The price of strategic miscalculations

Years 2022 and 2023 will be remembered for miscalculations jeopardising the country’s economy, politics and governance

Dr Moonis Ahmar September 12, 2023
The writer is former Dean Faculty of Social Science, University of Karachi and can be reached at


Years 2022 and 2023 will be remembered in Pakistan for several strategic miscalculations on the part of those who wield power as well as the opposition PTI — jeopardising the country’s economy, politics and governance. Strategic miscalculations means when decisions of vital nature are taken without redeeming ramifications and lead to colossal damage. When the leadership is devoid of political acumen and foresight and is incapable of learning from past blunders, the outcome is strategic miscalculations.

A close account of back to back strategic miscalculations in the year 2022 would reveal that the price of misjudgment is being paid in 2023. Nations in crisis are tested because of strategic calculations and if they fail to conceive costs and gains of their decisions, it means those at the helm are incapable of making right kind of calculations before they venture on a major policy change.

The Soviet military intervention of Afghanistan in December 1979 turned out to be a strategic miscalculation and sucked Moscow in a decade-long war. Likewise, the US decision to intervene in Afghanistan and Iraq lacked the right kind of calculations in terms of financial, physical and military costs and led to its unceremonious withdrawal from the two conflict zones. President Vladimir Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine in February 2022 proved to be a strategic blunder which has plunged Moscow in a vicious war and hurting sanctions imposed by the West. There may be countless examples of strategic miscalculations which led to adverse implications like the US military intervention in Vietnam in 1965 which after a decade led to its unceremonious withdrawal in April 1975.

Coming back to Pakistan, there is a history of strategic miscalculations with severe negative implications. The decision to impose martial law in October 1958 devastated the unity of East and West Pakistan as the sense of deprivation in its eastern wing deepened because all the instruments of power ranging from military to bureaucracy and economy were controlled from the West. Operation Gibraltar and Grand Slam in 1965 were launched without redeeming implications that intervention in the Indian occupied Kashmir will prompt New Delhi to attack Lahore leading to the outbreak of September 1965 war. Likewise, decision not to transfer power to the majority party, Awami League, following the December 1970 elections and to launch operation ‘search light’ to crush Bengali resistance on March 26, 1971 led to the breakup of Pakistan.

In post-1971 Pakistan, strategic errors on the part of various regimes proved counterproductive like the miscalculation made by the then Prime Minister ZA Bhutto by announcing early elections on January 7, 1977. To the ultimate surprise of Mr Bhutto, fragmented opposition parties united under the banner of Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) and challenged his rule in the election campaign. The PNA, after losing elections launched an anti-government movement alleging rigging — something that culminated in the imposition of martial law on July 5, 1977. President Zia-ul-Haq’s decision to support the Afghan jihad following the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan plunged the country into sectarian violence, drug trafficking and Kalashnikov culture. There are countless examples of strategic miscalculations during 1980s, 1990s and post-2000 era which led to degeneration of state and society of Pakistan.

In the current context, strategic miscalculations made on April 9 by the opposition PDM for regime change by initiating a vote of no-confidence that removed the then Prime Minister Imran Khan from the government deepened the political, economic and governance crises in the country. On April 9, the value of the rupee versus the dollar was 189; petrol price was 150 rupees a liter; wheat flour was being sold for 75 rupees per kg and sugar 100 rupees per kg; per unit cost of electricity was up to 32 rupees. Today, the aforementioned prices have nearly doubled and one can witness widespread protests and demonstrations all over Pakistan over surging prices which were primarily the result of regime change. Since April 9, 2022 more than one million people have left Pakistan out of frustration and after losing hope about a better future. Those succeeding the PTI government were more interested in getting their NAB cases withdrawn rather than serving people.

Short sighted and myopic approach of PDM member parties, especially PML-N and PPP, led to economic disaster, political chaos and rise in bad governance. When the focus of PDM and their patrons was to single out PTI chairman and cut him down to size instead of seriously dealing with issues plaguing the country, the outcome is further degeneration of state and society.

In-depth analysis of strategic miscalculation needs to be done from three angles.

First, most of national disasters, including the disintegration of Pakistan, took place because of strategic miscalculations on the part of those wielding power. Parochial and myopic approach without redeeming the implications of their decisions led to the aggravation of crises like the one which took place following the April 2022 regime change. When there is no realisation on the part of those making strategic calculations of their decisions, how one can expect sanity to prevail? One can only expect smooth sailing when proper brain storming is done on matters of vital interests with correct reasoning, analytical approach and critical thinking.

Second, when wishful thinking and unrealistic mindset compel decision-makers to calculate the pros and cons of their decisions, what happens at the end of the day is miscalculation. A case in point is Imran Khan’s miscalculation after being voted out of the PM House that if he got the Punjab and KP assemblies dissolved, it would ultimately lead to general elections. Khan miscalculated the response of ECP, PDM and the establishment as they foiled all his attempts and even refused to comply with the order of Supreme Court to hold elections in Punjab by May 14. The PTI chairman also miscalculated popular support behind him for an open defiance. When he was arrested for the second time in early August, there was no popular reaction which could have compelled the then regime to give a second thought to their plans.

Third, the PTI chairman miscalculated popular support for him, those wielding power also failed to neutralise his resilience against state oppression. Focus on excluding Khan was a great miscalculation that carried a heavy cost.

In order to avoid miscalculations, those making decisions must be pragmatic, realistic and broadminded in their approach and action.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2023.

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