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Editorial: Pakistan’s new civil-military combination

WITH a new military leadership in place, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is resuming the business of civil-military consultations on national security and foreign policy matters. After a rocky military transition late last year, it is important that the civilian leadership establish a stable but frank dialogue with the incoming military leadership — the absence of dialogue having potentially profound consequences for internal political stability and external policy challenges. On Tuesday, the PM articulated a familiar message for the region: peaceful coexistence and economic integration. Little, as usual, is known about the specifics discussed or indeed if there is a policy-level rethink taking place. What is clear is that a reset in relations with Afghanistan and India is needed and the new civil-military combination must find ways to first stabilise and then improve ties with the countries.

To be sure, both the Afghan and Indian governments have veered from unhelpfulness to outright hostility towards Pakistan in recent times. The virtual freeze in Pakistan’s ties with those countries owes a great deal to the apparent belief in India and Afghanistan’s leaderships that not only is Pakistan part of the regional problem but that it cannot be part of cooperative solutions. With unreasonableness dominating in Kabul and New Delhi when it comes to Pakistan, the leadership here has had few opportunities of late to try and reset ties. But neither should policymakers here be in denial about Pakistan’s contribution to the regional impasse. Before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani turned hawkish on Pakistan, he had virtually staked his presidency on reaching out to Pakistan. And while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a long record of hawkish pronouncements on national security and foreign policy issues, it was the same Mr Modi who made a surprise stopover in Lahore on Christmas Day a little over a year ago. In comparison, a known would-be peacemaker such as prime minister Manmohan Singh was unable to visit Pakistan during his ten years in office. The positive risk-taking by the leadership of those two countries has not been reciprocated by Pakistan — even if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has an apparent desire to do so.

While it is possible to overstate the value of grand gestures or bold statements, perhaps now is the time for the Pakistani leadership to test the regional appetite for a cooperative approach to security problems and economic opportunities. Border and boundary tensions are unacceptably high on all sides and endless trading of accusations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and India and Pakistan on cross-border militancy needs to be meaningfully addressed. Political pessimists and security hawks in all three countries notwithstanding, the oldest of realities still applies: if political and security cooperation is not sought between the three neighbours, spoilers find ways to drag the relationships even further into darkness. A new-look national security team in Pakistan should attempt a new-look approach.

courtesy : dawn news

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