Is Pakistan set to implode in its exasperating persistence to define itself in only security terms vis-à-vis India as did the Soviet Union with the United States in a nuclear-shadowed Cold War that lasted 40 years, a numbing fear that consumed three generations, but ended in a barren inevitability 20 years ago of the former collapsing into 13 new countries?
It seems more likely than not, given the few signs that a fundamental rethink in underway in Pakistan in determining what it stands for rather than what it doesn’t stand for, which passes for its schizophrenic identity.
Two specific WikiLeaks cables published in Dawn in recent weeks reveal more than just what is already known about Pakistan’s paranoid obsession with India and the authorship and control of the policy of paranoia by the military establishment. In the first, President Asif Zardari, the commander-in-chief of Pakistan’s armed forces, counters the suggestion of Senator John Kerry that New Delhi is interested in pursuing peace with Islamabad by arguing that India has five times more tanks than Pakistan and that these are Pakistan-specific because the Sino-India border terrain cannot support a tank battle. In the second cable, severe civil-military tensions are revealed over access to and control of American aid flows to Pakistan with the army insisting for, and getting, direct aid and refusing to share details with the elected government even during drafting of the annual budgets.
The oversimplification of the link between military prowess and bilateral relationship – no doubt handed to Zardari in briefings from the military leadership – is disturbing. If Pakistan has to match India tank to tank, plane to plane, soldier to soldier, frigate to frigate and missile to missile before making peace, then it’s a lost battle in perpetuity. If matching military might was the precondition to peace then the world would have been blown up 200 times over because the unending Indo-Pak tensions and Indo-Pak like wars would have been replicated on every shared national border on the planet. What use was there to acquire super-expensive nuclear capability if it didn’t solve the problem of imbalance in conventional military capability? No two nuclear powers have fought a conventional war. Tensions are one thing but war is another. So why still sacrifice national prosperity at the cost of national dignity, as Army chief General Kayani said days after Osama bin Laden was taken out.
The farcical civil-military equation in Pakistan that has kept political forces emaciated and socio-cultural progress stunted is insulting enough it itself but for the military to have its cake (of American aid) all these decades and eat it too is going too far for even weak states. The military is twice richer and the elected governments twice the poorer when it comes to foreign aid. America has been Pakistan’s biggest civilian and military aid provider. In the last 10 years alone it has received over $21 billion in American aid. General Kayani and his corps commanders may have gingerly offered recently that the US military aid to Pakistan may be diverted for civilian development spending but it is neither here nor there since it managed to prevail on the government to secure the highest ever defense budget in the country’s history this year (over Rs500 billion).
Tellingly, seven of the last 10 years have been ruled by the military. So they have ended up getting $17 billion of this aid, whether military or ‘civilian’ (the “uniformed” Musharraf had a ‘civilian prime minister’). The civilian government – in place for the last three years only – has received barely $3 billion but the bulk of this too has gone to the military and spent on fighting a war on terror. No wonder there is nearly a trillion-rupee budget deficit crippling Pakistan at the joints – this is why the economy is tanking, social development is at a standstill and unemployment, starvation and poverty are soaring according to the government’s own statistics. Pakistan is fighting a war with its own proxies who also take money and dictation from al Qaeda.
The two WikiLeaks cables on Pakistan’s security obsession with India and the skewed civil-military equation are at the root of Pakistan’s sorry state. The deficit of trust between Washington and Islamabad that is so wide that despite being allies the former had to invade Pakistan militarily to eliminate bin Laden has thrown up for public debate – and pressure on the military – the need to define “sovereignty”, the concept that the military has traditionally used to reinforce its stranglehold over the national polity.
The military early on crafted a national security doctrine that helped it manufacture a national security state (as opposed to a national welfare state). This is based on the supposed “clear and continuing” danger from India to unravel Pakistan. The doctrine extrapolates that this “perpetual threat” is a projection of India’s supposed “capacity” to hurt Pakistan rather than its intention to make peace.
The problem with this contention is that India may have the same stance on Pakistan, which means this is a formula for an unending arms race and not a remedy to war, which should be state’s priority. India’s ruling elites may have been averse to the idea of Pakistan and hostile to the new country in the early decades but it follows that after the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Pakistan and their testing in 1998, the deterrent has demolished any existential threat to Pakistan from India. The Lahore summit between the popularly elected civilian governments of both countries (Sharif’s in Islamabad and Vajpayee’s in New Delhi) within a year of the nuclear tests was an affirmation of this new reality. So why no let-up in the paranoia even 15 years down the line?
If 9/11 (New York) was the moment America and 26/11 (Mumbai) that India changed forever, 2/5 (Abbottabad) could be Pakistan’s crossroads of opportunity to likewise choose the path of being a state that protects its own people by fighting terrorism unconditionally. Sovereignty is not about nurturing dubious proxies to fight your wars but to fight against the instinct to do so. The real violation of sovereignty is the imbalance in receiving foreign aid flows in-country and then not accounting for it. It is the civil-military imbalance within Pakistan that has distorted the nature of civil society and crippled the economy, thus opening up the space for non-state actors and terrorists to appropriate the sovereignty by propelling the country into a suicidal conflict with America and India instead of forces like al Qaeda and Taliban that espouse violence and extremism. Having plans in place in perpetuity to fight India and not even contemplating plans to fully and decisively fight the terrorists (foreign and local) in the border regions (particularly North Waziristan) of your own country – this is not stuff sovereignty is made of. A German delegation that met Kiyani last week was quoted by a local newspaper as saying to them that Afghanistan’s stability is not a priority for Pakistan Army if its strategic interests don’t match it.
Of course, like any country that has the resources to do so, Pakistan should have a robust military and adequate defense preparedness not only against an overarching India but also an unstable Afghanistan. But India throwing its weight around and building its military muscle is a function of its political, economic and cultural stability and durability, not the other way round. After all, doesn’t Pakistan do the same when it comes to the other six states in South Asia? Pakistan wants political and military parity with India (without matching the democratic and economic stability that India has) but how come it is in a virtually one-sided relationship with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan who can’t match it in military terms?
The only way to protect Pakistan against threats, perceived and unperceived, is to build trust, peace, trade and interdependence with India, Afghanistan and Iran and key global allies like America and Europe that have deep interest in the region’s stability. Safety and protection will not come from the military’s policy of paranoia to serve in ‘national interest’ which forces the unwilling country to weaken or leverage regional and international players by internal and external state and non-state provocations. These include supporting some militant organisations allied with al Qaeda and Taliban while going after others and by both doing little and seen to be doing even less to stem the involvement of people in attacks or attempted attacks in India, Afghanistan, the US and Europe.
There is no shame in acknowledging that some things are wrong and accepting that these need to be set right. Pakistan must stop equating sovereignty with defiance. Sovereignty is neither abstract nor absolute but a function of power, which in turn is also not absolute or abstract. Power is relative to the demonstrated power of others and dependent on the discipline of political and economic stability both of which elude Pakistan. Beneficial and lasting power flows from the social contract between a people and its rulers via a consensus constitution in which universal rights are adopted and elected civilian parliaments are supreme and empowered to make all policies, including security and foreign policies, both of which are the military’s handmaidens in Pakistan and therefore without public support or sanction.
Pakistan needs rigorous and sustained accountability of outmoded, unchanging self-serving institutional doctrines that don’t have public sanction and which have propelled Pakistan into an unsustainable arms race with India and are seeking to control Afghanistan, and which seek to leverage terrorist non-state actors against even allies. It is due to these policies that, according to yet another WikiLeaks cable published by Dawn, a French national security advisor told an American envoy “Pakistan is an army in search of a country.”
Misplaced bravado does not make pride and there’s no shame in desiring peace with someone we’ve painted as an enemy. The only way the delusional mindset that ill-serves Pakistan will be righted is when the national security doctrine puts the people, not the military establishment, at the center of Pakistan's raison d 'etre. We have tried India as an enemy and it has cost us dearly. It’s time to try India as a friend because the cost of being a friend is far, far less than the cost of being an enemy. For this to happen, what we need to do in Pakistan is what Peter Feaver suggested as the perfect civil-military equation: “The civil-military challenge is to reconcile a military strong enough to do anything the civilians ask with a military subordinate enough to do only what civilians authorise”. Good luck Pakistan!
Adnan Rehmat is a journalist, analyst and media development specialist. He heads Intermedia, a Pakistani media support NGO.