Foreign policy and security challenges

Published: November 3, 2013
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst. He is also the author of several books, monographs and articles on Pakistan and South Asian affairs

The writer is an independent political and defence analyst. He is also the author of several books, monographs and articles on Pakistan and South Asian affairs

The PML-N government at the federal level faces difficult foreign policy and security challenges against the backdrop of the death of a Pakistani Taliban leader in a drone attack on November 1 and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the United States in October. Its foreign policy assumptions as projected during the course of the election campaign have virtually collapsed and its leaders need to look for an alternative line of action.

The death of Hakimullah Mehsud is both good and bad news for Pakistan. It is good news because a person has been killed who was responsible for the deaths of a large number of Pakistanis in suicide attacks and bombings. Pakistan’s security forces could not get him; an American drone strike killed him.

It is bad news because his death has temporarily stopped the efforts to initiate the dialogue between the federal government and the Taliban. The new Taliban leadership will decide if it wants to pursue dialogue or launch retaliatory attacks in Pakistan. The more serious threat that the federal government faces is that some Pakistani religious and other parties that traditionally support the Taliban or maintain a soft disposition towards them and other militant groups plan to take on the federal government by launching street protest against drone strikes. As the PML-N, PPP, ANP and MQM are not expected to join the planned protest, it may not take off but the pro-Taliban parties and political groups can threaten internal coherence and stability.

The PML-N’s political-ideological orientation ranges from the political right of centre to far-right and Islamist. This mindset manifests varying degrees of support and sympathy for militancy, including the Taliban and the Punjab-based militant groups. This mindset also displays anti-American sentiments and distinguishes between good Taliban/militants and bad Taliban/militants.

This mindset entertains a strong distrust of India. At the operational level, the disposition ranges from viewing India as an eternal enemy to support for working relations or friendship with India on its terms, i.e., resolve the Kashmir issue to their terms and that India should not engage in anti-Pakistan activities. Now, this mindset attributes shortages of river-water solely to India’s policy of denying water to Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has a personal desire to cultivate close political and economic relations with India but his political support base is not so enthusiastic about his views.

The PML-N top leaders were convinced during the election period that given their soft corner for militancy, it would be easy for them to dilute the violent culture of the Taliban. They were hopeful of cultivating a Punjab-like relationship of restraint and mutual tolerance with the Taliban and its affiliates for the whole of Pakistan. They were encouraged by the fact that the Taliban did not name the PML-N as one of the political parties whose election campaign they disrupted. Furthermore, in the pre-election campaign period, the Taliban designated the PML-N leader as one of the guarantors for talks between the Taliban and the federal government.

The PML-N’s worldview was virtually shattered when the Taliban launched a series of suicide attacks and bombings in different parts of Pakistan in the first month after the assumption of office of prime minister by Nawaz Sharif. The Taliban wanted to intimidate the new Sharif government. In the last week of October, a senior leader of the TTP was detained by US troops in Afghanistan as he was being escorted by Afghan security for talks for cultivating an anti-Pakistan arrangement between the TTP and the Afghan government.

The other major setback for the PML-N was that it built an emotional hysteria in Pakistan against drone strikes and vowed to secure the return of Dr Aafia Siddiqui from the US. However, Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the US could not secure these promises. Any dispassionate analysis would have led the Pakistan government to the conclusion that the US would not agree to these demands in this visit. But the government continued to play up these issues to satisfy its political support base in Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the US has produced some positive results by expanding cooperation in economic and social development sectors, military-to-military relations, military sales and the outlining of Pakistani concerns about India’s role in Afghanistan and how to cope with the post-2014 situation in Afghanistan. However, as the political support base of the PML-N was obsessed with the drone and Aafia Siddiqui issues, they did not pay much attention to the achievements of the visit.

Now, the two drone attacks on October 30 and November 1 and the death of Hakimullah Mehsud has created unexpected dilemmas for the PML-N government. It cannot officially express satisfaction on the death of one of Pakistan’s major adversaries because of its opposition to drone strikes. Its strategy of seeking peace through dialogue with the Taliban is in ruins, at least for the time being. Although there were little signs of an active dialogue, the official narrative now suggests that the talks were about to start. If the Pakistan government makes the drone attack into a major diplomatic issue with the US, it will be viewed as an ally of the Taliban by the international community. This can also endanger its relations with the US that are critical to Pakistan’s efforts to salvage its economy.

The PML-N government faces an extremely delicate internal and external situation of how to balance the militancy disposition of its domestic support base and the imperatives of managing the Pakistani state that emphasise the need of avoiding isolation at the international system. The PML-N government has already taken the initiative by issuing two ordinances to create a strong legal framework for countering terrorism. It has to undertake a down-to-earth assessment of the available options. This calls for a review of its narrow ideological worldview and that it re-educate itself and its political support base.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 4th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Anjaan
    Nov 3, 2013 - 11:02PM

    The article explains the truth, that Pakistan’s foreign policy, as it stands now, is about balancing its relations with its most important ally the US, which are based on contradictions and out right deceit, in order to hoodwink Pakistan’s neighbours, and protect Pakistan’s, as well as US interests in the region ….. good, that Indian PM, finally, has seen through the game ….Recommend

  • Toticalling
    Nov 3, 2013 - 11:27PM

    On Mahsud’s death you say about Nawaz Sharif: “He cannot officially express satisfaction on the death of one of Pakistan’s major adversaries because of its opposition to drone strikes.”
    If a country cannot show satisfaction when an enemy of the state is eliminated, then there is something very wrong with our society. NS has remained cool about the affair. What disturbs me more is when likes of Imran Khan openly say that now we know who is behind killings of Christians in Peshawar. May be he knows something we don’t, in which case he should enlighten us, but as far as we know they are Pakistani extremists, be it Taliban or another group. Passing the blame on outsiders’ is morally wrong and diplomatically unacceptable. If we carry on with this mentality, we would be told that those who did not allow Ahmadis to do qurbani in October Eid were Israelis and Indians.


  • abra
    Nov 3, 2013 - 11:32PM

    No one is talking about our sovereignty… We have become a country where everyone plays their dirty games and test their advanced machines… Good sign of globalization…


  • ahsan k
    Nov 3, 2013 - 11:45PM

    nisar is there to educate us


  • polpot
    Nov 3, 2013 - 11:54PM

    “Pakistan’s security forces could not get him; an American drone strike killed him.
    Goes to prove that the favorite weapons of the Paki army are bangles!


  • Sandip
    Nov 4, 2013 - 12:01AM

    Many a times a lot of Pakistani commentators have wondered why the world is not concerned about insurgencies raging in India while they keep getting migraines when it comes to Pakistan. This single episode should make it amply clear to them (if they want to really understand) the difference between India and Pakistan. In India, the society understands that anyone trying to bring in change by force (rather than ballot) is unacceptable. Hence while a lot of us do sympathize with Kashmiri insurgents, maoists and others, we absolutely stand up against any use of violence to change the status quo. Any change in status quo has to be only through ballot. Under such circumstances, whenever the Indian state acts against any such insurgents, it has the full backing of all of India. It has happened in a lot many insurgencies that we have faced in the past, and will happen again in the future. We don’t accept the drama of the type that is being played up in Pakistan currently over the death of a monster.


  • Anjaan
    Nov 4, 2013 - 12:47AM

    @ Sandip,

    What you said, could be better explained ….. in short, in India there is not state support, or support of the society, towards any kind of terrorism ….. that is why, the terrorist outfits find it hard to hide, and get eliminated in India …. no Drones required here ….Recommend

  • manzoor shaikh
    Nov 4, 2013 - 1:18AM

    realistic advice for PML – N
    ‘This calls for a review of its narrow ideological worldview and that it re-educate itself and its political support base.’


  • Pakistani Ostrich
    Nov 4, 2013 - 6:22AM

    …your comment made sense until you showed your true narrow-agenda at the end by comparing totally unrelated events. We will not succumb to the belief of a very small misguided minority.


  • vasan
    Nov 4, 2013 - 7:02AM

    Wonder why Pak army is keeping quiet, unlike the noise it raised on KLB bill or Memogate issues.Should we assume that the killing of mehsud is okay with them ? Again the army and the govt are not the same page ?


  • Komal S
    Nov 4, 2013 - 9:46AM

    I think Pakistan Government is very happy that the taliban leader is killed. For all you know like in most of the past cases the ground intelligence was provided by them. There is probably a tactical understanding with the US, pretend you are upset, this way you bring the taliban to talks and gives the Pakistani Government an upper hand. Only point though is would Taliban buy all of this. They probably understand how these things are executed and may see through the game played by pakistani Government.


  • Nov 4, 2013 - 11:27AM

    Excellent analysis – but you are asking for too much from a government where one member declared that it was ok for her husband to marry again to solve the crises of single women in the punjab province.


  • unbelievable
    Nov 4, 2013 - 5:47PM

    So who voted for Sharif based on his promise to end drones and release Aafia? I have a bridge to sell you. Did any reporter have the temerity to ask Sharif how he was going to fulfill this campaign promise?


  • Khan
    Nov 4, 2013 - 6:21PM

    What is the aim of TTP? To kill inocent Pakistanis? Or kill the armed forces of pakistan?


  • x
    Nov 4, 2013 - 7:41PM

    The wrld power United States has not been s successful agaisnt the Taliban. No use rehashing history, Taliban are here, they have power, war has only managed to create more, you kill one, hthousand more take his place, anti Americanism is increasing, so are terrorist attacks, what is YOUR solution? Where the US and its HUGE army plus high level technolog and intelligence and drones have FAILED, in fact further increase radicalization, extremisim in society plus power of Taliban, what solution other than talks do YOU propose?
    Oh and you don’t find this suspicious that just the DAY peace talks were going to commence, not only a drone attack happened but one so precise that it killed hakeemullah. If the US has such precise intelligence, then when didnt thy kill him sooner?
    ET Please allow.


  • gp65
    Nov 4, 2013 - 9:59PM

    @x: Please review my response to you on suspicious timing which I had provided here. . Please also note that this was not the first time Hakimullah was targetted by US. Nor was the decision to kill him recent. They had head money of 5 million dollars since 2010.

    US has not tried to fight TTP only Afghan Taliban whose leaders (Quetta Shura) were given safe haven by Pakistan. TTP is seen as a local insurgency of Pakistan that Pakistan needs to deal with.

    Hakimullah was not killed because he was TTP but because he had taken ownership for killing 7 CIA agents. They had announced a prize for him since 2010 and even successfully targeted him with a drone last year but he survived the attack though he was injured. Baitullah was killed on pinpointing by Pakistan army.

    IF you think US who can choose whether or not to negotiate and which terms to negotiate with Afghan Taliban (they called off the DOha negitiations when Afgan Taliban put out a flag outside the office and called it an emeriate of Afghanistan) and choosing and announcing dates for orderly withdrawal is the loser and the peopler who have been driven away to caves are the winner, I find that difficult to reconcile to. US did what they had come to do i.e. kill OBL and significantly deteriorate Al Qaeda network and keep their home country safe from AQ attacks. They succeeded in their purpose.


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