Crimson Tide: A Regional Storm is Brewing, and Pakistan Could Well Be at Its Center

Newsweek Pak: As Pakistan faces off its darkest moment of terrorist challenge, citizens are asking how long they will have to wait for a consistent policy response from the state and government. The drumbeat and din are growing; the pressure to act is also upped by gunship helicopters and Air Force jets pounding previously untouched terror spots in the federally-administered tribal areas.

There is little disagreement in the policy community—or elsewhere, for that matter—that much of what Islamabad has to contend with is homegrown, complex, and not easily reversible. With the prolonged dialogue-dance between the government and the Pakistani Taliban, out-of-the-bottle genies such as proscribed terrorist groups are now claiming space as legitimate actors. This in itself represents a serious challenge to a state whose soldiers and law enforcement agencies stand confused. Their targets have now been recast as interlocutors for peace.

On March 18, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finally approved the National Internal Security Policy. This document estimates the threat to Pakistan as existential and assures that some coordination among Pakistan’s myriad security agencies is actually on the agenda. But whatever the policy’s merits or otherwise, violence-fatigued Pakistanis want to know whether and when the government will actually actdecisively against terrorism. The scale of Pakistan’s internal threat seems hard to top for the harvest of blood it draws. But a number of global and regional conflict trends looming on the horizon look set to add to the toxic combination of conflict-triggers that, if unmitigated, could present a perfect storm for Pakistan.

Deus ex Machina

The new global unresponsiveness to weak states is a worry. Such countries will have no choice now but to rely on mining domestic resources—through taxing evasive elites, executing policy, and bridging governance gaps—to crutch and secure their future. Given its abiding models of patronage and dependence, Pakistan has much reason to worry on this score.

Pakistan has been a frontline state more than once in the last four decades. But much has changed since the first Afghan jihad. During the Cold War, security umbrellas for weak states were, arguably, in play from one bloc or another. Now, despite the Russian and Chinese projection of power in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the South China Sea, there is less and less American appetite for holding states together. The EU, too, is hunkered down for a global economic retreat. In the long run, this trend may be a positive for Pakistan, forcing its rent-seeking elites to come to terms with new realities. But in the short term, when the risk to stability is also determined by the robustness of public finances, the forecast is hardly sanguine.

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Categories: Asia

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