Ten years on, Pakistan – used by the US as the bulwark against Soviet-Russian expansionism in the 1980s – reels under the consequences of multiple crises including political polarisation, insecurity raked up by al Qaeda and its Pakistani Taliban affiliates, an insurgency in Balochistan and an economic downturn marked by stagnation, inflation and diminishing investments.
Most of these crises and the cumulative predicament began with the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States.
After General Pervez Musharraf’s September 19 speech, when he offered President George Bush Pakistan’s “unconditional support”, the US-led coalition unleashed a bombing campaign on targets in Kabul in a bid to dismantle the hosts of Osama bin Laden, that is, the Taliban regime. This war, initially thought to be a positive venture for the world as well as the region’s security, has so far turned out to a political and financial disaster not only for the US, but also for Pakistan.
Let us have a look at what the past decade has meant for Pakistan: more than 35,000 innocent lives lost including roughly 3,000 security personnel and the displacement of millions of Pakistanis from conflict-hit areas in the northwest.
The Economic Survey of Pakistan (2010-2011) says that the financial cost of war stood at $2.69 billion in 2001-2002, and soared to $17.8 billion in 2010-2011. The cumulative cost, it says is over $67 billion.
The resultant singular focus on internal security and counter-terrorism has directly impeded socio-economic growth. Both gobble up roughly $1.5 billion, in addition to the six billion dollars that goes into the defense budget any way.
A geo-political cost that Pakistan continues to pay is its branding as a ‘failed state’ or ‘one of the most dangerous places on earth’. As a result, foreign investments have dried up, and the tourist industry, is a shadow of what it was before 9/11.
The Taliban upheaval in Swat and Malakand as well as South Waziristan has led to the displacement of millions due to the military operation. This was followed by devastating floods in 2010 which simply aggravated the crisis of governance that had already been in the making before the 9/11 tragedy.
As the war on terror sucked Pakistan deeper into one crisis after another, the response to it has been wanting; the attacks on the Army General Headquarters on October 10, 2009, three ISI regional centres in 2009-2010, the siege of the PNS Mehran Naval base in Karachi on May 22, 2011 are only a few examples of the lack of preparation on the part of security agencies. These agencies still seem to be in a reactive mode and it appears that their response to acts of terror is still based on the conventional intrusive approach – personal information gathering and poor technological skills coupled with complacency, socio-political factors such as ethno-linguistic relations within the community and at times even political pressures.
Secondly, except for a small show-case initiative of a deradicalisation programme ‘Sabaoon’ run by the army, the government has little to flag in terms of a sustained, comprehensive and focused counter-radicalisation programme to address religious extremism. While Sabaoon represents a good effort to rehabilitate hard-core militants, it certainly cannot cater to the radicalisation of thought that is gradually taking place in the society.
Thirdly, radical militant movements drew quite a bit of strength from their nexus with the military establishment in the past. Much of this nexus is clearly broken, but a lot has yet to be done to send a loud and unambiguous message to militants of all shades that their services are no longer required.
This message in fact constitutes the core of any canvassing that Pakistan wants to do in its favour. The Haqqani Network and Lashkare Taiba as well as Jaishe Mohammad remain a big question mark. Only tangible action against them will help Pakistan in conveying to the world that it has turned its back on policies that use militancy as a foreign policy tool and looked at non-state actors as important crutches for advancing geo-strategic objectives.
The elimination of Osama bin Laden and an extremely muted reaction by his sympathisers offers a big opportunity to the Pakistani establishment to change its view on India and Afghanistan. Without this, official claims of a shift in the security paradigm will simply sound hollow.
Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security studies.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2011.