Security challenges for the next Pakistani government

Security challenges for the next Pakistani government

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Following the conclusion of the February 8 elections in Pakistan, political turbulence over allegations of electoral fraud and irregularities have risen alarmingly. Due to a fragmented mandate at the national level, none of the three major political parties are in a position to form the government on their own. Hence, the formation of a weak, coalition government have increased, which will complicate Pakistan’s protracted political, economic and security challenges. Ahead of the polls, Pakistan suffered an intense wave of violence targeting political rallies, election officials and polling stations by Baloch separatists, Daesh-Khorasan and a breakaway faction of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Likewise, Pakistan’s ties with Afghanistan and Iran also nose-dived over the sanctuaries of TTP and Baloch insurgents in these countries. On February 8, Pakistan closed its borders with Iran and Afghanistan to ensure violence-free balloting. 

Insurgent groups are by-products of chaos and anarchy. They excel in an environment of political uncertainty, especially when a state struggles to retain its legitimacy and put in place a viable, functioning government. Against this backdrop, Pakistan needed a strong government after the elections with a clear public mandate to revise the existing internal security policy and push back against the terror and insurgent networks in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. Pakistan’s current internal security response is reactive and based on a firefighting approach, i.e., responding to the aftermath of different militant attacks, instead of a proactive forward-looking policy. 

Ahead of the elections, the insurgent and terrorist networks engaged in concerted violent campaigns to undermine the electoral process and dissuade voters from exercising their right to franchise. Despite the risk of violence, voters came out in large numbers to cast their votes, indicating their faith and trust in the continuity of democracy. Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding the election outcome on account of rigging and irregularities has shaken the public trust. The militants are exploiting the post-election environment of uncertainty to recruit, propagandise and fundraise. The longer the system will continue to move in circles, the more opportunities it will present to insurgent networks to maximize their anti-democracy narratives. 

The longer the political deadlock continues over election fraud and the formation of the government, the more TTP will continue to build its propaganda against democracy.

- Abdul Basit Khan

Though TTP issued a statement before elections and distanced itself from polls-related violence, the group’s verbal assaults on democracy continued. After the elections, TTP issued a long statement where it ridiculed the electoral process and portrayed democracy as the major bone of contention in Pakistan. Interestingly, TTP threw a bait at religious-political parties, following their poor electoral performance, to join hands with it to bring about Taliban-like theocratic rule in Pakistan. Critically, TTP upheld that the so-called ‘armed struggle’ (read: militancy) was the best way to bring about Shariah system in Pakistan as opposed to democracy. The longer the political deadlock continues over election fraud and the formation of the government, the more TTP will continue to build its propaganda against democracy and in favor of the Taliban’s self-styled Islamic government. 

Similarly, Daesh-K, which declared its so-called war against democracy in Pakistan continued its verbal and physical attacks. In the run up to the elections, the terror group targeted the election candidates and campaigns of different political parties in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In the aftermath of the polls, Daesh-K has published a 78-page book in Urdu language which carries a long tirade against democracy in Pakistan, calling it un-Islamic and the root cause of all the problems confronting the country. Before this, between February 1 and 2, the group also circulated two videos warning voters to stay away from the polling stations on February 8 while framing democracy against Islam and its principles. 

For their part, Baloch insurgent groups carried out a volley of attacks in different parts of Balochistan to create an environment of fear and intimidation ahead of the polls. The main thrust of the Baloch insurgents’ propaganda was that democracy in Pakistan is a sham and the elections in Balochistan are massively rigged to facilitate pro-state political forces, which are toothless and act as the state’s pawns furthering the disenfranchisement of the Balochs. The Baloch insurgents’ propaganda specifically targeted the pro-federation Baloch nationalist parties, which believe in finding a political solution to Balochistan’s problems within the constitutional framework, maintaining that an armed resurrection is the only effective recourse to address Baloch grievances. The ongoing protests by different Baloch nationalist parties over allegations of election fraud will further vindicate the separatist narrative. 

Concurrently, the next coalition government, if it lasts in office, will also have to address the issue of TTP and Baloch insurgents’ respective hideouts in Afghanistan and Iran. In the recent past, Islamabad’s ties with Kabul and Tehran have deteriorated for hosting TTP and Baloch insurgent groups. Pakistan’s new internal security policy will have to take into account the challenge of external support to TTP and Baloch insurgents to effectively counter growing anti-state violence. Hence, Pakistan’s new internal security policy will have a strong interface with its regional policy postures toward Afghanistan and Iran. Without addressing the question of sanctuaries, Pakistan cannot find a local solution to internal security woes. 

As far as the internal security threats are concerned, the plate of the next Pakistani government is full. It will have to forge a new national consensus, notwithstanding the existing political polarization in society, to create a public buy-in. Popular support is pivotal for effective counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency responses. No government can prevail against militant and insurgent networks on its own, a whole-of-state-and-society approach is necessary in this regard. The sooner Pakistan transitions from the care-taker to a publicly-elected government, the better it will be for forging a viable internal security policy. However, the way post-election developments are panning out in Pakistan, the chances of a smooth political transition look slim. 

- The author is a Senior Associate Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore. X :@basitresearcher. 

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