Last update: Sun, 04 Dec 2016 07pm



If the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) helps facilitate the China's 'One Belt, One Road' initiative it is a game changer for Pakistan. It has the inbuilt potential to transform Pakistan into a regional hub of trade, commerce and manufacturing. And that obviously tends to provoke its enemies, particularly India, into undermining the security of the corridor as it traverse through Pakistan and beyond into the Indian Ocean. For too long, Indian scholars have been digging deeper into ancient India's maritime history to substantiate two important politico-military doctrines: first, whoever controls the Indian Ocean controls Asia; and second, extra-regional powers should stay out of what they would like to call the 'India's Ocean'. Such a mindset on the part of India is indeed a challenge for both Pakistan and China to ensure maritime security and safety of sea-lanes from and to the Gwadar seaport. Rightly then the Pakistan Navy is putting in place adequate arrangements, and more are under active consideration. Pakistan Navy has adopted, what its spokesman says 'a multipronged approach to deal with the prevailing challenges such as beefing up security of Gwadar Port, conducting security patrols and coastal exercises, enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness and engaging other law-enforcing agencies'. Since over some time, maritime traffic to and from Gwadar is expected to increase manifold the maritime security is considered vital for overall success of the CPEC, and therefore safe and secure maritime environment in the Indian Ocean. And then there are also the challenges of piracy, human trafficking and smuggling. Pakistan Navy is therefore working at three basic levels: the port security, vessel security and security of sea-lanes. In fact, given the strategic dimension lent to secure and efficient working of the CPEC, Pakistan is expected to develop its own maritime security doctrine.
Within 24 hours of inauguration of the railway link connecting Afghanistan to Europe through Turkmenistan the Afghan Taliban spokesman was on line to offer protection of all infrastructural projects in his country. "The Islamic Emirate directs all its Mujahideen to help in the security of all national projects that are in higher interest of Islam and the country," he said in a statement issued in Kabul. Among the projects he identified include the $10 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and multi-billion Mes Aynek Afghan-Chinese copper mine venture in the Logar province. Of course the Taliban pledge does surprise many, though it should not because the Taliban office in Qatar was in contact with the Turkmenistan and had offered its blessings for the railway project. Having scored considerable battlefield victories in the recent months - of 407 Afghan districts the government is in control of 258, insurgents control 33 and 116 districts are contested - the Afghan Taliban are keen on presenting themselves as a moderate version of regional militant groups unlike the terrorist Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and blood-thirsty Daesh. The move is believed to be also a gesture to foreign investors that Afghanistan is now a safe bet for joint ventures. Obviously, its pledge to protect all major infrastructural projects tends to present it as inescapable stakeholder in the affairs of Afghanistan. And possibly it is also a move prompted by realization on the part of the Afghan Taliban that victories in the battlefield are not enough, they should also win the battle of mind and heart in the country where nearly 50 percent live in dire poverty. As expected, the government in Kabul has rejected the Taliban commitment as disingenuous. How come the Taliban claim to be custodians of all major infrastructural projects when they had destroyed schools, health clinics, bridges and disrupted power supply to Kabul for whole month, says the spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani. "How could we trust them now? They have to prove their promises in action."
This year's Mahbubul Haq Human Development Centre's report entitled "Empowering women in South Asia" shows that although some progress has been made in social, political, and legal status of the female population since 2000, the region has the lowest value in female Human Development Index (HDI), faring better only than the sub-Saharan Africa. And in terms of the differential in male-female HDI value, the region is the worst in the world. This should give a pause to policy planners. Clearly, women in South Asia have a long road ahead to reach the goal of equal opportunities. According to the report, female literacy has improved by about 50 percent while female gross enrolment rates at primary, middle and matric levels have also increased by about 15 to 20 percent. Within the region, Pakistan is known to have the lowest literacy rate, and even lower for women than for men. And within the country, there is a general governmental apathy towards disadvantaged sections of society. Hence barring a privileged few, a vast majority of female population faces the double whammy of systemic neglect and social pressures to keep them down.
Pakistan Business Council has highlighted the need for continuity in policies as a key factor in enhancing domestic as well as foreign investment. There is no doubt that policy change with a change of government has been and remains a major impediment to economic development of this country; and yet a lot remains the same. As the most obvious case in point the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), whenever in power in the Centre, has not only used state-owned entities (SOEs) as recruitment centres for its loyalists thereby generating losses that require ever-rising budgetary allocations but has also resisted efforts to improve governance of the SOEs through empowering independent members of the board of directors to take decisions based on financial as opposed to political considerations. The PML-N on the other hand has ideologically always supported privatisation as a means to not only generate additional resources, marked for debt retirement as per the party's manifesto, but has also supported measures to improve governance through empowering the board of directors (a companies ordinance to this effect has been passed by the National Assembly).
It must be stated at the very outset that Donald Trump is neither a run-of-the-mill political leader nor should anyone expect of him to be hemmed in by the established diplomatic protocol. The presidency of the world's most powerful country is the first elected office he is going to hold, and therefore how would he run that office is a great unknown. If his articulation during the election campaign is any indication, he comes up as a doublespeak commodity. The man he kissed on the forehead today may well be the same person he abused the day before; he is unpredictable. Therefore, all that is being said on the mainstream and social media as to what he actually told Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in their telephone talk on Wednesday and, how much of it should have been released by Islamabad doesn't make a lot of sense. May be, what he told the prime minister correctly reflects his inner thinking and he meant it, or it was his usual style of addressing others - who knows. No doubt, not long ago, he was of the view that Pakistan is potentially a rogue state, Muslims should be barred from entering the US and climate change is a Chinese hoax. But that said, the fact cannot be denied also that all of the extravagance he showered on Nawaz Sharif and the people of Pakistan was actually uttered by the United States President-elect. Donald Trump did say in so many words that Nawaz Sharif is a "terrific guy", he had a "productive conversation" with him, Pakistanis are "intelligent people" and he would play "a role" in resolving Pakistan's disputes with India. It is quite likely that, as an unidentified advisor to Trump reportedly said, the president-elect committed more than he meant. But that is for his team to tackle. From the Pakistani perspective, whatever commitments Trump made to Sharif and his flowery expression for the people of Pakistan make a pleasing reading - and not without some reason. That Donald Trump is capable of saying or doing anything which was not done or said before is a fact. It is also in public knowledge that historically Republican US presidents have been less hostile to Pakistan than Democrats, and Trump happens to be a Republican.
During the much delayed meeting of the National Finance Commission (NFC), due for a consensus agreement since the last one expired in 2015, the federal government floated the idea of raising its share by 3 percent in the divisible pool under the guise of security. The obvious objective behind this move is to increase the share of the Centre, backed by the strong belief held by Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and the civilian establishment that the federal package post-8th NFC award is simply insufficient to meet the Centre's expenditure needs; and to do so without violating Article 160 (3A) of Constitution that stipulates that "the share of the provinces in each award of NFC shall not be less than the share given to the provinces in the previous award."
With General Raheel Sharif's handing over command to new CoAS General Qamar Bajwa, an assessment is in order regarding the landscape the new incumbent has inherited from his predecessor and the challenges he confronts. There is no denying General Raheel Sharif's accomplishments. The Operation Zarb-e-Azb largely cleansed FATA of the malign presence of extremists, although the threat from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) now ensconced across the border in Afghanistan remains. On counterterrorism, the situation is even more mixed. Karachi's law and order is much improved, although the metropolis is still enshrouded in terrorism, crime and, potential conflict in the aftermath of the MQM splitting into three (or four?) factions. So while the overall situation is much improved, General Bajwa still has his work cut out for him. Three challenges in particular are likely to top the list of priorities of the new CoAS. First and foremost, the internal terrorist threat, which General Bajwa reportedly recognizes as even more dangerous, than the threat from India, needs the consolidation of the counterinsurgency successes of the Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Clearing FATA of any remaining terrorists, opening the door to a restored civilian administration and the return and rehabilitation of displaced people are the top priorities. The counterterrorism effort, despite some success, suffers from the lack of an overarching institution under whose umbrella the civilian and military wings of the campaign cooperate in an efficacious manner, with shared intelligence and a centralised data base. Second, arguably linked with the first challenge, is the lingering issue of the Afghan Taliban sitting on, and operating from, Pakistani soil. On the one hand, pressure from the incoming Trump administration is likely to increase to deny the Afghan Taliban their safe havens in Pakistan and nudge them towards the negotiating table for a political solution of the long running Afghan war. Pakistan cannot afford a return to sole power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, given the nexus between the Pakistani and Afghan variants of the extremist movement. Peace in Afghanistan through a political settlement is the only option to ensure peace in Pakistan once the Pakistani Taliban no longer enjoy safe havens in Afghanistan and can be dealt with easily here. While Pakistan needs to abandon its proxy support to the Afghan Taliban in its own and the world's interest, it must also deeply look into a widely-held perception that extremist groups fighting in Indian Held Kashmir and attacking India being given the run of the place in Pakistan. General Bajwa thinks the tense situation on the Line of Control (LoC) will soon ease, but the attack on November 29 on another Indian army base near Jammu that killed seven Indian soldiers promises the same sort of ratcheting up of conflict and tensions on the LoC as followed the Uri attack. Although, Foreign Affairs Adviser, Sartaj Aziz, is attending the Heart of Asia Conference on Afghanistan in Amritsar, the chances of a dialogue, either on the sidelines of the conference or generally, seem to have been scuttled for the moment at least by the latest attack on an Indian army base.