Pakistan’s strategic environment is ruled by the geographic yam between the two stones – a ferment between two regional powers India and China, troubled neighour Afghanistan and Iran which has a contested relation with the United States and Saudi Arabia.
A nuclear armed Pakistan poses a major challenge for stability with military and intelligence dominance of the political and governance space adding to complexities. Debt dependency adds to Pakistan’s instability paradox.
As a nation of over 220 million people, Pakistan cannot be allowed to fail for which the onus seems to be on the international community and the Muslim Ummah of states primarily Saudi Arabia
Rapid breakdown of the Islamic Republic in Afghanistan and establishment of an Islamic Emirate on August 15 was initially greeted with euphoria in Islamabad however soon the realization of a regime that is led by a terrorist group whose leaders are under heavy sanctions and whose ideology is radical Islam dawned on the leaders – political and military.
This is expected to give a fillip to multiple anti terrorist groups that may operate from Afghanistan and for Pakistan the most significant concern is the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which is likely to seek “liberation,” of Pakhtoon areas of the country through an insurgency. The Taliban’s intent of spreading radicalism is another challenge that will be faced by Pakistan in the future.
Relations with India remain tense amidst allegations by the two neighbours of support of terrorism in either, while attitude of the Imran Khan government towards the United States has also been sullen thus there may be challenges ahead. Pakistan China relations continue to flourish despite Chinese resentment of the Dasu bomb incident in which 9 Chinese citizens were killed while on a project in Kohistan, Pakistan.
On the political front the opposition led Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)’s attempts to cow down the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) government led by Mr Imran Khan floundered and the government appeared to be stable and preparing for the next general elections in the country in 2023.
However with the Prime Minister Mr Imran Khan picking up cudgels over transfer of the ISI Chief Lt General Faiz Hameed with the Army the situation changed dramatically in October and it is believed that civil military relations are facing a major challenge. The victor is expected to be the Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Military dominance of the political space remains a perpetual feature of Pakistan’s politics.
On the economic front, Pakistan’s debt dependency has been a major concern with COVID 19 adding to the crisis. International institutions, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are looking at revenue enhancement by the state which being politically inconvenient is being resisted so far and without that the IMF tranche is unlikely to be released which may further push Pakistan in the arms of the Taliban.
Pakistan Armed Forces are geared to meet the primary challenge of a conventional cum nuclear armed Eastern Adversary in India. Intimate strategic partnership with China has led to acquisition of relatively modern arms thus providing a deterrent posture vis a vis India.
Militancy in the tribal areas and Balochistan is also a key challenge though this is not seen as an existential crisis.
The military is looking at the evolving Afghan situation with a high degree of concern as instability and spill over will require deployment of large number of security forces on the Western borders, though a cease fire commitment in the East with India provides a lifeline of sorts.
Future Short Term Projections
Political. The Imran Khan led PTI government was relatively stable but attempts for a row with the over transfer of the ISI Chief has led to concerns in civil military relations which have invariably ended with deposition of the Prime Minister in the country. In the two year period to the elections political intensity will remain high.
International and Regional Environment. Pakistan is attempting to maximise the notional advantage geopolitically by being seen as a key negotiator in Afghanistan. This will shape Pakistan’s foreign policy in the near future. Relations with U.S. will remain contentious while with China continue to grow.
Economy. Debt servicing, COVID 19 management and growth are major challenges which may increase dependency on China, Gulf States and international financial institutions in that order.
Internal Security. There is an increase in violence in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtoonwa and Balochistan in 2021 and a spike could be anticipated with instability and increase in ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan.
Defence. The military continues to prepare to meet the challenges arising from Afghanistan while maintaining a deterrent posture vis a vis India.