Pakistan and Necessity for Adopting Correct Policies

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Expert on Indian Subcontinent

The recent victory of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) Party in the country’s National Assembly elections has led to a great deal of debates and speculations about possible future orientation of Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policies. After winning the election, Nawaz Sharif is now in a position to start his third term at the helm of the political power. Nawaz Sharif and his party had already gained power through elections at two junctures, but on each occasion, he failed to continue in office up to the legal end of his five-year term. He was once dismissed from his post, while his second tenure ended prematurely through a military coup d’état. In reality, however, Pakistan is facing very dire conditions and there are different viewpoints as to how the Pakistan Muslim League’s third term in office will end. At any rate, it seems that the strengthening of PML-N’s social base has provided Nawaz Sharif with new opportunities in order to bank on the experiences he has gained during two past incomplete tenures in office, choose a more correct course, and counter the existing crises.

Speaking to reporters in his first press conference in the city of Lahore, Nawaz Sharif pointed to important and sensitive issues facing the country, telling the audience that he and his government were committed to tackling those issues. There are two important points which should be mentioned here in this regard. The first point is the approach which will be taken by the new government to solving economic problems such as inflation and unemployment. Nawaz Sharif has noted that all other problems currently plaguing the country, such as extremism and terrorism, have their roots in Pakistan’s economic crisis and widespread corruption. The second point is about the foreign policy approach of Pakistan which has faced the country with dire problems in its regional and international relations. Nawaz Sharif has vowed to move toward the improvement of relations with India and Afghanistan, which are among problematic neighbors of Pakistan. As for international relations, he has pledged to put the relations with the United States on the right track which would conform to the national interests of Pakistan. It is hard to make a judgment about the extent to which his promises may come true. This is especially the case as senior officials of the PML-N Party have been talking about the necessity to review covert and overt agreements with other countries, which is a clear allusion to cooperation between Pakistan and the United States on the issue of “fighting terrorism.”

The question, now, is whether Nawaz Sharif is actually capable of making basic revisions in the current policies of Pakistan with regard to fighting terrorism? Or, on the contrary, he is just chanting slogans. It is noteworthy that Muslim League Nawaz Party is the closest among all powerful political parties to various religious factions in Pakistan. This issue will provide the party officials with an important opportunity to enter into serious negotiations with radical Islamist currents which have taken up arms and created a serious security crisis for the country. In that case, he would be able to save Pakistan from the crisis which has been created by civil war and destructive sectarianism. However, to be successful in this regard, he has to rectify Pakistan’s foreign policy approaches, especially with regard to relations with the United States. The only benefits that relations with the United States have so far had for Pakistan are repeated missile attacks against various parts of the country as well as airstrikes by Washington’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) against tribal regions in Pakistan which amount to blatant ignorance of Pakistan’s national sovereignty. Will the government of Nawaz Sharif be able to prevent repetition of the United States missile attacks on those regions? If yes, how? These are ambiguities which exist right now and are sure to face any form of revision in Pakistan’s foreign policy with major problems.

At the same time, when it comes to regional relations of Pakistan, the new government of Nawaz Sharif should not only pay attention to India and Afghanistan, but also take into account other neighboring countries, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran and the littoral Arab states of the Persian Gulf. This is especially true as the growth of religious extremism and sectarianism is to some extent dependent on the quality of relations between Pakistan and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. If Nawaz Sharif manages to adopt a balanced policy, he may become relatively successful in this regard. However, if for any reason, he fails to put Pakistan’s relations with other regional states on the right track, he will certainly face serious obstacles for fulfiling his election promises. In view of such realities, it seems that the PML-N Party will need in its third tenure in power to adopt realistic and balanced policies at domestic, regional and international levels. At domestic level, it should find a way to handle the extremist and sectarian currents, while at regional level he should choose a way for suitable interaction with countries in South Asia and the Middle East. At international level, however, his government should adopt a policy to create a balance between Pakistan’s interactions with the United States, on the one hand, and China, on the other hand.

In South Asia, two neighbors of Pakistan, that is India and Afghanistan, are getting closer. As a result, under the new circumstances, continuation of Pakistan’s past policies will not only fail to meet the country’s national interests, but also jeopardize future outlook for political, economic and social stability in Pakistan. As a result, the country will be exposed to retaliatory measures and tit for tat which will finally face Pakistan with the serious threat of possible disintegration and the collapse of its national power base. On the other hand, Pakistan’s incorrect policies have stirred up sectarian tendencies across the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region and have created tension in Islamabad’s relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia. Although neither Islamabad, nor Tehran or Riyadh have ever owned up to the existence of this tension, it does not change the reality. At international level, forging a balance in Pakistan’s relations with China and the United States is of critical importance. Although this problem has been handed down to Nawaz Sharif by the former government of Pakistan People’s Party, he should now find a solution for it.

At the same time, the situation of the army and relations between party-led governments and the army generals inside Pakistan is still a concern. The PML-N Party, which was ousted from office by a military coup in 1999, needs to engage in constructive interaction with the military during its new tenure. This is especially a concern when taking into account that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who is currently heading Pakistan’s Army Staff, is close to retirement and appointment of his substitute seems to be a challenging task for the PML-N Party. In view of the above facts, it would be more realistic to assume that Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Party and its leader, Nawaz Sharif, will not be treading a smooth road during their third term in power. Therefore, even the slightest error in calculation, both at domestic level, and at regional and international levels, will not only cause the party to fail to alleviate the existing crises, but may also make those crises more serious and lead to another failure for Nawaz Sharif and his party.

Key Words: Pakistan, Correct Policies, Muslim League Nawaz , India, Afghanistan, Extremism and Sectarianism, Mollazehi

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