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Ambassador Sherry Rehman, Jinnah Institute President at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs

by: Sherry Rehman

Karachi – October 14, 2013 – Speaking at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, Jinnah Institute President, Sherry Rehman, signaled the importance of embedding foreign policy firmly in the service of internal stability, which she identified as the principal national interest and ongoing challenge.

She said, “Pakistan’s democratic opportunity affords us a key moment to articulate important course corrections in at least three gradients of our broader national security agenda, which should continue to pivot firstly, on peace in the region, secondly, the insulation of Pakistan from expected surges in volatility from the western border, and three, an urgent articulation of strategic clarity on our own internal security agenda to reverse the tide of extremist and terrorist forces.

In a broad ranging talk on “Challenge and Opportunity: Policy Imperatives, Regional Peace and the Strategic Imagination”, to an audience of members, diplomats and media, Rehman argued for the centrality of diplomacy in the future of global diplomacy, citing an example of Syria most recently, and the privileging of societies over states as drivers of foreign policy given that increasingly, parliaments everywhere were asserting primacy and oversight over insulated policy making templates.

On regional peace, she said that “there is a clear consensus in Pakistan among mainstream political forces on working the hard, slow path of negotiations and dialogue with India, although the Indian political establishment seems locked into a bruising election cycle already where peace periodically becomes hostage to “conditional diplomacy”, narrowing the space for peace constituencies on both sides to leverage the democratic openings from Pakistan.

She foresaw no doctrinal shifts in the posture of the Pakistan or Indian military as long as non-transparency on the LOC remained a norm, principally from the Indian veto on joint or third party commissions to oversee change on the ground; however, she said that dialogue between governments, people and the military is the only way forward. The ball for moving that onwards is now in India’s court, while Pakistan can certainly up the chances of productive talks by moving at a faster pace on the Mumbai trials.

Containment and competition are not the models for a future South Asia which remains locked in cold war constructs. “Peace is not an abstract pie that intellectuals throw up in the sky; it is a strategic imperative for a region where the conflict triggers of terrorism, inequality, energy, food and water insecurity will test all governments’ capacities to meet the demands of rising demographic unrest and migrations.”

Pointing to the 2014 timeline for Afghanistan, where the NATO/ISAF troop withdrawals would also spur transitions for the region, Ambassador Rehman thought that “Pakistan’s calculus should continue to move away from the 30-year old model of strategic depth, to assisting Kabul on its asks, but to a point where the entire Taliban reconciliation phenomenon should not become our “ball and chain”. While it is important to respond to Afghan government and High Peace Council requests for support, and tactical help, this project must not be allowed to overlap into a circle of strategic confusion for Pakistan to reconcile on any terms with terrorists that challenge the writ of the state. Securing, stabilizing Afghanistan, hosting further refugees cannot become Pakistan’s sole burden again. Neither should the project of Afghan Reconciliation. The Taliban from Afghanistan are not in Pakistan’s strategic control, neither are the TTP in Pakistan. So tactical assistance otherwise, Pakistan must look to protect its own borders from a surge in violence in case post the Afghan-election, crisis next door spills over further into Pakistan, intensifying a very real domestic challenge of our own.

Afghan stability is crucial for Pakistan, and while it must be led by the Afghans, (and the recent democratic policy of signaling no favourites in Afghanistan is crucial,) Islamabad must invest in a future where policy makers focus on stabilizing Pakistan first.

“This is a wheel that must be invented if we are to speak of foreign or any other policy, because Pakistan’s bids for international, regional and local peace are being hijacked by actors that have no state agency, yet allow the world to look at Pakistan through the principle prism of terrorism and its franchises.

The state must restore the monopoly on the use of force at home; it must deal with Balochistan politically, and criminal and terror franchises in FATA and border areas with the mix of administrative fiat, force when needed and incentives for decommissioning protocols; it must look at continuing reforms to integrate tribal areas through political and constitutional reform, and deal with terror groups pigeon-holed in urban areas with special CT police forces. Foreign funding will also have to be tackled, and hard choices will have to be made about cementing state structures on the western border, so we don’t steadily lose our territory to an over-run of refugees, militants seeking a revolving door sanctuary, and terrorists that tap into insecurity tribal areas” she said.

“The fragility of coordinated decision-making must be addressed if we are to take notions of sovereignty seriously. Drone strikes certainly violate our sovereignty, and we must continue to use all diplomatic channels to discontinue them. Yet while one does not justify the other, terrorists on our soil also violate our sovereignty in equally egregious ways, all over our country.