Pakistan 2022: Muddling Through


Muddling through or surviving instability in multiple spheres appears to be the most obvious trajectory for Pakistan in 2022.

While some may hope for the state failing given fragmentation of politics, economic and security run down in the country, there are too many strings that are holding Pakistan aloft that may keep it floating not just in 2022 but in the years ahead.

In 2021, Afghanistan has emerged as another vector that will ensure that international community will seek to see a reasonably stable Pakistan for a collapse of the Af Pak Belt could impact regional stability, not even taking into account the nuclear factor.

Given dysfunctional state of order in Pakistan with a permanent hybrid regime that leads to lack of accountability by the two most significant arms of the state the political class and the Establishment – the army, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) combine, stability in the country will remain a chimera for some time to come.

In turn both these classes have a high level of proclivities for self aggrandisement representing the feudal origins of the country’s power elites.

To sum up 2022 will remain a reflection of the dysfunctionality and key political, diplomatic, economic, defence and security trends are covered herein.

Political Trends

Despite pressure from the opposition coalition the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) government led by cricket captain turned political leader survived till there were differences with the Pakistan Army in nomination of head of the intelligence agency the ISI.

The Army brooks no interference in appointments within close circuit of higher military ranks and while Prime Minister Mr Khan fell to either a false sense of power or moved by favouritism the military finally won the contest. [there were other conspiracy theories as well]. The price that the Prime Minister paid was loss of confidence of military leadership of his being at their beckoning.

Defeat of the ruling PTI in the local body elections in Khyber Pakhtoonwa in December is another dampener

This situation of debility is expected to continue in 2022 for the PTI and will Mr Khan survive his chair with a slender majority in the national assembly dependent on a wily coalition which is completely at the military’s beck and call remains to be seen?

The dice is heavily loaded in favour of Imran Khan’s departure due to failure on multiple fronts. Yet lack of a credible alternative may keep him in power or just so.

A possible surprise return of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) supremo Mian Nawaz Sharif from the UK may light some political fire in the first few months of the next year. What would be Nawaz’s deal with the military remains to be seen?

Meanwhile much of 2022 will be spend in the political parties jockeying for advantage in the run up to the 2023 National and General Assembly polls.

While the PTI led government has sought electoral reforms, whether the polls will be held with these in place is uncertain given Pakistan Election Commission reservations on major vectors such as use of electronic voting machines.

Rise of radical conservative political forces such as the Tehreek Laibak Pakistan (TLP) and the win of the Jamaat Islami Fazlur Rehman (JUIF) in the local polls in Khyber Pakhtoonwa is likely to be another uncertain factor.

Diplomacy

Afghanistan will continue to be they key challenge for Pakistan’s diplomacy as preventing a collapse of governance which may lead to a large string of refugees to Pakistan is important and towards this international mobilisation will be the key objective of Pak foreign policy.

Traditional rivalry with India is expected to continue with Kashmir being the focal challenge as both sides have completely divergent perspective with New Delhi focusing on Pak support to terrorism. Terrorist groups in Punjab – Sikh extremist support is expected to be another challenge.

Relations with the P5 less the United States and France will remain balanced. The blasphemy issue remains contentious with France whereas the grouse of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan of lack of communication by US President Joe Biden will mean that channels will be mainly operative through the military.

The much vaunted Pakistan shift from geo-politics to economics needs scrutiny in the year ahead on whether this will move beyond rhetoric.

Military Trends

Pakistan military will continue capability building with assistance from China with a view to sustain deterrence with India in the conventional and nuclear sphere in 2022.

Induction of new equipment, missiles and conduct of exercises will facilitate what is seen as critical for denying a major military advantage to India.

These are standard factors but more interesting area in 2022 will remain turnover of the Army Chief due in November 2022.

Who will succeed General Qamar Jawed Bajwa due to complete a second three year tenure will engage the military as well as political and the international community alike.

The four in the top bracket on Bajwa’s retirement will be Sahir Shamshad Mirza Commander X Corps, Azhar Abbas Chief of General Staff (CGS), GHQ, Nauman Mehmood President, National Defence University, and the controversial Faiz Hameed Commander XI Corps, Peshawar who was the former DG ISI.

Hameed is not popular in the army hierarchy after his “triumphant,” public appearance in Kabul after Taliban took power in August and seemingly favouritism shown by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Lt Gen Azhar Abbas appears to be the front runner for now.

Security Trends

The impromptu attempt at negotiations with the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in 2021 sputtered and more attempts may be in the offing if influential acting interior minister of Afghanistan Sirajuddin Haqqani attempts to exercise pressure.

Much will depend on denial of sanctuaries to TTP in Afghanistan.

Of interest will be a new National Security Policy (NSP) which is going in for a comprehensive security to include human, economic and military security, realisation of goals that may be set will be elusive.

National Counter Terrorism Authority has submitted a draft for combating violent extremism to the interior ministry. A revised National Action Plan (NAP) on terrorism is thus likely to be the outcome of these deliberations.

Implementation may remain fragmented as a parallel authority to NACTA- secretariat for the implementation of the NAP is in the offing.

Meanwhile slow burning insurgencies in Khyber Pakhtoonwa and Balochistan are likely to be sustained through 2022 with a possible uptick in level of violence.

There has been an increase in fatalities in 2021 by almost 30 percent with the previous year seeing an increase of almost 50 percent, thus the upward trend is expected in 2022 as well.

Economic Trends

The much needed extended fund facility by the International Monetary Fund will be due to be released to Pakistan on fulfilment of conditions which are being undertaken through the Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2021 and the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2021.

This will facilitate passage of the sixth review of the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF) gets cleared by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) executive board on Jan 12, 2022 and disbursement of about $1bn tranche.

This will however create many challenges dictated by unknowns of adjustments leading to a spiral of inflation in the country which may add to political and law and order problems facing the government.

Conclusion

While it may be unfair to predict that Pakistan will continue to go through bouts of instability in multiple domains in 2022, this may be the most predictable course for the nuclear armed nation with serrated dysfunctionalities.

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