Newspaper Article 08/02/2023
Barack Obama, the first Black-American President of the United States, quipped, “In a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power, including strong and principled diplomacy.” That aptly applies to the situation that Pakistan is confronted with these days. The fact is that Pakistan has played to the gallery by selling and branding its geopolitical tangibles, and that too for the sake of appeasing the major powers of the West. Thus, 75 years down the line, Pakistan sits with a devastated regional policy and none of its immediate neighbours are on cordial terms with it.
It would not be an overstatement to say that Pakistan is surely in the range of fire these days. The backlash of the impugned ‘war on terrorism’ is now haunting the body-politics, and taking a toll that will not be bearable in the long run. It is quite unfortunate that all the three contested frontiers of the country are simmering, and the threat is both in the traditional and non-traditional security domains.
Three major clashes on the Afghan borders, namely Chaman and Torkham, and a suicide attack on Pakistan’s mission in Kabul; an uneasy peace prevailing on the eastern frontier with India, and the rundown of security on the 900 kilometers Iranian front as terrorists crossed the international border to attack Pakistani law-enforcement personnel makes the equation not only jittery but also despicable.
Last but not least, the serene corridors with China — the lone strategically allied neighbour, is also under revulsion as the ante is up in Gilgit-Baltistan over modalities of legitimacy and power-sharing. Thus, a lax in properly reading the security threat and retaining an Ostrich syndrome to further petty personal interests of few at the helm of affairs, as is always the case in Pakistan, will be detrimental to its sovereignty and security.
Pakistan faces a serious threat both internally and externally.
The point is that Islamabad has not been able to come up with a rebuttal and retribution while dealing with Afghanistan and Iran. For reasons best known to the powers-that-be, a policy of appeasement has been in vogue, and there has been no proper response in silencing the fissures that are freely operating inside Pakistan and renting its social fabric– both from the western and southwestern porous arenas.
It is worth pondering that since the Taliban militia took over Kabul on August 15, 2021, Pakistan has witnessed more than 100 attacks to this day. The Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) terrorists have claimed responsibility for attacks on Chinese interests in Balochistan and Karachi, as well as in the federal capital. They have returned to further the nuisance in the settled and tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and have shattered the uneasy peace that was prevailing across the country since the armed forces successfully conducted military operations against the dreaded elements.
What perpetually ails is our confused response.
The National Security Committee, the highest civil-military cadre overseeing security affairs that met twice in December and January exhibited waywardness. Rather than clamping down hard on non-state actors and that too categorically, it unfortunately played to the gallery by threatening to crackdown on social media activists. The contention was that off-the-cuff analysis and tweets that go on to criticize the state of economy and human rights in the country are a threat to the fragile coalition government! This is petty politics at its best, and that too with the stated premise to serve personal interests.
The word of warning from the NSC on dealing with incursions from Afghanistan was secondary in substance, and that with more confusion whether the policy is to nip the terror in the bud by opting for surgical strikes or going on for a dialogue with the unscrupulous elements.
This dichotomy of approach is at the root cause of all ills that is now directly endangering national security. The 13-party coalition government leans with a puzzled approach while dealing with non-state actors, and with the non-inclusive regime in Kabul as well as the fugitive TTP leadership. A section of the ruling dispensation indulges in chest thumping by proposing to talk it out with the TTP and their likes; whereas the other quarter shuns dialogue and cries for military action.
Let’s take a holistic account as to where we have blinked.
Pakistan’s geography is its biggest asset. While it sits at the crossroads of four civilizations, namely the Hun, Arab, Persian and Dravidian, Pakistan in the last seven decades has done little to cultivate the harmony and smoothness of its neighbours.
With India, we have been in a gridlock over the disputed state of Kashmir, literally putting at bay any kind of meaningful cooperation in any of the realms of bilateralism. With Afghanistan, we had a jaundiced approach and differed to death the legality of the Durand Line, and always saw the southwest Asian state as a buffer zone and a battleground of extra-territorial powers.
Despite commonality in ethnic and lingual contexts, as the porous tribal areas have a similar texture on both sides of the divide, we lived at odds at the peril of alienating the locals. Thus, the bad blood with Afghanistan now comes to haunt us as one of the biggest threats to our social survival.
With Iran too, we never thought in real terms to reach out to the western horizons, and the impugned trilateral cooperation between Pakistan, Iran and Turkey was symbolic in gesture. But one thing was there for sure, and that is Pakistan becoming a battleground for all the unscrupulous forces who found it a safe haven to infiltrate and make their presence felt. Indian, Iranian and Afghan nuisance elements can be found at large inside Pakistan, and that too with muscles to assert and get away.
This derives a humble point and that is we have overlooked our immediate security concerns and human development,
and remained content with hobnobbing with camp politics. Pakistan’s honeymoon with the United States has left it high and dry wherein a class-based stratum emerged as wheelers and dealers, and the rest of the populace only had grievances to lament. Then came the era of Chinese rise, and now we are playing the fiddle to the Red Dragon investment to the tune of around $60 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor sphere, not really sure whether we will be able to harness the dividends of the great deal.
A critical appraisal of threat perception derives the indisputable point that we have not been able to put our house in order. Corruption, nepotism, absence of rule of law and stage-managed national institutions have rendered us unviable, and we are in a deep misery.
Pakistan is one of the few countries where easy-money rules the roost, and poverty is eating up its vitals. A bulging youth population is clueless, the economy nosedived with $120 billion of international debt and soaring current account deficits are making survival horrendous. With a staggering import bill that we are unable to pay, and no end to our luxuries, it’s a perfect doomsday scenario.
A nation which generates around $35 billion per annum from its expatriates, and is home to trillions of dollars of untapped minerals, is out with a begging bowl for a mere billion dollars or so from the international lenders. This is an instant and inherent security threat in the non-traditional domain, and the sooner it is done away with, the better. As former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: “Extreme poverty anywhere is a threat to human security anywhere.”
Yet there is no retribution. Trillions have been usurped by the 500 or so capitalist families who are the real movers-and-shakers of this Republic of God, and the country is literally mired in elite capture. All these elements are a direct threat to its security. It is an open and shut secret that money-laundering of billions and stashing away of assets took place right under the nose of the powers-that-be, and the able and wise judiciary, as they continued to look the other way around for reasons of petty exigency. The outcome is resentment in the body-politics and the masses are getting parochial to the core.
The unrest in Gwadar, Gilgit-Baltistan, former tribal areas, the simmering southern Punjab and the fleeced Karachi are signs of our debacle in the security paradigm. Where is the National Action Plan? Has it been implemented in toto? Why is only the kinetic portion pertaining to military action been put to play, and why the non-kinetic elements of nailing down the black-money and abettors of terrorism are mostly at large?
It is no nationalism to paint and present a one-sided picture, when the reality is that 40 percent of people are under the poverty line, and economic hardships are impacting their existence. It’s time to look at the bigger picture of security, as human security is indeed national security. Pakistanis are getting hopeless and losing faith in its institutions and, of course, the system in vogue. The diminishing voter turnout is a case in point that people are fed up with hollow promises under a system that is rotten, tarnished and with a zero-credibility.
The State of Pakistan instantly is in need of two salvos: One – redeem regional utility by rewriting a new vista of cooperation with all immediate neighbours, including India. Two – purge the parasites in the system. Only then can there be a way to salvation.
Pakistan’s first National Security Policy (NSP 2022-26), says: “The most prudent approach is to keep economic security at the core, and judiciously transfer the dividends of a strong economy to further strengthen our defence and human security.” Are we really up for it?
Note: This article appeared in DefenceJournal, dated 08 February 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.