New govt to offer fresh opportunity for peace process, says ex-envoy

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WASHINGTON: A new government in Kabul will offer a fresh opportunity to renew the peace process and help kick off serious efforts at Afghan reconciliation, says Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US and UK. In her address to a leading American think-tank, Maleeha Lodhi said that the outcome of two elections in the region — in Afghanistan and India — would offer opportunity as well as challenges, because they would shape regional dynamics in a pivotal year with the looming drawdown of Nato combat troops from Afghanistan.

She said that the successful holding of presidential elections in Afghanistan represented a promising beginning, but was just the first hurdle and the opening act of the transitions that lie ahead.

“We must await the completion of the election process to draw firm conclusions. What might follow will have an even greater bearing on the country’s future,” she said.

Pakistan, she explained, had smoothly negotiated several key transitions last year. A historic political transition, when power was transferred peacefully from one elected government to another for the first time in Pakistan’s history. Then the judicial transition, with a new chief justice assuming charge and finally the change of guard in the army.

But she said that a fourth transition would be more consequential for the country’s fate and future. This is the economic transition — from a ‘crisis economy’, perpetually on the brink and dependent on external assistance or borrowing to an economy of growth and investment, powered by the mobilisation of the country’s own resources.

In this context, she said, to make sustainable progress, the country must improve its tax-GDP ratio and raise revenue substantially.

With most questions from the audience about Pakistan’s battle with militancy, she said that unless the government got a grip on internal law and order, even its best laid economic plans risked being derailed. It is on defeating militancy and re-establishing internal order that the Sharif government’s future prospects rested as well as those of the country.

She also stated that to protect itself from the risk of future instability in Afghanistan, the sooner the government was able to contain the threat of militancy well ahead of December 2014, the better. While the talks option is playing out the government has to prepare the country for more forceful action should talks fail.

Thus while Pakistan has a complicated regional scenario to navigate in 2014 and beyond, Dr Lodhi was quite clear that the factors that would shape Pakistan’s future lay within. She said that the critical choices it made on the key issues of security and the economy would determine its destiny.

She said that “post-2014 regional dynamics will depend as much on how Pakistan addresses these issues as on how the situation unfolds in Afghanistan and whether regional states are able to evolve a consensus on the rules of the game in the region”.

In reply to a question Dr Lodhi said that China and the US had convergent interests west of China – in Afghanistan – even if to China’s east there were tensions in the South China Sea and where America’s ‘pivot’ strategy was playing out.