Security policy situation
It has been almost a year since Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and recently returned leader of the Pakistani opposition was assassinated in Rwalpindi on 28, December 2007. Since then, a peaceful transition of power has taken place in Pakistan. The constitutional dictatorship led by Musharraf army chief and president was exchanged for a civic coalition government in democratic elections, in accordance with the regional standards. The developments, at first sight reassuring, are accompanied by dangerous trends in domestic politics, security and the economy as well.
The surge of terrorism in Mumbai at the end of November 2008 has also proved that the integrity of the Pakistani state is highly questionable, since actors in the drama in India's primary business and economy centre included several persons of Pakistani background. Although Pakistan has so far consistently denied having had a part in the acts of terror, based on the information available it can be assumed that the assassination does have an Islamabad background and that the state is not capable of exerting complete control over the illegal preparation acts in process on its territory. Suspicion exists that in certain segments of the state there are more or less autonomous forces that proceed according to their own political agenda and possess the appropriate network and set of equipment for achieving their goals. (These forces are mostly found within the secret services.)
The acts of terror in Mumbai were apt to freeze the process of the Pakistani-Indian overture, one that had taken a promising shape, and to move the relations between the two countries towards nationalistic-religious antagonism and nuclear power demonstration. Since both countries have a profound influence on forming regional security, deteriorating relations do not promise a bright future. The old truth has proved to be right again: "If Pakistan is in the headlines, that means bad things for all of us".
Asia's key Muslim nuclear power is going through such a multilayered crisis â€“ even irrespective of the Mumbai tragedy â€“ that ranges beyond the territory of the state in its perspective and creates waves of global security concern. The future of Pakistan has a decisive role for the security of South Asia and the Euro-Atlantic region. Much depends on that the leading powers of the world provide appropriate assistance for Pakistan in a way also acceptable for the other countries of the region. Pakistan is apparently not capable of controlling the escalating structural problems in its own right anymore.
Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup d'état in 1999, gradually democratised the system and Pakistani economy has increased significantly under his administration. Musharraf has made the country an almost indispensable ally for Washington, especially in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. This alliance, in spite of forcing the person in power to keep a careful balance between social expectations and the requirements of their Western ally, resulted in a reliable American support and elevated the country to the level of the most important actors in the war on terror. The coalition operations in Afghanistan and then the NATO operations further enhanced this role and it seemed that Musharraf is capable of securing the rise of his country in the longer run.
However, democratisation of the dictatorship increasingly brought the internal contradictions of the system to the surface and President Musharraf was forced to open up gradually towards the opposition. This prepared the path to democratic elections. The second half of 2007 was mostly determined by obligate gestures towards opposition leaders who had been forced in emigration. At the same time, quite contrary to this, actions against the autonomy of the last bastion of democracy, the judiciary system, prevailed. The homecoming of Bhutto and the agreement on preparing the elections already signalled that Musharraf had reached the final phase of his power. After Bhutto's murder it was merely a matter of time how long Musharraf could stay in power, regardless of the elections.
The victory of Bhutto's party, the forming of the coalition government and the political accord about Musharraf's handing over power strengthened optimism not only in Pakistan but in the world as well. However, developments swiftly refuted optimism and it became obvious that the relatively peaceful period of the latest dictatorship would be followed by a crisis again. Asif Ali Zardari's presidency is threatened by a number of challenges concerning the foundations of the system. More pessimistic analysts think that there is an increasing chance of the military â€“ with which the nation's ultimate security is traditionally trusted â€“ intervening again and taking over power at a point. This event would not be surprising, considering the political history of Pakistan. However, it would not solve the basic question in the long run either. How should the integrity of a country holding nuclear weapons and struck by severe national, religious, economic, and social and security challenges be preserved â€“ and how could Pakistan be saved from a dreaded larger cataclysm?
The Pakistani situation is loaded with the following basic problems:
1. The antagonism and constant suspicion towards India stems from the genesis of the country and is almost impossible to overcome by intellectual arguments or conscious, rational politics. The conflict with India is one of the main pillars of the Pakistani national sentiment. This makes it possible for the prevailing power in times of crisis to unite masses under a common cause despite the internal problems. After the Mumbai terror attacks it was also conspicuous how swiftly the Indian charges pooled the entire Pakistani political elite in total unison. For this reason, a low intensity conflict with India lies in the interest of the Pakistani leadership in power and a long-term agreement is unacceptable for the decisive political forces. The conflict entails an extraordinary security risk, however, and it forces both countries to spend disproportionate amounts on their security systems, much beyond realistic security demands. This includes the maintenance of nuclear weapons capabilities.
2. In relation with this, the issue of Kashmir needs to be mentioned separately. Although there has been some advancement regarding economic-social aspects and the free movement of persons, the solution of the Kashmir conflict is not conceivable in the foreseeable future. President-elect Barack Obama made some statements in the campaign period, which suggest that the new administration would be ready to take a more active role in the resolution of the crisis. This approach is surely informed by good intentions â€“ however, it may have a catastrophic effect if implemented, as neither parties are interested in the involvement of the United States or in accepting external pressure in order to reach a solution.
3. It was based on the Musharraf doctrine that Pakistan became a member of the 'anti-terror coalition' of the US. Despite the advantages mentioned, this meets the disapproval of large social groups and creates a situation for President Zardari and his government harder and harder to control. Washington has adopted new tactics and regularly attacks assumed or real hiding places of the Taliban insurgents by pilotless drones in the Pakistani tribal areas. Because of this the leadership is forced to distance itself constantly and to demonstrate that it is still interested in actively supporting the settling of the Afghanistan scene. The alliance with the USA, inherited from the Cold War and strengthened in anti-terror action thus deeply divides society.
4. Talibanisation in Pakistan is increasing dramatically and central authorities have no adequate tools to halt the uncontrollable process continuing in the tribal areas. The political surge of Islam may shake the power of the secular Pakistani political elite profoundly anyway. It carries the danger of the more or less democratic system becoming the victim of Muslim fundamentalist forces. In the northwestern areas the Pakistani army is pursuing a medium intensity war against the insurgents and it is trying to secure the supply routes of the coalition and ISAF troops. However, this carries contradictions as well, since Afghanistan is a traditional enemy of Pakistan and receives considerable Indian support. The Pakistani action against the Talibans attacking the pro-India and also American ally Karzai government is thus, unfortunately, loaded with a peculiar paradox. There is no obvious national interest behind the military operations taking significant tolls. Therefore their social support is also weak.
5. China and Iran are aiming at closer ties with Pakistan, which creates further problems. Both partners are important for Pakistan not only to counterbalance India, but also for the future of energy security and the civil and military nuclear programs. The two possible allies do not offer gratis cooperation and the friendship of Iran is of special concern for many. One of the most important goals of Tehran's overture is weakening the Pakistani-American alliance and thus undermining the influence of the United States in the region. It was a humiliating fiasco for Islamabad that Washington was only willing to broker an agreement with India concerning the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes, thus making Pakistan â€“ which has also developed nuclear weapons "on its own" â€“ second. The new Democrat administration taking up office on 20, December 2009 is going to face the first strategic dilemma in the decision of whether to treat Pakistan and India at the same level or maintain their asymmetrical treatment. The incoming president has yet to decide which serves US interests better in the long run.
6. In domestic politics, Zardari's power is insecure. The Muslim League led by former Prime Minister Navaz Sharif has already left the coalition. It is questionable for how long the government, supported by smaller groups, is capable of ensuring majority for the legislation of the indispensable reform bills under the current adverse circumstances. Zardari's coming to power was largely supported by the national reconciliation negotiated by Musharraf and Bhutto, under which corruption charges against him were disregarded. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was restored in his position, which is considered a basic element of restoring democracy. This entails the danger that the legal scholar consistently speaking up for judiciary independence will be prone to regard the law and democratic expectations rather than political deals in corruption cases as well.
7. The powerful Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) has become more independent again since Musharraf left. Many signs suggest that Muslim fundamentalist elements have strengthened within ISI. These are sympathetic towards the insurgents in Afghanistan, leak information and support goals contrary to central political directions. ISI represents a more or less independent branch of power, which endangers state power, already weak in civilian control.
8. Behind all these problems there is the almost catastrophic state of the economy. One of the most affected countries in the international financial crisis is Pakistan. Inflation grew to 25% last year and industrial production decreased significantly, which is making an impact on GDP-growth. The government reached a preliminary agreement with the IMF about a 7.6 billion dollar loan in November. The agreement eased up the pressure on Zardari and the government temporarily. However, fulfilling the increased requirements will probably meet serious disapproval and the resentment of the masses. In the situation dominated by the current financial crisis there is no prospect that the government, weakened on the domestic political front and struggling with serious challenges in foreign policy, could produce visible economic results in the foreseeable future. A possible economic collapse would create an unmanageable situation domestically and in the country's foreign affairs alike.
Pakistan is at a crossroads. Its present is determined by an especially complex and multidimensional set of conflicts, which questions the foundations of the state of a relatively democratic system. The future of the country is uncertain and in case of an unfavourable scenario happens, regional and broader security implications would be vast. Ignoring the problems and fully isolating the country would lead to an almost certain collapse. Therefore, much depends on the further and more cooperated assistance of the European Union, NATO and especially the United States. Nevertheless, the West needs to proceed carefully, ensuring that its action creates unity within regional context, policy forming cultural and religious traditions and interests dictated by Euro-Atlantic security. The forming foreign policy of the Obama administration, difficult to describe at this point, will be decisive in this respect as well.