My mind goes back to the early years of the Cold War and how similar think tanks worked over time to create funding for the Military Industrial Complex. Whatever the nature of perceptions these studies tend to create, it is clear that Pakistan is heading for some very challenging times. Pakistan has moved from the cross roads of geography to the cross hairs of a gun sight while US Think Tank are working over time to shape an environment.
Recent studies are unanimous that Pakistan Army is ill organised and poorly trained to conduct counter insurgency operations in FATA. These views also strengthen the growing perception that in order to comprehensively defeat the anti US militants providing sanctuaries to the Al Qaeeda Strain in FATA, outside military intervention is indispensable. The argument goes that if Pakistan Army despite being paid cannot do it, we will.
Notwithstanding the damage this propaganda could cause to US-Pakistan relations, such inflammatory statements remain the currency of the present US presidential debate and media. Physical US operations inside Pakistan and round the clock surveillance with drones have already diminished the international boundary. Now the entire Pashtun belt of Afghanistan-Pakistan is being seen as one war zone. The most dangerous development is the perception that more and more Pakistanis now see the resistance as a war against US aggression.
To explain how and why perceptions have reversed in this short span, it is opportune to mention the Pacific Armies Military Seminar conducted by PACIFIC COMMAND USA in Singapore in 1999. I happened to represent Pakistan Army and read a paper on ‘The Nature of Future War’. This multi national gathering of armed forces of the world was in the back drop of the Kargil Crises and we went well prepared for a tirade of pointed questions that we amply responded to. However, rather than deliberate on the nature of future floating threats created by non state actors, the themes allocated quickly focussed on subjects such as Defence Diplomacy. My syndicate room was the focus of frequent visits by US High Command because it was here that most heated discussions took place. I understood the US intentions and amply demonstrated why?
On my return, I put forth my assessments to the Military High Command and made recommendations on how to avert a future conflict that appeared imminent in a decade. However, my voice was drowned with the coup of 12 October 1999 and military’s pre occupation with civil affairs.
During the breaks and dinners, officers of the US High Command were full of praise for the professionalism of Pakistan Army. Some had served with the Pakistani contingent in Somalia and singled out the Pakistanis for a very high standard of training, devotion to duty and courage in face of hostile fire. Incidentally, it was my battalion that had played a very important role at a heavy cost of life and equipment in rescuing US troops from the aborted top secret operation of capturing Farah Adeed. In fact the Commander Pacific Command commented that it would be his honour to fight any future war in company of troops as well trained and brave as Pakistanis. Yet, when I saw the American movie ‘Black Hawk Down’ I was surprised to see the over projection of Macho US Forces in contrast to a very lowly description of the Pakistani troops.
In my many encounters with US and European analysts during seminars, similar opinions were reflected of Pakistani troops not only in Somalia but world over in UN peace missions. In a presentation that I gave to a UN Study Group visiting GHQ on the commitments of Pakistan to peace missions, men such as Chris Smith were full of praise for Pakistan Army and wanted Pakistan to commit unequivocally to such a noble cause.
If this be so, the question that begets explanation is why this reversal of opinion?
To arrive at tangible conclusions, a reference to history would be in order. In the perspective of Pakistan’s Political Economy, peace and stability in Afghanistan is crucial to development of the entire region. However, despite repeated attempts, this matrix has been elusive and frustrating. Ever since the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan, attempts by Pakistan to achieve this have been scuttled by outside actors mainly the USA.
In 1977, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was scheduled to sign an already drafted and agreed agreement with Sardar Daud on the Durand Line. Lamentably, he was over thrown through a military coup, hanged and made a lesson of.
During Benazir’s second tenure as Prime Minister, Taliban had agreed to moderating themselves and converting Afghanistan into a federation with a power sharing formula. As a betrayal of the worst type, Benazir was unceremoniously removed by President Leghari just a day after the draft agreement had been agreed.
In 2002, when the Taliban had agreed to make a Lockerberie out of Usama Bin Laden, the USA decided to walk out.
In retrospect, the fruits of the mock jihad so fervently pursued on behalf of USA by Pakistan cannot be reaped.
The question is that why this with such alacrity? Alas! There were but only three losers in that conflict; USSR, Afghanistan and Pakistan. While Afghanistan was allowed to burn for over two decades, Pakistan is at the brink of it now. The statement is clear. Peace and development in the region can only be secured on US terms. The pyre is set and could burn for a long time to come.
Though Pakistan has been charge sheeted for nuclear proliferation, terrorism and causing instability in the region for a long time, it also continued to be retained by USA in a hybrid zone of ‘neither friend nor foe’. Pakistan is seen as a somewhat reliable and pliable dependency that could both be coerced and persuaded for ends of US Interests. For USA, Pakistan is an opportune instrument to pursue selective geo strategic objectives and yet not allow it to grow in national power beyond a fixed point. However, the major imbalance in the US calculus is Pakistan’s nuclear status that has to be, at some point of time, ‘cut to size’.
This lopsided relationship of a ‘hare hunting with the hounds’ began with the implementation of the Containment Theory and has morphed into the present situation. The first phase of this US-Pakistan love-hate was based on bi lateral relations between the Pentagon-GHQ and the Harvard-Bureaucratic Development models. This relationship came under severe strain during the years of sanctions whilst Pentagon made persistent efforts to keep the matter alive.
Though Pakistan had found a trust worthy ally in China, Pentagon was always concerned to contain this relationship in a manner that Pakistan remains dependant on the USA for military hardware. Similarly, the development of the commercial port of Gawadar never went lightly with USA and Pakistan underwent pointed scrutiny. But all that changed after 9/11 when new inroads opened into Pakistan. The events of 9/11 provided a time jump to US objectives in the region. It also provided Pentagon a chance to rebuild its ruptured ties with Pakistan Army. There was a surge in training exchange programs, visits and enrolments in US think tanks, but most who returned narrated a very unhappy experience.
The question is that why of recent, the focus of this charge sheet has shifted from the country to the armed forces of Pakistan?
The army is now called a state within a state, supporter of nuclear proliferation, permeated by fundamentalists and militants in its ranks and file and an institution that pursues big business rather than focus on its primary mission.
Despite suffering over 1,500 dead (the highest figure for any army) in this war, it is still blamed for playing a double game. US organisations that once praised now call it ill organised and badly trained to fight counter insurgency operations in FATA. The hardest criticism has come on ISI, mostly run by officers and men of the armed forces. It is repeatedly accused of hobnobbing with militants and supporting Al Qaeeda. This is the outfit busy in unravelling the plethora of intrigues played by diverse actors against the sovereignty of Pakistan operating with the tacit consent of USA from Afghanistan.
Methodically, a new theme is being developed. Pakistan’s obsession with India and Kashmir does not allow it to focus unilaterally in FATA. Taliban in this context are being described as a strategic asset of Pakistan Army for its security objectives. The latest accusations to surface relate to the diversion of US funds for building up capabilities against India. No reference is being made to the fact that the mishandling of situation and affairs in Afghanistan are adding to Pakistan’s security concerns.
Now that the Pentagon has accepted stalemate in Afghanistan, it appears that the entire failure of UN/US operations in Afghanistan is being blamed on Pakistan and its principal actor Pakistan Army. USA has now declared to open a new theatre to hit at Al Qaeeda militants inside Pakistan.
The praetorian mindset within Pakistan Army has made matters worse for the country. The last two military coups of Pakistan got legitimised due to US geo strategic interests in the regions. 9/11 was an opportunity for an otherwise besieged General Musharraf to get the Americans off his back and use them as erstwhile allies. The short sightedness of this policy is already obvious in the injudicious use of ‘Military in Aid of Civil Power, in FATA and Swat. Pakistan Army that has generally remained outside the circle of this praetorian mindset has been drawn into most hostile environment where states and maze of non state actors compete for influence. The surveillance, intervention and connections of competing actors in the region are so effective that it leaves the local troops with little operational initiative.
The entire resistance and lawlessness in the area has been lumped into two generic names of Al Qaeeda and Taliban. Yet many militants groups have the direct backing of operators from USA, UK, India, Russia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and now even Iran. Every pro Pakistan Taliban is out numbered by diverse strains, each with strings attached elsewhere. USA has the advantage to operate even from within Pakistan through its bases, embassy and consulates. India has deployed over 20 intelligence units in its consulates to control insurgency inside Pakistan. The rupee has lost its value in the area and dollar is the most popular currency of business. The insurgency in Swat was created to denude and divert the concentration of Pakistan Army on multiple fronts. According to Shirin Mazari, suffice it to check the record of housekeeping in Sarena Hotel Swat, to know the type of foreigners that had been visiting there.
Electronic surveillance of the area is so effective that no communications go unnoticed. Pakistan’s allies have the capability to take on these communication centres in real time, yet do not. Many mullah radio stations operate with impunity spewing propaganda against Pakistan. They cannot be jammed with the electronic counter measures of Pakistan Army while USA in this disowned war does not seem willing to do this. Spokesmen of Taliban groups talk over cell phones to various news channels for hours but yet cannot be targeted with precision missiles and drones.
Besides the inherent state of insurgency, the movement of Pakistani troops is precariously dangerous. Curiously, there is ample early warning of all the movements of Pakistan Army exposing them to well planned explosive devices (IEDs) and ambushes. Most casualties suffered by troops were result of pre planned ambushes in which the militants had credible early warning.
Relentless and deliberate US policy implementations co-opting India have aggravated Pakistan’s security sensitivities in the conflict.
Pakistan’s arc rival has been allowed to move into Afghanistan in the back drop of a long negotiated Nuclear Treaty with India linked through clauses to the War on Terrorism.
Scores of consulates that India has established in Afghanistan are directly linked to instability and militancy inside FATA and Balochistan.
While Pakistan can be readily made a scapegoat for cross border movement both in Kashmir and Afghanistan, no such lien applies to India.
At the same time, sales of uranium to India from the Nuclear Suppliers Group have been opened implying that India is now free to exploit its indigenous uranium and thorium resources solely for military purposes.
There is a constant effort and well crafted plan at degrading Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence. An upsurge in Indian capabilities, stories of proliferation in which all complicit international actors but Pakistan are conveniently over looked and Pakistani weapons falling into the hands of militants serve to project how dangerous a country Pakistan is.
Pakistan’s economic melt down from a bourgeoning economy within the span of a year needs investigation. As a student of International Political Economy and having convinced myself of the dangers of Shaukat Aziz Policy, I had been crying foul since 1999. Pakistan’s most reliable and effective economic indicator was deliberately torn at the seams leaving Pakistan with few and difficult economic recourses.
It now appears that everything had been timed in a manner to coincide with the upsurge of hostilities and socio economic upheaval in Pakistan.
Pakistanis need to understand that in the US scheme of things, the degradation of the army is a key plank in the objective to rid Pakistan of its nuclear capability.
Has the time come to eat grass?
A few days ago India decided to first reduce and then block the water of River Chenab, allocated to Pakistan under the Indus Waters Treaty 1960. If India continues this violation of blocking waters, it will have a serious effect on the cotton and rice crops immediately and wheat/ sugar cane in the winter season. Besides raising military tensions in the region, this will also aggravate the existing grain and power shortages in Pakistan.
Pakistan had moved the case of Baglihar Dam for international arbitration. The ruling of the arbitration indicated that due to technical incompetence, India had a much better argument and Pakistan could only gain an advantage of 1.5M freeboard and getting the pondage volume reduced from 37.4Mm3 to 32.56Mm3 instead of 6.22 Mm3 that was demanded. The effects of this arbitration and manipulative capability of India thereof, on Pakistan’s agrarian economy and minimum outlet flow are yet to be ascertained. Metaphorically thus, how will we eat grass if we have no water to grow it?
In many ways Pakistan is back to the vulnerabilities of the 50s. It implies that strategically, we are where we were after our independence or even worse. The only difference is that instead of a cautious USSR, we now have a very aggressive USA putting Pakistan in a Grey Block. In these 50 years of uni-focal military perspective, Pakistan has moved from the erstwhile religiously anti communist ally to an exigency primarily because of a destabilising influence it is perceived to have on US designs in the region.
However, in politics, nothing is bleak forever and opportunities can be created from within the most hopeless cases. On the wide spectrum of US policy beginning with the strategy of cooperation and ending in the extremes of military intervention, Pakistan still lies in the zone between persuasion to coercion. Given the treacherous mountainous tribal terrain amidst an ever-growing hostile population, scenario of an Iraq type invasion appears remote. Hence, an indirect approach of persuasion, coercion, sanctions, placation, dominance and intimidation through selective use of force is more likely.
Based on a detail study encompassing the induction and deduction models, the most dangerous scenario is underlined by a failing socio political and economic situation with random US/NATO incursions that serve to harass the masses and add to disillusionment. Such a scenario would be supported by economic sanctions at international level with India turning the screw on the agrarian economy and Line of Control. The scenario is likely to last over 5-10 years or till Pakistan no more appears to be an irritant to Indo US Designs in the region or falls apart into many vassal states.
This model based on a single point agenda of USA on a RAND study, could over a period of time, unleash a genie of anti Americanism many times worse on the Richter scale, than the Al Qaeeda Strain that USA developed against USSR. The political holocaust of Pakistan will be too costly an adventure. Pursuance of such a macho and aggressive agenda that aims at elimination of the most battle hardy Pashtuns and undermining of a country with nuclear weapons, will never work in American interests evidenced by some fissures within the US establishment.
Post 9/11 events have handed the US Defence establishment a more aggressive and dominating role in the region. The most dangerous aspect of this development is that primacy of politics in conflict so endearing to Clausewitz, Michel Howard and Peter Paret has been overtaken by Military Absolutism also called Neo Clausewitzianism. I am reminded of Douglas McArthur, threatening to bomb North Korea (Manchuria) with Nukes and how US Universities awoke to the primacy of politics.
Colin Powel-Rumsfeld Disconnect, Robert Gates-Zalmay Disconnect and Pentagon’s insensitivity to Pakistan’s international boundary are indicators of this drift. Similar indicators are also expressed by research groups depending on their orientation towards defence, foreign or nuclear policy. This internal schism within the White House could shadow the sequence of events and relations with Pakistan in the future and plunge the entire region in a tailspin.
Single point endearment of Pakistan as in the past 50 years has been least helpful. USA will have to spread the canvas and consider much broader and long term cooperation in its own interests even if it means to forego some immediate concerns in quest of more distant but sure advantages. Such a reappraisal could entail: -
Shift from a Coercive Military Posture to a Cooperative Strategy
The abundant chatter emanating from USA views Pakistan’s insecurities viz a viz India as an impediment to its designs in the region. Given the extremes of divide between the South Asian neighbours, Pakistan cannot be expected to make a unilateral policy shift. USA has to do enough to satisfy the Pakistani perceptions in this respect. To ensure that USA gets a whole hearted and valuable support from Pakistan, it must: -
- Dissuade India from any policies and actions that impinge Pakistan’s security concerns. These concerns relate to support of anti state elements in Pakistan, violations of Indus Basin Water Treaty and harassment of pro Pakistan Kashmiris in IHK.
- Persuade India to exercise the principals of liberty, equality and freedom symbolised by the American Civil War on the people of Kashmir.
- Equip the armed forces of Pakistan with high tech reconnaissance and imaging equipment to monitor the lawless regions of FATA with the ability to engage in real time.
- Sharing of all intelligence with Pakistan related to operations on both sides of the international boundary and targets inside Pakistan.
- Up gradation of F 16s and other US equipments held by Pakistan.
- Formulate a joint and well enunciated strategy for fighting terrorism with the government of Pakistan at the highest level with the Pentagon and Joint Chief of Staff Headquarters/GHQ working within the political objectives.
Shift from a Predominantly Military to a Social Dimension of Strategy
The war in Afghanistan was initiated by military strikes meant to be surgical, accurate and swift. Unfortunately, the resistance has since morphed into a predominantly Pashtun resistance overflowing into Pakistan. The duration of US occupation could be 10-15 years. Such a long phase of military operations will neither be acceptable to the Afghan nor the Pakistani people. Hence the larger canvas will have to be built around the societal element. It is important that USA shifts its focus from military dominance to the forgotten social dimension of strategy (Michel Howard) and engage the people of both Afghanistan and Pakistan in a participatory activity. This would also create goodwill amongst the Muslims at large. This shift or parallel focus could be:-
- Rather than individuals; establishment and strengthening of institutions, with a long term objective even if a short term gain has to be sacrificed. In this regard, strengthening of a performance driven democratic culture is most important.
- Modern education both at technical and higher levels.
- Fast track socio economic development in the deprived areas of Pakistan.
- Agriculture development and water management.
- Waiver of import barriers on value added goods from Pakistan particularly textiles.
- Foreign direct investments in the energy and water sectors.
USA must remain cognisant that Pakistan’s nuclear program was covert and developed through a market that existed much before Pakistan launched its program. Chatter continues to emanate that Pakistan’s weapon designs have been provided to the non state actors by an illicit ring led by Dr. Khan. Though USA is aware that technically such a capability never existed with Dr. Khan and that he was never involved in development of any such device, the saga continues to be used to coerce and intimidate Pakistan selectively. A more prudent course to security would be to accept Pakistan as a nuclear state and co-opt it as such by dispelling perceptions of a nuclear apartheid. In the final analysis, a politically stable and economically strong Pakistan is the best security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. USA should therefore: -
- Bind Pakistan with a nuclear agreement similar to India.
- Provide untied nuclear security assistance to Pakistan.
- Assist Pakistan in civilian nuclear technologies like power generation.
Notwithstanding this wish list, Pakistan has to brace itself for the worst.