DAWN - Editorial; August 12, 2006

Published August 12, 2006

A horrendous plot

THANKS to international coordination in the war on terror, a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airlines in mid-air has been foiled. Pakistan played a major role in unearthing the plot and sharing the information with friendly nations, including Britain, where the police arrested 24 suspects. Simultaneously, the police in Pakistan arrested seven persons, including two British nationals, suspected of being connected with the conspiracy, while more arrests are likely. As Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said, it was intelligence provided by Pakistan that led to the arrests in Britain. A Pakistan foreign office spokesperson revealed that the information about the plot was provided by suspects arrested earlier. The part played by Pakistan in uncovering the plot to commit what a British spokesman called “mass murder on an unimaginable scale” is proof of Pakistan’s deep commitment to fight terror. This should silence those, especially in Kabul and New Delhi, who allege every now and then that Islamabad is not doing enough and should “do more”. What these people forget is that terrorism is Pakistan’s own problem, that this country has suffered at the hands of terrorists, and that, for rooting out this menace, Pakistan does not need any foreign powers’ urging or prodding. In fact, what Pakistan has done in smashing terrorist cells and arresting some of the leading Al Qaeda activists is unprecedented. No other country can match Pakistan’s record. Those arrested, for instance, include such leading Al Qaeda men as Al-Libbi, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin Alshibh and Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani. Precisely at this moment, over 80,000 Pakistani troops are involved in operations against terrorists in Waziristan and guarding the Durand Line to check terrorist movement. In that process, Pakistani troops have suffered heavy casualties and been victims of suicide bombings. But Pakistan has not relented.

In contrast, two of Pakistan’s neighbours have used terrorism as a bogey to advance their national interests. While Kabul has completely failed to stop terrorists operating from bases in Afghanistan to carry out acts of sabotage in Pakistan, our eastern neighbour has used the war on terror to try to crush the freedom movement in occupied Kashmir and to resort to human rights abuses there. Its main concern is to find a Pakistani hand in every act of terror in India without waiting even for preliminary investigations to be over.

The challenge Pakistan faces is enormous and is the result of some horrendous mistakes it made, especially during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when Islamabad agreed to let this country become a conduit for the CIA’s overt and covert economic and military aid to anti-Soviet guerrillas. Unfortunately, the government of the day gave a free hand to the militant parties to operate throughout the country. This had disastrous consequences for civil society in Pakistan, for the religious parties soon became a state within a state and defied the government’s writ. They also ran their own foreign policy and did incalculable harm to the freedom movement in Kashmir. As for Afghanistan, long after the USSR had withdrawn, the mujahideen fell out among themselves, and some Pakistani parties sent youths to that country to lay down their lives for partisan causes. The pity was that they used the madressahs for imparting a particular kind of firebrand Islam to Pakistani youths, and this served to distort the madressahs’ original function as a nursery for producing imams and scholars for the community. A lot has been done to reform the madressahs and regulate their sources of funding. But much more remains to be done.

Freedom of information

HONESTY of approach will be the key. On face value, the Freedom of Information Ordinance promulgated by the Sindh governor on Thursday empowers citizens and facilitates public knowledge of the government’s actions and decisions. Proper access to information can help introduce clarity and transparency in government policies and conduct and, in theory at least, inhibit corruption among public officials. However, the practicability of the provincial ordinance, like that of the relevant federal law, will depend on good faith and the spirit in which it is implemented. Certain limits on access to information are inevitable in any society and are, indeed, necessary to safeguard national interests, especially in critical areas. However, given the track records of governments in Pakistan, it can be all too easy to blur the distinction between national and departmental interest. One also hopes that the ordinance is not aimed primarily at appeasing multilateral donor agencies such as the Asian Development Bank, which lists transparency (including freedom of information) as one of its four “elements of good governance”.

The major problem lies in the loosely defined ‘exclusions’ cited in both the federal and provincial laws. For instance, the Sindh ordinance stipulates that handwritten notations on official files will not be available to the public. Without these comments, it may be impossible to know who raised what objections to a proposal and whether the same were entertained or ignored. Similarly, “classified” records will not be accessible. While this is not unusual in itself, no mention has been made of either the criteria for such restrictions or the identity of the relevant authority. Moreover, access will be denied to “any record which [the] government may, in public interest, exclude from the purview of this ordinance”. At the same time, it will be possible to withhold information by invoking other laws such as the Official Secrets Act. These loose ends must be tied up. Also, the 21-day waiting period needs to be shortened to accommodate researchers and members of the press. To ensure that the ordinance is implemented in letter and spirit, the government should conduct periodic reviews in consultation with the media and civil society representatives. Freedom of information must exist not just in name but in practice.

From Naltar Valley to Bronx

THERE is much to celebrate in the 13-month-old snow leopard Leo’s journey to the Bronx zoo in America. It is estimated that there are 3,500 to 7,000 snow leopards in the world, of which 300 are said to be in northern Pakistan, making them one of the most endangered animals. Leo has been lucky to have survived thus far, thanks to the good work of his rescuer and then handler at the Khunjerab National Park which provided care for the animal. However, because of a lack of proper facilities and expertise required to care for such animals in the country, the World Conservation Union in Pakistan, along with the government, decided that Leo would be best cared for at a zoo abroad. The Bronx zoo is famed for its excellent snow leopard breeding programme and Leo will indeed be provided with the best of care as he joins his new family of the 12 snow leopards currently there. But of equal importance is the US assistance that is being given to Pakistan to develop a facility for the care and conservation of snow leopards. One hopes that Leo along with a female snow leopard will return to this facility once it is ready. Authorities in Pakistan will have to work hard to ensure that the facility is managed responsibly and efficiently.

While everyone celebrates Leo’s good fortunes, this would be a good time for the government to do some introspection over the state of animals in the country, both in the wild and in captivity. It needs to develop its wildlife conservation ranges which could have saved the many leopards that were senselessly killed in the north last year by NWFP wildlife officials. Apart from reviewing existing laws on animal cruelty, it is important to improve the upkeep of animals in the country’s zoos.

Implications of the F-16 deal

By Javid Husain

AS was to be expected, the Pakistan Foreign Office welcomed on August 3 the approval by the US Congress of the sale of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan and rejected the impression that unprecedented conditions had been accepted by Islamabad to acquire them.

According to the proposal conveyed to the US Congress by the Bush administration, the deal would involve the sale of 18 new F-16 aircraft with the option of an additional 18 new aircraft. It also includes a US support package for up to 26 used F-16s, a munitions package, an upgrade package for Pakistans current fleet of 34 F-16s and logistical support. The total cost of the deal would be about $5.1 billion.

It is significant that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a letter addressed to the US Congress in July 2006 stressed that prior to the delivery of the F-16 aircraft to Pakistan, the latter will be asked to provide a written guarantee that the aircraft would not be used to carry nuclear warheads. The US would also make sure before the delivery of the aircraft and the associated equipment to Pakistan that the aircraft will not be misused and that the aircraft technology will not be transferred to a third country.

Separately, US assistant secretary of state for political military affairs, John Hillen, during a hearing before the House international relations committee on July 20, pointed out that the F-16 aircraft deal had been subjected to a special security plan for Pakistan containing over a dozen new and unprecedented elements. These conditions include, among others, a US presence at Pakistani bases and facilities for a very enhanced end-use monitoring programme, prior approval of the US government for F-16 aircraft flights out of Pakistan or for participation in exercises and operations with third nations, and a two-man rule for access to the F-16 aircraft equipment and munitions in the restricted areas earmarked for them at Pakistani bases and facilities.

Mr Hillen also made two other interesting points during the congressional hearing. He remarked that the US wanted to have access and influence into Pakistan and other nations like Pakistan through this building of this strategic and military-to-military relationshipprecisely to prevent China from having that kind of relationship. He added that the US had not provided to Pakistan, as part of this deal, technologies that would allow the F-16 to be used in offensive ways to penetrate air space of another country that was highly defended.

One of the main objectives of the above mentioned security plan is to prevent any transfer of technology to a third country, particularly China. To this extent, the US is within its rights in demanding assurances from Pakistan. It seems, however, that the provisions of the security plan go much further than that.

Some of these restrictions, specially the guarantee to be provided by the government of Pakistan that the aircraft will not be used to carry nuclear weapons and US presence at Pakistani bases and facilities to monitor the actual use of the aircraft and the associated equipment, severely weaken their deterrent value. The assurance given by Mr Hillen to the US Congress that the F-16 aircraft to be provided to Pakistan would not include technologies that would allow them to penetrate the air space of a highly defended country further detracts from their deterrent value. If India is indeed such a highly defended country one wonders at the rationale of acquiring F-16s having such deficiencies.

The strategic implications of the F-16 deal are even more worrisome. This deal in fact would increase our dependence on the US in the acquisition of advanced weapon systems which is not very reassuring considering the past unhappy history in which Washington on a number of occasions subjected us to an arms embargo when we were badly in need of American military equipment. This happened during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war when we were the so-called most-allied ally of the US, and again in late 1970s and in 1990 because of our nuclear programme. What is the guarantee that tomorrow if some differences of a fundamental nature crop up between Pakistan and the US, Washington will not again subject us to an arms embargo?

The conclusion that the US would not impose an arms embargo on Pakistan during the next 30 years or so, which is the effective life of the F-16 aircraft, can be valid if we assume that the world, that is to say the international and regional security environment, will remain more or less unchanged and that the US will continue to need Pakistans services in the war on terrorism or similar enterprise. This is indeed a bold assumption which may be proved wrong by the fast changing strategic environment in Asia.

A more likely explanation for the assumption that we would not be the target of another US arms embargo is that we have resigned ourselves to a subservient relationship vis-a-vis the US for the foreseeable future. Our acceptance of large-scale assistance from the US in return for the services being rendered by us in the war on terrorism has once again established our status as a US satellite. Pakistans designation as a major non-Nato ally has further confirmed this status. Our decision to purchase the additional F-16 aircraft is an indication of our readiness to remain in this subservient status for the foreseeable future.

Obviously, the satellite status that we seem to have opted for is likely to restrict our manoeuvrability in the handling of foreign affairs. This is already evident in the conduct of our foreign policy on issues which are of significant or critical importance to the United States in the region in which we are located or on issues of interest to the Islamic world.

Considering that the later part of the 21st century is likely to witness growing US-China rivalry in Asia and keeping in view the critical importance of Pakistans strategic ties with China, it is also important to assess the implications of Pakistans growing dependence on the US, as reflected by the F-16 deal, for our vital relationship with China.

At best, future developments would require a very careful balancing act on our part to manage simultaneously the competing demands of our relations with the US and China. In the worst case scenario, our growing reliance on the US for meeting our security needs may have unwelcome consequences for Pakistan-China relations or may confront our policymakers with painful choices.

The F-16 deal also reflects a fundamental flaw in our national security strategy which historically has suffered and continues to suffer from over-emphasis on its military dimension to the neglect of political, economic and diplomatic dimensions. Since I have already written on this subject in earlier articles there is perhaps no need to go into this issue once again in the interest of brevity. Suffice it to say that our leadership does not appear to have drawn the right lessons from our own history or from the demise of the Soviet Union. The USSR disintegrated not because it was short of advanced weaponry but because its weak economic foundations and fragile political system could not sustain the heavy military super-structure of state.

Unfortunately, we seem to be repeating the strategic blunders of the Soviet Union. There cannot be any other explanation for spending an enormous amount of $5.1 billion of our own resources on the purchase of the F-16 aircraft and the associated equipment and munitions when one third of the population is living in miserable conditions under the poverty level, when roughly half the population is illiterate and when most of the people are denied access to basic health facilities and clean drinking water.

Pakistans average per annum GDP growth rate during the period 1999-2006 was 5.2 per cent (despite the favourable external circumstances in the aftermath of 9/11 in the form of increased inflow of developmental assistance and home remittances, and rescheduling of debts) as against 4.6 per cent achieved during the 1990s under civilian governments notwithstanding the economic sanctions imposed on Pakistan in October 1990 and May 1998. India, whose economic performance was much better during this period, achieved a GDP growth rate of 7.7 per cent in 2005.

Even more disturbing from the point of view of national security is the climate of political instability in the country marked by the involvement of the armed forces in politics, the weakening of state institutions, the disregard of the principle of primacy of representative institutions which is vital for the functioning of democracy, the concentration of power in the hands of an individual resulting in arbitrary decisions, rampant corruption, deterioration in law and order, and the growing disharmony among the units of the federation.

In a nutshell, the F-16 deal would make available to Pakistan a weapon system of questionable deterrent value in view of the severe restrictions imposed by Washington and our past experience in dealing with the US. It would have adverse strategic repercussions by increasing our dependence on the US for meeting our security needs and thereby reducing our manouevrability in the management of foreign affairs.

This can have extremely deleterious effects on Pakistans security in a situation where our national interests clash with those of the US. Above all, it reflects a dangerous mindset on the part of our policymakers who consider national security synonymous with the accumulation of advanced weaponry irrespective of its economic and political costs. The need of the hour is to adopt a grand strategy which combines its political, military, economic and diplomatic dimensions in an optimum whole to safeguard our national security and promote our national interests.

The writer is a former ambassador.
E-mail: javid_husain@yahoo.com



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