
What has tipped the military balance, and how long will the federal government negotiate with extremists who regularly hold the national agenda hostage without electoral support to back their demands? The landscape of state intent and action is both patchy and complex. Blowback and resistance to operational recapture of terrain in the tribal areas, particularly North Waziristan, have upped the scale and boom of terrorist audacity across Pakistan. Prior to the launch of coordinated CT operations, challenges to the writ of the government were crosshaired most often in the traditionally weak-governed spaces in Balochistan’s border areas, FATA, KPK and pockets of megacity Karachi. Today attacks on soft targets in the cities, especially religious minorities or members of the Shia community, are increasingly the norm. Recurring crises in the shape of spectacular attacks on urban spaces such as the army públic school in Peshawar and on Easter Sunday in a park in Lahore epitomize this trend. Kinetic operations, though, remain only one half of the problem. On the whole, political gaps such as limits on the government’s capacity to build unity, credible narratives and structures continue to drag policy coherence on a national action plan to counter violent extremism.
Regional tensions add to the challenge. Despite a renewed stated resolve by an increasingly active and high profile military leadership to make no distinction between different types of militant or insurgent, the problema mutates to paradox with ethnic and border-porosity with Afghanistan. A high degree of pressure from American and Afghan officials to follow a non-confrontational path across the border, including Pakistan’s own strategic propensity to not clash with powerful tribes in Afghanistan places Islamabad in a policy bind. While chasing one set of Taliban in Pakistan has become the daily grind of the military, for instance, attempting to reconcile the Afghan Taliban to Kabul is the other. Winning one may represent an existential battle central to Pakistan’s survival, but the other mission may well be both thankless as well as fruitless, despite its saliency to regional stability.
Senator Sherry Rehman is a Pakistani politician, an award-winning political journalist and diplomat, who is a member of the Senate and Vice President of the Pakistan Peoples Party. She was Pakistan´s Ambassador to the US, was a former Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, and is the founding Chair and President of the Jinnah Institute, Islamabad. She co-chairs several Track Two strategic dialogues with India, and is Convenor of a similar dialogue process between Pakistan and Afghanistan. She lectures widely on strategic security challenges facing Pakistan.