Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Nov 30, 2016

Transition and challenges With General Raheel Sharif’s handing over command to new COAS General Qamar Bajwa, an assessment is in order regarding the landscape the new incumbent has inherited from his predecessor and the challenges he confronts. There is no denying General Raheel Sharif’s accomplishments. Operation Zarb-e-Azb largely cleansed FATA of the malign presence of extremists, although the threat from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) now ensconced across the border in Afghanistan remains. On counterterrorism, the situation is even more mixed. Karachi’s law and order is much improved, although the metropolis is still enshrouded in terrorism, crime and potential conflict in the aftermath of the MQM splitting into three factions. So while the overall situation is much improved, General Bajwa still has his work cut out for him. Three challenges in particular are likely to top the list of priorities of the new COAS. First and foremost, the internal terrorist threat, which General Bajwa reportedly recognises as even more dangerous than the threat from India, needs the consolidation of the counterinsurgency successes of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Clearing FATA of any remaining terrorists, opening the door to a restored civilian administration and the return and rehabilitation of displaced people are the top priorities. The counterterrorism effort, despite some success, suffers from the lack of an overarching institution under whose umbrella the civilian and military wings of the campaign cooperate in an efficacious manner, with shared intelligence and a centralised data base. Second, arguably linked with the first challenge, is the lingering issue of the Afghan Taliban sitting on, and operating from, Pakistani soil. On the one hand, pressure from the incoming Trump administration is likely to increase to deny the Afghan Taliban their safe havens in Pakistan and nudge them towards the negotiating table for a political solution of the long running Afghan war. Pakistan cannot afford a return to sole power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, given the nexus between the Pakistani and Afghan variants of the extremist movement. Peace in Afghanistan through a political settlement is the only option to ensure peace in Pakistan once the Pakistani Taliban no longer enjoy safe havens in Afghanistan and can be dealt with easier. While Pakistan needs to abandon its proxy support to the Afghan Taliban in its own and the world’s interest, it must also revisit its allowing extremist groups fighting in Indian Held Kashmir and attacking India being given the run of the place in Pakistan. General Bajwa thinks the tense situation on the Line of Control (LoC) will soon ease, but the attack on November 29 on another Indian army base near Jammu that killed seven Indian soldiers promises the same sort of ratcheting up of conflict and tensions on the LoC as followed the Uri attack. Although Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz is attending the Heart of Asia Conference on Afghanistan in Amritsar, the chances of a dialogue, either on the sidelines of the conference or generally, seem to have been scuttled for the moment at least by the latest attack on an Indian army base. General Bajwa brings to his heavy new responsibilities exemplary professionalism and a wealth of experience. He will need all of that to tackle internal terrorism and law and order while abandoning for good the good-bad Taliban binary, making sincere efforts for peace in Afghanistan, and paving the way for a resumption of the stymied dialogue with India by defusing the hot LoC. To achieve these goals, there is an inescapable need to turn a corner from the state of civil-military relations during the tenure of his predecessor towards cooperation by these two institutional setups in the overall interests of restoring Pakistan to peace within and peace without, a sine qua non for development and prosperity.

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