Transcript: Pakistan’s Vision for Regional Peace and Prosperity

Sartaj Aziz, adviser for foreign affairs and national security to the government of Pakistan, spoke with Shuja Nawaz, South Asia Center director, about the upcoming economic and political challenges for Pakistan’s civilian administration. Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson provided introductory remarks.

Damon Wilson
Executive Vice President
Atlantic Council

Shuja Nawaz
Director, South Asia Center
Atlantic Council

Sartaj Aziz
Adviser, National Security and Foreign Affairs
Government of Pakistan

  • Transcript by

Federal News Service
Washington, DC

DAMON WILSON: Good morning, everyone.

My name is Damon Wilson; I am executive vice president here at the Atlantic Council. I want to welcome you to today’s special event that our South Asia Center is running on Pakistan’s vision for regional peace and security with Mr. Sartaj Aziz, the national security adviser and foreign affairs adviser to the government of Pakistan.

We’re delighted to welcome you to the Atlantic Council, Mr. Minister. We’re also delighted that you come with a delegation. There’s a large delegation in Washington; at this time, we’re delighted to welcome the ambassador and minister of energy, as well. So welcome to all of you.

2013 was a year of transitions in Pakistan, marked by the first-ever civilian transfer of power, a new chief of army, a new chief justice. And with these institutional changes in place, the coming year presents some fresh opportunities and challenges for the country. Impending elections in neighboring Afghanistan and India will likely introduce new power brokers into the region, marked by a decade of unstable leadership.

NATO is beginning its drawdown of forces next door in Afghanistan with questions looming about its continued presence. Against the backdrop of a reduced American presence in the region, Pakistan must clearly define its foreign policy. Indeed, Pakistan’s external relationships have often sustained and enhanced the country’s internal dynamic, and I think this new dynamic within the country’s entering offers an opportunity to change the course.

Today, Mr. Sartaj Aziz will share his vision for his country and the region, and discuss how the U.S.-Pakistan relationship could be transformed from transactional to strategic. A developed economist, Minister Aziz was one of the architects behind the proposal to establish the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD. He served as assistant president of policy and planning at IFAD from 1977 to 1984. Minister Aziz has held several different cabinet positions, including minister of state for food and agriculture, finance minister from August 1990 to ’93 and again, 1997 to ’98, and also, as foreign minister from 1998 to ’99.

In 2004, Mr. Aziz became the vice chancellor of Beacon House National University in Lahore. He was also, thankfully for the Atlantic Council, the co-chair of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center’s India-Pakistan Water Cooperation Project from 2011 until he returned to his political career in 2013, when he joined the cabinet of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as his adviser on national security and foreign affairs. And today, he is at the center of U.S.-Pakistan relations.

Minister Aziz is here at the council speaking at an important juncture in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, as evidenced by the opening of the U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue this week in Washington. We’re honored to have the minister at the Atlantic Council today, and look forward to your briefing on the way forward for this relationship.

Following the minister’s remark, he’ll be joined by Shuja Nawaz, the director of the Atlantic Council South Asia Center, who will moderate a conversation so that we can get into greater detail on the relationship. I’ll remind you, this event is on the record, and therefore, tweeting is welcome.

Mr. Minister, let me welcome you to the podium, please. (Applause.)

MINISTER SAUTAJ AZIZ: Mr. Damon Wilson, Shuja Nawaz, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m grateful to the Atlantic Council for this opportunity to share my views on an important topic, Pakistan vision for – (inaudible) – peace, prosperity and economic development.

The Atlantic Council and its South Asia Center has been providing valuable services in terms of its analytical work, research as well as fostering rich discussion, which provide a lot of guidelines and opportunities for policymakers to look at various options. So it’s always a pleasure to interact with them and today, the opportunity is especially valuable for us.

I think most of you who have followed Pakistan will recall that Pakistan has been facing formidable economic and security challenges, particularly after 9/11. The so-called Mujahedeen, the holy warriors that we – America and Pakistan together – attained, funded and armed, to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, were suddenly pushed into our federally administered tribal area, FATA, and gradually became an existential threat to us. Initially, of course, they came to seek refuge, but they soon realized that unless they ruled the territory and go into better areas, more fertile areas, they could not sustain themselves for very long. So they spread from one agency to another and became – and some of you recall that in 2009, when they occupied most of Swat Valley and adjoining areas, people are talking of only 60 miles away from Islamabad, so the whole perception of what is going to happen was quite – one of the major areas. But thankfully, the army moved into Swat and then into other agencies and the tide was reversed.

And in this context, of course, the toll on the economy has been much greater. Obviously, in such a situation, investment flows slow down. So, in these last few years, our growth rate has plummeted to something like 3 percent, is just above population growth rate, and that has, of course, led to a lot of other problems. Therefore, it has been a very difficult period with poverty increasing, unemployment increasing and a lot of other problems arising. This combination of the deteriorating security environment and the growing threat of extremism has been a very lethal combination.

On top of that, we have had an internal political crisis. The transition from military to civilian rule is always a complicated affair, especially so because the civilian rule is usually not stronger at the time of transition and hence it takes time for these civilian institutions to get stronger. So those problems when coupled with judicial and other political crises, has also been sending signals of a serious nature.

Nature was also unkind to us. We had a very serious earthquake in 2005, which killed more than 100,000 people and floods of 2010 and ’11, and so as a result of all of this, we must have been seen and have been associated with many pessimistic predictions such as those of a failing state, possibilities of an extremist takeover as well as other predictions of serious consequence. Thankfully, they were all short-lived and not very credible. This illustrates that, despite all of these problems, the resilience of the people of Pakistan and their faith have been demonstrated.

2013 has therefore been a turning point in our history, a kind of threshold, and the foundations of this turnaround, I’m sure, we’ll all feel gratified to hear, is the democratic transition. The elections of May 2013 were a historic election because despite extremists threatening to disrupt them, voters turned out in record numbers. We have never had such a large voting percentage in our last five elections cycles than the percentage of this election cycle. The number of women voters who participated was also the largest; the number of women candidates who participated was also the largest, and therefore, it produced a stable government with a clear majority; the clearest government for five years was a coalition government and did not have the capacity.

And you can imagine the problems that mentioned previously would have been difficult to tackle and overcome even from a very strong government. However when you have a weak government, a coalition government, then obviously, it creates – some good things such as, the 18th amendment, the judicial restoration, but it required at this particular time, a strong and stable government to deal with these multiple challenges that I have listed very briefly. So in that sense, the election – the wisdom of the electorate to vote into power a stable government with a clear majority was a very wise outcome.

It was not just the election which was important; it also illustrated the strength of democracy, because what – after the elections also, you have to show is respect for the mandate that people have achieved. So even though we had a majority in the polls of Baluchistan, we asked nationalist parties to come in (KPK ?). We could have formed a government by joining smaller parties, but the prime minister said no, the Tehreek-e-Insaf of Imran Khan is the largest party, so they must do that, and similarly – (inaudible) – so this respect for the rule of law and the voting percentage was important.

And as was mentioned in the introduction, the transition has been very smooth, one government to another, transferring power with dignity. The president was given a very dignified and respectable send-off, the change of the army chief, the change of the chief justice. This is the beauty of democracy in which you have this smooth transition and give the semblance of stability. So this is very good news because it means that the democracy – the roots of democracies are getting stronger, that it has the mandate of the people to deal with the problems that we face in a more consultative and participatory manner rather than something very simplistic or unidirectional. So this provided the basis on which the new government’s vision, which is the topic today, for peace – regional peace as well as economic development, has to take shape.

Now, obviously, our party went into the election with a very forward-looking manifesto of economic and social programs and a multidimensional vision of a new Pakistan, in fact. So the period that has elapsed, six, seven months, is not a very long period, but the indications of things looking up, problems being solved, good governance being provided are very clear, and that is the key message that I would like to leave with you. And obviously, in this process, the key priority has been economic revival because unless the economy gets revived – if a 3 percent growth rate that we have been seeing in the last six years is hardly an increase in per capita income. We can’t deal with our poverty problem; we can’t deal with our unemployment problem; we can’t even protect our sovereignty with this kind of growth rate unless we are self-reliant and we to achieve stronger growth.

Economic revival is not possible unless there is peace and security in the country. You can’t revive investment, so treating and tackling extremism and terrorism becomes an important prerequisite for economic revival. And of course we have also had a very serious energy crisis, so unless you overcome that, you can’t have the economic revival. And also in this process – so the three E’s – or five E’s: Economy, energy, extremism and education are the kind of priorities that we have been talking about.

I’m glad to say that in this brief period, the economic indicators are looking up. Industrial growth has revived. Investment has revived. Our program with the IMF is going well. But more importantly, the economic reforms to take care of the long-term structural problems of our revenue shortfalls, balance-of-payment problems and others are being tackled quite fundamentally. And I hope that by the time June comes, this financial year will be much better than the previous five financial years.

On the internal security front, very decisive action is being taken, starting with Karachi, a comprehensive national – internal security strategy has been formulated, and that is going to be announced soon. It includes the creation of a specialized, properly trained counterterrorism force being formed.

We also have the border dimensions of security. And we have now created a Cabinet committee on national security, which looks at all dimensions, internal security, external security and the relationship, because unless the country’s foreign policy, its security requirements, its defense requirement are consistent with this economic realities, you can’t have national security. So that is a forum which is now beginning to provide an institutional framework for looking at security issues in an integrated manner.

The challenges of tackling internal security are receiving, obviously, the first priority because in the last few years, the attacks on Pakistan from extremists and terrorist has been growing very rapidly. We have had something like 50,000 people killed in the last one year alone, 200, since our government took office. 200 days, 225 attacks, in January about 30 attacks in 20 days. And the number of people killed overall has been nearly 50,000 casualties but even in this period, it’s very large. So that does require a very decisive action, which is being planned, and I hope that both the internal and external dimensions of national security will become so. Apart from the economic program, the attention for decisive action to secure internal security is the second major accomplishment.

On the foreign policy front, the principal priority was peaceful neighborhood. Again, economic development is not possible if your neighborhood is not peaceful. That meant better relations both with India and with Afghanistan. So with India, as some of you would have recalled, when our – Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s government of 1999 – this initiative was taken in the late ’90s when Prime Minister Vajpayee was invited to Lahore and the Comprehensive Lahore Declaration was signed to deal with the issues and have a stable and peaceful relationship.

So the government decided to pick up the threads from ’99, so the two prime ministers talked to each other twice, at least once before once after the election. Then they had a meeting in New York. I did a trilateral at the General Assembly. Some working groups started. And on trade particularly, the progress has been very good because trade has been under discussion, but the progress has been slow, so now it is picking up. The Indian election has created a little bit of hype, in the sense that the opposition parties thought that anti-Pakistan rhetoric may get them some votes, but that expectation was short-lived, and the present government has taken the initiative to demonstrate that positive relations with Pakistan can also get you votes. So we are hoping that this will continue. And obviously, this doesn’t mean that all the issues that we have with India have been solved, the trust deficit has to be overcome.

But the initial purpose is to reduce tensions on the Line of Control and overall, and once the normal relationship begins, the atmosphere will be right for dealing with the issues. But for that, a back channel is working to discuss the issues like Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and others. The front channel deals with confidence-building measures and trade and other things, and the back channel deals with the issues and the disputes. So I won’t call it a basic breakthrough, but the effort to give the signal of a peaceful neighborhood and – (inaudible) – relations with India has been well-received internationally and within the country because at the people level, there is a lot of support for better relations with India.

Similarly, on Afghanistan, we have had very difficult relationship in the last few years, and I’m glad to say that that has undergone a very basic change in the last few months. Our prime minister and President Karzai have met at least three times in the last six months, and I think we were able to convince President Karzai of – your expectations – his apprehensions that whatever they have achieved in the last 12 years in terms of institutions, education, some democratic process are threatened now by – according to him, the extremists, and including Taliban, and Taliban will succeed because Pakistan is supporting them. This was the mindset on the basis of which they were apprehensive.

And I think the prime minister was able to convince him that if that happened, in other words, Taliban take over Afghanistan by force, that is not in Pakistan’s own security interest because of their nexus with the Pakistani Taliban and the overall atmosphere that’ll get created. And once he was convinced of this, our relationship began to change very dramatically. So we have had a very important bilateral cooperation agenda, connectivity, a rail link, joint energy project, extension of the motorway from Peshawar to Kabul, electricity grids and transit grid facilitation and so on and so forth, so very important agenda. And the anti-Pakistan rhetoric – (inaudible) – propaganda that all of you may have seen here and there has virtually died out, and the relationship looks much more stable and hopefully on a positive trajectory.

Of course, the other thing I mention of Afghanistan is the peace and reconciliation process. And that is the broader issue. As all of you know, Afghanistan is undergoing three transitions. There is a security transition because the ISAF forces are withdrawing and Afghan security forces are taking over. There is a political transition because elections are taking place in April and a new government – (inaudible) – and there’s also an economic transition because when the ISAF drawdown takes place, expenditure of ISAF, which is almost 60, 70 percent of their GDP, will dry up, and you can see massive unemployment unless massive foreign assistance continues. And that unemployment could lead to a flood of refugees again flowing to Pakistan, on top of 3 million that we already have, 1.7 (million) registered and 1.3 million unregistered refugees. So these are the transitions.

Now, the prospects for these transitions are not what I would call very easily predictable or assessable to what could happen. One hopes that the elections will be smooth and fair because that itself will be important. The drawdown of ISAF forces and the uncertainty of the bilateral security agreement is also adding a new dimension because that has been under discussion now for several months by President Karzai. Even though the loya jirga has authorized him to sign the agreement, he has not yet signed it. So there’s a lot of uncertainty about whether there will be residual forces after the drawdown of the forces or not. So it is a very difficult situation right now.

Now – so in this context, the whole effort that we see in the regional peace. On our part, there is no doubt that we are a very strong stake in stability in Afghanistan because no other country will suffer more than Pakistan if, God forbid, there is large-scale hostility or a civil war breaks out. So it is difficult to see what will happen because of these uncertainties. And between the prospect of a major reconciliation, which doesn’t look likely right now, and a very prolonged and bitter civil war, the middle option of the status quo continuing is the best that we can hope for.

In other words, elections take place, a new government comes in takes over and continues, some insurgency, manageable, continues as today Afghan’s Taliban still are virtually ruling some parts of the country. They’ll continue to do so. So that – and then, of course, after the election with the new government, it is probably possible that you will have better prospects of a negotiated reconciliation. So that will be the best that we can hope for right now to avoid major strive and civil war. And of course, one should all work for the major reconciliation, but that doesn’t look very likely.

So I hope that other stakeholders, because we want to avoid the mistakes of the ’90s when, after the Russians were defeated and the whole world walked away from Afghanistan leaving Pakistan holding the baby – millions of refugees, guns, drugs and so on and so forth. So I hope that the engagement of the international community with Afghanistan will remain and the economic aid that has been promised will continue to flow so that the recession and unemployment do not come back. So the regional peace therefore is partly to the extent possible we are promoting, but many of the factors are not in our control.

Now, beyond that, our vision when we talk of regional peace is also important for another reason, because the entire Southeast Asia – South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia – Pakistan and Afghanistan are the two bridges between these two regions. South Asia is energy deficient. Central Asia and West Asia are energy surplus. So energy connectivity has great potential. And even otherwise, trade connectivity are tremendous potential. So the peace in Afghanistan will also open possibilities of this region as a whole being integrated with the energy and trade corridors. And that, I think, is a prospect that is of enormous significance for people of this entire region.

And we have taken the first steps to the extent possible. There is an economic corridor between China and Pakistan from – (inaudible) – linking up to Central Asia also. We have – (inaudible) – 1,000 electricity from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan coming. There is the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan – Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. So some projects have been identified. But if you look at the vision as a whole, it has enormous potential of peace returns to Afghanistan. And this opens up enormous possibilities.

Because of historical reasons, these connectivities have gone in other directions and have not covered the whole region. Seeing the economic strength and potential of South Asia and Central Asia and West Asia were all linked up through energy and trade corridors, it will open tremendous possibilities of progress and development. So we hope that some of these will realize.

Finally, I will talk briefly about Pakistan-U.S. relations because U.S. is a major stakeholder both in peace in Afghanistan and the region. And our own relationship have gone through various ups and downs in the past, depending on different periods. But more recently, after 9/11, Pakistan actually participated, just as it did in the Afghan War when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, to participate. So now our purpose has been that since Pakistan’s relation, we’re looked at primarily from the Afghan prism and partly terrorism prism. How do we restructure this relationship into a more durable and long-term relationship, independent of the Afghanistan situation?

And when Secretary Kerry came to Pakistan in August, we agreed to revive the strategic dialogue because the dialogue was started for this very reason in 2010. And very quickly, three meetings were held in March, July and October, 2010. But then, so many incident happen in 2011 and 2012 – Raymond Davis and Salalah then Abbottabad. And as a result, the dialogue was suspended. And so now, after three years, that dialogue is being resumed. And the purpose is how to convert a transactionary relationship into a strategic relationship.

So when this decision was announced and made, I had been thinking, OK, what is the real meaning of strategic relationship? At what stage does a normal relationship become strategic? What are the thresholds that must be crossed to qualify the strategic relationship? And yesterday I shared in my opening statement two or three elements of that understanding.

And the first was the trust between the countries and between the institutions of the country. Without trust, you do not have a strategic relationship. If trust is restored, then the kind of incident that derailed the dialogue do not happen in the future. And so therefore it’s a stable relationship. And it also means that in the trust you don’t over-interpret any incident that happens as lack of trust. And it requires that trust to travel down from the lower institution to higher institutions. And that takes time, but I think this is important.

The second important prerequisite that I tried to mention was great attention to Pakistan’s security concerns. That if U.S. is following its own policies but is not sensitive to Pakistan’s security concern, then it’s not a relationship of equality or a relationship of sort of something which equally does.

Now – and the examples, you must have noticed that when USA decided to leave Afghanistan in the 1990s, they did not regard our security concerns as significant, and you see what happened to us in that case. Again, after 9/11, when they invaded Afghanistan and pushed all of those people that we had jointly trained and funded, what kind of security concern that created for us, so this sensitivity to our security concerns, whether it’s relations with India, whether it’s nuclear civil deal, etc.

I think there is appreciation of these points, and my own feeling is that this – once these prerequisites are met and trust is restored, then the concrete ingredients of a better relationship, which is improved trade, better investment, technology, energy sharing, et cetera, et cetera, become much more meaningful; otherwise, they are isolated cooperation elements which do not add to the relationship unless they are superimposed by trust and a better, stable relationship.

So I’m hopeful that in the coming days, because we have – as mentioned in my statement to start with, that addressed the terrorism issue, which is why they are concerned, the issue of safe havens, cross-border militancy, et cetera, et cetera, most of those issues were partly perception issues, but partly issues of timing. Certain things that happened in the early part after 9/11 were transformed with changing situation, like the birth of our own Taliban who are – (inaudible) – to us. So that changed the mindset. But some people are still looking at it from the old mindset, and therefore, it has to be updated in terms of where we are going.

So on the whole, therefore, the relationship is on an upward trajectory. We have five working groups in the strategic dialogues, which have had their meetings. Energy cooperation is moving very well. Defense cooperation is moving very well. Cooperation and terrorism and law enforcement is as well – IEDs and other matters are also moving well.

But now the question is how to carry it forward. And there we require some better market access to preferential trade arrangements as well as promotion of investment. And an investment conference is being planned in the next few weeks in Islamabad to give the right signal to U.S. investors that there are opportunities that can happen.

So there are – these are some of the elements that I hope will – on which the relationship can be built in a much more positive and fundamental way. The Prime Minister’s visit to Washington in October was a very important and significant event, which has provided the framework in which all these elements are being discussed. And I hope that as we go along, we’ll be able to achieve the results.

So to sum up, therefore, Pakistan, of course, is located in a very volatile region. In fact, this region is called the graveyard of empires because over the last century we have seen three empires have collapsed in this region, first the British and then the Russian and now the American. So it’s not an easy region. But when there are challenges, there are also opportunities, and these are in your own calculation measure. And we cannot therefore give in to challenges or give up opportunities.

And we obviously seek a region which is peaceful, where conflict is an exception, where disputes are resolved peacefully and where the light of knowledge and science and technology is shining high. And therefore, we are – of course our vision is to seize these opportunities and convert this vision into reality. And I hope others will support us in this task. Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. NAWAZ: Thank you very much for that sweeping and very grand vision of the issues facing Pakistan and the region and particularly the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. And I also want to add my thanks to Damon Wilson’s earlier remarks because the Atlantic Council and the South Asia Center in particular are very grateful to you for having guided us in our work in waging peace in the subcontinent. I still remember vividly when Omar (ph) and I worked with you on the water dialogue. Originally, we were talking about water conflict and the potential for conflict. And you told us that the way to begin this process was to talk about water cooperation and not to talk about conflict. And I think just that change of angle, that change of vision helped us focus much more on what’s possible in building relationships rather than in – getting into conflictual situations. So thank you for that advice. We will continue to keep you apprised of our developments as we go into India-Pakistan trade and other relationships that we are now developing in the Track II process.

You mentioned two broad areas, both of which fortunately and interestingly for the first time in Pakistan’s history are combined in one office, where you are responsible for security as well as foreign affairs. So let me begin by first question on the security situation. There’s been much talk and there was all kinds of expectation of an impending announcement about the new security policy, and now it’s been delayed.

But what we are still looking for, and maybe you can shed light on, what is the government’s approach towards shaping the political environment in the country before it releases these plans. The mechanics of creating a force of bringing the military and the civil together are all mechanics, but unless and until there’s an effort made at bringing the people of Pakistan into this dialogue so that they own the process, it’s going to be very tough. What do you think?

MIN. AZIZ: Well, as you implied in your question, there is a wide spectrum of political opinion in Pakistan from right of center to left of center and some extremist views. And in this task – this has been shaped by history, and there are groups which obviously believe in many theories of, you know, Western domination, control of oil, the military conflicts and so on and so forth. And their narrative of these elements is quite convincing for the ordinary person, that there are these people who want to dominate us, they want to take away our resources, they want to rule us indirectly through other proxies. And so there is that reaction.

Now, to bring those spectrums into – under one sort of umbrella to support a common policy is not easy, but I think today in Pakistan, the concern with terrorism and the worry about the importance of internal security has become so strong that it says all these arguments are irrelevant, we have to – we want peace and security, and people who kill innocent people do not deserve any sympathy or any – no matter what the justification.

So the internal security policy, which came to the cabinet about 10 days ago, was, in principle, approved, but was not announced as final until consultations take place with the broad spectrum of political parties and stakeholders, and that process is now going on, and I hope, in the coming few days – a couple of weeks – in three weeks, this will be announced. The operational elements of that policy are, of course, being acted upon – work is going on on how to create a counterterrorism force. One important dimension of that policy is better border management with Afghanistan, because unless you stop that – people movement from this side or this side, you can’t achieve that.

So the homework on some of the things going on, but this policy of internal security is not going to be a one-time operation that you announce your policy and it will solve, because the insurgency or terrorism or extremism has a sectarian dimension in Pakistan. It has an ethnic dimension in Pakistan. It has also got the – what you call religious extremism dimension. So these are crisscrossing, and at high level; they even meet to collaborate with each other, these groups which are indulging in one form or another.

So this problem has built up over a period of years because of external factors, most of them, but I think that the kind of clear vision, decisive action, consultative mechanism with the political stakeholders that we have tried to undertake in the last few months should have been undertaken eight years ago, 10 years ago, but unfortunately, it was not, so I am hoping that as this process keeps going and – because the whole purpose of a democratic governance is consultative process, and therefore, that is where – compared to a military leader who decides what to do and he does it without consulting, I am hopeful that this time, our strategy will at least stem the growing menace of extremism as we go along, and then reverse it to co-opt more and more people, and I think the public reaction will also help in this task.

So it’s not an easy task; we should not underestimate what is involved, but if you start moving, then hopefully, as some other countries have done, we’ll be able to work on this menace.

MR. NAWAZ: Let me just pick up something you said. You said a lot of the militancy and extremism is largely due to external factors. Don’t you think that there were internal factors, too, including our education policy in Pakistan, including the relationship between political parties and extremist groups – including military rule, which may have created the lack of democratic impulse within the society? So what about the domestic factors?

MR. AZIZ: Well, there are, of course, no doubt, because whenever – you see, as I mentioned, the big issue came when the Taliban were pushed into our tribal areas. And they obviously developed linkages then, and we have now al-Qaida, which is a global, amorphous organization, which has a global agenda, Afghan Taliban with their agenda of liberating Afghanistan foreign aggression, Pakistani Taliban, who are aiming at part of Pakistan territory to establish their own rule, and (wide number ?) of religious groups which want to gain political space in the name of religion and can cooperate with them.

So ideologically, they all interact. Logistically, they support each other whenever they can. So disentangling them and overcoming them requires – terrorism you can control through power, but insurgency you have to deal with in a political way, and also internally. So these are – as you can see, it’s not an easy action, it’s a mutually reinforcing process. Once it carry on, then, of course, it yield back the results.

MR. NAWAZ: OK. I have, of course, many other questions that I would want to ask, particularly on the economy, we have a very good an active audience, and I’d appreciate – so please wait till I recognize you, and then if you could please identify yourself before asking a brief question. The minister has to leave in about 15 minutes, and so there’s a hard stop which we will have to exercise, I’m afraid. So I have one – the first question there.

Q: Thank you. I’m Alan Kronstadt, Congressional Research Service. Welcome back to Washington, Mr. Minister. I wanted to pick up on something you said in the – in your remarks about putting together a kind of properly trained, properly-equipped counterterrorism force. I think it’s safe to say one of the themes over the past 10 years of U.S. engagement with Pakistan has been a perception that Pakistan’s security forces are almost wholly or have been almost wholly oriented toward conventional warfare.

Over the past 10 years, the U.S. has devoted many billions of dollars – or several billions of dollars to, you know, efforts to improve counterinsurgency, counterterrorism capabilities of Pakistan’s security forces, be they paramilitary, frontier corps – even at the law enforcement level, or SSG special forces. So I think there’s – I’m sure you know of some discouragement in the United States that after a decade of this effort, Pakistan still doesn’t seem to have that orientation. To what would you attribute the slow progress in this area, and, maybe, do you have reasons that the U.S. appropriators should be more confident in coming years with your government’s efforts to work this? Thank you.

MR. AZIZ: Well, obviously, as I mentioned, since it’s a multi-dimensional problem, counterinsurgency force – even the best of – I mean, the forces that you have created after 9/11 are still struggling with the techniques of how to deal with them. But in our case, military has a very rich experience now, because they have cleared six agencies out of seven and have, again, very valuable experience in dealing with them.

The paramilitary forces, which are, you know, the rangers and other related – they are now doing very important work in Karachi dealing with it. In other parts, they are not yet come to that level of efficiency. The police forces have some counterterrorism elements here and there, but again, they need much more sophisticated equipment, much better mobility and much better intelligence coordination.

One of the weaknesses in our case has been lack of coordination among intelligence agencies. You require – that’s why you have created homeland security to coordinate intelligence. In our case, we do not have civilian intelligence within the military intelligence, and local intelligence at the provincial level. So the internal security policy is – one of the main dimension is, better intelligence coordination, because you need – unless you have intelligence-based operations in the various affected areas, you can’t succeed there.

So I feel that whatever investment and effort has been made has not been wasted; it is now pulling together all the scattered elements of our experience that have built over (last two year ?) in a more coherent form, and this force will not itself do – it’s an umbrella force which will coordinate intelligence, but it will use provincial forces, paramilitary forces wherever they are – the rapid response force – it’s something that is still on the drying board, but I hope, in the coming months and years, it will become an important instrument in our hand to do so.

The U.S. support, of course, has been in the – through coalition support fund, which is much broader than just counterinsurgency. It was to – the work that we did in trying to protect the border – some of it was more traditional and conventional, and not counterinsurgency, and that requires now to be upgraded to a much higher level and distinguished, because after 2014, the border still has to be protected. So I think – this is a complex issue, but I think valuable experience has been gained, and I hope now we will build on it.

MR. NAWAZ: At the back, the gentleman who is standing has been very patient.

Q: As-Salamu Alaikum, Mr. Sartaj Aziz. My name is Ahmed Cheema (ph), and I am doing Master’s in cybersecurity from George Mason University. My brief question is, since we are getting a lot of push from U.S. regarding this Dr. Shakil Afridi case to release him, and they have also tried some $300 million budget for that – so is there anywhere on your agenda to establish some kind of prisoner swap program to release Dr. Afia Siddiqui in place of him or not?

MR. AZIZ: First of all, you see, Shakil Afridi’s case is in the courts, and the courts will decide. And by the way, the charge on him has nothing to do with the general perception of leading up to Osama bin Laden – his connection to some extremist organization in the past is different, but we must respect the judicial process and see what comes out of it.

The swap doesn’t come in that category, because he is not an American national, he is a Pakistani national, and to that extent, you can’t do so. So one will have to see what the court verdict is, and how do we go about it? The amount they have not allocated for this purpose; they have deducted $33 million from the aid budget if – to force his release, and we have expressed our disappointment that this – U.S. is a country which abides by the rule of the law, so they should not interfere in the judicial process, at least the U.S. Congress. So let’s hope that we’ll all wait for the judicial verdict as it comes out.

MR. : We have a question here.

Q: Salaam Alaikum. I am Janet Qureshi (ph); I am a government contractor for the joint staff, where I think you have a meeting with my ultimate customers in about 15 minutes, but I’ll keep it quick. You had mentioned the cabinet committee on national security, and I was wondering, is this a civilian-only body, or does the military participate? I’m very encouraged by, you know, both the military and civilian presence here today. So my question is, you know, does the military participate in this body? And if not, I mean, is there plans for anything like that? Because here in the U.S., you know, our ultimate body is the National Security Council, which includes our chairman of joint chiefs of staff.

MR. AZIZ: Here also it does. We have – the prime minister chairs it. There are four ministers of defense, foreign affairs, finance and interior, and four service chiefs, not just one chairman joint chief of staff. All the – the naval chief, the Air Force chief, the – all four are members, and they advise around national security.

We have made attempts in the past, particularly under military rule, to create a national security council, but they were not to deal with the national security issues. They were to give Army some kind of a role in the management of the political system, and therefore, they never worked. And President Musharraf created a national security council by law in 2004, but it included four chief ministers and the Army – four Army chiefs – no defense minister, no foreign minister, no interior minister. So it was not the right kind of – and it was an advisory board.

In our constitution, the president is – the prime minister is the chief executive, not the president, so that was not in line with the constitution also. So while on paper that council exists, it’s dysfunctional. So that’s why we have created a cabinet committee on national security, because a cabinet committee is always chaired by the prime minister. So this debate about who chairs the national security system will disappear forever.

And the more important question is, we did have a defense committee of the cabinet before but it never had its own secretariat and – (inaudible) – capacity. So this has its own secretariat under the national security advisor. It has a planning board, which consists of the subministerial-level officials like defense secretary, interior secretary and heads of all the intelligence agencies, and it has an advisory board consisting of various think tanks who will do option work and research for it.

So it’s an infrastructure that is being built, which I hope will then serve its purpose because, as you know very well, in U.S. most of your foreign policy initiatives and strategies have developed from the national security – (inaudible) – and you had a number of others way back in the ’50s and ’60s. So I think we have never had this kind of a system and now we are developing one.

MR. NAWAZ: Thank you. I should mention that in addition to military officers, the defense minister, who is also the energy minister, is also part of the delegation. (Laughter.) So we should – we should acknowledge his strong presence.

The gentleman over here. And I’m afraid this must be the last question because I promised the minister that he would leave on time.

Q: Thank you. Thank you very much. Salaam alaikum. Thank you, Minister. My name is Omar Samad. I am from Afghanistan and I’m here with New America, a former diplomat.

This morning on the way here I heard a BBC interview with Bilawal Bhutto, who said that he thinks that the Taliban should be eradicated from Pakistan, and otherwise Pakistan will be facing many other problems down the road. What is your view on that?

Number two, you sort of – on the reconciliation process in Afghanistan you said that you believe it’s unlikely that might happen anytime soon. Could you elaborate a little bit, because this is very bad news for Mr. Karzai, on one hand, and also maybe for the BSA, both sort of entangled.

And thirdly, you sort of gave us a perception that you said exists that no longer is valid, it’s out of date, by saying that sanctuaries and cross-border militancy seems to be a thing of the past. That is really not the opinion in Afghanistan or in the neighborhood general, so how would you see that as being part of the past, and what evidence do you have for that? Thank you.

MR. AZIZ: See, the elimination of Taliban is physically not possible because they’re very large. But anyway, you are talking of dealing with the hard-core element who are taking up arms, taking up extremist acts. You deal with them through power. The others you can work and win their hearts and minds. And so it’s a process by which you have to bring them – because you cannot afford any power that does not accept the country’s constitution. You have to establish the right of the state, and for that you have to use force where necessary.

So I think basically we are following the same policy, but we don’t use the word “eliminating” Taliban because it’s the question of they are citizens and we have to deal with them by force. Once you come up – as Ireland has done and a number of other countries have done – you assert your right of state and they all fall in line. And they may agree with something and may not agree, but the problem is solved.

On the second problem, I was saying that grand reconciliation doesn’t seem possible because so far Taliban have not come to the negotiating table with President Karzai or the High Peace Council, and they’re not accepting participation in the election. So by what way they come forward?

And my basic point was that unless and until – the intra-Afghan dialogue is ultimately to solve the problem. We should not – our policy of noninterference in Afghanistan and no favorites implies that other countries of the region – India, Iran, Central Asian countries – will also follow the same policy and we will not fight our proxy wars in Afghanistan. So the Afghan – the power vacuum that is created by the drawdown of ISAF forces is left for Afghans to solve. They should fill that power vacuum and nobody else. So if you have an intra-Afghan dialogue in that sense, then whenever they reach a settlement we all compete in reconstruction, development and trade and other things, but not in the power game.

Now, this means that in the intra-Afghan dialogue, Taliban must be treated not just as terrorists but as stakeholders. Their political entity and not their military capacity has to be taken into account. And if that happens in terms of maybe after the elections – some informal contacts are going on between the Northern Alliance leaders and the Taliban and others, but so far maybe they are waiting for the elections and the new leadership that are incoming.

So this process is not yet visible in terms of reaching a grand reconciliation, and if they don’t take part in the election, how do they take share of any power that they – that they think they deserve? So I think the intra-Afghan dialogue process, Afghan-led process, has to be given a chance to succeed. So that was my implication.

The counterinsurgency, obviously, as I mentioned, six out of seven – (inaudible) – have been cleared and government has established its rights from there. Only now (Tajikistan ?) is left, from where some counterinsurgency and cross-border things are happening. And there also – once that is also cleaned out and the government right is established, then this issue of cross-border insurgency and safe havens will disappear as one of the bone of contentions.

But in return, we also need better border management so that nobody goes from here – supposing there is an expanded insurgency in Afghanistan. Volunteers will start going from here and we can’t allow that. And similarly, refugees can come from there, which we can’t afford. So the counterpart of this ending of the counterinsurgency is better border management, which I hope will happen. Thank you.

MR. NAWAZ: Thank you very much. And my apologies to the audience. I know that there were many very good questions still in your minds, but we had a very tight window. And I really appreciate Mr. Sartaj Aziz and his team taking the time to join us today. And we hope you will return so we will have a much longer engagement.

MR. AZIZ: Inshallah.

MR. NAWAZ: Inshallah. Thank you. (Applause.)


Nawaz: Sharif Seen as Potentially Strong Partner in Washington

South Asia Center Director Shuja Nawaz is quoted by Agence France-Presse on US-Pakistani relations:

Sharif is seen in Washington “as potentially a strong partner because he has a strong political position, which was not the case with the previous government,” said Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

“But whether he will be considered a real strong partner will really depend on how much he can deliver in terms of improving and stabilizing the conditions inside Pakistan and then helping the US stabilize the situation in Afghanistan,” Nawaz said.

Civil-Military Balance Beyond Kayani

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finally made known his choice for the new army chief, arguably the most powerful job in the Pakistani military, one day before General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani retired after completing his second three-year term. Suddenly the talking heads and on-line experts shifted from speculating on who the next chief would be to assessing General Raheel Sharif as the new military leader of Pakistan. Most ignored the potentially subtle but important shift in civil-military relations that might follow this change of command. It is also worth remembering that this job changes the man in charge of the army as much as his personality affects the force that he commands.

This article was originally published in “What Will Happen in 2014?”a special joint publication from the Jang Group, Pakistan’s largest media house, and The Economist.

Kayani has cast a long shadow on Pakistan’s history since he became Director General Inter-Services Intelligence in 2004 and then army chief in November 2007. He took over the army at a point when President Pervez Musharraf, who concurrently was the army chief as a result of political legerdemain, began to slide in strength and popularity. So, Kayani was critical to most political developments in the country beyond November 2007, effectively making defence policy and often foreign policy from that date forward. He was the go-between on the deal that brought back Benazir Bhutto and opened the door for Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan. He also tried to put a hugely civilianized army on the path to professionalization as a military force, while resisting the urge to actively take over government when it faltered. And he opened the door for the civilian government to talks with India and became the Pakistani interlocutor on the tripartite negotiations between the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan on the future of Afghanistan beyond 2014. Some saw him as an obstruction on those fronts, as he tried to balance the historical interventionist stance in Afghanistan and the deep suspicions of Indian coercive diplomacy against the need to stabilize relationships in the region. Not surprising, given his ISI background and his own experience as a young subaltern in the 1971 war with India that led to Pakistan’s defeat in then East Pakistan and a stalemate on the western front.

Kayani was also a major protagonist in the love-hate drama with the United States. He tried to put a logical framework on that fraught friendship of sorts. American wishful thinking, epitomized by the paen to Kayani penned by US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen for TIME magazine’s 100 most influential persons issue of April 2009, captured that sentiment well:

I don’t remember all the details of my first meeting with General Ashfaq Kayani, the Pakistan army’s Chief of Staff. But I do remember thinking, Here is a man with a plan, a leader who knows where he wants to go. He seemed to understand the nature of the extremist threat inside Pakistan, recognized that his army wasn’t ready to meet that threat and had already started working up solutions.

This was a far cry from Mullen’s angry testimony before the US Senate Armed Forces Committee in September 2011.

“The fact remains that the Quetta Shura [Taliban] and the Haqqani Network operate from Pakistan with impunity,” Mullen said in his written testimony. “Extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as US soldiers.”

Kayani’s taciturn approach to military and political diplomacy confounded his friends and foes alike. The failure of the civilian government to establish control over defence and foreign policy gave Kayani even more power than he had as army chief. The government allowed the military to heavily populate the defence ministry and the ministry of defence production with retired officers. The Prime Ministers, the titular heads of government though President Asif Ali Zardari pulled the strings of power, rarely exercised their prerogatives to get regular briefings by the head of the ISI or the army. In return they got little respect. (A small but telling sidelight on this was the break in centuries-old military etiquette that showed most photos of military leaders meeting indoors with their civilian “bosses” with their caps on their heads! The new chief might take note of the signal this sends.)

What next?

Much has already been written about General Sharif and his professional pathway to the chief of army staff. He, like his senior colleagues, has all the professional background to allow him to run the army. But the job will demand that he grow even further as a military and strategic thinker. He may well become a key fulcrum for the establishment of civilian supremacy in Pakistan, while continuing Kayani’s path to professionalizing the army and preparing it for the long internal wars that will be necessary to impose the writ of the state on the territories inside Pakistan’s borders. And, if India plays it smart, especially after the elections next Spring, the new army chief may be critical in reshaping Pakistan’s relationship with its massive eastern neighbor too. India needs to show some positive moves to reduce the threat of its deployments on Pakistan’s eastern flanks, even as it tries to shore up defences against China in its north east.

Raheel Sharif’s signal achievement was in altering the training curriculum of the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) at Kakul, where he was commandant before taking over the XXX corps in Gujranwala. He introduced new methods of teaching officer cadets to undertake operations against militants. He was instrumental in shifting from exercises purely based on the Foxland-Blueland (India vs. Pakistan) construct to scenarios that involved operations against bands of irregulars led by a Mullah. During a visit to PMA during his tenure, I learnt of profile images of bearded mullahs being placed on easels in such training exercises at the PMA. He knew the academy well, having passed out in October 1976, and then having served as Adjutant under then commandant Major General Asif Nawaz. He took great pride in the physical training course he had introduced that involved an indoor automated firing range imported from Germany (where he had been trained and also served on attachment) and numerous physical obstacles involving fighting against militants and terrorists.

His Gujranwala Corps was entrusted with the job of checkmating any potential Indian thrust under the so-called Cold Start Strategy or Pro-Active Strategy of the Indian army, having been beefed up with the 1st Armored Division. And when he was moved to General Headquarters to become Inspector General Training and Evaluation, he presided over the release of a new Army Doctrine that spoke of a “multifaceted” threat to Pakistan, importantly shifting from a sole focus on India as the un-named enemy of choice for Pakistan. As chief he will now have to prove his commitment to combating the new internal threats to Pakistan. Three years is not a lot of time. But it will be important to see him continue the new doctrine and align it with the new doctrines of the other services. An integrated approach will be key to success.

General Sharif will play a critical role in the possible emergence of a sustained democratic system in Pakistan and in improving its relationships with neighboring countries, especially Afghanistan and India. The chemistry between him and the Prime Minister will help shape the civil-military relationship. Kudos to the Prime Minister for naming a member of his inner circle as the new defence minister. Khawaja Asif will need to accelerate his knowledge of defence strategy and policy, and perhaps more importantly, defence economics, to better manage the defence establishment, while becoming an informed spokesperson for the defence services. This is a full time job. So the Prime Minister may well need to decide if two huge tasks, energy and defence policy, can be handled by one man. History has not been kind to civilian leaders who do not understand the military and its complexities in Pakistan. Yet, a huge opportunity has arisen for the new government of Pakistan to show that it can govern the country and its military effectively.

Civilian Opportunities

Even as the new army chief shifts the focus of the military to battling internal enemies, the civilian government will need to show its competence across a broad range of activities. The recent Turkish experience shows that good governance is the best weapon at its disposal. If it can deliver services to its people by creating an open and enabling environment for Pakistani businesses and the common man to operate effectively and efficiently, it will lay the ground for better management of the military. Much needs to be done to end the “Culture of Entitlement” that infects government and the military, especially at the higher levels. Fat cutting can only happen when the fat cutters are free of taint and imbued by selfless service. Greater transparency in reporting on failures and mistakes is also called for. Parliament will need to play an even more active role in that regard instead of becoming cheerleaders, as it did after the Abbotabad attack.

Prime Minister Sharif can also take the tenure of this army chief to prepare for reorganization of the higher defence command and consider devolving military responsibility to four-star regional and strategic force commanders. These generals could be selected by the same appointing authority that appoints the service chiefs. This will rebalance the power structure within the army from a steep pyramid to a balanced structure, and allow the army to function much more effectively and efficiently. A full and open discussion of these options is needed.

Finally, the new government and army chief have a chance to come clean with the Pakistani people on a number of reports that the previous government and the military headquarters promised but never made public. Making public the results of inquiries resulting from military operations in Swat and Baluchistan or on the Abottabad attack will not damage the military or the civilian government. Such openness and candour can only strengthen confidence in both institutions over time and allow them to work together for the common good.

This is a heavy agenda. But a necessary one. The onus now lies on both civilian and military leaders in Pakistan to make it work for the common national good.

Shuja Nawaz is the director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council in Washington DC and the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its army, and the wars within and Learning by Doing: the Pakistan Army’s experience with counterinsurgency.

Looking Ahead to South Asia in 2014

In the coming year, the greater South Asia region will be under enormous pressure. The 2013 elections in Iran and Pakistan ushered in new administrations that are now expected to deliver, particularly on the economic front.  Meanwhile, Afghanistan, India, and Bangladesh face their own elections in 2014.  In the midst of the ongoing transitions, the South Asia Center invited experts to share their predictions for the region in the coming year as well as offer advice on how to move relations forward between South Asian countries, and the US and greater South Asia.

Looking Ahead to 2014

Shuja Nawaz
Sunjoy Joshi
Samir Saran
Moeed Yusuf
Barbara Slavin
Bharath Gopalaswamy
Mohan Guruswamy
Jonathan Paris

2014: A Year of Transitions

Shuja Nawaz, Director, South Asia Center
This will be an important year of transition in the region. Pakistan and Iran will see the results of their 2013 elections bear fruit. Iran may solidify its initial efforts to reach agreement with the United States and the West on nuclear enrichment, leaving till later the issue of nuclear weapons per se. Pakistan will run into headwinds in stabilizing its economy and in its relations with its neighbors. The polity remains divided for now between the civil and the military. The Indian elections spell change at the top  but the economy will remain struggling for most of 2014. Bangladesh will remain unstable and the economy will suffer major setbacks, even if there is a fresh election planned for this year or  next. Ashraf Ghani has the best chances of cobbling together an acceptable alliance in the Kabul elections to ensure Western support beyond 2014.

Regional Dynamics in 2014

Sunjoy Joshi, Director, Observer Research Foundation
As the US is set to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, regional countries such as India, Iran, China and Pakistan are expected to fill the vacuum and step up constructive engagement with Afghanistan. The new Afghan President will initiate dialogues with his regional counterparts soon after elections in an attempt to shore up external support for his country. In particular, the Afghanistan-India-Iran trilateral transit agreement will be signed.
Afghanistan will demand Pakistan to release more Taliban prisoners and Rawalpindi will provide access to the Afghan Government to Mullah Baradar. However, neither will lead to a breakthrough in the peace talks. On the contrary, the Taliban will intensify its military campaign this spring in the hope of inflicting as much damage on the ANSF and foreign forces as possible. This will prove to be a thorn in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, which along with frequent cross-border firing, will derail not only bilateral relations but even the peace process.

Pakistan’s relations with its other neighbour – India – are unlikely to change significantly in 2014. Irrespective of who comes to power in New Delhi, it will continue to link a rapprochement with Pakistan with the latter’s efforts against the terror infrastructure on its soil and the 26/11 perpetrators. However, Nawaz Sharif may find it dificult to deliver on both these accounts as this would involve far greater assertiveness vis-à-vis the new military chief. However, the two countries will continue to focus more on improving trade and economic relations . While this by itself may not fully satisfy India, a government led by the BJP with the support of the Akali Dal (the leading party in Indian Punjab) will probably be in a position to respond more favourably to these overtures.

Finally, while cross-border firings between the two cannot be ruled out completely, Rawalpindi will take stricter measures to ensure that no such incident is started from its side keeping in mind the turmoil that is likely to erupt on its western frontiers as the US drawdown begins.

India and the Region in 2014

Samir Saran, Senior Fellow and Vice President, Observer Research Foundation
2013 was a year of foreign policy successes for India. It can be satisfied with the developments in Nepal as also in Bangladesh (though the government has reduced credibility) and it ensured a smooth succession in the Maldives. India deftly dealt with China – managing a border incursion effectively as well as concluding successful visits by the Prime Minister and the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh despite protests from Beijing. The relation with Pakistan remained volatile with several flare-ups. 2014 must see a greater effort at normalising this key relationship – but will it happen? No. If anything one will see familiar uncertainty, and possibly in the wake of the Afghan drawdown, an exacerbation of tensions as the two nations will invariably get drawn into the proverbial zero-sum game.

2014 is India’s year of the voter, and a change of government seems a foregone conclusion. The interesting thing to see will be if any side gets a majority or will India be saddled with a hung parliament. The big question obviously is how does this affect India’s regional and foreign policies. If the BJP gets the nod from the electorate India’s policy is likely to be more of the same, as the BJP and Congress hardly differ in their approach on key bi-lateral engagements. Despite the rhetoric of difference, policy will coast along. However if a third front government eventuates, one may see diminishing attention towards foreign policy. The important players in such a government will be regional politicians like Jayalalitha, Mamata and the Badal(s) who will influence India’s approach towards Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively.

Three Trends in South Asia

Moeed Yusuf, Director, South Asia Programs, US Institute of Peace 
First, virtually all South Asian countries are having a difficult time remaining inclusive. Some exclusion is driven by politics and some by lack of state capacity to tackle violent onslaughts against peoples of certain faiths, ethnicities, or ideological leanings. From Afghanistan to Bangladesh, minorities in one or more of these categories have had a terrible 2013. And there seems little reason to believe that leaders in South Asia will muster the political will or capacity to reverse the trends.

Second, and linked to the above, nearly all South Asian states would have gone through a general election between the spring of 2013 and Fall of 2014. However, save India, all countries have seemed unable to make the jump from being ‘electocracies’ to true democracies. Bangladesh is burning thanks to political bickering as we welcome 2014; Pakistan’s first peaceful democratic transition has yet to translate into more inclusive governance styles; the majoritarian democracy in Sri Lanka is becoming even less compromising; and we continue to see tactical political agendas overburden any consociational spirit in Nepal, Maldives, and Afghanistan.

Of course, elections are better than no elections. But the history of post-colonial South Asia suggests that prolonged period of electocracy is more likely to give way to a breakdown of the system rather than to maturing democracies. South Asian leaders need to prove their democratic credentials not by winning elections but by behaving democratically once in power. Again, unlikely in the near term.

Third, the two beasts – India and Pakistan – are still stuck, unable to move forward. One suspects proponents of the flawed conventional wisdom that “nothing can move till the Indian elections” may be winning out. In reality, if things have to move, now is the most promising time: there is a fresh popular government in Pakistan and a Prime Minister on his way out and with little to lose in India. Fingers crossed on whether they can defy the odds and make a modest breakthrough in the next few months.

So South Asia of 2014: exclusionary, violent, prevalence of electocracy without democracy; and still long way away from genuine progress between the two giants in the region.

US and Iran Engagement

Barbara Slavin, Senior Fellow, South Asia Center
The United States and Iran will implement the Nov. 24 Geneva agreement despite attempted interference from hardliners in both countries. The deal should hold – assuming President Obama keeps his pledge to veto any new sanctions legislation. Iranian and American officials will begin conversations about regional issues, including Syria, and there will be greater receptivity in Iran to US-Iran academic, scientific and athletic exchanges.

South Asia’s Year of Elections

Bharath Gopalaswamy, Deputy Director, South Asia Center
It will be a year of elections in South Asia! India will  experience a hung parliament. Expect many new faces in the parliament and a good chance that Narendra Modi will become the Prime Minister.  Protests, unrest and uncertainty in Bangladesh will rise. Martial law will likely be imposed. The U.S withdrawal from Afghanistan will result in increase in violence and will be an increasingly concerning factor for India and Pakistan. Finally, the Indian economy will recover, albeit slowly around 5%

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Huma Haque, Associate Director, South Asia Center
Despite the several important transitions in 2013 in Pakistan (the first democratic transition of power, the appointment of a new army chief, and selection of a new chief justice), the problems of the common man will remain.  Sectarian violence and target killings will continue to rise, efforts to improve the energy crisis will lead to nowhere, the rupee will continue to ail, and Pakistan will not be prepared to handle the spillover from the proxy war from next door.

The elections will be the main hurdle for India in 2014, where the BJP’s Narendra Modi is likely to be India’s next prime minister.  Google envisioned India-Pakistan harmony in less than 4 minutes – politicians haven’t been able to accomplish this in 60+ years.  With every forward step, two more are taken backwards.  As our optimism for opening the India-Pakistan border for trade increases, new hurdles will continue to surface.

This will be a critical year for Afghanistan with the ISAF drawdown and elections in April.  Afghan troops can barely secure the country on their own so expect an escalation of violence.  Whether a new government is the answer to Afghanistan’s stability waits to be seen.

India in 2014 – as in 1996?

Mohan Guruswamy, Senior Fellow, South Asia Center
We in India can make one safe prediction about how 2014 will unfold. That is Dr. Manmohan Singh will not be Prime Minister after the elections, most probably in May this year. Till a few weeks ago few were willing to hazard a guess that someone else other than Narendra Modi, the BJP’s anointed standard-bearer, would be Prime Minister. But after the spectacular debut of the Aam Admi Party, literally the common people’s party, in the recent elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly, all bets are off. The AAP won 29.3% of the vote pulling the Congress down from 40.3% to 25.01% and the much-favored BJP from 36.3% to 34.37%. What was more galling for the BJP was that Narendra Modi campaigned extensively in Delhi and the BJP, responding to the anti-corruption impulses unleashed by the AAP, even changed its chosen candidate for Chief Minister mid-stream. Other political parties like the former UP CM’s dalit (lower caste Hindus) based Bahujan Samaj Party, which were making inroads into Delhi in the previous elections, were practically wiped out.

The Times of India today carries a summary of a commissioned opinion poll in India’s top eight cities, bearing bad tidings for both the major parties, the Congress and the BJP. The Times survey reveals that 44% of those polled have expressed an intention to vote for the AAP in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, if the party can put up a candidate in their constituency.  Since the BJP is generally considered stronger in urban areas, this poll has not surprisingly sent shock waves among its leadership. Ironically this apparent weakening of the BJP has brought some cheer to the badly battered Congress Party. While it expects a substantially reduced number of MP’s in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, it enhances the hitherto almost written off chances of the Congress being a part of the ruling dispensation. The Congress Party is already supporting the AAP in Delhi, where despite its spectacular electoral debut, the AAP fell well short of a majority and is in office due to the vanquished Congress Party’s support.

Despite this, the poll also reveals that Narendra Modi is still by far the most preferred as PM. But Modi too has been badly battered in recent weeks. His general ignorance of Indian history was on display when he told an audience in Bihar that Alexander the Great died on the banks of the Ganges after being defeated by a great army of the Gupta kings, who had their capital in modern day Bihar. The only problem with this formulation was that the Gupta dynasty came into being several centuries later, and Alexander died closer to his home than Mr.Modi would like to think. He has shown himself to be gaffe prone and his handlers have studiously avoided press conferences and interviews. Can one win an election only on sound bites? Sound bites are only good in the attack mode, but cannot elaborate or outline a vision. This seems to have become Mr. Modi’s problem now. All attack but no vision.

Since yesterday his knowledge of economics too has come under question when he associated himself with a move initiated by a Yoga guru, Baba Ramdev, to have a completely tax free regime in India and have a system based on expenditure taxes. The problem with this is that only 37% of all Indians have bank accounts, and almost four-fifths of all transactions are by cash. India has a Tax/GDP of just 17.7%, the lowest among the top ten economies and less than half of the developed countries such as the USA, Japan, UK, Germany and France. In raw terms the amount of money with a government has a direct relationship with its power, to do good for its people and to make itself felt outside. Now the BJP talks relentlessly about making India a super-power, whatever that means and entails. Clearly this ambition calls for a higher Tax/GDP ratio as well as a higher GDP. How this new scheme will dovetail with the BJP’s aspirations for India? Meanwhile the party is tying itself up in knots explaining this. The Columbia University economics professor, Jagdish Bhagwati who now a Modi supporter, a few years ago famously remarked that if the BJP has an economist, then he is a Bharata Natyam dancer! A few weeks ago I saw him walking down Manhattan’s Amsterdam Avenue. He didn’t look like he was taking any dance classes.

The economy however is moving slowly back to the dominant trends of the past decade. Industrial production is showing signs of reviving. The agricultural sector is poised for another good year primed by a bumper harvest. Exports have been increasing. The worrying increase of the current account deficit has been reversed and the depreciation of the rupee has been arrested. The Reserve Bank of India has projected a GDP growth of just over 6% next year. What India needs most now is a regime that does not rock the boat? That might seem a tall order, but the Indian political system has always exhibited a penchant to clamber out of a crisis. So the big question that needs to be asked is what kind of a government will India get?

One thing is certain. The era of one party government’s is long gone.  Another things that is just as certain is that there is now a broad consensus on economic policy, liberalization and the need for foreign investment, Indian or otherwise. Except for the infantile ranting from the extreme left internationalists and extreme right ultra-nationalists few challenge this major consensus. India’s heterogeneity and the rise of regional and decentralizing aspirations, and its democratic system have now found expression by the growth of regional parties. One thing most observers here are agreed here is that the strength of regional parties will once again increase at the cost of one or the other national parties. Under Narendra Modi’s leadership, with him being tainted with being responsible for the massacre of Gujarati Muslims, the BJP will be unacceptable to all the regional parties, except the Sikh party- the Akali Dal, as they profess to be secular (non-sectarian) and derive support from the not inconsiderable Muslim minority. If it requires the support of these parties, the BJP may dump Narendra Modi after the elections for somebody less angular. But it is unlikely to work. In all probability the Congress Party is not expected to get more seats than the regional parties together, with AAP too adding its numbers to these ranks. The regional parties will be in a good position to bargain for a government headed by one of their own, with the Congress supporting it. As they did in 1996.

Moving Forward in 2014

Jonathan Paris, associate fellow, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London
Pakistan will muddle through in 2014. As I concluded in my Prospects for Pakistan Report in 2010, the US will have an increasingly difficult time getting Pakistan to promote US interests. The US is and will continue to be unpopular in the Pakistan street, and Imran Khan’s anti-drone campaign will continue to gain domestic support. Nawaz Sharif will, however, keep US-Pakistan relations on a steady course. In some respects, Pakistan-US relations may be more stable than US-India relations in 2014.

Pakistan’s neighbor, Afghanistan, will be in steady turmoil as the post-Karzai and post-ISAF era approach. Things may not deteriorate to the extent that Afghan and Pakistani troops start clashing along the border, but expect the Taliban to score some significant hits against Afghan government institutions.

Iran-US relations should continue to improve as President Rouhani gains stature internally from being seen as ending Iran’s political and economic isolation. Iran and the US are likely to start working together to try to bring the Syrian civil war to an end. Iran needs help in extricating it from the ‘black hole’ that Iranian support for Assad has become. The US appears more concerned about rising Al Qaeda and Sunni extremists in Syria and Iraq than with supporting its Gulf and moderate Sunni allies and Israel against the Iran-led Shiite axis. Does this sound confusing? Welcome to US policy in the Middle East 2014.  

The P5+1 and Iran will likely reach another interim deal or extend the current agreement for another six months, as is permitted under the November 2013 agreement. But a final agreement over Iran’s nuclear program will not be reached in 2014.

I wrote two years ago for the South Asia Center that ‘Turkey’s regional leadership aspirations will come down a notch or two as Erdogan’s health problems, Kurdish problems and economic problems dent his popularity and that the West will become increasingly disenchanted with Erdogan’s brinksmanship and mercurial personality’.   Things are going to get worse for Erdogan than I predicted for 2012, though one can never count him or the ruling AKP out given the absence of dynamic leaders from the other political parties. I expect Abdullah Gul, co-founder of AKP, to emerge as an alternative power pole to Erdogan, particularly if the corruption charges against Erdogan and his cronies gain traction.