Saving Pakistan from itself

Misconceptions that must be discarded before we can make headway

Written by K. SHANKAR BAJPAI | Published: March 11, 2009 12:56 am

Alarming as Pakistan’s spreading Talibanisation is,it is even more difficult to discern encouraging ways to counter it. Pakistanis,who ultimately must develop these,and the one outsider capable of influencing affairs evidently consider a civilian-faced army regime their best (looking) bet. Undeniable,but the army is also the cause of Pakistan’s problems.

No recrimination intended: the army has some of the ablest and balanced men in Pakistan,but formed in an atmosphere of implacable antagonism to India and contempt for civilian rule. One army element,at least,has developed religious extremists as its most effective instrument against both domestic politicians and India.

It is a Wild West custom for the sheriff to co-opt the gunslinger to catch outlaws — and “Af-Pak” is the Wild West writ large. But the gunslinger must become wholly law-abiding — not try getting away,as he has since 9/11,with helping against some outlaws while collaborating with others.

It is simply not possible,in any foreseeable future,for a civilian government to control Pakistan. Brave individuals — and newspapers — urging civil society and the rule of law cannot constitute a credible popular movement for democracy.  While failing to establish a form of government,Pakistan has been managed by a governing class,controlling both civilian and military forces,using fundamentalists in their internal power struggles. Has the ruling class realised that its erstwhile creatures are about to devour it? And can the army change its thinking? Given the consequences for us,even the most unlikely possibility needs consideration.

India will be vitally affected by the outcome of Pakistan’s power struggle,but cannot affect it except insofar as benign aloofness can exclude the customary India factor. Just how benign we might be pressed to be — and how aloof will Pakistan’s behaviour post-Mumbai let us be?

Apprehensions of pressure are unworthy of us. Nobody can make us do what we don’t want: to anyone who tries,there is a short answer,best unprinted. We should rather seek to influence others. Washington promises to move from assertive unilateralism to seeking partnerships. Even if it makes no difference,we should explore what new approaches are possible — which means deciding what practicable outcomes suit us.

We have always cooperated with whatever regime Pakistan gives itself. Probably,calculated ambiguity will persist — professions of good intentions concealing the traditional obsession with getting the better of us. The only answer is to make ourselves strong and efficient; how is another story. Here let’s consider the misconceptions that need shedding.

a) Pakistani excuses that they cannot do more against Al Qaeda-Taliban for fear of India are wholly untenable. Outdated emotions cannot be publicly discarded,but should they be allowed to determine policies?  For decades,even without nuclear weapons,Pakistan has had no threat from India,except of its own making — Brasstacks and Parakram may be thrown at us,and the US defence secretary persuaded that without his intervention the former was precipitating war,but both had non-hostile rationales. War must doubtless remain salient in Pakistan’s military contingency planning,as in ours. But until Mumbai,any objective analysis could have ruled it out as a valid determinant of policy. The last decade in particular has strengthened peaceable planning — Pakistan safely shifted 80,000 troops from east to north-west,even Mumbai has provoked no military threat from us. If Pakistan genuinely cracks down on terrorism,we could demonstrate pacific surety even more markedly.

b) The worst misconception Pakistan fosters is that Kashmir is the “root cause” that could cause war. It could — if Pakistan provokes it. India has put up with endless use of terror by the Pakistan authorities,now extended from J&K to other parts of India. Outrageous misrepresentation of India — in school textbooks,mullahs’ diatribes,official propaganda — must have brain-washed Pakistanis into easy arousal against India,but it is not public opinion that is driving Pakistan’s anti-India policies.  Indeed,public mood,on both sides,has been developing into the amicable. Pakistan’s leaders may not openly allow the J&K issue to find its own level,but we have enjoyed periods of great tranquility until Pakistan’s hardcore section sought to strengthen itself by triggering escalations.  Thispower-centre can hardly be credited with hearts bleeding for the freedom and democratic rights of the Kashmiris: their aim is the destabilisation of India. As an eminent Pakistani put it “You are too big for comfort.  We cannot sleep easy until you break up”.  In suicidal terrorism,this hardcore section has found a weapon too useful to abandon.  That is the root cause everyone must tackle.

c) Afghanistan: there is no Indian conspiracy to destabilise Pakistan,the problem is Pakistan’s ambition to control its neighbour for its own strategic purposes. Ever since Partition,India and Afghanistan have each had their separate differences with Pakistan,but have never supported each other on them: India accepts the Durand Line,Kabul has been more than neutral on J&K. The supposed mischief of innumerable Indian consulates simply shows Pakistan’s mastery of the Goebbels technique — tell lies blatantly enough and they will take root.

d) Pakistan’s paranoia about India is seen as “legitimate security concerns” as a state department spokesman told Congress,to explain giving Pakistan highly advanced weapons wholly unusable in the “war on terror”. (to “fight the Al Qaeda  air force”,as Congress itself sarcastically called its hearings).  F-16s in particular were explained as symbolically important to inspire Pakistani confidence that cooperation with America was serving its national interest.  If Washington decides Pakistan cooperation justifies more weapons to calm its “eastern front” fears,we are all in for trouble.

e) Pakistani efforts to bring up J&K should bother us least.  Apart from rejecting outside intervention,we should stress how well we were progressing when left alone. A former Pakistan foreign minister’s (and now Musharraf’s) interview and a New Yorker article have revealed that an agreement was in sight. Our government,as always,prefers silence,but it is no secret that while these “revelations” are inaccurate on details,especially on vital ones,the basic fact of major progress — halted,as Mr Qureshi rightly admits,by Pakistani self-doubts,not by India — shows what can be done even on getting the so-called “root cause” out of the way. Uphill,maybe impossible,but getting these correctives accepted is essential if anyone can help our neighbour save itself.

The writer is former ambassador to Pakistan,China and the US and secretary,external affairs ministry.     

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