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A new lens on Pakistan

By Imtiaz Gul

 The Friday Times, July 20, 2012


For decades, an expressed desire for parity with India and a defence doctrine predicated on "strategic depth to the West" in case of a conflict with India shaped Pakistani responses to the issues in its neighbourhood. This also put Pakistan on the path of becoming a national security state as defence took over the focus from the welfare of people.

Both the notions - parity with India and strategic depth - continue to dominate foreign discourse about Pakistan. Indian and Afghan writers particularly criticize Pakistan by invoking these two concepts, realizing little that the burden of circumstances - a bloody security crisis stretching from the north to the south and a crippling economy - have not only enforced a much-needed departure from the flawed notions, but also brought the GHQ and the parliament (through the Parliamentary Committee on National Security) closer than ever.

Things will certainly not change if the world takes the Pakistani security paradigm to be static and sees the military establishment as a machine that keeps performing programmed functions regardless of the changing environment. 

The Indian narrative in particular is wrapped in cliches that hardly reflect the ground realities of the present day Pakistan - an embattled country, struggling to a) fend off several challenges to its security and b) survive economic adversity arising out of the security crisis spanning the last ten years.

Aparna Pande's Pakistan's Eternal Quest for 'Strategic Balance' is one such example. It seems like Indian analysts draw pleasure from Pakistan's current woes, and invoke all possible scenarios to disparage Islamabad. "Pakistan's eternal search for military parity or 'strategic balance' with a much larger neighbour has drained most of its resources without providing the security Pakistanis crave."

Ms Pande cites the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 2011 to assert that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is now the fourth largest in the world and ahead of countries like the United Kingdom. She says Pakistan has consistently refused to sign the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). This she does to the total exclusion of India, which itself is shy of NPT and the FMCT.

Ms Pande's arguments also overlook that all states, like human beings, tend to secure their flanks. A country may wrap the idea in its own jargon but the basic philosophy revolves around the desire to have a secure and stable neighbourhood. History offers a plenty of examples of that. The US did that in Cuba in 1962 and forced the Soviet Union to remove nuclear missiles from Cuba. It even supported the jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s and then began a war on terror in 2001. India exhibited similar behavior in 1971 by supporting the Awami League and its militant wings in what was then East Pakistan. It also backed the Nepalese government in dealing with Maoists. Pakistan tried this in Kashmir in the 1980s and 1990s, and in Afghanistan through Pashtun proxies beginning in the mid-1970s through to the 1990s. But Pakistan's policy eventually backfired, bringing enormous existential challenges for Pakistan itself.

Universally, states do seek parity with other states. If that were not the case, why would India jack up its defence budget to over $40 billion - an almost 18 percent increase - in an apparent attempt to catch up with China? Isn't it a quest for parity with China? One also tends to ask as to what led to some 30 armed insurgencies across northeastern India, particularly Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Kashmir? What gave birth to about 68 major groups in India designated as terrorists? Nobody talks about the UNDP report that says around 37 percent of Indian population is living below the poverty line (more or less the same as Pakistan).

Pakistan's security-centric paradigm, on the other hand, remains under the spotlight, primarily because of the decline it has endured on the security and economic front. Its problems are rooted primarily in the cold-war era, when its cunning general Ziaul Haq volunteered to serve as the front-line state for the US-sponsored jihad against the Soviet Union. This earned Ziaul Haq the legitimacy as well as the brazen authority to inject "Islamism" in the constitution, and hence set in motion a process that has culminated in the multiple crises that the country faces today.

The Pakistani military establishment's approval for a most-favoured-nation status for India indicates a paradigm shift. The army general headquarters had for decades been bent on denying India regional economic linkages via Pakistan.

Senior civilian and military leaders do not stress parity with India or on Pakistan's older strategic depth paradigm any longer. They realize that the tools Pakistan had used for implementing the strategic depth, sich as Hekmatyar or Mullah Omar, are of little value in taking care of Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan. They realize that the international community is not leaving Afghanistan lock stock and barrel, and even if it did, three Taliban factions cannot be expected to recapture the government in Kabul. At best, these proxies could possibly serve as spoilers in the peace process, but to expect them to sacrifice their lives and compromise their mission for the sake of Pakistan's questionable and outdated doctrine of strategic depth is utterly naive.

No dispute however that "Pakistan's core strategic interests and its long-term salvation lie in political stability, a growing and regionally-linked economy, and policies that centre on its people rather than tools of a security state."

The writer is executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies  

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk