Pakistan before ISAF’s Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Discussion with Michael Koch, German special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Declan Walsh of the New York Times

05/02/2013 | 18:30 - 20:00 | DGAP Berlin | Invitation only

Discussion

Category: Pakistan, Conflicts and Strategies

The region is receiving international attention right now, above all, for the planned withdrawal of ISAF operations from Afghanistan in 2014. But 2013 will be decisive for the region too. Pakistan is to see considerable leadership turnover; elections for parliament and the provincial assemblies will take place this May, with presidential elections set for the fall. And because of several changes to the constitution, the political situation in the country is more stable than it was in 2008.

Michael Koch, Sylke Tempel, and Declan Walsh

In the upcoming elections, a young and well educated but also dissatisfied generation of urban voters will tip the scales when, for the first time, a civilian government cedes office to its successor in a peaceful and completely regular way.

Democracy Strengthened

While the current government is unable to point to many domestic successes in such areas as energy and economic development, it has managed to push through constitutional reforms that, according to Declan Walsh, head of the New York Times bureau in Islamabad, will make it much harder for the military to seize power again.

The president’s authority will be curtailed, strengthening the separation of powers. Now, in contrast to what was still the case in the 1990s, the military is making an effort to allow these elections to take place, according to Michael Koch, the German Federal government’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Democracy is stronger today than it was in 2008.”

A Year of Personnel Changes

Furthermore, it is expected that there will be a change at the head of the army at the end of the year, when General Ashfaq Kayani goes into retirement. And in December, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry will also reach retirement age. This adds up to changes in all of the major leadership positions this year.

Statements made in the last year by General Kayani show that even the military leadership’s strategic thinking has changed. This is reflected in the current “Green Book” of the Pakistani military, according to Walsh. Even though the danger of a coup is small, the internal threat of terrorist groups has in the meantime has taken on greater significance than an external threat from neighboring India.

To be sure, Walsh remarked, it remains unclear how the situation in Kashmir will develop. The state of the peace process is “fragile and reversible.” During President Musharraf’s rule, however, Pakistan had already withdrawn from the physical conflict dynamics. Several encouraging measures have gone further than many would have expected, including trade facilitation and initiatives to liberalize visas.

A stable Afghanistan is in Islamabad’s interest

“The effects on Pakistan of the security situation in neighboring Afghanistan are not to be underestimated,” according to Walsh.

And so it is helpful that relations between the two states have considerably improved in the past few months. The Pakistani military has learned its lesson and does not want the return of a Taliban regime. Now the most important thing is to support the Afghan process of reconciliation and bring all the relevant players together, including the Northern Alliance.

All the same, Koch warned, there is no guarantee that the Afghan security forces will be able ensure peace after 2014. The neighboring states as well as the West must keep their promises in order to optimize the chances for success. This includes financial and logistical support as well as economic investment.

Koch stressed that both Germany and Pakistan have a strong interest in the continued engagement of the US in Afghanistan. Relations between the US and Pakistan have again improved since reaching a low-point in November 2011, after several Pakistanis were killed in so-called friendly fire.

Dr. Michael Koch, the German federal government’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Declan Walsh, head of the New York Times bureau in Islamabad, accepted an invitation from the DGAP to attend a podium discussion on February 5, 2013. The event was moderated by Dr. Sylke Temple, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Internationale Politik.

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