Let us first measure as to what year 2015 entailed for Pakistan; as a whole it meant considerable successes for Pakistan against terrorist outfits, religiously-inspired militancy, with world powers such as United States and China rallying around its efforts. The latter in particular went an extra mile by committing unprecedented infrastructure investments worth approximately US$46 billion over the news few years. If realised, this Chinese engagement could potentially be a game-changer both on the economic as well as the security front. It is likely to have pronounced impact on Pakistan’s struggle against economic adversity and jihadist outfits.
This backdrop offers somewhat optimism for Pakistan’s battle with religiously-motivated terrorist and militant groups. And the major question staring it is whether Pakistan can build on the relative successes against these groups in 2015 as well as the international empathy and consolidate its gains against these groups in 2016.
On the domestic front, as interior minister Chaudhry Nisar explained in his December 11 address at the National Defense University (NDU), the fight against intolerance, extremism and terrorism represents a continuous challenge in the years to come.
“These had been plaguing the country for decades and our journey now, to a tolerant and progressive society is a long, painful and arduous task. This would also require an ever more vigorous and sincere implementation of the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) adopted in December 2014 – virtually the first counter-terrorism roadmap in Pakistan.
An associated internal challenge to counter-terrorism efforts is purging the militant and religio-political groups of the the Saudi influence, particularly those currently operating across various borders in south Asia. The war in Syria and the simmering conflicts in Yemen as well as in Iraq are some of the manifestation of how the Saudi geo-political agenda drives political narratives in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Robert Fisk, a vocal British critic of western duplicity on Israel and Saudi Arabia, also points this out; the absolute refusal to contemplate Saudi Arabia’s role as a purveyor of the most extreme Wahabi-Sunni form of Islam, in which Isis believes, shows how our leaders still decline to recognize the links between the kingdom and the organization which struck Paris, Fisk wrote in The Independent (Nov 17, 2015).
On the external front, some signs of a thaw with both Afghanistan and India emerged on December 9, when leaders from around the globe – including President Ashraf Ghani and Sushma Sawraj , the Indian foreign minister, converged on Islamabad for the Afghanistan-focused Heart of Asia conference. It provided a rare opportunity to both to resume contacts with Pakistan, which along all others endorsed the Islamabad Declaration aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict.
During his conference speech, President Ashraf Ghani hoped 2016 could be the year of peace and progress. Though he drew criticism and scorn from his allies and the opposition alike – including former president Hamid Karzai for what they dubbed as being “concessional to Pakistan,” Ghani promised to stay the course of engagement with Pakistan.
“Without positive support from Pakistan, won’t the war in Afghanistan keep dragging on? You answer me,” Ghani told a press conference in Kabul on December 11, arguing that “If one of the main sources of instability in Afghanistan is our neighbour… then there is a comprehensive need to work together to end this fighting.”
But it is easier said than done; Ghani’s hope and Pakistan’s promise for complete regional cooperation will, however, remain on trial throughout 2016, particularly because of the nexus it allegedly has with Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network – entities that are common to reservations expressed by Afghans, Americans and Indians alike and which are seen as a “threat to the entire region.”
Pakistan’s ability, or otherwise, to deal with these groups in a demonstrably credible way will remain a monumental challenge to its commitment on counter terrorism. In fact success in the counter-terror war hinges to a great extent on whether Pakistani leaders can convince detractors of its drive against militant groups across the board. Neutralizing, if not entirely eliminating, various brands of Islamists entails both internal as well as external implications; these groups are ideologically connected and reigning them in would mean severing the socio-political bonds that exist among all trans-border militant and terrorist networks. This could not only translate in an effective crackdown on these networks but also help in convincing both India and Afghanistan that the Pakistani government and the military mean business as far as the counter-terrorism commitment is concerned.
Repairing and normalizing relations with both India and Afghanistan during 2016, however, will remain a formidable challenge because of multiple conflicting and competing regional interests currently playing out in Afghanistan. Challenges flowing from these external factors are also connected with its internal security problems. Until Pakistan undertakes more vigorous efforts to defeat extremist doctrines within its borders, foreign concerns about such elements will continue to strain its relations with major neighbouring countries. Foreign friends and foes too will keep looking at the counter-terrorism drive with scepticism if they viewed it as a selective crackdown. A counter-terrorism campaign therefore shall have to be across-the-board both in its own internal interest and credibility abroad.
CRSS Executive Director Imtiaz Gul contributed this article to the joint daily Jang- The Economist publication “Kaisa hoga 2016 “ on the outlook for 2016.
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