Fatal obsession

It is a matter of public record that the founder of Pakistan had stated that Indo-Pakistan relationship will resemble that of the USA and Canada. Even before the Partition, Jinnah in a 1946 press conference stated, “the two states (Pakistan and India)… will be friends and will go to each other’s rescue in case of danger and will be able to say ‘hands off’ to other nations. We shall then have a Munroe doctrine more solid than America…” This vision along with other pronouncements by Jinnah is buried in the debris of Pakistan’s national security paranoia. The spectre of India and its ‘hegemonic designs’ to use an oft-quoted phrase remain central to Pakistan’s security paradigm.

The unwavering view on India is what explains the context for the discussion paper entitled, ‘The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan Insurgents’ -authored by Matt Waldman from the prestigious platform of the London School of Economics. Pakistan’s real power-centre, its security and intelligence apparatus are a self-sustaining reality. Other than the financing, of which plenty comes from the Western Capitals, there is a solid national opinion behind the xenophobic worldview carefully cultivated by a decades’ long well coordinated state policy. The centre of this argument is the ‘Indian threat’ and any conception of Pakistan’s security is linked to the evil designs of the powerful ‘enemy’ across the border.

Waldman’s report is neither authoritative nor presents a credible set of data to back up its central argument. But who does not know of the Taliban’s patronage by the security establishment. Confessional labels such as ‘patriotic’ and strategic assets are all too well known. Ask a random passerby on a Pakistani street and one will be amazed at the level of understanding by the common citizen. If you happen to travel a bit northwards and step out of the boundaries of the Punjab, even more riveting insights and stories will be related. Waldman is not telling us anything that we don’t know nor is he giving us a new perspective of how we frame our security interests and strategic priorities.

The report also alludes that Pakistan’s policy is coloured by its India-centric worldview. However, what is critically missing from the discourse at home is to tackle the India-problem, if one were to coin this phrase for simplifying a complex reality. Is this India-obsession sustainable, healthy and in our longer-term strategic interest?

Admittedly, India has not been that wise either. From its flawed strategy on Kashmir to the 1971 intervention it has provided enough ammunition, both literally and metaphorically, to the Pakistani establishment. If we were to ignore the transgressions such as Kargil, Musharraf’s unprecedented offers of revisiting the troubled history on Kashmir related UN resolutions fell on deaf ears. The usual refrain has reflected the typical South Asian emotionalism loosely packaged as ‘trust deficit’. If there is a military government it cannot be trusted, if civvies are in power, they are not the real masters. The end result is status quo thereby feeding into the military-industrial complex that cuts across national boundaries.

Since 1971, Pakistan has not been idle either. The real and imagined sponsoring of proxy wars and the hot favourite terrorism mantra these days is a constant charge from the Indian side. Mumbai incident of 2008 nearly led to a war-like situation. More dangerously, the public perceptions and psychological warfare garnered through an aggressive corporate media on both sides has watered down whatever goodwill was achieved in the Musharraf years.

This is how Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy and its quest for strategic depth gets a lifeline. This is also something that the West knows but does not grasp in toto. Most importantly, the follies of India policy are not debated or critiqued in the domestic arena. Any hint of revising the India-centric security policy is considered as an unpatriotic act, almost akin to treason.

However, this is a time for stocktaking and swallowing the bitter pill of introspection. What have we gained out of nurturing Frankenstein[s] of various varieties? It is our internal security that is now jeopardized and the entire country is fast turning into a battle ground not just between the sects or the Islamists and the moderates to use the clichè from Western lexicon. Instead, the gulf between the disempowered and the affluent areas is now turning into a defining phase. Pakistani state will not be able to contain the fissures if resources are not diverted towards the people.

A recent study shows that after the payments for defence and debt-servicing, 34 dollars per capita are left for all other expenditures from the meager public resources. If this is the level of public investments in the teeming millions, then all depths, strategic or otherwise are untenable.

This is why the LSE report, despite its obvious gaps, needs to be reviewed again for its central message is clear: suicide bombers blow up everything including their creators. We still hope that the process of correcting flawed strategies of yore by the present military leadership will continue to its logical end and militancy of all kinds will be recognized as a threat to Pakistan.

In the meantime, there is no alternative to think of creative ways to deal with India and build a public opinion that favours trade over war and regional cooperation over nuclear shows.

Raza Rumi is a writer and policy expert based in Lahore. He blogs at http://razarumi.com

Leave a Reply