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Winning without fighting

February 18, 2018

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SUN TZU, the ancient Chinese military strategist, wrote: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” At present, India and the US both appear to be pursuing this maxim in their combined endeavour to coerce Pakistan’s capitulation to their objectives.

India is executing a multifaceted strategy to exert ‘pressure’ on Pakistan: a steady and enveloping stream of propaganda to portray it as a sponsor of ‘terrorism’; daily violations of the ceasefire along the Kashmir LoC and the ‘working boundary’ to ‘punish’ Pakistan for its support to the Kashmiris; intimidating threats of ‘surgical strikes’ and ‘limited war’; and, most potently, a campaign of sabotage and terrorism, waged in Fata and Balochistan, which may be extended to Gilgit-Baltistan, to destabilise Pakistan and erode its will to resist Indian demands.

Pakistan should be responding with a concerted campaign in the UN Security Council, the General Assembly, the Human Rights Commission and in the OIC to denounce India’s brutal repression of the latest popular revolt of the Kashmiri people and its sponsorship of terrorism against Pakistan. Sadly, notwithstanding some spirited efforts at the UN, Pakistan remains on the defensive, preoccupied with dodging financial ‘grey’ lists; its voice muted and its diplomatic efforts dispersed.

National security and honour demand that Pakistan respond vigorously to India’s belligerence and terrorist intervention. Fruitless pleas for a dialogue display weakness. There is no need for Pakistan’s national security adviser to have repeated ‘backchannel’ meetings with his Indian counterpart, only to be told that all will be well if Pakistan gives up its support for the Kashmiris. It will not. It would merely advance India’s goal of regional dominance. Pakistan’s choice is not whether to support Kashmir, but how best to do so.

Strategic patience may be good policy while Trump is in office.

Similarly, the challenge from the US requires clear thinking, patient diplomacy and, if needed, a bold response.

Since last August, President Trump and the US ‘establishment’ have mounted a campaign of intimidation and vilification to coerce Pakistan’s compliance with three broad objectives that would strike at the heart of Pakistan’s national security interests: one, military action against the Afghan Taliban and especially the Haqqani ‘network’; two, physical and legal suppression of all pro-Kashmiri militant groups; three, (unilateral) nuclear restraint (no short-range or long-range missiles) and ‘alignment of (Pakistan’s) non-proliferation policies with the US’.

Apart from the insults, the US has so far cut off all security ‘assistance’ to Pakistan. It has threatened termination of non-Nato ally status, sanctions against our intelligence officials, Pakistan’s designation as a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ and ‘unilateral’ measures ( drone strikes, intervention by special forces) against the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani ‘network’ alleged to be in ‘safe havens’ on Pakistani territory.

Pakistan has reacted circumspectly so far. However, its security officials say they are ready to respond at every step to any escalation of punitive measures by the US. Pakistan’s air chief has threatened to shoot down any alien drones infringing Pakistani air space.

The US (and India) will probably avoid frontal escalation and resort to more indirect and insidious pressure. The financial grey list is one such measure. Constraints on foreign loans and trade may follow. It is not accidental that a Sindhi separatist was brought to testify in the US Congress, and advertisements for an ‘independent Karachi’ appeared in US taxi cabs. A movement for Pakhtun rights appeared suddenly in Islamabad and immediately evoked President Ghani’s tweeted support. An Afghan diplomat’s article appeared in the US media advocating Fata’s incorporation into Afghanistan.

Pakistan has failed to influence US policy. It cannot even decide to hire lobbyists to do so in money-driven Washington. Instead, Islamabad went off on a tangent to build bridges directly with the Kabul ‘unity’ government. Unlike the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan’s policymakers did not seem to realise that it is the US, not the puppet Ghani government, which calls the shots in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace and Solidarity Agreement did not prevent President Ghani from attacking Islamabad viciously for the recent terrorist attacks in Kabul. Instead of protesting Ghani’s rude refusal to take the Pakistani prime minister’s phone call, Islamabad agreed to receive an Afghan delegation sent to publicise their unfounded allegations against Pakistan.

What Pakistan ought to be doing in Afghanistan is to build relationships for the future with all those Afghan elements that are not part of the Indian-financed anti-Pakistan coterie, including disaffected regional warlords and influential people among the Afghan refugees. Pakistan should also cooperate with China, Russia, Iran and the Central Asians, who are concerned with the infiltration of the militant Islamic State group’s terrorists from Afghanistan, to promote reconciliation among those Afghans who want a political settlement. Clearly, the Kabul regime does not want such a settlement since it will lose power if a settlement is reached.

Pakistan must persist in trying to convince the Americans that fighting the Afghan war on Pakistani soil is unacceptable and unwise. It will intensify extremism and terrorism in Pakistan and the region. A destabilised Pakistan will be a much greater threat to regional and global stability than Afghanistan. A political dialogue with the Afghan Taliban designed to promote reconciliation and to jointly oppose IS, Al Qaeda and their affiliates offers the most fruitful avenue to promote regional peace and stability. Eliminating all extremism and militancy in the region is a long-term enterprise largely dependent on rapid economic and social development and justice for the oppressed people of occupied Jammu & Kashmir.

Strategic patience may be good policy while Trump is in office. His multidirectional aggression is likely to provoke multiple crises — with Iran, North Korea, Russia, China — which will consume America’s military and political energy. Trump may revert to his initial position and abandon Afgha­nistan. India’s belligerence may then also dissipate.

In formulating and executing coherent policies to address the challenges from the East and the West, Pakistan’s leaders and the ‘security establishment’ need the counsel, support and engagement of the country’s patriotic intellectuals and experienced diplomats.

As another ancient military philosopher, Thucydides, stated: “The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting by fools.”

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2018