Elections in Pakistan mark an important milestone in the country’s democratic development. The completion of President Zardari’s term and transfer of power will be the country’s first full electoral cycle uninterrupted by military power brokers. Below is a short blog but you can read more detail on the situation in Alert: 24‘s recent assessment here > Focus on Pakistan.
In my view there is little cause for celebration. A series of violent, politically motivated attacks, kidnappings and arrests have marred the delicate process of transformation. Worsening socio-economic, political and ethnic tensions continue to shape the security environment, broadening threat and adding further concerns for companies and individuals living and operating in Pakistan.
To fully understand the spectrum of Pakistan’s instabilities and insecurities an appreciation of its regional context and strategic importance is essential.
US drone strikes and civilian deaths are straining relations with the US, however, the significance of NATO supply lines for the US and the lifeblood of humanitarian aid for Pakistan necessitates delicate diplomacy which is challenged by the Pakistani government’s complicated relationship with the Taliban. To the north, China views Pakistan as a strategic corridor to the Persian Gulf and as potential means to controlling the Uighur secessionists whose community is spread between the two countries.
It is Pakistan’s contentious border with India that poses the greatest threat to security in the ambiguous state of Kashmir administered by both countries. Military and political posturing characterise an area where sporadic incidents can quickly escalate. Sceptics account the recent diplomatic rapprochement to regular cycles of aggression and appeasement, however, flourishing cross-border trade and growth is cause for cautious optimism.
Within Pakistan, the underdeveloped and fragile democratic and judicial infrastructure has left political institutions open to systemic corruption, mismanagement and the influence of external players. Many of Zadari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) officials are charged with offences ranging from exploitation to bribery adding credibility to accusations that the risk of political instability has increased with the party’s ineffective governance. Pakistan’s numerous religious groups and political coalitions will seek to undermine the fragile government, paralysing process and offering a diverse set of moderate and extremist policies.
As a further accelerant of insecurity, Pakistan’s economic growth is slowing and the economic outlook remains bleak in comparison to its Asian neighbors. Systemic failure to implement monetary reform and stabilise its deficit has damaged investor confidence and led the IMF to suspend its loans. Inflation remains volatile, foreign exchange reserves are dwindling and the rupee continues to depreciate. Affected by chronic underemployment, the country’s informal economy is suffering from low textile prices and higher import costs. Underdeveloped infrastructure and inadequate energy provision is stifling businesses and inhibiting growth; power shortages, road closures and communications disruption are commonplace.
Political, economic and security concerns shape Pakistan’s business environment which ranks 105th in the World Bank’s comparators on the ease of doing business, illustrating some of the multitude of legislative, security and political challenges to overcome before comfortable entry and trading across its borders is achieved. Systemic failures frustrate process by inhibiting easy access to credit, investors, tax structures and development.
The security situation in Pakistan has long been a hindrance to businesses, humanitarian aid workers and travelers operating and traveling in the country. Worsening socio-economic and security concerns contextualised by the upcoming elections compound the risk meaning mitigating threat is as pertinent as ever. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office are advising against all travel to Pakistan with some exceptions which they still advise only essential travel highlighting the widespread risks.
Consequently, it would be prudent to suspend all travel plans to Pakistan during this year’s election cycle to avoid being caught up in any peripheral or collateral violence. If you already have employees or travelers in the country then it would be wise to for organisations to review their contingency, evacuation and crisis plans and ensure that these plans are effectively communicated so that staff know what to do the in case of an emergency. Consideration should be given to the early evacuation of dependents and any non-essential personnel.