As Pakistan crosses into 2016, experts herein identify and highlight the most serious challenges facing the country that could potentially emerge as governance and security flashpoints for policymakers in the New Year.

Economic Gridlock
The new year could well be a turning point for Pakistan’s economy, but a lot depends on how its opportunities are utilised. For the first time since the crash of 2008, Pakistan’s economy could be poised for a revival of growth as inflation fell and reserves rose in 2015. A promise of large-scale infrastructure investment from China began to take shape, and the fiscal situation was more or less brought under control. If the trends continue through 2016, the elusive grail of growth could be well within sight. However, all of these changes have been brought about by fortuitous external circumstances. For a sustainable revival of growth, it will be necessary to lock in the gains through deeper structural reforms in the public sector enterprises, power transmission and distribution and diversification of the export base. Revival of investment will also be a crucial priority and if, any revival is narrowly based, it will also prove illusory. The government has a window of opportunity opening up before it in the forthcoming year. Whether it can muster the will and the vision to move from optimism to confidence, and a meaningful material impact on the economy, will be the big economic story of 2016.

Khurram Husain is Assistant Editor with Dawn Newspaper. @KhurramHusain

Glacial Melt & Floods
Enhanced glacial melt due to climate change will pose a clear and present danger to Pakistan in 2016. The various facets of this challenge have to do with both Pakistan’s topography and its geography. The country lies at the foothills of the third pole, the Himalayan glaciers, which store the world’s third largest reservoir of frozen water. In an age of dwindling fresh water flow, this reservoir is a precious asset which supplies almost 80 per cent of Pakistan’s river flow. However, the rapid depletion of this reserve through climate-triggered glacial melting poses a serious challenge. Pakistan is a country on a slope: the most geographically inclined country in the world which sharply slopes down from 8,000 meters to sea level in the short span of 2,000 kilometers. This makes any rapid glacial melt a trigger for flash floods which can wreak havoc along the length of the country, as was the case in 2010 and 2011. This is the case especially when this glacial melt overlaps with enhanced monsoon activity. Another associated challenge is the formation of unstable glacial lakes which occurs due to rapid melting, and can cause ‘mountain tsunamis’ in the event of an outburst. At present, almost 50 such lakes are mapped in Pakistan’s north, which has already faced a series of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). These facts come together to make Pakistan one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change: according to forecasts, climate change is likely to cost Pakistan between $6 to 14 billion a year in the coming decade. This necessitates an urgent need to create an adaptation strategy that can manage and face up to unplanned, and unavoidable, risks in the near future.

Malik Amin Aslam is a former minister of state for environment and the Global Vice-President of the IUCN. @AminAttock

Realizing CPEC

As Pakistan enters 2016, the timely and efficient realisation of a host of ambitious energy and infrastructure projects under the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will prove to be a national challenge. Amounting to 20 per cent of Pakistan’s GDP, the magnitude of investments under CPEC and their potential to kick-start growth in an otherwise fledgling economy has elevated the project as the government’s foremost development priority until 2018. However, teething problems in implementation are already fast emerging. The failure of the Sahiwal coal project and the 6000MW Gadani power project are a few examples of lax governance where inadequate environmental assessments coupled with hasty preparation of project plans resulted in the loss of valuable time and resources. Similarly, cost overruns on the Lahore orange metro train project, Multan-Sukkur motorway, Havelian-Thakot road and the Mullah Band works in Gwadar have reached a billion dollars. The unusual speed at which such projects have been approved by the government have also raised eyebrows within the country’s financial sector, with the Governor of the State Bank publicly raising concerns on transparency in financial structuring of CPEC projects. If Pakistan is to reap benefits accruing from CPEC, in 2016, the government must streamline project planning and demonstrate its capacity to absorb investments without compromising their financial and social viability.

Hassan Akbar is Director Programs at Jinnah Institute.

Leadership Change in Balochistan

While 2015 saw a steady decline in Balochistan militancy, 2016 is expected to bring new challenges in governance, law and order, and politico-structural issues. The newly inducted Chief Minister, although a veteran in electoral politics, cannot be distinguished as a politician with outreach and linkages with grassroots level issues. The biggest issue that Balochistan is likely to confront is the 2016 Census, scheduled to be held in March. Any attempt to undertake a census in Balochistan without resolving underlying political fissures will only trigger further conflict. Over the last few decades, a heavy influx of immigrants from Afghanistan has resulted in a population bulge in much of Balochistan’s Pushtun regions. Most of these Pushtun Afghans now have Pakistani CNICs and passports.  The Pushtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), has claimed Afghan guests as its own, while parties representing Baloch interests have opposed this internalisation. These parties worry that their own Baloch communities may be rendered a minority if Afghan migrants are included in the upcoming census. The other big challenge facing the province is creating consensus on the western route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Baloch leaders have serious concerns on what they see as an exclusion of Baloch voices from the envisioned project and a lack of sufficient guarantees for the protection of Baloch interests. A third issue is the reconciliation process under the National Action Plan. Former Chief Minister Abdul Malik had been leading a  reconciliation process that has started showing results. Provincial leadership change is likely to complicate these gains. The new Chief Minister’s ability to reach out to, and carry forward the process with the Mengal, Mari and Domki Sardars, is limited. The fourth big challenge of 2016 is going to be the maintenance of the law and order situation and delivering on governance. The former can be achieved if the Chief Minister continues to receive the Army’s support. Achieving the latter will be harder: Balochistan’s record on governance is bleak and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have yet to be incorporated in provincial development plans.

Marvi Sirmed is a governance professional and political commentator. @marvisirmed

Bringing NAP to South Punjab

The state’s ability to rein in jihadist groups in South Punjab in 2016 will test both national counter-terror (CT) capacities and commitments to curbing violent extremism and sectarianism in the Punjab heartland. A year after the federal government unveiled its 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) last December, counter-terrorism initiatives have scored several important gains, particularly in the realm of arresting militant suspects and emphasising the need to choke off terrorist financing. However, more needs to be done, particularly in South Punjab, a region that remains a crucible of extremism and Gulf-sponsored but home-bred radicalism, and is home to an estimated 57 militant groups of various colours. The target-killing of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) commander Malik Ishaq in 2015, together with raids and search-and-kill operations in Lahore and Multan, points to shrinking provincial space for militants and sectarian outfits. However, the suicide attack on Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzada has exposed key gaps in the state’s counter-terror strategy in Punjab. Network infrastructure in the form of sleeper cells and support bases still proliferate; Punjab-based groups also pose a danger to the recently rebooted India-Pakistan bilateral relationship, given the BJP’s fixation with cross-border terrorism. Here at home, the interior ministry has yet to make public a list of banned organisations, further obfuscating the ruling party’s resolve to move against criminal groups. In 2016, it is equally imperative that federal and provincial governments mobilise alternative narratives against hate-filled ideologies that fuel extremist actions and recruitment in the southern plains. Post-18th Amendment, the province will also have to take policy decisions on issues such as reviewing gun licenses and madrassah activities across Punjab. More than half of Punjab’s 12,000 seminaries are unregistered, and of 1,764 people on government ‘wanted’ lists, 729 are from south Punjab alone. Given the unwelcome ability of Punjab-based militants to develop inter-ideological partnerships with extra-provincial militant networks, Pakistan will have to proactively seek to cut off militant oxygen in the region.

Fahd Humayun is a Program and Research Manager for Jinnah Institute. @fahdhumayun

Governing the Pak-Afghan Border

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says his country is infested with militants from China, Central Asia and the Middle East. He also understands that the Taliban insurgency has gained significant momentum since December 2014, when NATO’s combat mission came to an end in Afghanistan. This should be a real concern for policymakers in Pakistan. Afghan security agencies are not strong enough to deal with the security situation in their country, and any spillover of terrorist violence into Pakistan will quickly reverse the military gains against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other radical factions. Problematically, any attempt to plug the leaky border between the two states is likely to run into difficulties given that the international boundary meanders through craggy mountains and narrow valleys. It does not help matters that Kabul refuses to recognise the territorial demarcation separating the two countries and, as some Pakistani defence officials recently claimed, is not too enthusiastic about embracing new border coordination mechanisms. Nevertheless, Pakistan has taken certain positive unilateral steps, such as, the digging of a trench on its side of the border and the installation of ground surveillance radars to curb unwanted movement along and across the frontier. None of this has gone over well with the Afghans, however, who continue to believe that a chunk of Pakistan’s northwestern region belongs to them. These challenges are not likely to go away in 2016. This is why polities in Islamabad and Kabul must understand and appreciate that border violations and skirmishes symptomise the graver, deep-rooted issue of the massive bilateral trust deficit. The only way to fix the border, therefore, is to fix the relationship.

Wajahat Ali is a Journalist, Media and Research Consultant.

Rehabilitating IDPs

For the Pakistani state, it appears that rehabilitating IDPs, particularly those from the tribal belt, only means sending those displaced by military operations back home. But this is just one stage of a long process that requires a lot more than simply asking those who have been uprooted to go back and restart their lives from scratch. Presently, of the 291,827 families internally displaced due to Operation Zarb-e-Azb, 108,503 families have returned home. However, their problems are far from over: across the tribal belt, these returnees find their livelihoods destroyed, their shelters bombed, and government infrastructure non-supportive for them to resume their lives. Those on the ground allege that tribesmen and women are victims of a flawed proxy war. Despite this, they readily gave up all that belonged to them in the hope for peace for the country. Yet, the treatment meted out to them suggests that they are blamed  for terrorism in the country. In 2016 the government will have to redress this narrative that sees the tribal people as a problem, and instead, view the situation in the context of policy mistakes made in the past by former military regimes which allowed FATA tribesmen to become hostage to extremists in their own land. Going forward, the government needs to not only inculcate in them a sense of belonging to Pakistan by rebuilding their lives, but also take effective measures to bring the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into the constitutional fold, abolish the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and, perhaps most importantly, dismantle pro-Pakistani militant infrastructure in the tribal belt. Otherwise, the recurring cycle of influx of IDPs from the tribal belt will continue.

Taha Siddiqui is a print and TV journalist, working for international and national media. @TahaSSiddiqui

Mainstreaming FATA

Success in mainstreaming FATA will hinge on the federal government’s policy towards the tribal region in 2016. Including the people of the tribal areas in the mainstreaming process will be a step in the right direction. However, imposing a unilateral decision will only serve to unnecessarily complicate an already precarious political situation. The people of FATA have endured immense suffering over the past decade, leaving behind deep social and political scars. Today, they neither have the patience nor the capacity to undergo another cycle of violence and displacement. Prudence dictates that the people of FATA not be pushed against the wall, especially since outside elements can fuel or transfigure the quiet rumblings of discontent into a violent outburst. FATA’s residents have proven their loyalties in difficult conditions beyond the slightest doubt. It would be in Pakistan’s own national interest in 2016 to ensure that these stakeholders are involved in the process of mainstreaming the tribal agencies, and allowed to choose one of the two options that are being debated in the media: merge with Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) or be granted the status of a separate province. If this opportunity is missed, the people of the region will never repose confidence and support in the government again.

Ayaz Wazir is a former ambassador.

Managing Urbanization

In the 21st century, cities have emerged as engines of economic growth, social entrepreneurship and innovation, in both developed and developing countries. Pakistan’s cities have become magnets for the country’s growing youth cohort, which is fast developing an urban-global outlook and an aspirational character. Pakistan’s cities have become laboratories for processes of social change inspired and driven by economic liberalisation, political inclusion and technological and digital media advancement. Led by cities, these processes are transforming the face and fabric of Pakistan, often for the better. But in 2016 the serious challenges of Pakistan’s violent conflict-prone environment and policy indifference to climate change repercussions threatens to turn these phenomenal gains into socio-economic and political catastrophes. Unmitigated, these catastrophes will largely play out in Pakistan’s cities resulting in further deterioration, stalling and even reversing constructive socio-political and economic processes. Pakistan can no longer afford to ignore the potential and promise that its expanding but neglected cities offer. The key is to plan, nurture, leverage, and align urban spaces with the vision of the 2015 Paris Agreement. In 2016, better urban planning, greener urban management and eco-friendly urban resource optimisation should become a Number One priority for national policymakers. This prioritisation should be in tandem with the long-awaited national census the Federal Government has committed itself to holding in March 2016. Pakistan’s obsolete and politically rejected population data needs to be authenticated and grounded in reality to create the space for credible policy projections and decisions that can be framed in the Council of Common Interests (CCI). Fulfilling this commitment will be a major litmus test for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government in proving its post-18th Amendment federalist credentials. If held successfully and credibly and with the support of the Pakistan military, a 2016 population census could become a defining strategic campaigning and bargaining tool for the PML-N in the 2018 general elections.

Ammara Durrani is an independent polymath professional with expertise in Knowledge, Strategy, and Management & Advocacy. She tweets at @ammaradurrani.

Fighting the Daesh foothold

For the longest time, the presence of Daesh in Pakistan was downplayed. Many officials dismissed Daesh as a purely Middle Eastern phenomenon. But this year it became clear that the terrorist network has raised its monstrous face in this region. Pakistani authorities continue to downplay the Daesh’s strategic foothold in Pakistan, a security concern that will have serious ramifications in 2016. While most Daesh-affiliated TTP dissidents have fled across the border and are concentrating their activities in Afghanistan, the problem is that Daesh forces have seized control of a substantive part of Afghan Taliban territory in Nangarhar. Daesh’s eastward advance is likely to complicate the Afghan civil, as the Taliban struggle to maintain unity in their ranks. ADaesh footprint has also been discovered in recent sectarian-based terrorist attacks in Pakistan in 2015. Robust Daesh propaganda through the Internet and social media is also increasingly a source of radicalisation of educated young Pakistanis.A glaring manifestation of Daesh’s reach in Pakistan is the Ismaili bus attack in Karachi this May. The university graduates involved in the heinous crime were reportedly influenced by Daesh propaganda. The spread of Daesh will have dire consequences in an already combustible regional situation. Only a collective regional effort can stop an enemy more relentless and savage than the Taliban ever were.

Zahid Hussain is a journalist and Senior Fellow, Jinnah Institute. @hidhussain