OVER A COFFEE: In the midst of strategic chaos —Dr Haider Shah
Both India and China are emerging economic giants and regional power comes with economic muscle. Fuming over India’s improved influence and therefore supporting a jihadi network amounts to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face
Like individuals, societies also suffer from various psychological illnesses. Judging by the hullabaloo the jihadi media has created in Pakistan, one can see the signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In this illness, an individual suffers from impulsiveness, restlessness, hyperactivity and inattentiveness, which often prevent children from learning and socialising well. On Pakistani TV screens, from female commentators to those that wear their divine piousness up their sleeves and from urban liberals with posh accents to sponsored defence analysts, all seem to be harping on about the same song. The US is losing the war in Afghanistan and is therefore blaming Pakistan for its own failure. It is not the statement itself that is boring me to death as I have myself in the recent past analysed the possibility of NATO forces leaving Afghanistan to its own fate not because of the Taliban but because of the economic recession that is menacingly knocking at European doors. What makes me cringe is the glory-filled voice with which these half a dozen analysts mention US failure in Afghanistan. Their Hamid Gulian zest for the defeat of NATO’s forces in Afghanistan becomes too overbearing at times. To be fair, however, a few people remain honourable exceptions among the electronic media anchors while Nawaz Sharif, among the politicians, looked different as they did not ride completely on the wild horse of jingoistic discourse.
Once upon a time, we lived in the blissful era of Ziaul Haq. There was a perfect strategic alignment of everything that existed in Pakistan. We were told that Pakistan was a gift of the Two-Nation Theory and, being a fort of Islam, it was just obvious that leading the then international jihad against communist non-believers was its natural duty. The army, jihadi organisations and the Jamaat-e-Islami all worked in tandem towards one strategic goal. The civilised world also approved of this strategic alignment of state organs as it was determined to defeat the much more potent problem of communism, led by a nuclear superpower. History moves in phases. With the collapse of the Soviet bloc the old priorities became redundant and a new realignment of friends and foes had to take place.
Pakistan has still not been able to redefine its priorities and continues to suffer from an identity crisis, and hence ADHD. In terms of strategic objectives, it is in complete chaos. Let us accept that the Two-Nation Theory is the essence of Pakistan and, consequently, it is the propagation of Islam that defines our strategic objectives. Then, how come India, where Muslims have no problem in pursuing their religion and where a Muslim can become the president, is our foe while China, which does not allow its 20 million Muslims to read the Quran in primary schools, is our closest friend? If pragmatism, and not religion, guides our national interest, then why should we be so happy over the Haqqani network’s influence in Afghanistan? True, Mr Haqqani was the US’s blue-eyed boy during the Afghan jihad days as he was enterprising and outmanoeuvred others in bagging the lion’s share. But we cannot remain frozen in history as time and tide wait for nobody. The Saddams, Hosni Mubaraks, Gaddafis and Haqqanis, when they outlive their utility, become disposable. Statecraft is not built around ‘till death do us part’ romances but on preservation of national interests in an ever changing world. If we are pragmatic then we need to know in what way the Haqqani network will further our interests in the region.
The security establishment seems to be inspired by the legacy of the British ‘great game’ in Afghanistan. One very important feature of the East India Company’s policy is, however, conveniently ignored. It was a private enterprise of London-based merchants whose primary aim was to earn profit for their shareholders. Glory for Britain was an accidental by-product. All its operations were first discussed in terms of profit making opportunity. Long before the march of the army of the Indus towards Kabul in 1838, Alexander Burnes was deputed on a special mission to survey the Indus for commercial navigation and then despatched to Kabul and Central Asia to hold trade related negotiations. Russia was seen as threatening the East India Company’s monopoly over Indo-European trade. British wars had a clear strategic objective — preserving the East India Company’s profiteering in India. What is the strategic objective of Pakistan in Afghanistan, a troubled terrain since Alexander right up to the NATO forces? Why does it want to be a player in Afghanistan? Both India and China are emerging economic giants and regional power comes with economic muscle. Fuming over India’s improved influence and therefore supporting a jihadi network amounts to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Even if the Taliban make major gains, anti-Taliban forces will also not vanish and our dream of finding access to central Asian trade through a friendly regime will remain a delusion. The backlash of a pro-Taliban Afghan policy in terms of socio-political catastrophe hardly appears in the cost-benefit analysis of our policy makers.
Sometime back I reviewed a few instances of paradigm shifts. Many nations have faced the difficulty of making a challenging choice. Japan and Germany laid down millions of lives against the allied powers. After their defeat, they, however, chose a different national path. Similarly Russia, once a communist superpower, had to face reality and is now an emerging capitalist power. More recently, Serbia was faced with a difficult choice: either to go for the economic wellbeing of its nationals or continue treading along the violent warpath of jingoistic nationalism. It traded its generals for the economic prosperity of future generations. We also face a similar situation today but we happen to be a martial race: “Sau pusht se hai paisha-e aba sipah gari” (to provide services to armies has been our livelihood for hundred generations). “We prefer throat slitting to earning a few bucks,” comments Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi. So, unlike the timid Serbians, we have shown no qualms in trading economic prosperity for generals. We perhaps also need to look towards nuclear North Korea and start learning lessons about living in famine and splendid isolation.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org