Pakistan is caught in a multidimensional web of economic, geostrategic and geopolitical obligations and constraints. An apparent double envelopment, by the unforgiving IFIs led by the IMF and the deep maneuverings of major powers, seems in operation. Together, they have caught Pakistan in a strategic vise and seem intent on demanding their proverbial pound of flesh—blood, and all! The grand strategic design unfolds slowly but surely!
Pakistan however, appears stupefied into strategic paralysis; primed for economic, diplomatic and military coercion and unable to forestall it!
What could possibly be the terms and conditions that the powers-that-be and IFIs could lay for allowing Pakistan off the economic hook? It is widely acknowledged that an economically strong military-nuclear-missile toting Pakistan would be very assertive in the region and stridently independent in thought and action. An economically weak Pakistan however, will find its military-nuclear-missile prowess readily neutralized, rendering it extremely vulnerable to all forms of coercion. The obvious is underway. The IMF has made its terms and conditions to bail Pakistan out of its economic mess very clear. It is a very severe wake up call for Pakistan. The impact of IMF’s diktat on the Pakistani economy and its people has been direct, devastating and brutal. Pakistan society stares dumbfounded as its government flounders around for the elusive Staff Level Agreement with the strangely, ironically irreconcilable IMF!
Pakistan could be faced with a very critical situation in the geopolitical and geostrategic realms, too. One, it could be asked to wean itself away from China, break off its strategic partnership with it and unconditionally scuttle the BRI-CPEC. Two, it could be asked to compromise on its strategic assets, (Securing Pakistan’s Nukes, by this scribe, The Nation, 05 and 08 November 2022). This could entail either a no first use declaration, joint controls with the powers-that-be/UN/relevant international institutions or worse a gradual capping, rolling back and eventual elimination of its nuclear-missile infrastructure, capabilities and capacities. There is nevertheless uncompromisable, unanimous national consensus for retaining nuclear capabilities by Pakistan. No Government of Pakistan worth its salt can ever contemplate submitting to such outrageous, suicidal demands. Pakistan must never go the Ukraine way. (Geopolitics sans Morality, by this scribe, The Nation, 12 March 2022). Three, reduce the defense budget. This could entail decreasing the size of the armed forces as well as cutting down all other defense-related expenditures. Coupled with the reduction/elimination of its strategic assets this would amount to a deadly double pincer movement to totally defang Pakistan and leave it defenseless. There cannot be a bigger existential threat than this. This would also be tantamount to accepting Indian hegemony and leaving itself open to its wanton aggression. The first step seemingly has already been taken. A large chunk of the Army’s budget including rations (PKR 20 billion) has been cut, disregarding the age-old maxim that “armies traditionally march on their bellies”. This would weaken Pakistan beyond redemption and will leave it prone to relentless diplomatic and military coercion by its larger neighbors too - a la Ukraine. Four, put Kashmir on the back burner or worse just accept the status quo and live with it. This will bring to naught the struggles and sacrifices of the last seven decades plus, nullify numerous UNSC Resolutions on the issue, and would validate Indian illegal occupation of the disputed territories. This would not only nullify the Indus Water Treaty but would also adversely affect human rights movements like Palestine, Khalistan etc. Five, Pakistan to allow foreign military bases or give access to its military bases, air corridors and ground spaces. This would amount to direct threats to Iran and Afghanistan as they could come under invasive surveillance and attacks from these bases/corridors. In the case of Afghanistan, it could be in the garb of counter terrorism operations (talks/discussions are already on). This will instigate a resurgence of the War on Terror, with catastrophic effects on Pakistan. Six, once fully neutered, Pakistan could then be easily coerced to recognize Israel and become an obedient, neutralized camp follower, like so many others!
The current government’s Achilles heel is its alleged corruption further compounded by its pathetic performance. Its political survival hangs on its perpetuation in power. Out of power, its past and current shenanigans will catch up with it. This situation puts vital national interests in direct clash with personal/political interests of the ruling elite. A sensible dialogue between the political adversaries might have helped find a viable way out of this incapacitating conundrum. However, the political polarization is just too severe to expect a sane and rational response from our largely insensitive national polity. There appear to be no arbiters in sight either. This intolerable situation cannot be allowed to persist to Pakistan’s abiding detriment. It becomes inevitable that the nation comes back to an even keel before it starts tackling these multifarious challenges head on. A recourse to the public mandate would put all conflicting claims to legitimacy of power and rule to rest. Let sanity prevail. Let political stability be restored. Let the political spectrum regain balance. Let a fully representative and effective Parliament re-emerge. Let the people speak. Let genuine democracy prevail. The government that gets the fresh mandate will have the legal and moral authority to deal with the powers-that-be and the IFIs with confidence. Immediate, free and fair elections are thus the only sensible and logical way out of this deadly, enervating imbroglio.
It is in trying times like these that nations show their true inner strength, resilience and character. They face all adversities together, stoically and manfully. They forge unity in their ranks and present a united front to inimical forces that seek to divide, weaken, frighten, bludgeon and overwhelm them. It is in such times that true leaders emerge who unite, inspire, motivate and lead nations out of seemingly impossible situations. All is clearly not lost. The noose might appear to be tightening, yet we have the inherent national strength and never-say-die spirit to not only equalize but also defeat all odds! God willing, there will always be a truly independent Pakistan!
The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @K846Im.