Wake up Pakistan!

I think it is fair to say that the goal of the Pakistani Taliban is to destroy the very notion of “citizen” in Pakistan. Take into account the recent events of this year alone: they have been responsible for a total of fourteen attacks, including the PNS Mehran Naval Base attack in May, the twin-suicide bombs at the Sufi shrine in Dera Ghazi Khan in April, various car bombs, the execution of the former ISI officer, Colonel Imam, in February, and the most recent execution of 16 policemen in July. Every attack has either been a direct attack on the civilian guard or on the civilian body. This depletion of every type of citizen in Pakistan has allowed for a vacuum to be created. And in its place, the arrival of Pakistan’s “non-citizens” poses the greatest threat.

To be short, the “citizen” as we know it just doesn’t exist in Pakistan. Citizens don’t decide major changes in their country’s foreign policy by coordinating bomb blasts on their neighbor. Citizens don’t decide political elections by coordinating assassinations; and citizens don’t use car bombs as a frequent reminder to their own country that they’re still there. Citizens don’t; but the Taliban do.

Indeed in 2010 General Petraeus said that the Pakistani Taliban pose the most pressing threat to Pakistan’s “writ of governance”. While Pakistan continues to identify India as the “major state-based threat”, the reality is that the Pakistani Taliban undermines Pakistan’s ability to govern more than any neighboring threat. I would even argue that the Pakistani Taliban is Pakistan’s first major state-based threat. The Pakistani army’s attempts to carry out operations against the Pakistani Taliban have “inevitably…banged into some of these other organizations” such as al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and TNSM [Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi], making Pakistan more vulnerable on all fronts.

These ungovernable characters are not only breaking the law –they are redefining the norm and in doing so, they are redefining what it means to be a citizen. With each attack, a new precedent is set. What then is the best form of “deterrence” to such an internal threat? For example, Pakistan argues that it maintains its nuclear capabilities as deterrence to India as well as a way to avoid an existentialist crisis. If Pakistan has the means to deter a country the size of India, how does Pakistan not have the means to deter a terrorist organization the size of the Tehrik-i-Taliban?

Many would argue that Pakistan’s constant obsession with India has allowed for groups like the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan to exploit Pakistan’s blind spots. In 2010, Petraeus noted that Pakistan “just completed an exercise, some 50,000 Pakistani military forces, similar to the old NATO exercises that we used to run in the days of the Cold War”. The difference here is that Pakistan and India are not engaged in anything close to the Cold War. Even with nuclear powers, each country, at least Pakistan, has little incentive to use such force given its poor economic, civil defense, and developmental standing. Using such force would be done at the expense of an economically and academically weak citizen body. The fact that Pakistan continues to perpetuate such a Cold War mentality, however, increases wasted resources and focus on part of the Pakistani government.

Additionally in this strain, the defense spending by Pakistan has increased 12%, bringing it up to Rs495.2 billion for the year 2011-12. The same defense budget would allocate over Rs73 billion for pensions of military personnel that would be paid from the civilian budget. This increase in defense spending has had poor reception, with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) citing it as a “recipe for disaster”. Instead, the PML-N and many others are adamant that more must be invested in education.

The result is a disparate citizen body: while some citizens of Pakistan prepare to engage in potential wars with India, other “citizens” of Pakistan seek to dismantle Pakistani authority. In other words, while one citizen defines itself as anti-India, the other citizen defines itself as anti-Pakistan. The question then that has to be asked is simple: where are the citizens of and for Pakistan?

The answer to this question is what the Pakistani Taliban hope to redefine. And with 2.8% of Pakistan’s GDP going towards defense, they are making waves. An increase in defense is reactionary, not pragmatic. It takes away from Pakistan’s education budget which takes away from Pakistan’s building of a cohesive citizen body.

Pakistan, wake up: you are creating your own non-citizens by not creating your own citizens in the first place. And by not focusing more on this internal threat, you are, in many ways, allowing the Pakistani Taliban and other ungovernable influences to create their own “writ of governance.”

The author is a student at Rice University.

Is the US an ally or not?

The following column by Farrukh Khan Pitafi appeared in Daily Times.

Farrukh Khan PitafiThose who have come to like the television series West Wing and liked the character Josh Lyman will surely feel broken hearted at the departure of Rahm Emanuel from the Obama administration. For a while, there have been media speculations that the dynamic chief of staff on whom Josh’s character is said to be based would leave the administration. So he did and do not ask me why. These are mad times and in this pandemonium people often fall apart. But things were not like this since eternity. Bob Woodward’s new book Obama’s Wars portrays him as a trusted confidant of the president. Recently, another book that came and was criticised in my humble view quite unjustly is Tony Blair’s autobiography A Journey: My Political Life. The book is not only a first person narrative of the critical events of our recent past, but also an insight into the mind of the man we once loved, and then loathed. If anything, President Obama needs to read this book so that his memoirs after his stint in power do not sound so apologetic and self-defeating.

Obama’s Wars, however, brings to us an absolutely different story and mercifully a lot of answers to our current predicament. At the very start, the book establishes Pakistan as the biggest concern for the Obama administration and our very nation is the chief problem even at its end. And those who do not want to understand why should at least read the book with some empathy. I am not here to write a review of the book, only to compliment the fact that it gives an interesting insight into the minds of the key players, including our politicians, generals and other movers and shakers. The distrust of Ambassador Husain Haqqani by people from within Pakistan is noteworthy among the details. Also, the profile of Bruce Riedel may appear interesting because many in this country blame him for sowing the seeds of apprehension in the hearts of the Obama administration’s intelligence managers.

But regardless of what is written in the book, or the image Mr Riedel has projected, the mutual distrust between the two countries has reached new heights. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan have stepped up their drone and occasional manned assaults. Pakistan has stopped NATO supplies to Afghanistan in return and somehow we think this is the solution. General Petraeus is now widely being proclaimed our biggest enemy. And somehow we forget that we are talking about a nation that, in an ironic twist of fate, has been our only constant ally since the very inception of our nation. Look, do not question my loyalty to my country and do not think for a second that I am the lackey of another. I did not write Pakistan’s history and I did not take the critical decisions that define us, but that is the way things are. From the days of Liaquat Ali Khan to date, this is the only country that has defined our strategic choices.

I often feel nauseous at the hypocrisy prevalent in our ‘mainstream’ media. When we comment on the drone attacks and Dr Aafia Siddiqui, seldom do we mention that Pakistan compromised its territorial sovereignty the day we accepted our role in the proxy war against the Soviet Union and collected non-state elements from across the globe. Nor do we remind the audience that this country’s thin economic lifeline is in commission because of this ally that we are so determined to ostracise and alienate. This is some kind of Peter Pan syndrome where we simply refuse to grow up. I do not approve of the predator attacks, but folks have we ever wondered why did this day ever come to pass?

Not only are we so silly and dishonest that we have not built anything credible in this country, which could bring some growth in our GDP, we are so hypocritical that we do not even want to accept that the country spending money on us to cover for our financial deficiencies is in fact doing us a favour. No, there have to be circles within circles, conspiracies to rob us of something that we have miserably failed to discover, and of course that noxious agenda to destroy the Islamic ummah in which we barely fit. It is astonishing to see that even by Islamic standards we are supposed to be thankful to someone that obliges us with favours, no matter Muslim or not. But I guess we will not do that but go on inventing a new Islam for ourselves.

We flatter ourselves with delusions that we have a truckload of other geostrategic options with nations as our friends, dying to come to our rescue. Wake up friends, no one is there. China’s own economy is overheating. The Saudis would not do anything to displease the US, and Iran is already encircled, thanks to the wisdom of its leaders. On the other hand, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Washington are one and the same thing. And this is the only place where we can get aid to rebuild the economy and in case of honest attempts, becoming truly independent eventually.

Then there is the question of counterintelligence. In the above-mentioned book, it has been made clear that at the start of the drone programme, our country was informed in advance to minimise civilian casualties, but it resulted in the terrorists being tipped off about the assault. Hence they decided to inform us after the attacks. In other words, our own stupidity has compromised our leverage with the coalition forces. Granted there can be some misunderstanding about our intentions also, but to compromise the only leverage we have been left with over the western forces by withdrawing the logistical support is foolish at best. The time has come for the powers that be in the Islamic Republic to make a critical decision. If we think that the league of obscurantists called the Taliban are a good idea, we should give up pretences and surrender the country to the thugs. If not, we should be sincere to our country and alleviate the US concerns and resolve issues through negotiations.

The writer is an independent columnist and a talk show host.