YOU can win many battles, and still lose the war. And you can win the war and lose the peace.
The ultimate outcome depends on clarity of vision, and a unity of purpose. The goal needs to be clearly spelled out, and must be within our military and economic means. Internal political support and a diplomatic effort to isolate the adversary are other crucial factors. All these combine to formulate a winning strategy.
Gen Musharraf was fond of boasting that he had a ‘strategic vision’ for Pakistan. Sadly, he was a tactician at best, and not a very good one at that. His one active foray into planning and executing a military operation ended in disaster among the peaks and valleys of Kargil. The fact that he thought Pakistan could really get away with the unprovoked attack betrays his ignorance of the way the world works.
What does a poor, middle-sized country with a large, powerful, potentially hostile neighbour and massive internal security problems do? Does it seek to befriend the world’s only superpower that has offered it military and economic assistance, or does it snarl at its benefactor and turn its back in a perpetual sulk?
If this country is Pakistan, it’s a no-brainer: of course we snatch at the aid on offer with one hand, while raising the other hand’s middle finger. Sadly, this childish gesture of defiance is greeted with admiration from an increasing number of media pundits, populist leaders and a misguided public.
According to a WikiLeak, a large number of senior officers at Pakistan’s National Defence University are virulently anti-American. This was lent credence when Hussain Haqqani, our man in Washington, spoke at the NDU: when the officers attending the course were asked who they considered their major foe, apparently 30 per cent named the United States.
I presume this number has gone up since the SEALs operation in Abbottabad last month that rid the world of Osama bin Laden.
Indeed, any suspicion of supporting America’s ongoing battle against jihadist forces in the region is met with immediate charges of being on CIA’s payroll. And yet, returning to the theme of strategic clarity, how is this war not our war? Any commander with an iota of sense would accept help from any source in a battle for survival. And yet Pakistan constantly cavils at the alliance it’s in by its own choice.
If our military leadership genuinely feels it does not need American help, it should have refused all the cash and equipment it has been getting from Washington for years. After all, nobody is forcing it to accept the shiny new weapons systems that allow it to remain a credible fighting force. The Americans are replacing the Orion naval surveillance planes so carelessly frittered away recently; why don’t we say no?
The reality is that our defence forces desperately need constant infusions of dollars and advanced weapons from America.
Pakistan simply cannot afford to pay for all the military hardware being acquired through our alliance with the United States.
But in an effort to eat our cake and have it too, we bristle at the necessity of accepting this assistance, and bare our fangs to show that we are independent.
But we can be independent and accept this help more graciously: all countries operate on the basis of their self-interest, and America is no different. Of course, it’s helping us because Pakistan is strategically placed, and because there is a real danger that a meltdown here would have major regional and global repercussions.
Instead of seeing to what extent our respective interests overlap, and cooperating on this basis, we are continuously conflicted in our dealings with the United States. From the Kerry-Lugar Act that nets Pakistan billions in aid to the wretched Raymond Davis affair, we insist on behaving like immature children who are resentful of adults trying to cure it of a life-threatening fever.
And this fever is the extremism that is eating away at the country’s foundations. Those complaining about perceived American arrogance and slights would do well to reflect on the reality of the real threat we face today. The other day, we learned of a nine-year old girl who was reportedly kidnapped, drugged and had a suicide vest tied on. By a stroke of luck, she escaped and lived to tell the tale. This is the real enemy we face today. It’s not America, and it’s not India.
In any calculus of threats, we have to prioritise, placing immediate dangers above remote ones. In this rational analysis, most reasonable people would conclude that the most urgent and real threat to Pakistan today comes from the jihadi groups of different stripes that have slaughtered thousands of Pakistanis indiscriminately. Whenever the state has tried to negotiate with them, they have invariably broken their promises and used talks as tactical pauses. This is not a fight we have picked, but one that has been thrust upon us. To defeat this enemy, we need not only military force, but political unity and public support.
Clearly, as long as there is confusion within the country and its institutions, no headway can be made. And so it has proved: in the last decade, things have got worse, not better.
And to add to our woes, we have decided to do our best to alienate the US. Already, voices are being raised in Washington, questioning aid to a country that is increasingly viewed as hostile and duplicitous.
A trite but true cliché of international relations is ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. Thus, it makes eminent sense to cooperate with America in the common battle against extremism. We don’t have to share its values, just as we don’t share many of China’s. But while we cherish our alliance with China, we forget that Beijing, too, bases its relations with Pakistan on the basis of its hostility to India. It’s all about being an enemy’s enemy at the end of the day.