Our military needs to divorce itself immediately from all kinds of politics. There can be no apologia for the kinds of speeches made by leaders of groups like the LeT or JuD, much less the actions they advocate. Whether religious zealots do the bidding of the military or mainstream politicians, it is wrong. It skews discourse and introduces unpredictable schisms into state and society. We may not know enough about PNS Mehran to say it was an inside job, but we know more than enough about Pakistan. The damage being done to this country is, without question, an inside job. It can only be fixed from within. Of Pakistanis, by Pakistanis, and for Pakistanis.
PNS MEHRAN. AN INSIDE JOB?
A frank discussion about the inept, corrupt and callous political leadership in this country has its place. It just doesn’t have any place in this country right now. The PNS Mehran attack, along with the attack in Charsadda, and the two-pronged living nightmare of Osama Bin Laden residing in Pakistan, and the US invasion to kill him are just the most recent series of attacks that demonstrate that the primary public policy challenge in Pakistan today is national security.
There is little doubt that civilian governance is diseased. Corruption within the PPP government, a vision-impaired and DMG subservient PML N government in Punjab, a mediocre-acy in KP and Balochistan, and a patronage free-for-all between the MQM and the PPP in Sindh are all likely true.
Yet the corruption of the civilian governments in this country is not costing Pakistan the kind of blood and treasure that is being consumed by the current war on the people of Pakistan. Nor is the incompetence and stupidity of elected governments responsible for how this country has come to occupy the most uncomfortable title of the world’s most dangerous country.
Corrupt, visionless, amoral and inept civilian politicians are certainly contributors to the insecurity of ordinary life in Pakistan, and the insecurity that Pakistan inspires around the world. But they are passengers on this train. They can only be assigned tertiary responsibility for the environment that has allowed for events like the PNS Mehran attack to occur. The primary (and secondary) responsibility for Pakistan’s utter failure to counter and defeat the threats to its national security lies with the national security infrastructure of Pakistan – specifically, the Pakistan Army, the Pakistan Air Force, the Pakistan Navy and all associated and subservient organisations, including the Directorate for Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
This national security infrastructure or the Pakistan military has enjoyed overwhelming dominance in the three most important aspects of the nation’s affairs for the duration of Pakistan’s 63 year existence. First, it has enjoyed the uncontested ability to officially define right and wrong, good and bad, of what constitutes the national interest. Second, it has enjoyed the nearly uncontested right to determine Pakistan’s closest friends, and Pakistan’s staunchest enemies. Finally, and most importantly, it has enjoyed the largest share of Pakistan’s wealth – both financial flows and claims to land, with almost no accountability to anyone (save the recent rigour with which US authorities determine which of the army’s claims it deems worthy of payment, and which it does not). Each of these three aspects represent the most dire crises in the project to create and sustain a Pakistan consistent with the vision of its founders, with the values of its citizens (Muslim and non Muslim) and with the stature of the world’s sixth most populous nation.
Let’s look at the first aspect. To the great and abiding detriment of this country’s people, the military has used its power to determine the “national interest” largely to promote and sustain a regressive, incomprehensibly rigid and retrograde version of Islam across the social, political and economic spectrum. If you want to get a taste of what the military’s pursuit of such an Islam has produced, look no further than the Chicago trial of Tahawwur Rana. The key witness in that case is a drug-dealing, double agent named David Headley. The fact that a shady criminal like Headley may enjoy greater credibility than the ministry of information, the Pakistan foreign office and its embassies, and the ISPR should tell us all we need to know about the value of the military’s cynical use of Islam to promote and sustain Islamist groups to pursue Pakistan’s national security and foreign policy objectives.
The use of Islam of course, also flows from the second aspect, which is the military’s decision to respond to Indian hostility and contempt for Pakistan, with its own brand of antagonism and aggression. This failed approach, manifest in multiple military embarrassments, including the 1971 surrender and vivisection of the Pakistani homeland, and the enduringly feckless Kargil disaster of 1998, has brought Pakistan nothing but humiliation.
The military’s insistence on an India-centric national project has allowed for a massive gulf between Islamabad and both Kabul and Tehran, Pakistan’s two most important neighbours. The military has pursued a policy of leasing out its services and this country’s society to far-away countries, including China, Saudi Arabia, and most cynically the United States. Worst of all, it has done so with an abiding dishonesty – stirring up anti US sentiment at will.
The Americans aren’t stupid. Washington DC doesn’t trust Pakistan at either the strategic or the tactical level. This is what happens when inorganic “strategic” relations are pursued for short-term fiscal and tactical gain, rather than long-term vision. Meanwhile, all the advantages that Pakistan enjoyed against India – its smaller size and ability to be nimbler, its decidedly more monolithic society (more so than India’s certainly), and its unique geostrategic and geopolitical position – have been wasted.
The final aspect, the uncontested access to money and land, is possibly the most damaging. While the rest of the developing world, including Bangladesh, the supposedly dysfunctional Siamese twin that was “surgically” separated from us in 1971, educate their children, and cultivate their industries – Pakistan has been bankrupting itself to buy shiny toys for the handsome boys. Steaming heaps of these toys, like the P3C Orions that could not resist a few RPGs, are proof that national security does not get built on the back of military hardware. The nuclear programme seems not to have dulled, but in fact have whetted military appetite for hardware that is too sophisticated to maintain without foreign assistance.
While Pakistan burns, it also begs for hand outs in Moscow, Beijing, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and once again, most cynically, in Washington DC. Meanwhile, India competes with China for global influence, gives grants to Afghanistan and loans to Bangladesh (and blocks EU trade concessions to Pakistan at will). The economic vice that Pakistan finds itself in is both a product of ineffective national security policy, but also a source of national insecurity. The military has been the pilot that has guided us to this deserted fiscal island. No matter how many depraved Dominique Strauss-Kahns this country convinces to give it loans, there are no rescue missions on the way. Pakistan is going to have to swim back to safety and civilisation by itself.
How does that process begin? The Pakistani military has a poor track record in strategic thinking, relationship management and in long-term resource planning. The military not only needs to begin to alter the balance of power on major decision-making, it must also urgently begin to induct civilian expertise on issues where it clearly has no real comparative advantage.
Even more immediate however is the need for the military to divorce itself from all kinds of politics. There can be no apologia for the kinds of speeches made by leaders of groups like the LeT or JuD, much less the actions they advocate. Whether religious zealots do the bidding of the military or mainstream politicians, it is wrong. It skews discourse and introduces unpredictable schisms into state and society. We may not know enough about PNS Mehran to say it was an inside job, but we know more than enough about Pakistan. The damage being done to this country is, without question, an inside job. It can only be fixed from within. Of Pakistanis, by Pakistanis, and for Pakistanis.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ‘Wonders of Pakistan’. The contents of this article too are the sole responsibility of the author (s). WoP will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statement / s contained in this post.
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