Pakistan cannot afford a failing Afghanistan: IPR

* Chairman Humayun Akhtar says security is vital for country's economic development

Pakistan cannot afford a failing Afghanistan: IPR

ISLAMABAD: "We must put people at the centre of our security strategy," said Humayun Akhtar Khan Chairman and CEO, Institute for Policy reforms.

He said this today at a panel discussion organized by the Institute to evolve a strategy for long-term security and stability in Pakistan. Khan said that security should be the top priority as it touched the life of every citizen. Economic progress was not possible without it. Safety, security, and prosperity were indivisible.

He said that the logic and nature of violence had evolved. War between two or more states was no longer the norm. Nor does violence have a clear beginning and an end. What Pakistan faces today is a situation of neither war nor peace. A mix of external and internal factors is at play. Violence in Pakistan is an amalgam of political, sectarian, and criminal factors. External forces cannot act on their own. They must have alliances with disaffected groups in the country.

In these circumstances, a nation's defence is no longer the responsibility of a single institution. Civil institutions and the whole country must contribute. Our methods too must change. We must find the reasons for disaffection and exclusion. Pakistan policy makers must act to respond to grievances within. Investing in citizens' security, justice, and jobs is essential to reducing violence, he said.

Pakistan must strengthen its economy to meet defence needs. The combination of large budget deficits, foreign exchange pressures, dependence on external aid, infrastructure deficit, and inability to invest in our human resource is unsustainable. He said that we must merge our economic, security, and development plans into a national security strategy. We need an integrated approach with each part of the state fully on board with the plans of the other.

Eminent analyst and columnist, General Talat Masood, said that since its creation, Pakistan has faced an existential challenge. This naturally increased the importance of the military in national decision-making. Pakistan has sought to balance the threat from India with global and regional alliances. The Army's centrality was reinforced by the fact that it is also the most organized institution in the country, especially when compared with political parties. What began as a necessity may have led it to become a vested interest. But the civilian leadership has never posed a serious threat to it because of dynastic politics and their lack of competence. In fact, civil leaders have ceded control of security and foreign policy to the Army.

Sustainable security will not come without a strong economy and reduction of dependence on foreign aid. We need to converge foreign, security, and economic policies. Both civil and military leaders must develop a common strategy. There was a link between internal and external security. For long-term stability, Pakistan must normalize relations with India and improve cooperation with Afghanistan. We need a qualitative change in our thinking. This calls for tempering our expectations on resolving the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan must give up the policy of supporting non-state actors. On the other hand, Pakistan must work with other countries regarding the grave human rights violation there. Kashmir also must have greater autonomy.

Renowned writer Ahmed Rashid gave an overview of the regional situation. He said that military operations in FATA have brought dramatic improvements in its security. However, terrorism in other parts of the country has worsened. Pakistan and Afghanistan both accuse each other of hosting the Taliban. TTP has sanctuaries in Afghanistan. Though Pakistan does not support the Afghan Taliban, their access to the border regions of Pakistan provides them a sanctuary.

He said that Afghanistan is a failing state. This has grave consequences for Pakistan and the region. He highlighted the real dangers of having a failing state in the immediate neighbourhood and recalled how Pakistan suffered after 1989 when Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. Pakistan would not like a repeat of that situation.

Pakistan's relations with Iran, India, and Afghanistan are strained. It is not clear why Pakistan has adopted a policy of friction on three fronts. India cannot intervene in our relations with Iran and Afghanistan if we kept good relations with them. Nor could India have tried to sabotage CPEC. It is not in our interest to be at odds with three of our neighbours.

A stimulating discussion followed the presentations by a knowledgeable group of participants comprising serving and former defence officers, Pakistan diplomats, Ambassadors and officers of foreign missions in Islamabad, the academia, and the media.