Fix governance, foreign policy will fall into place: JI Roundtable

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In order to surmount geopolitical challenges in the region, Pakistan’s policymakers must prioritise internal governance and address core issues such as the economy, terrorism and violent extremism. This was stated by members of a senior level delegation from the US at a roundtable discussion hosted by Jinnah Institute on Thursday.

While observing that it was necessary for Pakistan’s leaders to build public institutions that ensure systemic durability, members of the delegation who belong to The Century Foundation’s (TCF) International Working Group on Pakistan, underscored Pakistan’s governance challenges.

In a discussion with Pakistani experts, they agreed that public financing, counterterrorism and efforts on extremism merited immediate attention in order to shore up public support for democratic continual. Recently released statistics on the economy were encouraging; however, a vast informal economy was thriving in the country. They observed that it was also important to stem the waste of valuable human resource, repair the civil service through much-needed reform, and capitalise on Pakistan’s youth dividend. Ensuing chaos in the Middle East should serve as a reminder to Pakistan of the fragility of states, and prompt concentrated appraisal and introspection. These themes have been written about in the Working Group’s report titled Jago Pakistan, recently launched in Washington DC and Islamabad.

In the context of changing geopolitical imperatives, participants agreed that Pakistan has an essential role to play, and that the support of the international community would be of vital importance in the coming years. Two major changes characterize the region: the rise of China as an invested stakeholder and internal transitions within Pakistan. For Pakistan to be strong, effective and creative player in South Asia, it was necessary that focus be given to developing a strong economy, and a social service delivery program that caters to public needs.

In India, participants noted that the space for peacemakers willing to engage with Pakistan was shrinking, and this was a function of domestic politics in New Delhi. Pakistan and India once again seemed to have run into an impasse, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy towards Pakistan was increasingly shaped by domestic priorities at home.

While the US was in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan, it was seen that policymakers in Washington had tempered the pace of this withdrawal so that an unplanned drawdown may not bring about domestic electoral backlash, nor trigger alarm and chaos in Kabul. It was also noted that in the coming months, US assistance to Pakistan was likely to be strategic, to ensure prosperity on top of survival.

Participants of the roundtable reviewed the report’s key findings on foreign policy, violent extremism, regional interconnectivity and internal governance reform. It was attended by senior diplomats and policymakers including former Foreign Secretaries Amb. Riaz Khokhar, Amb. Salman Bashir, Lt. General Talat Masood,  former DG ISPR Maj. General Athar Abbas, senior journalist and former editor M. Ziauddin, international legal expert Mr. Ahmer Bilal Soofi, Mr. Imtiz Gul and Mr. Mosharraf Zaidi. Members of the TCF Working Group present included former US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Pickering, former US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, former Turkish Foreign Minister Mr. Hikmat Çetin, Amb. Ann Wilkens, and Neil Bhatiya.