Wars used to be different in the past. Declaration of war involved a state of emergency and the conduct of business was obviously not as usual. Not only that, to deal with the extraordinary circumstances, the concerned authorities would usually acquire exceptional powers.
These conflicts had clearly identified enemies and the battles included the militaries of the involved empires and states, going at each other. The ensuing violence also consumed civilians. For example, about 38 to 55 million civilians were killed in WWII. The defeat of the foe meant the end of conflict, a clear victor, and the dawn of peace.
In recent times, especially as it relates to the war on terror, the definition of war and the enemy has transformed. The conflict now mostly involves the non-state actors, which may be one group or a compilation of different factions, spread over a vast region. Furthermore, these non-state elements do not have the formal support of any state actor, although this may be changing in the Middle East now.
Not understanding this changed nature of conflict caused serious problems for the past governments of Pakistan, and is likely to complicate the goals of the incoming one. The most challenging aspect of the war against extremists is the absence of clearly identified area, enemy, and leadership, against which the immense capacity of a state could be concentrated.
For example, Swat operation cleared out the area, but many extremists shifted across the border to Afghanistan; from where they continue to be a menace. Similarly, pressure on Al Qaeda in the AfPak region, caused many to move to other places in the Middle East and North Africa.
In essence, until the internal security challenges persist in Pakistan, bringing about an economic turnaround would not be possible.
State And Non-State Actors
Under pressure in one place, the non-state actors have simply been able to move from one area and state to the other. This has been amply demonstrated in FATA and on the Af-Pak border.
The extremists use safe havens, chaos and locations where the writ of the state is minimal to hide and operate from. And, there is no shortage of such places in the region. The nation-state construct that evolved from the world wars never existed in its purest form in the areas where the extremists have become the most potent.
Without a specific location where the enemy is situated, the adversary often cannot be effectively targeted. Moreover, with easily replaceable leadership and an ideology to back it, the extremist groups are resilient even after considerable losses. This dynamics has resulted in a sort of perpetual war, which President Obama referred to in his speech at the National Defense University in Washington DC on May 23rd,
“So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.””
This new kind of war is not a struggle in the traditional sense, in which attention of the whole nation is diverted towards one particular focus on an emergency basis, including its economic and intellectual resources. By its very definition, emergency can only be a short period of time. If it’s a protracted emergency, inadvertently it will lead to frustration and fatigue. A high level of alertness cannot be sustained over long periods of time.
Pakistan’s War on Terror
In the case of Pakistan, the conflict is even more peculiar. It’s a lingering battle that is being fought on its own territory, where the enemy is often local and mixed up with the population. It has created a sense of insecurity among the citizens, and with the unpredictable law and order situation, the economy has been acutely impacted. Moreover, the national attention is frequently diverted from governance due to security related crises. The war has created and reinforced an international perception that Pakistan is the most dangerous place to invest, do business, or to simply live in.
This results in a double whammy: more resources are diverted to deal with security concerns, and as lawlessness continues, economy suffers even more. However, the most damning element of this conflict is resulted in a strategic ambiguity; is the gravest threat to the country from within or without. Rationally speaking, one can only fight one of these risks at a time. If a nation is busy in an internal war, it can hardly be expected to take on an external aggressor.
Implications for the New Government
So what does this mean for the new government of Nawaz Sharif that has promised an economic turnaround. It simply suggests that until and unless the country deals with the issue of extremism and the law and order situation, the transformation would simply not happen. Inability to define the problem correctly, attempting to solve the wrong problem, or in the wrong sequence, will cause a lot of wasted time and resources. The example is the same as the PPP government promising to solve the energy crisis in a year when it came into power. At the end of its five-year term, the energy predicament is even worse.
The military solution has obviously not worked in the past and Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan have both favored a political route. The drone attack on May 29th that eliminated TTP deputy Wali ur Rehman, is exactly the kinds of pressures the new government would likely confront. These anxieties, and past mistakes, may have played a role in Nawaz Sharif’s decision to keep the defense and foreign affairs portfolios under his purview. Both of these domains have remained out of the control of the political leadership in the past, which lead to many debacles.
The US and Gen. Musharraf both recently admitted to a secret deal under which the drone strikes have taken place in the country. On the other hand, during the Zardari reign the political leadership said one thing and did the other, which left the public confused about Pakistan’s true policy on the war against extremists. Going forward, this gap between the civilian and military leadership would have to be narrowed for the sake of improving the situation and harness the critical public support.
It’s a no brainer, unless the security situation of the country improves, there is not going to be any economic miracle. With problems multiplying, muddling through or business as usual is no longer an option. How the new government adapts to and manages the expectations of war on terror would determine the fate of its economic and social agenda, and the nature of Pakistan’s international relations. Unless something is done differently, the fate of the present government may end up being similar to that of the previous one.