As we prepare for American President Barack Obama’s announcement about changes to the US policy in Afghanistan, Mr. Shaan Akbar, international businessman and analyst, wrote a must-read post on blog The Insider Brief about the geopolitical realities that Pakistan faces. While his post is sure to be controversial in some quarters, it certainly merits reading and discussion.
For the last several months, we’ve witnessed Pakistan tread down the path of implosion. The country finds itself in a recession and is relying once again on the IMF for budgetary support. The military campaign in South Waziristan may have merely displaced militants who continue to carry out retaliatory bombings and assassinations in Pakistan proper. The nation’s allies (even the Chinese) are growing increasingly weary with a nation that can’t get its affairs in order. Encirclement by regimes hostile to Pakistan grows closer to reality.
It’s a grim picture that, at first, reaffirmed for me the need for consensus among the country’s elite. At the Insider Brief, we have long called for a single cohesive and comprehensive agenda agreed to by the military, politicians, bureaucracy, business interests, and the media to undo the crisis in governance and set the country back on the path to socio-economic development.
However, the more I’ve thought about it, the more the problem presents itself as one that is rooted in perspective – Pakistan’s elite appear to be out of touch with geopolitical reality. After all, when the situation is so dire, why is the military-bureaucratic complex hacking away at the PPP-led government? Why does the media remain mired in conspiracy theories? Why are the country’s political parties locked in a cycle of political opportunism? The behavior isn’t rational.
The disconnect with reality appears to stem from two core flaws in the Pakistani perspective:
1. Failure to understand the limitation of national resources/capabilities.
- Pakistan cannot go it alone. Pakistan’s geography makes the nation strategic, but its geography also acts as an inhibitor. Pakistan does not have the resources to achieve self-sufficiency; Pakistan must trade and seek external investment not just to flourish, but also to survive. That’s why it’s vital that Pakistan not alienate its key sponsors (the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia, etc.) or its regional neighbors (Iran, Afghanistan, etc.).
- The Kerry-Lugar Bill: When the U.S. tripled non-military aid to Pakistan through the Kerry-Lugar Bill, the Pakistani military did exactly what it shouldn’t have done – it voiced massive opposition to the bill and alienated the U.S. The military’s opposition is rooted in language tying the aid to civilian control over the military. The military blames President Asif Zardari for the wording and is out for blood. (Zardari’s handover of command of the National Command Authority to the Prime Minister was a means of trying to alleviate pressure from the military on his office.) Being the single most powerful institution in Pakistan and after governing the Pakistan for over half its existence, the Pakistani military must be acting out of sheer pride if it feels that the wording in the Kerry-Lugar Bill will undermine its pre-eminent status in Pakistan overnight. (People who sought to have that wording placed in the Kerry-Lugar Bill should have also taken this rationale into account. It was a tactical misstep to think that conditional U.S. aid would work to strengthen democratic institutions in Pakistan. The best way to strengthen democracy is to garner overwhelming public support through capable leadership and socio-economic progress.)
- Pakistan cannot seek parity with India – military or otherwise. Since its inception, Pakistan has viewed itself as a strategic equal of India – and to disastrous ends. India is far too large and developing at far too quick a pace for Pakistan to be its peer. Though it has far to go, India is on the road to becoming a global power. Pakistan is a regional power at best. Militarily, Pakistan has achieved a minimum deterrence through its nuclear capability. It should reduce the size of its standing military and focus on becoming smaller, more mobile, and technologically advanced. Rely on force multipliers and redirect funds towards development.
- Pakistan cannot win Kashmir from India. Three wars over the disputed state (Kargil included) have demonstrated that Pakistan cannot wrest Kashmir from India’s control – India’s military is far too superior in terms of quality and quantity. The best Pakistan can hope for is recognition of the status quo or a Musharrafian solution (joint governance of Kashmir). Again, focus on effectively governing existing Pakistani territory and create a model that demonstrates why Kashmir is better in Pakistani hands.
2. Failure to understand that the state’s actions have consequences.
- Militant groups, sponsored by Pakistan’s military, have turned on the state. These militant groups are no longer national security assets to leverage against India or to attain “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. They are not the product of a conspiracy hatched by any combination of Indians, Israelis or Americans. The only conspirators here are those who nurtured these groups and now do not want to shoulder the responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Pakistani civilians.
- Ineffective and inequitable governance results in a loss of sovereignty. Poor and inequitable governance spawned an insurgency in East Pakistan, providing India the opening for the 1971 war and Pakistan’s subsequent dismemberment. Once again, poor and inequitable governance has spawned not one, but two insurgencies in Pakistan’s west (i.e., Balochistan and the NWFP/FATA).
- Irresponsible behavior with nuclear technology is the biggest threat to your arsenal. Many Pakistanis believe that the U.S. is out to denuclearize Pakistan. The Pakistani government views it as unfair that the Indians have a civil nuclear deal with the U.S. and it doesn’t. However, none of this should come as a surprise after Pakistan, through Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, proliferated nuclear technology to the likes of Libya, North Korea, and Iran. Pakistan must demonstrate responsibility and maturity in handling its nuclear capability if it wants cooperation from western powers.
The greater question then becomes: how do we go about changing mindsets? How do we go about awakening a nation from its daze?
The answer? We talk about it.
Educate. Encourage mature discourse. Repeat (as many times as necessary).