Strategic grandeur

Published: November 12, 2010

The writer is consulting editor, The Friday Times

As if Pakistan’s domestic woes were not troubling, the unravelling of the US strategy and its implications are eluding even the best of strategists. Mind you, Pakistan is a place every third person is a ‘strategy’ expert and the term ‘strategic’, thanks to the militarisation of the Pakistani mind, is an ever-popular reference. The ideological domination of Pakistan’s discourse is a palpable reality. This is why, across the political spectrum one finds a sense of victory over the failure of US strategy in Afghanistan. This failure is interpreted as the validation of Pakistan’s ‘genuine’ and ‘legitimate’ interest in Afghanistan.

What has worried me most in recent weeks is the capitulation of the liberal-secular chatterati to this pop-discourse of military war games. One is not surprised when former generals and the hawkish hordes of former Foreign Office mandarins express their jubilation. But when supposedly rational and progressive experts pontificate about how ‘we’ have made ‘them’ fail, it is simply shocking.

This identification of Pakistani nationalism and patriotism with the invasion of Kabul through proxies is a strange phenomenon. If I am not being too cynical, national pride, even in the jingoistic confines of nation-state narratives, has several other dimensions which are simply ignored. Those who are celebrating the US/Nato withdrawal (full or partial) are prima facie ignorant of the grave consequences of a Taliban regime in southern Afghanistan. Three questions are of import. First, whether the delinking of Afghani Taliban will take place in actual terms or not. Second, where would the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan be within the cooperation matrix; and third, what will happen to the larger issue of extremism and sectarianism in Pakistan?

Thus far, these three issues remain unaddressed. The Jekyll-Hyde nature of state engagement with the issue of militancy is not sustainable. Above all, Pakistan’s tottering democracy is going to be further strained if the tide of Talibanisation gets out of control. This is where we find the policy debate unimaginative and regurgitating the national security fables, removed from the long-term interests of Pakistan. We need to reassess state priorities. Our economy is in doldrums due to the refusal of Pakistan’s elites to pay taxes and their perennial squandering of public resources. Our youth is directionless, trapped in outdated collapsing education systems that do not provide skills. And jobs are not keeping pace with the demand. Sectarianism is now embedded in the social fabric and extremism has acquired legitimacy under the dominant ideology of global political Islam. In these circumstances, ruling Kabul to contain the enemy — India — is hardly something to celebrate. If anything, Pakistan’s economy will get a boost through regional economic cooperation. But these concerns are marginal to mainstream strategic thinking. In fact, strategy is now a reflection of an adhoc, short-term view of military might and dominance.

Pakistan is under attack from within. Its geostrategic location, admittedly, makes it difficult to focus exclusively on domestic imperatives. How can the good Taliban in the neighbourhood be good for the country? We are in an intractable situation, victims of our history and geography. Most importantly, we are victims of our own delusions of grandeur. Any change will have to re-engineer the Pakistani mind and disarm it of martial narratives. A tall order, but without achieving this our downward slide will continue and is likely to accelerate once the Americans start pulling out and our strategic assets march on to reclaim the depth we had gained in the 1990s.

Are we condemned to repeat history? Only time will tell.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Nov 13, 2010 - 12:08AM

    Extremely well written article. Brilliant!Recommend

  • Nov 13, 2010 - 12:10AM

    Those celebrating “our” victory over “them” and preparing for the American withdrawal are counting their chickens before they are hatched. Our sensationalism has camouflaged other pressing realities which we choose to ignore or omit. First, the US may be seeking to open lines of communication with the Taliban to end hostilities. But then the deadline that was set of July 2011, was never offered as something done and dusted. The UK for example expects to stay in, along with NATO in Afghanistan till 2015! Why isnt that date thrown around? We are believing our own propaganda, and tripping over ourselves. The same people who are ranting in TV News shows about American designs in the region and how, if America withdraws everything will return to normal are the same people who throughout the 1990s and early 2000s ranted about how America gave up on us and didn’t finish the job after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Does anyone really believe that a US withdrawal from Afghanistan in less than a year will mean by this time next year FATA will be peaceful and tranquil, and the road blocs that litter our neighbourhoods will disappear, and the violence will end? No it wont, and why? As the other writes they are many other pressing issues which we ignore and second, the last ten years has created space for the Taliban both in Pakistan and Afghanistan to operate freely. They have control over vast stretches of areas, a network of raising finance via taxation, jizya, smuggling, drug running, extortion and kidnapping, they have raised courts and parallel institutions. Who really believes that they will pack all of this up, and relinquish control and go home? All those celebrating, are celebrating prematurely, they may have won influence, but the death tally continues to rise. Whose the winner again?Recommend

  • Nov 13, 2010 - 12:24AM

    Imran Khan, Hameed Gul, Hamid Mir, Fazlur Rehman, Jamaat-e-Islami need to understand this, and preach it to their followers. Otherwise, this mess will continue. Recommend

  • D. Asghar
    Nov 13, 2010 - 12:25AM

    Well said Raza Bhai, we are seeing the goodness of the “Good” Talibans, day in and day out. It is high time that we become a “Talib” of our own existence and probe into this particular point, very deeply for our own survival. Recommend

  • Haneya Zuberi
    Nov 13, 2010 - 3:42AM

    It was such a refreshing read, RR. Recommend

  • faraz
    Nov 13, 2010 - 9:43AM

    On one hand, our “strategists” keep reminding us of our geostrategic importance, the trade routes and pipelines that can pass through Pakistan etc, but on the other hand we are bent upon imposing a medieval regime on Kabul. Will the world open up trade routes across Afghanistan and Pakistan, once taliban are in power? What about the strategic importance, if we cannot carry out trade with anyone? US exit may have one benifit; it will allow our mullahs to direct the local extremists towards Afghanistan just as we did in the 90s, towards “true jihad” against against anti-taliban elements. But i am not sure thats possible; foreign forces should have drawn jihadis towards Afghanistan, instead they have move inwards towards our mosques, Shrines and markets. Recommend

  • Nov 13, 2010 - 10:49AM

    Absolutely brilliant sir.A very clear headed assessment of the situation.I remember reading somewhere that every now and then the military leadership of Paklistan convinces itself that it is in a winning position, and then disaster follows for Pakistan. It happened in 1965, 1971, 1999 and seems to be happening now.God bless the people of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Qasim
    Nov 13, 2010 - 11:59AM

    I think that vision of this article is not new but having powerful content …………Recommend

  • Qazi
    Nov 13, 2010 - 12:23PM

    The government must revisit the syllabi taught in the schools and remove all the distortions in history only then this identity confusion can be removed. The government must take all the necessary steps to change this garrison state structure in order to change this militant mindset of the youth. Legislature must legislate against this growing terrorism and Government must make all the security agencies act against these so called assets. This time is for action, and only the Government can act.Recommend

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