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A sweeping agenda

Updated April 22, 2018


TRY and put the pieces together. It’s not the easiest — partly because we don’t have all the pieces yet and partly because the last pieces may not have been shaped yet.

But a picture sure is emerging.

It ain’t pretty. This isn’t about Nawaz. Not solely about him anyway, and maybe not even particularly about him. This isn’t about the election. Or not just the next election.

Something bigger is unfolding.

Let’s assume they win. The boys get their way and their allies — in the court, in the state, in the political class, in the media, in business and society, and on the far right — position themselves in support of the boys.

Great. It’s their field, they’re in charge now. Everything won’t be hunky-dory because we’ve already been told that Pakistan has powerful enemies waging sophisticated warfare against this state and its people.

So forget the idyll and utopia.

This is about keeping Pakistan: first, safe; second, strong; third, prosperous; and maybe — maybe — eventually all three at the same time. Safety comes first because if you’re not safe, you don’t exist.

Fine. So how do they intend to achieve all of that?

Pick a different combination of events, choose another set of circumstances. The outcome is always the same.

Between the now old news of the missing bloggers and the new stuff with the media, between Afghanistan and India, the railroading of Nawaz and mainstreaming, Faizabad and the suppression of Pakhtun dissent, there’s more a less a picture emergent.

The Nawaz stuff tells us this isn’t about corruption.

If it were about corruption, all they’d have to do is pick up three of Nawaz’s accountants and two of his lawyers, take them all to a safe house, hand them a pen each, place a stack of blank paper in front of them — and wait for the evidence to flow.

That, of course, never happens.

Instead, we have the silliness of an iqama and a few London apartments bought for a pittance in the early to mid-’90s. The Nawaz stuff is about creating pliant efficiency: finding civilians who’ll manage the state’s finances, grow the economy and support a predetermined national security and foreign policy.

Put like that, it sounds great. Parsed even a bit, it’s more than a little stupid.

Pliant efficiency is an unbridgeable contradiction. It’s easy enough to find pliant politicians. But if heads-down, no-questions-asked subservience is your ticket to power, what’s your incentive to govern efficiently?

Efficiency is hard, very hard. It’s beyond most politicians anyway and if most of your time is taken up in affirming and reaffirming your pliancy, that doesn’t leave much time for learning or enforcing efficiency.

Efficiency, of course, can be found among technocrats. But by definition, efficient technocrats are smarter than the boys — else the boys would do the job themselves.

Trouble is, if you’re smarter than the boss and know you can never become the boss — there is no lateral entry in the mil and the whole point is to increase control, not outsource it — that usually sets you on the path to becoming a crook. Crooks are not efficient.

Pliant efficiency is a fool’s dream.

Turn to Afghanistan. It’s still the same: strategic depth, that most unfortunate of misleading labels. Strategic depth is fairly simple: denial of space, primarily, to India in Afghanistan because greater Indian influence in Afghanistan means more trouble for Pakistan.

The instrument is also the same: leveraging Pakistani influence in Afghanistan via the Pakhtuns, ie the Taliban — either through a permanent war or a major slice of power after a political settlement.

But for all the talk of Afghan-led and Afghan-owned and intra-Afghan peace and the like, the problem is that Pakistan’s strategy in Afghanistan is fundamentally not about Afghanistan, it’s about India.

Good luck carving stability from that.

And India itself? The implications of the Pakistani approach are: normalisation isn’t likely, peace a chimera.

But neither can India and Pakistan leave each other alone because of that small problem of a common border running the length of this country, nor will India and Pakistan leave each other alone because of that other small problem called Kashmir.

A we-don’t-want-war policy can only translate into a badly managed non-peace.

And then there’s the domestic stuff. Mainstreaming militants, suppressing non-militant dissent, muzzling the media and handing a megaphone to the far right — it’s all of a piece.

Fine. Eliminate the left, mobilise the right, further re-engineer society. The purpose, presumably, is to maintain internal predominance while aligning politics and society with the external — Afghanistan and India — policies.

The problem is, that configuration forecloses the prosperity goal. CPEC is not oil; Pakistan can’t very well emulate, say, the Saudi model of religion, authoritarianism and wealth.

If prosperity is foreclosed, that leaves finding strength and security from among a massively expanding, relatively unskilled, low-productivity populace with religiosity rampant.

So, like Al Qaeda presaged Islamic State, the TTP may just prove to be a precursor to something worse. That means forever wars at home, sometimes in Fata, other times in Balochistan, always in some province and city or the other.

Always fighting to be safe, never stable enough to become strong — that’s goals one and two evaporating right there.

Pick a different combination of events, choose another set of circumstances. The outcome is always the same: macho, fantastical policy colliding with reality and resulting in failure for all.

Well, maybe not failure for the boys and their allies — in the court, in the state, in the political class, in the media, in big business and society, and on the far right.

But what a colossal waste of time for everyone else.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2018