IN a rare press briefing last month, Gen Ashfaq Kayani said the success of military operations in the tribal regions have caused a substantial decline in cross-border attacks on Nato forces in Afghanistan and warned that it was essential to address Pakistan's long-term strategic concerns for stability in the region.

A month later, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh concluded a historic three-day visit to Saudi Arabia and signed 10 bilateral agreements and the Riyadh Declaration. In a rare honour, Manmohan Singh was invited to address the Majlis-ash-Shura, the Saudi parliament, where he not only sought investments from the Islamic kingdom but also pressed the need for Pakistan to “act decisively against terrorism”. Earlier, when he landed in Riyadh, Singh was accorded an unprecedented welcome when, setting aside protocol, the Saudi crown prince and the entire cabinet turned up at the airport to receive him.

Manmohan Singh's Saudi visit came two years after another landmark visit by him to China, which was a turning point in Indo-China relations. The joint communiqué issued after Singh's 2008 visit to China declared “a shared vision for the 21st century of the People's Republic of China and the Republic of India”. It went on to state “China and India are the two largest developing nations on earth representing more than one-third of humanity. The two sides recognise that both China and India bear a significant historical responsibility to ensure comprehensive, balanced and sustainable economic and social development of the two countries and to promote peace and development in Asia and the world as a whole.”

On March 18, 2010, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London published a report in which Jim O'Neill, the chief economist of Goldman Sachs — the world's largest and most powerful investment bank — declared that China's yuan was destined to become a global reserve currency rivalling the dollar and the euro. “The dollar-based monetary system is no longer adequate for a larger and more integrated world economy,” the report said.

These events are not necessarily related but deserve a thoughtful analysis by Pakistan's security establishment which has nothing much to boast about except a series of historic blunders and massive policy failures since 1958.

In the recent months, the Pakistan Army's leadership has shown a newfound confidence as a direct consequence of the success of its military campaigns in the northwest. The writ of the state of Pakistan appears to be extending to the areas that were lost or were never under its writ. Emboldened by its illusory success, the army's high command has once again taken to actively and publicly calling the shots in all areas of governance from domestic polity to conducting strategic dialogue with Washington, to even matters like scolding Punjab's chief minister over the latter's extremely irresponsible remarks about Taliban leaving Punjab alone.

However, somebody ought to tell Gen Kayani not so fast! The army leadership would do well to remember some lessons from Pakistan's and contemporary international history.

1. Economic strength and size is the primary and the ultimate source of power. Note how Japan and Russia have been demoted to second-rate powers since the 1970s.

2. Pursuit of projection of military power beyond the economic capacity of a nation has disastrous consequences. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact alliance and then that of the Soviet Union in the 1980s and the decline of the US in the last decade clearly show this.

3. The participation of the military in the formulation and conduct of foreign policy may seem an illusory necessity but the Russian experience in the 1980s, Pentagon's failures in Afghanistan and the Pakistan Army's own debacles including the defeat in 1971, the heavy price of the Afghan jihad, Kashmir's tragic fall from a freedom movement to a 'terrorist problem', and Kargil's humiliating experience are stark reminders of what happens when generals suffer from megalomaniac ambitions that stretch their intellectual and military capabilities.

We must keep these lessons in mind as we face the gravest crisis since 1971. The so-called war on terror and a serious economic crunch have brought Pakistan to the brink again. The state is now imploding from within primarily because the establishment has considered submission to external hegemony a convenient means to rule. Since it does not derive its power and legitimacy from the people, it has shown callous disregard for even the security and minimal needs of its people. This is evident from years of autocratic governance, economic plunder, and neglect in building infrastructure. Yesterday, India was the threat and today Afghanistan has become an excuse to put aside nation-building economic development on the back burner.

Pakistan can learn a lot from the East Asian experience, particularly from China's policy to focus on economic development and put conflicts in cold storage. Pakistan must put its house in order now and make economic development its most important domestic and foreign policy objective. This process must start with a gradual disengagement from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Kashmir and redefining 'security' to include energy, water and food security as being more important, and reallocation of resources through a restructuring of the armed forces with more emphasis on brains than brawn. What a brilliant prime minister and a few scientists achieved for Pakistan's nuclear programme could not have been accomplished by all the army divisions and corps commanders combined.

Today Pakistan faces a more crucial challenge than the Taliban. It must find a way to transform itself from a dysfunctional client national-security state to a modern democracy with a sustainable economic development model which is appropriate for a country with one of the world's largest, fastest growing, and youngest populations. It cannot hope to move towards that goal unless it disengages itself from overt and covert conflicts, realigns its foreign and economic policy focus from the West to the East, and empowers its people.

Disengagement, realignment and empowerment are the essential pre-conditions for the process of institution-building and economic development to start and take root in a meaningful sense. Otherwise the country's progress will remain a mirage with a higher and growing risk of failure as a state. Peace, independent foreign policy and a plural democracy have to be the pillars of a modern Pakistan that is not a client, debt-ridden security state with a large, illiterate and impoverished population.

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