REPORTEDLY, in the 1960s, while reviewing arrangements for the protection of China’s nascent nuclear arsenal, Mao Zedong observed: “Security must be 100 per cent; it cannot be 99 per cent.” Obviously, as the events of 2011 illustrated, Pakistan cannot pretend to even remotely enjoy such complete security postulated by Chairman Mao.
The undetected Abbottabad incursion, the Mehran base destruction and the Salala border attack, as well as the regular terrorist toll, are vivid indications of the tattered state of Pakistan’s security. This steady deterioration is no doubt demoralising for Pakistani civilians and soldiers, yet it is not entirely surprising.
For 60 years, Pakistan’s military capabilities and deployments were designed to deter and repel the threat from India. Today, largely as a result of our own tactical and strategic mistakes, the threats to Pakistan’s security have become multidimensional and complex, internal and external, emanating from foe and friend, east and west. The gaps in Pakistan’s security cannot be addressed or overcome solely by the armed forces. National security is the business of the entire nation.What is required is the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive and multifaceted military, political, diplomatic and economic strategy to provide 100 per cent security to Pakistan. This strategy should address the five categories of threats facing Pakistan: Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorism, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and the Baloch Liberation Army insurgencies, the threat emanating from the US-Nato military presence and the predicament in Afghanistan, India’s conventional arms build-up, and the preservation of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence capabilities.
Considerable progress has been made, largely due to Pakistan’s contribution and collaboration with the US, to destroy the leadership and command structures of the ‘original’ Al Qaeda initially located in Afghanistan and evidently pushed into Pakistan after the post-9/11 US intervention in Afghanistan. Despite frequent US insinuations, there is a broad consensus in Pakistan to eliminate these foreign terrorists from Pakistani soil. Unless, due to the current estrangement with Pakistan, US-Pakistan cooperation is terminated, the goal of defeating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan (unlike in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere) is achievable.
Combating the TTP and the BLA will be more challenging. While the grievances that led to the emergence of the two groups were domestic, there is compelling evidence that these groups are being utilised by Pakistan’s adversaries – the Afghan and Indian intelligence. Some in Pakistan are convinced that these groups have the benediction of the US and some other western countries also. Success against both groups will involve military operations, political negotiations and adroit diplomacy.
A single-track approach, military or political, will fail, as in the past. A generous and wise response to genuine Baloch grievances can help to end the insurgency there. There is much less space for compromise with the core of the TTP. But this group’s components are disparate, with different local and ideological agendas, which can be exploited to divide and defeat this insurgency.
The threat posed to Pakistan by the US-Nato military intervention in Afghanistan was inherent but initially blurred by the initial successes of counterterrorist cooperation. Pakistan has been significantly destabilised by this 11-year Afghan conflict. The Abbottabad raid and the Salala border attack are only the most visible signs of a tactical alliance that is fast turning into a strategic nightmare.
In accordance with the Pakistan parliament’s guidelines, measures can be taken to enhance border security, such as no-fly zones and border fencing. The larger danger arises from the likelihood that a continued US military presence in Afghanistan will prolong and exacerbate a civil war; effectively divide the country along north-south ethnic lines, and spread the threat of ethnic division to Pakistan.
It is thus in Pakistan’s interest, when resuming engagement with the US, to bring about the orderly, honourable but full withdrawal of US-Nato forces from Afghanistan as soon as possible. Simultaneously, Pakistan should secure the cooperation of Iran, China and Russia to help evolve an inter-Afghan political solution which could end the civil war and enable complete US-Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the traditional threat from India’s conventional military capabilities is also growing. The current improvement in Indo-Pakistan atmospherics should not lead Islamabad to forget that India is now the world’s largest arms importer. Its shopping list includes: 120 strike aircraft; nuclear submarines; AWACs; Anti-Ballistic Missiles; satellite and space capabilities. It is vital for Pakistan to retain the capacity to resist and repel India by conventional means.
In the absence of credible conventional defence, Pakistan will be obliged to rely almost exclusively on its strategic capabilities, significantly lowering the threshold for escalating a conventional conflict to the nuclear level. Pakistan can acquire conventional capabilities to neutralise the Indian build-up, at a much lower cost through cooperation with China.
Last, but not least, Pakistan needs to preserve the credibility of nuclear deterrence. Absent a secure and usable nuclear weapons capability, Pakistan would probably have been at war with India in 1987, 1990, 1999 and 2002, and today would face threats of military strikes like Iran. There is no more vital national security objective than safeguarding this capability from destruction, sabotage or hostile takeover.
The threat to Pakistan’s strategic capabilities has been heightened by the presumption that it emanates now from not only India but also the US and its allies.