There is a certain mindlessness to the discussion in Pakistan of the country’s foreign and national security policy. All too often, nonsensical boilerplate statements are issued at the cost of fresh ideas and rigorous, integrative analysis.
On one side, there is the hawk who will argue for complete disengagement with the US and will shriek at every trade concession made with India. The hawk wrongly dismisses the reality of Pakistan’s dependence on the US for a stable northwest frontier. And the hawk wants Pakistan to become the next Asian tiger, but ignores both ASEAN’s role in southeast Asia’s economic boom and the reality that South Asia is the least integrated region in the world.
On the opposite extreme is the dove, whose incoherence, thank goodness, is generally faced with 140 character count limitations. The dove will tweet against partition from his or her fortress in Defence. And from the same location, the dove will protest any weapons test or exercise conducted by the military. A common refrain, or meaningless truism, is that Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons does no good against terrorists, implying that they serve no purpose at all. I have yet to see a dove make the same case for the US, India and the remaining nuclear powers (save for North Korea), all of which face a terrorist threat in some shape or form.
Most, if not all, countries have their hawks and doves. And with declining attention spans and growing mediums for public expression, political discourse these days tends to be quite vapid and segmented in many or most parts of the world. People preach to the converted. Hyperbole wins over measured, informed commentary. But that’s no excuse for fatalism. Those burdened with the responsibility of decision-making tend to seek out sane voices who can offer reality-based solutions. There is an opportunity to meet that demand.
Pakistan needs more voices who take a balanced approach and advocate a coherent middle ground that embraces the strengths and eschews the weaknesses of both hawks and doves. A middle path could be a form of pragmatism that rejects neither deterrence nor engagement, but accepts the reality of needing to deal with both conventional and non-conventional military threats and appreciates the greater efficiency and ethical superiority of non-military solutions to challenges and threats. Indeed, economic engagement with traditionally hostile states can be conceived as a form of deterrence that comes with tangible dividends.
Historical rivals France and Germany, both of whom fought over the Alsace-Lorraine, ended their conflict after the Second World War through the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), a precursor to the European Union. Through the ECSC, French Foreign Minister Robert Schumann sought to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”. And so, France and Germany jointly produced coal and steel — necessary raw materials for war — generating a co-dependence that directly made violent conflict between the two countries far less likely and helped pave the way for an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity for the two countries.
Still, France continues to hold on to its nuclear arsenal. I can’t imagine Britain, Germany or Spain invading France in the next 20 years, nor can I imagine China, Russia or even North Korea launching nuclear-armed missiles at Paris. But once nukes are there, they’re there. It’s hard to roll a nuclear programme back. And while we all hope for a non-nuclear future in South Asia, it’s not likely in the foreseeable future as Washington’s civil nuclear deal with New Delhi has freed up India’s indigenous uranium supplies for military use and India pushes forward with plans to nuclearise the Indian Ocean with its INS Arihant submarines.
A nuclear South Asia is a reality that Pakistan’s policymakers have to contend with, but it does not preclude the possibility of a durable and meaningful peace. Responsible military men must think of the contingencies for war. Responsible political leaders must be prepared for conflict, but aim for victory without war. Give them the power and intellectual capital to achieve it.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2012.