Pakistan must look at the year 2013 with trepidation. It anticipates punishment for wrong decisions taken in the past three years in internal and foreign policies. The comeuppance is expected to emanate from the following sources: 1) the Taliban affecting the 2013 elections with or without the use of terrorism; 2) the Supreme Court acting up in the last year of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s tenure unless he becomes ‘lame duck’; 3) the drying up of foreign currency reserves and repayments falling due to the IMF; 4) the shocking discovery that terrorism has made governance impossible for whoever is elected; and 5) the worsening of the sectarian carnage orchestrated by the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The big jolt will come when the election is affected by the Taliban factor and their predilection for attacking certain political parties and favouring others. A Punjab-based Taliban spokesman, Asmat Muawiya, wrote to a media person on December 27 outlining conditions that Pakistan had to fulfil for peace with the Taliban: 1) design its foreign policy in conformity with Islamic laws [read: attack America]; 2) the Constitution should be in accordance with the teachings of Islam; and 3) the JUI and the ANP should say sorry to the Taliban. Muawiya said there was no conflict with either the PML-N or the PTI.
The letter clearly ‘exempted’ two parties which will have already benefited from the common voter’s inclination not to come out and vote for any one of the three ‘secular’ parties: the PPP, the MQM and the ANP. Judging from the name of the spokesman, Shias will be targeted in the coming 12 months. The economy will be starved of fuels and energy causing more loss of jobs as the entrepreneur is kidnapped and forced to secure himself and his capital by leaving the country. Towards the end of 2013, when important people retire from their jobs, Pakistan may be exposed to more risks: the next army chief, specially given society’s bend, is likely to be a nationalist, which means more international isolation and more hardship for the common man.
Withdrawal of Nato forces is scheduled for 2014 but will most likely start in 2013. The most anticipated post-withdrawal scenario is that there will be civil war in Afghanistan. A parallel war will take place between the Afghan National Army and the non-state actors from Pakistan. The US and its allies are leaving behind a 352,000-strong security force. That will be historically the largest army Afghanistan has ever fielded.
The Taliban will have 25,000 men, counting on the basis of the maximum muster managed so far. The uneven battlefield will be ‘equalised’ by inserting additional fighters from Pakistan. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan will raid across the Durand Line but the manpower it mobilises may not suffice. Pakistan expects the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani network, Hekmatyar’s Hizbe Islami and ragtag warlords of Fata and Malakand to battle an Afghan army already inclined to defection. As Pakistan grows weaker after elections and the months required for the new government to stabilise, it may find that 2013 has become the critical year, not 2014. The mobilisation for an Afghan civil war will put more pressure on Pakistan’s battered economy: the jihadis of Pakistan will have to step up kidnappings and bank robberies to top up their war chests. Anticipating war, half the Pakhtun population of Afghanistan will cross over to Pakistan, joining others who came earlier but never returned.
The only good development in 2012 — the incipient normalisation of relations with India on the basis of free trade and visa liberalisation — may come to a halt in 2013 because of lack of trust in India or because of an incident of terrorism. The Difa-e-Pakistan Council may become more active with the Taliban brandishing the weapon of suicide bombers in the background. Pakistan may find new allies and get some financial bailout from the very countries it hates because they are scared out of their wits by the possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and, more dangerously, its tactical nuclear weapons falling into the hands of al Qaeda.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2013.