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Getting it right?

March 13, 2016


The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

PSST, wanna know what Barack Obama thinks of Pakistan? It’s buried among his latest ruminations on the Middle East and the unholy mess that place has become.

From The Atlantic:

“Though [Obama] has a reputation for prudence, he has also been eager to question some of the long-standing assumptions undergirding traditional US foreign-policy thinking. To a remarkable degree, he is willing to question why America’s enemies are its enemies, or why some of its friends are its friends…

Tens of thousands of jihadis and a handful of nukes versus a diminishing crop of militants but a burgeoning set of nukes — choose your poison.

“He questioned why the US should avoid sending its forces into Pakistan to kill Al Qaeda leaders, and he privately questions why Pakistan, which he believes is a disastrously dysfunctional country, should be considered an ally of the US at all.”

A disastrously dysfunctional country. In the present tense. Amidst all the raptures of a Pakistan saved, or on its way to being saved. Did Obama not get that memo? Or does he know something we don’t?

The joy of a saved Pakistan would be a joy unrestrained. But the joy of a Pakistan saved must sync with policy.

Several policies — not just the one where every TTP chap the state can lay its hands on gets whacked.

So, let’s wander around the policy landscape a bit and see what we can find. Start with the outside. Afghanistan — it’s finally happening. We’re no longer pariahs; the US and China have come around to our view on what needs to be done there.

And that view involves installing the Afghan Taliban as co-equals, or at least working partners, of the Afghan government. This is self-evidently a good thing because, well, the US and China are on board.

But let’s be clear — 15 years after they brought our worlds collapsing down on us by hosting Al Qaeda, a decade since the spillover set fire to Fata and half a decade of all-out war against the chaps who borrowed their name, the Taliban are again being foisted off on our neighbours to the east.

Not because we have no choice, but because it has been determined to be in our interest. All Taliban, clearly, are not equal.

Let’s continue clockwise. Swing over to China. The Chinese have dangled CPEC, the Chinese love order and the Chinese hate Islamists. Ergo, the Chinese are going to help us — through a bit of gentle arm-twisting and plenty of Chinese dollars — be a better version of ourselves.

Great. But the Chinese don’t hate all Islamists; they’re more than happy to see some of them impose order outside China (see, Afghan Taliban v1.0 and, now, v3.0); they’re confident about crushing Islamism inside China — and they’re comfortable leaving us holding the bag of blowback.

They did it with Lal Masjid and they did it again with Zarb-i-Azb. Meanwhile, the Chinese practise their own version of good Taliban/bad Taliban — under the radar, a bunch of Pakistani and regional mullahs have been cultivated by the Chinese.

We are, in a sense, the best damn thing China can find — both a sponge to absorb Islamist rage and the tip of the spear to go after it when it gets out of control. Fix us? The Chinese need us.

On to India. It’s all feel-good there. We didn’t shield Jaish and we’ve shared intel on LeT. It is historic. We’ve signalled a willingness to consider putting some distance between us and Team B, the back-up war plan.

Great. But then there’s the inverse correlation with the nuclear stuff. Team B becomes less important once you’ve flirted with the full range of nukes.

Lowering the threshold of nuclear war means you’re not quite as reliant on jihadi troublemakers as a deterrent. But will someone do the maths on swapping one kind of hell for another?

China is modernising its arsenal, India has further nuclear ambitions — being the smallest of three we could get hurt the most by the knock-on effect.

So, tens of thousands of jihadis and a handful of nukes versus a diminishing crop of militants but a burgeoning set of nukes — choose your poison.

Let’s turn inwards. Balochistan — so much good news. So, so much. CPEC. Gwadar. Trains. Rescues. But most of all, a free pass — for the boys.

Balochistan has become the boys’ great freebie. A grateful nation, elated at the hammering the Taliban are taking, no longer frets about Balochistan. Not even at the margins.

Do what you like about the country’s longest-running insurgency, so long as you finish off the second-longest-running insurgency that frightens us all — the message is loud, clear and well received.

After all, the will of the people, the Constitution reminds us, is to establish order.

Karachi has confirmed the fecklessness. It is sold as the new division of labour: the boys restore order; the pols focus on the soft stuff. It looks remarkable.

It is remarkable. Gone is talk of transitions; transformation has already occurred. In the garb of continuity, a radical reassertion of power has occurred.

Turns out, Pakistan’s problem wasn’t a lack of democracy, but decision-making. Musharraf must feel aggrieved, Ayub stands vindicated, and Zia the avatar of bad decisions.

The possibility had always been there, the logic powerful: make sure you’re the only one around strong enough to pick up the pieces of your failures. Raheel allowed the dharna to happen, but Nawaz clung to talks with the TTP — one is forgotten; the other is not allowed to forget.

Obama’s taken a long, hard look and decided we’re a disastrously dysfunctional country. He could be wrong. You want him to be wrong.

But maybe he’s figured us out. Maybe our dysfunction and disaster as a country and a people is a tendency to forget the right stuff and forgive the wrong people?

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2016