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Pakistan’s myths and manipulations

The uneasy alliance with America is crumbling, and al-Qaeda and affiliates are more popular than ever.

Updated: February 1, 2014 12:27 am
The Pakistani mind is encouraged by the state to nurse certain myths about why the country is in trouble. The Pakistani mind is encouraged by the state to nurse certain myths about why the country is in trouble.

The Pakistani mind is encouraged by the state to nurse certain myths about why the country is in trouble. The foreign office, ever articulating the current military thinking, encourages this mythmaking by not coming clean on matters that exercise the collective mind.

The first myth is that India must not be present in Afghanistan. Why? Because India threatens Pakistan’s security through its consulates; it is already busy abetting insurgency in Balochistan, for which Pakistan need not present any evidence to India. The Taliban are killing people because “external powers” are manipulating them. America has its own designs on the region, including Central Asia; it is helping India become the big power in South Asia as part of the American “pivot” against China. But on the ground, non-state actors incubated by the state (that is, the army) to carry out cross-border proxy wars are killing innocent people, most of their acts criminal rather than revolutionary because there is money in it. The ultimate myth is that the state is under threat from without and not from within, despite a former army chief’s assertion that it is under threat from within.

These are signs of where Pakistan is headed, its mind collectively warped. A number of American analysts have written books saying Pakistan just didn’t deliver on its commitments as an ally and was in fact colluding with terror; that the Pakistani state was in crisis and couldn’t help itself let alone help the US; that the Pakistan army was internally divided and its intelligence agencies were following strategies that crisscrossed with the grand design of the Taliban-al-Qaeda combine; and that, because of the ongoing collapse of the state, al-Qaeda was bound to make a comeback in Pakistan after being ousted from the Islamic world by drone attacks.

Former US secretary of defence Robert Gates, in Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, says, “Although I would defend them (Pakistan) in front of the (American) Congress and to the press to keep the relationship from getting worse and endangering our supply line, I knew that they were really no ally at all… The US never thought of consulting Pakistan before raiding Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound because it feared that the Inter-Services Intelligence was protecting him. Empowering the Pakistani military at the cost of democratic institutions was an American mistake and Washington’s personalisation of relations with different autocrats has significantly weakened the state of Pakistan.”

Another book, No Exit from Pakistan: America’s Tortured Relationship with Islamabad, by ex-deputy secretary of state Daniel Markey, describes Pakistan as the ally who stabbed the US in the back after receiving big dollars from Washington. He flags Pakistan’s “Indiacentric” obsession to which the last retiring Pakistani army chief, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, openly confessed: “Pakistan chose to partner with America out of fear that Washington and New Delhi might unite against Pakistan, not because Islamabad felt a genuine compulsion to assist after the 9/11 tragedies.”

Unfortunately, the Pakistan army, looking weak in the face of the elected government but in fact weakened by its embrace of its non-state actors, has been using terrorism as a factor of leverage against the US. The extremism in Pakistan today was orchestrated by the intelligence agencies often accused of killing citizens or getting them killed through its own enemies. The recently published Getting Away with Murder: Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan by Heraldo Muñoz, member of the UN team that visited Pakistan to examine the circumstances of ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, clearly hints at this.

The most damning verdict, however, comes from Pakistan’s ex-ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, in his book Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding, where he writes that the ISI stoked the fires of honour-based, intense nationalism to scare the US into offering more assistance to a “beleaguered” Pakistani leadership: “Pasha and the ISI continued to propel hypernationalist sentiment. [Ex-ISI chief General Ahmad Shuja] Pasha once told me that this was one of the few tools Pakistan had for leveraging itself in an asymmetric relationship.” Kayani actually deposed against the defendant in front of the Supreme Court of Pakistan hearing a case of treason against Ambassador Haqqani. The ambassador was finally made to resign.

Ex-CIA officer and former presidential advisor Bruce Riedel thinks Pakistan has betrayed America, but in the process has rendered itself vulnerable to a resurgence of al-Qaeda:
“Pakistan provides the Taliban with safe haven and sanctuary to train and recruit its fighters and protects its leaders, including Mullah Omar. The Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, helps train and fund the Taliban. Al-Qaeda may well recover in months, not years, after we depart Afghanistan if the pressure on its base in Pakistan dwindles.”

The doyen of American writers on Pakistan, and one whose insights have not always offended Pakistan, Stephen P. Cohen, has edited-produced his latest work, The Future of Pakistan, and his prognosis of doom in it will not be disputed by many despairing Pakistanis. In an interview, he put his finger on the best “liberal” army chief Pakistan had after an Islamising General Zia, who helped America defeat the Soviet Union and handed the country over to Islamists. His analysis of a “willing” general who couldn’t do what he really wanted is important: “General Pervez Musharraf fooled himself and he fooled everyone else. He lacked toughness, he tried to please everyone. He was not capable of leading Pakistan’s liberal transformation, although he personally held a liberal vision of the future. Some Pakistanis and many Americans thought that Musharraf was the last hope for Pakistan. I disagree; there are a lot of good Pakistanis around, both in the military and outside of it. However, the army can’t govern the country effectively but it won’t let others govern it either. This is the governance dilemma.

Pakistan is stuck between being an outright military dictatorship and a stable democracy.”

He goes on, less sure-footed: “With the obvious breakdown of law and order, the decline of the economy, as well as a dysfunctional civilian-military relationship — change seems to be in the wind — but few of us can be precise about what that change will be. Pakistan is muddling through, but change and transformation are coming, I just don’t know when or how.”

Most Pakistanis think the American embrace was disastrous for Pakistan. No one has yet computed what damage will come from saying goodbye to America. Musharraf wanted a liberal order in Pakistan, but was soon overwhelmed by his own constituency, the army. He was attacked from within thrice and survived by the skin of his teeth. He tried to get tough with the non-state actors and discovered with shock that they had made inroads into the army who would now defend them rather than the state.

Today, Pakistan has a consensus as never before in favour of al-Qaeda and its ancillary warriors. It may offer Musharraf as a burnt offering to its tormentors in hopes of persuading al-Zawahiri and Mullah Fazlullah to stop killing innocent Pakistanis already half-willing to live under the dominion of their superior ideology.
The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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