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Charting Pakistan’s Internal Security Policy

SR368-coverFrom September 2014 to March 2015, I was a senior Pakistan expert in residence at the United States Institute of Peace. This opportunity gave me the time to take a break and do some writing. In May 2015, my report was published.

Can be downloaded here

Traditionally ruled by military or quasi-military regimes, Pakistan is struggling to strengthen its democratic governance but the military remains in charge of country’s security policy. This period of incremental democratization corresponds to the unprecedented rise in terrorism and domestic insurgencies that have challenged state capacity and taken a toll on both the morale of the country and the economy. This report reviews Pakistan’s progress in devising and implementing counterterrorism policy frameworks in recent years. In highlighting key related strategic and operational issues, it offers Pakistani policymakers ways forward on how best to ensure internal stability and security, reminding us that a balance in civilian and military institutions is vital for effective policy outcomes.


  • Pakistan’s recently announced National Action Plan focuses on combatting both terrorism and militancy and addresses endemic insecurity and radicalization. The plan follows in the wake of the National Internal Security Policy, which has been in place for more than a year.

  • These two policy frameworks underscore the commitment of the government to implement counterterrorism operations. Implementation of both, however, is affected by the civil-military divide that defines Pakistan’s power landscape and by the altered governance architecture since the onset of devolution reforms of 2010.

  • Pakistan’s historically entrenched civil-military imbalance puts the military in the driver’s seat on all issues related to national security. The current civilian government has enabled the military to take the lead on internal security arrangements as well.

  • Internal security challenges of Pakistan are directly related to its external security policy, especially with respect to India and Afghanistan.

  • Centralized management of internal security policies, however, is fraught with difficulties. It is unclear whether the provincial governments “own” the National Internal Security Policy and how far the central government is enabling reform to achieve results.

  • Progress to date remains mixed. In fact, recent decisions indicate that key counterterrorism goals, such as action against proscribed militant outfits and madrassa regulation, may have been diluted to prevent backlash from religious militias. Counterterrorism efforts cannot succeed without dismantling the militias that have operated with impunity.

  • To effectively counter internal militancy and external terrorism, Pakistan’s policymakers will need to harness both civilian and military institutions. To do so, they need to develop a multifaceted strategy that incorporates a national intelligence directorate, an internal security adviser, enhanced jurisdiction of the National Counter Terrorism Authority, parliamentary participation in counterterrorism, increased financial commitments, education reform, provincial counterterrorism strategies, and altering public narratives. Such measures need to be implemented in letter and spirit with complementary institutional reforms.


June 6th, 2015|governance, Pakistan, Published by USIP, terrorism|0 Comments

Negligence, the biggest disaster in Pakistan

As if the ongoing political crisis was not enough, we are in the middle of a natural disaster, once again. As before, the state appears to be woefully unprepared. More than 23 districts in Punjab, 10 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and five in Gilgit-Baltistan have been affected by the September rains killing more than 270 and affecting 2.4 million people. The federal government says that nearly 45,000 houses have been damaged and 1,544,653 acres of irrigated lands have been inundated thereby impacting livelihoods.

Taken by surprise, the federal and provincial governments are running around undertaking rescue work with plenty of photo-op sessions. The Pakistan Army remains the most resourceful arm of the government and has rescued thousands of stranded people. Once again, the detractors of democratic governance — many of whom are assembled on the streets of Islamabad — view this calamity as another sign of failed ‘fake democracy’.

If media reports are true then the current government, despite briefings, did not accord disaster risk reduction the priority it needed. If anything, the disturbing scenes of a submerged Lahore made a mockery of the Metro Bus glory that was achieved only a year ago. Without a local government, proper drainage and early warning systems, Lahore’s development meant nothing for all those who suffered in the rains. […]

Watching the watchdog

“Democracy is like an infertile woman that cannot produce anything”, thundered a popular columnist (a real opinion-maker) at the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent in North America (APPNA) convention held in Washington, DC. A few women participants objected, but overall, the trashing of ‘democracy’ back home in Pakistan was applauded by many a successful professionals present in the audience. Later, at another event I heard the view by a speaker that Muslims and democracy are incompatible. These are not isolated sentences. A worldview that Pakistan’s Urdu media has cultivated considers democracy a colonial legacy that the British left. A few go to the extent of arguing that in an Islamic Republic a Caliphate is the only option.

Another columnist recently wrote how our democratic and constitutional system is the “rotten dress which protects certain segments of society” and now the time had come to decide if we could live with an ‘itchy’ body [politic]. Considering that half of Pakistan’s existence has been under the rule of a narrow group of civil-military bureaucracy, it is difficult to argue how can even a most imperfect democracy not be more inclusive? […]

Right to Information

Here is an editorial for the Express Tribune

Pakistan’s Constitution since 2010 recognises the right to information as a fundamental right. Yet, the legislature has yet to implement this constitutional clause and enact a law that is comprehensive and brings about the much-needed openness and transparency in executive decisions. A sub-committee of the Senate […]

The new Bhutto

My piece published in Express India

In his first political address, Bilawal Bhutto took a stand against extremism

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari made his debut political address on the fifth death anniversary of his mother, Benazir Bhutto, in a small, dusty village in Sindh, synonymous with the Bhuttos and their tragic lives. Dynastic succession is not unusual in Pakistan or South Asia, and Bilawal has been the chairperson of the party since his mother’s death. However, he has stayed away from active politics in the past few years, completing his studies and getting acquainted with the gigantic party machinery. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) remains one of the largest parties in the country, with a presence in almost all provinces and regions of Pakistan.

On Thursday, Bilawal reminded everyone of the sacrifices his mother and grandfather had made and connected with his core constituency — PPP workers and supporters who have been in search of a charismatic leader since the demise of Benazir. His father, President Asif Ali Zardari, is a skilful political player but lacks popular appeal. His public movements are also constrained by the security threats faced by moderate and liberal politicians.

Standing at Garhi Khuda Baksh, the site of the imposing mausoleum of the Bhuttos, Bilawal reiterated the old narrative put forward by his family: how democracy and popular will had remained and were still confronted by the powerful forces of the permanent military establishment and the judges. Pakistan’s Supreme Court is now a freer institution but in the past, it has played second fiddle to the military and often ruled against the PPP. The hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is a case in point. So Bilawal addressed top judges: “Can’t you see the blood of Benazir Bhutto on the roads of Rawalpindi? I, as an heir of Bhutto, ask why the killers of my mother have not been punished.” […]

January 3rd, 2013|Pakistan, Published in Indian Express|0 Comments

Regressive governance (book review)

“…the pasture of stupidity is unwholesome for mankind.”– Ibn-e-Khaldun

 Pakistan’s ‘crisis’ of governance has now acquired an axiomatic status. Local and foreign experts have been grappling with the precise nature of how the Pakistani state has transformed over the past decades. In particular, the state’s inability to turn into a citizen-responsive, accountable entity is a major tragedy of our times. Ilhan Niaz’s award-winning book, The Culture of Power and Governance of Pakistan 1947-2008, is a significant narrative on the philosophical and historical dimensions of governance or lack thereof. Perhaps the most impressive part of his endeavor is the fact that his is an indigenous analysis, emanating very much from a Pakistani scholar who has chosen to rough it out in a public sector university.

The book uses a wide range of declassified records available at the National Documentation Centre in Islamabad and, therefore, posits a fresh perspective on both the political history of Pakistan as well as how the culture of exercising power in South Asia permeated the insular, mock-Weberian state created by the British. In this respect, it is worthwhile to say that Niaz has also ventured into exploring the marked regression of Pakistan’s ruling elites – something that few studies before his have attempted. As he puts it, the state apparatus has over time become arbitrary, proprietary and delusional. […]

Unpacking the governance debate

If the intent of the unregulated media and a recalcitrant establishment is to dismiss the government to achieve better governance then this is at best a delusional goal

Recent weeks have witnessed a supercilious debate on how the current government’s misgovernance is a potent reason to boot it out. Governance is about decisions, resources and management of public affairs. The sad reality is that Pakistan’s media now controls and spins the public discourse on these issues. The popular media never wanted this government to begin with. Since 2007, it sided with the ‘clean’ and morally correct lawyers’ movement that presented an alternative to the corrupt politicians and shunned the 2008 election. First, it vilified Benazir Bhutto for making a deal with the Generals on initiating a transition towards a power-sharing arrangement. This was a classic worldview of the urban middle class, which has never been a keen participant of the messy electoral politics that brings rural politicians with fake degrees at the helm of affairs.
The second critical moment was the election of the President, which sparked an unprecedented media trial with stories (mostly unsubstantiated) of Zardari’s corruption. There was a strong alliance between the local and the global media churning out a thousand stories highlighting his insanity, fallibility and venality. This happened despite the full confidence expressed by Zardari’s party and its allies. A rare federal consensus over the election of a President was undermined and the media perception intensified how all the crooks stand together to rob the country once again.
October 4th, 2010|governance, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times|1 Comment