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A wake-up call


By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, November 29, 2013


How long will the world put up with our irrational behavior?

The PTI-led protest against drone strikes and the headless opposition to the movement of NATO cargo out of Afghanistan ahead of the December 2014 pullout deadline may have serious consequences for Pakistan. The macho men who have orchestrated this chaos seem totally oblivious to the likely costs. And it is not just about the loss of millions of dollars to Pakistan.

The November 21 drone strike on the Hangu hideout of Haqqani Network militants is a wake-up call for all those who have been wailing over the American violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Being the sole super power and focused on what it considers its national interest, the US will keep doing what it deems useful in protecting these interests, regardless of how others view it. The Hangu strike, the first of its kind outside FATA, came with a loud and clear message – the US will hunt down anybody anywhere.

And this message must not get lost on those still sympathetic or empathetic to the likes of Hafiz Saeed or his handiwork Jamaatud Dawa (read Lashkar-e-Taiba). Since Saeed is wanted by India on multiple counts, and his organization proscribed by the UN and the United States, it is hard to rule out that the US – ably guided and influenced by its regional hegemon India – will chase Saeed or his deputies the way it has hunted down Hakimullah Mehsud, Osama bin Laden or many Haqqani clan members. The CIA will ignore any questions about Pakistan’s sovereignty with the same ferocity. All they want is to cleanse the Pakistani territory of people and groups that threaten the US, India or even Pakistan itself.

The threat to Pakistan is clear and present. When the mighty army fails to curb the anti-Shia frenzy initiated by the Deobandi TTP and like-minded zealots in Kurram, the Haqqanis step in to broker peace and bail out the military. When the military fails to seal the Khyber Agency border with Afghanistan, it relies either on Lashkar-e-Islam or on Ansarul Islam to neutralize the TTP threat. When the government and the military need to construct the USAID-funded Bannu-Miranshah road, they request the likes of Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Sadiq Noor for safe passage and uninterrupted construction.

The issue is two dimensional. One aspect relates to America’s unilateral militarism which is wedded to the protection of US interests wherever needed. The other one, which is much more serious and a far greater threat to Pakistan, is the missing political will to put in place or enforce laws that forbid private militias, forbid hate speech, and prohibit private, unguided, venomous sermons in mosques and seminaries.

Will stopping NATO supplies free the country of what the opposition calls the American clutches? Or will it worsen the conditions to the extent that warrant a direct foreign intervention, probably also sanctioned by the United Nations? If the world body believes – or is made to believe – that parts of Pakistan have become ungovernable or become a threat to the collective interests of the extended global community, Islamabad might have to face punitive measures such as economic sanctions and a blockade.

Are all those politicians and groups advocating cutting ties with the United States and NATO, or demanding an end to allowing cargo to and from Afghanistan, inadvertently pursuing an agenda that might focus on a foreign intervention to compel Pakistan to deal with trans-national Islamist networks threatening the region and the world?

Think of the Balkan states, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.  Iran is no exception either. The US-NATO combine went about its own plans rather than deferring to local sentiment. For them, their own alliance’s interests are far more important than those of countries that refuse to reform from within, and where rent-seeking elites remain driven by self-preservation and expediency.

Pakistan is no exception. So far, it has avoided being labeled as an “ungovernable country” by successfully fending off criticism and insisting that the terrorist challenge in various parts of the country is a “law and order situation”. But for how long will the world put up with this irrational behavior? For how long will sympathetic foreign players such as Australia, Germany, and certain Scandinavian countries stand by a country that is falling fast to erratic and megalomaniac civil-military leadership? Not for too long, most probably.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk