National security, nato supplies and Afghanistan

Rules of business have always dictated that matters of foreign agreements be routed through cabinet. I’m not aware of the nature of agreements immediately following 9/11, since it was Chief Executive Pervez Musharraf’s setup – the PML-Q government wasn’t formed till November 2002. But in our five years, no agreements came forward that allowed foreign presence on bases, nato supply rights or drone attacks.

As things stand now, rules of business regarding these matters are pretty much the same. The only change is the parliamentary committee on national security, which I’m assuming is a permanent arrangement, not a specials committee. I believe this is a positive addition, since it will require representation from all parties and hopefully consensus will be developed on important matters.

Now, I don’t want to sound negative, but previous resolutions have failed to control drone attacks, despite warnings of stopping the nato supply line. After the Salala incident, when we finally moved to halt supplies, drone attacks stopped only temporarily. I hope now they finally come to a definitive end. But from what I can make of American posturing and rhetoric, I don’t see these attacks stopping permanently. From what I can gather, if they find actionable intelligence they consider credible, they will not hesitate from carrying out an attack without forewarning.

Going forward, certain questions need to be addressed. As regards allowing only non-lethal supplies through Pakistan, firstly I hope they don’t end up like the previous two resolutions – unanimously passed but reduced to little more than pieces of paper in practice.  Also, how will they monitor the air traffic? Many planes will just use the air passage, and pass without landing. How can the government ensure complicity with the resolution? On ground too it will be interesting to see what procedures are introduced to monitor transit traffic.

Terrorism and fallout on Pakistan
The problem of terrorism is obviously complicated, and the phenomenon needs to be broken down into components to understand completely. One, generic terrorism, the kind that attacks dispersed targets – nato, Pakistan, the west, etc. Two, we have observed elements dedicated to resisting occupying nato forces in Afghanistan, which we are often accused of aiding. Three, outfits far more sophisticated whose theatre of war is Pakistan. These groups are actually assets backed by numerous players, enabling them to attack Pakistan through proxies. Therefore, it is important that when the world addresses the menace of terror, it give due weight to Pakistan’s problems. We have played a crucial role in arresting the rise of generic terrorism. We even handed over 600 people to foreign agencies despite absence of requisite extradition treaties.

I have long believed that Pakistan’s Afghan policy U-turn immediately after 9/11 was hasty. The government failed to leverage our geopolitical position to its advantage, and badly miscalculated the potential negative spillover of granting concessions to America. The result is before us today. We extended our bases, allowed nato use of air and land routes, and even allowed drone attacks. We have emerged as the biggest victim of terrorism in the world, losing around 35-40 thousand people to it. And still, not only is Pakistan’s part not appreciated by the international community, rather we are condemned as harboring and nurturing terrorist militias.

We have become the ‘usual suspects’ of international terrorism. Whenever there is an incident, fingers start pointing towards Pakistan even before proof is gathered. Therefore, there is an urgent need for serious policy review. The present policy has already cost us $40-50 billion in damages, not to mention deep rooted social costs. The economy has collapsed, and our military is engaged in existential operations within our borders. The present policy has proved ruinous. We must first call to account leaders responsible for these mistakes.

The year ahead
2012 is a very crucial year for Pakistan. I’m happy that at least top parties have begun serious discussions. Brainstorming among decision-makers is always a good sign. It signals the resumption of a very important process, of taking collective ownership of decisions. The US election will add to complications this year will bring, as it will invariably involve gimmickry. The two years following the election will tell a lot, because Washington will have no electoral considerations, and will act according to interest and instinct.

Let us resist giving simple explanations for very complicated issues. Although I was not a public official at the time, but I say, on record, with full confidence, that throughout the decade of the ‘80s, not one Pakistani fought in the war with the Soviets. Nor did any Arabs fight the Soviets, contrary to popular opinion. Outside fighters began flocking into Afghanistan by the time their civil war started. Of course, the Americans had comfortably retreated to watch the Soviet Union disintegrate from across the Atlantic. And in the civil war, Pakistan also took sides, hence the alienation in the Northern Alliance during and after the time of the Taleban.

That Pakistan subsequently channeled assets into Kashmir is no secret any longer. In hindsight, it was bad policy. Firstly because some of these assets simply vanished in India, and remain outside Pakistan’s sphere of influence, and secondly because most of those that returned too are not in our control. Instead they have formed splinter groups, and are mostly engaged in a struggle against the government.

There is an inherent problem in our lot of politicians. In the 20-25 years that I have indulged in active politics, I have seen conventional wisdom shift from the beuraucracy hindering politicians to now the establishment playing the proverbial spanner in the works. I’ve never known us to be free to formulate policies and indulge in healthy long term debate. Yet there is nothing stopping us. I seriously doubt if any party has a long term views on Afghanistan. What are we looking to do after the coalition withdrawal? Is there a cohesive policy? What about our standoff with India? What about our water problems? Do parliament and cabinet discuss these across the political spectrum?

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