By Najam Sethi
09 Jan 2015
If 2014 was a bad year for Pakistan because of terrorism, political instability and civil-military tensions, the outlook for 2015 is cautiously positive on some targets and negative on others.
(1) The trial of General Pervez Musharraf for treason is likely to drone on without any significant hiccups in civil-military relations. The special trial court has allowed General Musharraf to rope in ex-prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, ex-law minister Zahid Hamid and ex-CJP AH Dogar as co-conspirators, in effect diluting the focus on General Musharraf and ensuring unending delays in processing appeals and counter-appeals by the various accused and the government. This suits the government and the military — the former can claim to be pursuing the case vigorously while the latter can remain sanguine that no harm shall befall its ex-chief and “humiliate” the institution. During 2015, General Musharraf’s efforts will be twofold: to maintain a high public profile as “a national leader” by creating waves via media interviews while striving to retain the military’s protection, and strengthening his case for permission to leave the country on medical or family reasons. His efforts to form a potent political party will fail.
(2) Finance Minister Ishaq Dar will not be able to reduce the fiscal deficit to 4.5% of GNP for FY 2014-15 because of tax revenue shortfalls mainly from reduced import duties from the reduced oil import bill, despite the recent imposition of an extra 5% GST on petroleum sales. In turn, the IMF will quibble about missed targets and delay releasing new instalments in the second half of the year, which will bring the rupee under pressure again. The government’s ability to privatise top state enterprises and inject additional funds into the next budget will depend on the graph of both terrorism and political stability in the country. The multi-billion investment MOUs signed with Chinese companies will not begin to flow for many months. Inflation will remain below double digits. But the energy situation will not improve significantly until 2016-17 when the various furnace oil, hydel, coal, wind, solar and gas projects and pipelines are functional.
(3) The National Action Plan to combat terrorism will be fleshed out in 2015 by the 15 sub-committees set up by the prime minister. But the government’s ability to practice what it preaches will be tested at the altar of good relations with the military and a political settlement with Imran Khan over the issue of electoral rigging so that the PTI doesn’t return to the politics of destabilising Dharnas all over again with a wink from the military. Likewise, swift military justice in the form of military courts and executions and a rapid deployment anti-terrorist force will not be a sufficiently strong deterrence to terrorism, let alone uproot it, because the government will not make much headway in curbing the underground activities of non-state radical Islamic actors like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat ul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or their various front organisations, or plug their sources of funding. The fate of these groups rests in the hands of the ISI which manages them in line with the military’s regional security policy vis a vis India and Afghanistan and this is not likely to change significantly in the short term.
(4) An agreement between the PTI and PMLN on a judicial commission to probe charges of rigging in the 2013 elections seems unlikely to get much mileage. Imran Khan now wants the judiciary to investigate general allegations of rigging while the PMLN insists the commission should focus on Khan’s original charge that there was a conspiracy involving ex-CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry, Nawaz Sharif, the Election Commission of Pakistan and the caretaker governments to hand-pick Returning Officers from the lower judiciary in order to change the election results after balloting. Since such a conspiracy is impossible to determine in the short period of six weeks demanded by Imran Khan, the talks are likely to be abandoned and Khan will again announce a PTI strategy to whip up the public against the Sharif government, thereby creating another wave of instability. However, in view of the national commitment to wage war against terrorism, the military is not likely to back Imran Khan’s bid to oust Nawaz Sharif and compel another round of general elections in 2015.
(5) India-Pakistan relations will remain difficult because of the hard-line “defensive-offence” strategy adopted by the Narendra Modi government. Therefore no concrete normalisation process is forecast. Meanwhile, US-Pak relations will depend on Pak-Afghanistan relations, which in turn will depend on the ability and willingness of the Afghan-ISAF forces to help eliminate Pak Taliban groups operating against Pakistan from bases in north-east Afghanistan and reciprocal action by Pakistan to bring the rebel Afghan Taliban safe-havened in Pakistan’s borderlands to the negotiating table with the new Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani. If any party is unable to deliver on its pledge, relations will deteriorate and proxy wars will intensify.