It seems that our country has an abundance of foreign policy apologists, who are good at criticising a particular policy, but always shy away from giving concrete suggestions on the way forward. This could be due to their lack of innovative ideas, or that they’re just not who they claim to be. Inches and inches of column space is wasted on their narratives of history as everyone believes and tries to convince the other that their version of past events are the most accurate and ‘real’. It’s unfortunate that their narratives are buried in the past. Perhaps, this is why Pakistan has always lacked concrete policy directions.
Foreign policy ‘experts’ have created an exclusive club for themselves and label themselves as the foreign policy ‘elite’. This elite club only voices the opinions of those who belong to it, either because they have the highest of degrees or because they have appeared on-air too many times and have earned the title of an ‘analyst’. Any other opinion or suggestion is either disqualified as being nonsensical or coming from someone who is not ‘elite’ enough.
Since the proposition of supporting the Saudis to arm and train Syrian rebels has surfaced, there has been staunch opposition to that every idea, and for good reason –– I agree; that the perceived costs outweigh the benefits; that we might get entangled in an Arab civil war, considering the problems at home and that our plate is already full; that we might tick off Iran and spark yet another proxy war. But perhaps, not all options have been considered that might allow us to turn a horrible situation into a more favourable one –– for us. Our apologist ‘elite’ club has a tendency to cave into their moralistic instincts of doing the right thing, which at times, hampers our ability to achieve our national security objectives by all means necessary. Similarly, many suggest that Pakistan should solely deal with domestic issues and let others deal with their own problems. Such ‘opinion-makers’ fail to realise that the tools of statecraft function simultaneously; that foreign affairs and domestic challenges must be dealt with in tandem, not in isolation.
Considering that the government is bound to tow the Saudi line, we might as well adopt their model of exporting our bad apples so we don’t have to deal with them at home. For instance, we can pitch this to our jihadis that either they can face the wrath soon-to-be unleashed by the Pakistani military, or opt to change their theatre of war and shift the direction of their barrel to Assad’s Syria. Pakistan’s cosmic warriors, or any cosmic warriors, in addition to fighting for a cause, are also warriors by profession. They are always on the lookout for a theatre and Syria provides us just that. Completely out of the blue, Syria is an opportunity, a window, if you will, for us to pitch to our homegrown militants that either they can face annihilation, or continue their ‘noble’ cause elsewhere.
If pitched convincingly, we could ship all of our religious warriors on a one-way ticket (emphasis added) to Syria and not have to deal with them on our soil; that if they want to profess their jihad, they should pack up from Waziristan and set up shop in Syria or the border towns of Jordan. That is, if they agree to such a proposition, we won’t have to launch a full-scale offensive, bomb towns and villages that we would have to reconstruct, which we can ill-afford financially anyway, and not have to deal with the exodus of IDPs. Doing this would lessen our burden of dealing with non-state actors and, at the same time, make good on any agreement (if there is any) reached with our Saudi ‘brethren’. Some will say that this amounts to Pakistan exporting terrorism. It does not. We’ll just be providing a service.
As far as a potential blowback from Iran is concerned, history and experience shows it is easier and more manageable to deal with a state than with non-state actors. And as for the foreign office’s rebuttal on the Syrian policy ‘u-turn’, well, if Pakistan was to commit to such an undertaking, it will be extremely clandestine, so this rebuttal shouldn’t be of any surprise.
It’s time we get our best intelligence officers on this case. If the Waziristan-based militants reject the proposition, then we continue our current course. No harm, no foul. Back to being an apologist, I suppose.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2014.
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