Pakistan On The Brink

PAKISTAN Police and supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan have been clashing outside his residence in Lahore over the last two days, ahead of his arrest. Khan is facing arrest after being convicted by the court in October last year for unlawfully selling gifts from Toshakhana (treasure house) to foreign dignitaries. But the reason for the arrest has become beside the point here. Truth is that Khan has become immensely popular in the country after he lost power in a vote of no-confidence last year. Khan has been claiming his government was toppled by the United States miffed with his growing closeness to Russia and China. He has been demanding the resignation of the  government and the holding of the fresh elections. Last year, soon after his ouster, Khan has held successive mass rallies to force the government out of power. While the Pakistan government, backed by the military establishment, is unlikely to resign in the near term, Khan’s stubborn political  campaign has destabilized the country. At the same time, his popularity has skyrocketed and in case of an  election, he is expected to return to power with a landslide majority.

However, Pakistan is not only facing a political turmoil. Over the last two years, the country has careened from crisis to crisis: political, economic and on a security front. Pakistan economy is on the verge of a default with agreement with the International Monetary Fund far from being concluded. The IMF is putting stringent conditions before it advances loan to bail out the country.

On the other hand, after a relative peace for some years, Tehreek Taliban Pakistan has again become a major security challenge for Pakistan. In recent months, the TTP has mounted several daredevil attacks on Pakistan’s security installations. This, in turn, has also spoiled Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban government in Afghanistan, otherwise considered Islamabad’s allies. Ongoing economic and political turmoil have only compounded the country’s  mounting security challenges. This has created an alarming situation for Islamabad. And the resurgence of the TTP threatens to make things worse. Islamabad’s dialogue last year with the TTP which was mediated by Afghan Taliban came to naught as the former refused to budge from its rigid position. There is no hope for a fresh engagement. So, the conflict looks set to continue. And considering the complexities involved, nobody expects a dramatic breakthrough in the near future. The existing situation looks set to continue for a long time before getting any better. But the TTP insurgency is only one part of the larger and layered security nightmare that is Af-Pak region. The scenario for the immediate future looks bleak. The region has already undergone  a profound geo-political transformation following US exit from Afghanistan in 2021. This situation has some unsettling dimensions and unless the countries of the region especially India and Pakistan, come together and jointly address the problems that have arisen post US withdrawal, the new forces and factors which are likely to be unleashed could detrimentally impact the region.

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