The noose around our neck and how it got there

This week’s latest episode of Pak-US topi drama is discouraging for a number of reasons. The most obvious being that extremist militants really are a shared enemy of Pakistan and America, and neither side is able to defeat the menace without the other. The worst case for America is that it retreats back to the other side of the world and holds up on its own to lick its wounds. But the worst case for Pakistan is, well, it’s worse.

Cyril Almeida thinks that, even removing the fuel of American troops from Afghanistan will not make the problem of militancy any more manageable. He warns that ‘the narrative may be neat, but its fallout could be anything but’. I fear that he’s right, and it only takes one look at a map to understand why turning a blind eye towards militants – even those we see as ‘assets’ – is a losing strategy.

Our Eastern border hardly needs mention. Whether or not the Indians trust us, we certainly do not trust them. Even with enough nukes to destroy India many times over, we still feel the need to keep building more. And with the issue of Kashmir still unresolved, that is not going to change any time soon. Certain groups in society still romantacise about the Kashmir jihad and openly encourage groups like JuD to give up their facade of ‘charitable’ work and re-focus on attacking Indian positions. And elements in India, too, have their own suicidal tendencies in this regard, making the Eastern border a defensive priority as long as issues remain unresolved and groups like JuD are perceived as operating freely.

On the Northern border with China, we have what is probably the healthiest relationship of all. But China, a friend, shouldn’t be our fantasy. Part of this is the fact that China, too, has no patience with extremism and militancy, and will quickly turn from friend to foe if they believe their own security is at risk. We already made the mistake of looking to the US as being a our saviour no matter what poorly conceived adventurism we found ourselves in. Let us not forget that when Nawaz Sharif went to China for help during the Kargil misadventure, they sent him packing.

To the Northwest, war continues to rage in neighboring Afghanistan. We are told that this is a fight against the Americans who are occupying their country and that once the Americans leave, peace will return. But this is not what was being said by Afghans themselves. Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani said that the violence is not caused by the Americans, and it will continue long after they leave.

The people are justifying the war they have waged and say that they are fighting the war because of the presence of the foreigners. This is not the case actually. This war was going on prior to the presence of the foreigners here and will continue after the foreigners go from here.

Rabbani’s murder earlier this week has been treated in the media as an American conspiracy, with the usual talking heads quoting Afghans as blaming ‘foreigners’ for problems. This may be true, but perhaps we should ask which ‘foreigners’ the Afghans are blaming for the violence in their country.

“Death to the foreign puppets,” they shouted. “Pakistan is our enemy.”

To our West, Iran has closed the trade gate and is moving security personnel to the Pakistan border because of the threat of militant groups from Pakistan. Sadly, this is not a aberration, but is the third time this year that Iran has shutted its doors to Pakistan. What should we expect from a Shia nation when an anti-Shia militant leader receives payments from Punjab government, is set free by Pakistani courts, and then a few weeks later dozens of innocent Shia are murdered by this same militant group? If sectarian killers are believed to operate with impunity in Pakistan, can we honestly expect our neighbors to treat us as anything but a pariah?

American foreign policy deserves criticism. But there are plenty of Americans who are making these criticisms themselves. Why should America listen to us when we refuse to get our own house in order? We’ll find ourselves with much more influence if we can be honest about our own foreign policy mistakes. More importantly, we can still reverse the disastrous course that we find ourselves on. The concept of ‘strategic depth’ was supposed to keep us from being surrounded by a hostile India. Instead, it threatens to make us surrounded with a hostile India, Afghanistan, Iran, and China. That’s not security, it’s suicide.

What is clear is that we need a strategic re-thinking. The old doctrines left over from Cold War era adventurism are out of date an inapplicable in today’s world. Lashkars and proxies were meant to keep the noose from around our necks, but it turned out they were the very rope that could hang us. We still have time to pull our heads out and claim our proper role as a leader in the region, but only if we’re willing to let the Americans worry about their own problems and make an honest appraisal and reversal of our own strategic mistakes.

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