With around 200 million citizens, Pakistan remains an unstable nation that has yet to figure out how to accomplish some of its basic governmental functions.

Islamabad continues to see long lines of angry and frustrated motorists, parked along the edge of Islamabad’s tree-lined avenues, waiting for hours to refuel their vehicles.

Islamabad

About 10 years ago, Pakistan’s government started encouraging people to use CNG,or compressed natural gas. It wanted to cut the country’s hefty bill for imported oil and use Pakistan’s domestic gas reserves instead. CNG has the added benefit of being cleaner and cheaper than regular gasoline. At first, the plan was a huge success.

As industry and the public competed for energy amid massive and unrelenting power outages, demand for natural gas soared. A court ruled CNG retailers were making excessive profits and ordered a cap on prices, causing hundreds of CNG suppliers to close down. Separatist insurgents in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province — where a lot of the gas comes from — regularly bomb the pipelines. CNG has become a nightmare for the Pakistan government.

To compound the matter, as Pakistan has become more integrated, its provinces outside Islamabad have assumed a greater share of federal resources. In order for Pakistan to grow its economy, these provinces must now improve their own fiscal performances in relation to Pakistan’s national fiscal outcome.

Pakistan has experienced high fiscal deficits and very limited inflows of foreign currency during the past two years. This has resulted in short-term domestic borrowing and soaring debt servicing costs.

The latest International Monetary Fund figures show Pakistan is unlikely to be able to make a dent in paying off its debts, and Islamabad last week borrowed $2 billion only by accepting excessive interest rates.

Fiscal discipline has eroded in the Pakistani government in recent years. The government has particularly struggled with its continued financing needs for expanding energy sector subsidies, power theft, rising losses incurred by state-owned enterprises, and high expenditures for security.

Islamabad long ago adapted to attacks by Islamist militants by setting up roadblocks, and by turning its government buildings, five-star hotels, villas, and diplomatic enclaves into modern-day fortresses—wrapped in razor wire and blast barriers and monitored by a multitude of security cameras and armed guards.

Yet outside of Islamabad, Pakistan’s provinces remain dangerous ground. The Pakistani Taliban said earlier this month that they will not renew a ceasefire they called for at the beginning of March to facilitate peace negotiations.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to power last year vowing to end the violence through negotiations instead of military operations. The militant group announced a one-month ceasefire on March 1, and then extended it for another 10 days. According to a report from the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, the number of terrorist attacks fell in Khyber Paktunkhwa province and in the tribal regions during March — both areas that have been sites of numerous militant attacks.

The two sides held one round of direct talks on March 26, and on the following Sunday, Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan struck an upbeat note, saying that comprehensive talks with the Pakistani Taliban were expected to start in days. He said the government was releasing about 30 prisoners requested by the Pakistani Taliban to facilitate the process.

But the announcement of the ceasefire’s end undercut the government’s position, and it left Taliban supporters scrambling to understand what it meant.

The first casualties from the end of the ceasefire occurred last night when at least nine people, including five police officers, were killed and more than 30 were wounded in two attacks in northeast Pakistan.

Officials said militants ambushed a police patrol in Bhadbare, on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Peshawar, late Monday night. Two members of the police were originally wounded, and when other officers arrived at the site to retrieve them, the attackers struck again. In the other incident, three people were killed and 30 wounded when a bomb exploded in a congested bazaar in the town of Charsadda, east of Peshawar.

Reports indicate that the militants have become frustrated because the government has had little to offer them. Muhammad Ibrahim, who has been representing the Pakistani Taliban in the talks, blamed the government for not listening to their demands.

Achieving fiscal sustainability and national security has been a major recurring challenge for Pakistan’s policymakers; however, Pakistan’s safety challenges are in no way limited to terrorism.

Pakistan has one of the world’s worst records for fatal traffic accidents. Tahir Khan, superintendent of the National Highway and Motorway Police, said that every year, 12,000 to 15,000 people die in crashes in Pakistan, mainly because of poor roads, badly maintained vehicles, and reckless driving.

Last month, at least 33 people were killed in a multivehicle collision along a coastal highway in southwestern Baluchistan Province.

I apologize for taking such a long break from posting on this blog. Between my work on the Hill, trying to write a book, and keeping some semblance of a social life, things kind of got away from me. I’ll try to do better.

Much has been made of the United State’s military downsizing due to budget constraints, and the ripple effects of less U.S. spending are being felt in far off places. An example is Israel’s specialized Army corps.

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Corps-specific agendas for Israel’s Defense Forces have been scuttled in recent months in favor of more traditional support roles. This reassessment in priorities has kept Israel’s Artillery and Armored Corps (to name only two) from mission creep.

Israel is determined to protect RDT&E (research, development, test, and evaluation) spending with a push for bigger risk-taking.

In order to protect technology, Israel will invest in a few big bets. Look for Israel to modernize some existing weapons and equipment. However, the real goal will be to move beyond marginal improvements – to replace existing programs with new technologies and strategies. Due to the continued deterioration in Syria, Iran’s quest for the bomb, and Hamas trying to grow its influence, Israel has to take this moment as an opportunity to skip a whole generation of technology.

Israel’s government has come to the conclusion that their current structure of military spending is not sustainable.

These budget constraints come three years into an age of austerity in Western military spending. Some analysts expect these spending cuts to result in a new wave of mergers and acquisitions in the defense industry like the one that followed the end of the Cold War.

Western defense industries emerging from the Cold War experienced a reset in customer’s expectations. In the United States, the industry quickly consolidated into a half dozen premier contractors. While in Europe, consolidation was slower, but it produced a dozen or so premier transnational firms. These consolidations were a direct result of defense ministries being concerned about the costs of overcapacity in the wake of shrinking budgets.

Today, the focus is on the shrinking technological advances of the West.

Western governments are now investing in advanced computing, robotics, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. This change in focus will allow Western defense companies to maintain financial strength which will result in more strategic choices. We are already seeing evidence for some of these choices through advancements in cloud computing, big data analytics, and robotics.

Israel has a small population and an exceptional level of threats. Over the years, its ratio of RDT&E spending and procurement has risen and fallen, reflecting the relative priorities of immediate needs and investment for the future.

Israel’s future military spending will continue to be dictated by its threats. Hamas, the militant Muslim authority in Gaza that rejects Israel’s right to exist, has been maneuvering for control over the largely secular Fatah organization administering the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Hamas is currently restrained in Gaza, but it is trying to translate its vision into a plan to dominate Palestinian society in the West Bank.

According to the latest U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates, there are nearly 2.7 million Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The Israeli government can no longer count on the convenience of ambiguity to stave off critics and competing constituencies. Israel will have to chose a path for preserving its character as a Jewish and democratic state while opening the door for a two-state plan.

If Palestinian hopes and expectations continue to go unrealized, the frustration will only strengthen Hamas’ hand.

In Syria, rebels fighting the Assad regime keep attempting to change the military balance of power. The Syrian government has been bolstered by its foreign supporters, and to combat this, the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, is using porous borders to smuggle arms, supplies, and fighters into and out of the country. This continued spilling over of conflict into Syria’s neighbors in real-time has been a destabilizing force in Israel and a distraction.

Despite Western claims of progress in slowing Iran’s nuclear ambition, there are few signs the Iranian government is conditioning its citizens for any major limitations on nuclear work. Thousands of scientists and engineers are employed at a growing number of nuclear facilities in cities including Isfahan, Natanz, and Qom. Iranian President Hasan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif have advanced their careers by championing Iran’s nuclear rights as diplomats on the international stage. More importantly, Iran’s nuclear-fuel infrastructure has grown too vast in recent years, and the international community’s willingness to maintain expensive sanctions on Iran appears limited. Iran’s nuclear quest has Israel planning for military contingencies that carry big risk-taking, and they will no doubt require the new technologies and strategies that Israel is developing.

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