Oct 20, 2011

Let’s get angry in the right way

Zafar Hilaly The New York Times carried an article by Bruce Reidel, on October 14 titled ‘Containment - a new policy for dealing with Pakistan’ and followed it up only three days later with yet another front page report captioned ‘Suspicions of Pakistan grow with attacks’. Bruce Reidel, once a key Obama adviser on South Asia, now works for Brookings, one of the numerous ‘think tanks’ that abound in Washington DC and vie for influence on policy making. These institutions promote their brand of politics and many of them who work in those elite outfits are not really scholars but publicists. Reidel, a former CIA sleuth, is one of those so-called scholars, while the New York Times often doubles up as an apologist of Israeli foreign policy. Both Bruce Reidel and the New York Times seem to have launched on a twin crusade to get the Obama administration worked up sufficiently to teach Pakistan a lesson for blocking the United States from making an honourable exit from Afghanistan if not for denying an outright military victory. Reidel’s article is the work of a publicist. Had it been the work of a scholar, it would have been less jagged, more rounded and much better informed. Nor is it a serious re-examination of the present US policy. Reidel’s basic contention is that the only recourse left to America is ‘containment of the Pakistan Army’s ambition until real civilian rule returns’ to Pakistan. For a start, this is puzzling because Pakistan cannot really ‘return’ to ‘real civilian rule’ since it has never existed before. A scholar would have known, for instance, that the Constituent Assembly, elected prior to partition, was supposed to draft a constitution and although it subsequently acted as a legislature, it failed on both counts and was dissolved. Subsequent attempts by Major General Iskander Mirza and Field Marshal Ayub Khan to give Pakistan a durable constitution also failed. The latter’s bespoke constitution fitted him but not the country. The ‘civilian’ interlude which followed under ZA Bhutto was an aberration since Bhutto assumed power as a martial law administrator, being the only civilian in the world to have enjoyed that dubious distinction. Admittedly Bhutto did give Pakistan a constitution in April 1973 but the very next day he suspended provisions of the constitution that granted citizens the right to approach the courts. Not a democrat by instinct, Bhutto finally fell victim to his own vanity. Thereafter the military has seated and unseated governments much as it has wished. Hence, for Washington to wait out the military ‘until real civilian rule returns’ would be like mistaking a mirage for an oasis in the desert. Reidel’s second piece of advice for Obama is equally impractical. He suggests a policy of ‘containment’ towards the Pakistani establishment which is not aimed at ‘hurting Pakistan’s people but at holding its army and intelligence branches accountable’. Implicit is such advice is the belief that the Pakistani public is averse to the army’s involvement in politics. That might have been true for a while but not after the mess created by the Zardari-Gilani duo. They have mired the country in governance issues, corruption has soared to unprecedented heights under their watch and the country is assailed on all sides by terrorists, while their political opponents and a disgruntled public are now hollering for their removal. Once again, sadly, many are looking to the army to act as the proverbial deus ex machina. Ironically if the current dispensation is still in power it is because of the army’s restraining influence. Furthermore, even a cursory reading of Pakistan’s history will show that it is the military that has had a soft spot for the US albeit, as many believe, for selfish and ill-advised reasons. The people have never been able to work up a similar enthusiasm for the US or its policies. Thus, it was the military that pushed for Pakistan’s membership of Cento and Seato in the 1950s when the foreign office advised caution; and it again prodded the government of the day in 1956 to support the western intervention in Egypt, during the Suez crisis which infuriated the public. Moreover, two recent parliamentary resolutions calling for a military response to the US drone and ground attacks, which the military has repeatedly ignored, shows that left to parliament, the US-Pakistan relations would have been a lot worse by now. So much for Riedel’s notion that with the ‘return’ of real civilian rule, all would be hunky dory between Washington and Islamabad. However, Riedel is spot on when he says the strategic interests of the US and Pakistan ‘are in conflict and not (in) harmony’. Indeed the two countries stand on opposite sides of the fence. Our enemies are different; our thoughts and plans for what is best for the region are poles apart; the roles we envisage for each other are in stark contrast; our respective positions on controversial matters of international law as much as on current world issues such as Palestine, Kashmir, Iran, China, Afghanistan, Iraq, nuclear and disarmament, etc, are very different if not completely at odds. How can a return to ‘real’ civilian rule make a difference when there is so much divergence? Riedel is right to ask why Pakistan seems so obstreperous and why it has not yet buckled under. But his answer (that ‘they seem to think they are invulnerable because they control Nato’s supply line from Kabul to Karachi and have nuclear weapons’) is far too simplistic and irresponsible, not being based on facts and hard analysis. Admittedly, the nuclear shield does help Pakistan to deter India and hence generates a sense of confidence within the country. It ended Pakistan’s perennial need for allies, like America, to offset India’s conventional military superiority. In that sense American goodwill for Pakistan though important is no longer essential. But that is by no means the only reason why the Pakistani worm finally turned. Poor American diplomacy made worse by some crass insensitivity towards Pakistan has played a bigger role. Obama callously bypassed Pakistan during his visit to India; the US-India civil nuclear power deal is estimated to vastly augment India’s ability to multiply its stockpile of nuclear warheads; the opening of America’s armories to India; the failure to push harder on Kashmir after initial promises to do more; the Raymond Davis matter and Obama’s personal assurance that that the violence prone murderous CIA thug was a diplomat and scores of niggly incidents that remain unreported but take place almost daily in dealings between their respective officials. All these have accelerated the decline of the US-Pak relations. Other developments have also done further damage, sometimes dramatically, like over the Bin Laden raid and Mullen’s diatribe in the Congress against the ISI and that, too, just after he had a constructive session of talks with Kayani. The latest bone of contention is, of course, the safe haven granted by the US-Afghan forces to the murderous Fazlullah gang whose attacks into Pakistan from across the border have resulted in the death of nearly a hundred Pakistani soldiers. No wonder then many Pakistanis too are willing to throw caution to the wind and risk ending a relationship that is still, in some important respects, clearly in the interests of both countries. Currently the US really has very little to offer given the mood prevailing in the Congress and the dire warnings and threats that have been pouring out of Washington. These are identical in many respects to Riedel’s own advice to consider sanctions, hot pursuit, targeted killing of ISI officials and who knows perhaps also an invasion eventually. Far from reducing the army’s role in the country’s political life these ill-conceived threats will make it more intrusive even as politicians clamber over each other, for their own reasons, to come to the defence of the armed forces, thereby postponing even further the inception (not the return) to real civilian rule in Pakistan. Aristotle’s words seem to apply aptly to the current US-Pakistan imbroglio: If you have to get angry ‘let’s get angry at the right things and with the right people and in the right way and at the right time and for the right length of time’.

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