A Feckless Leadership Invites Aggression

It all started with a selfish, egotistic and insecure military dictator’s abject surrender to a threat from a superpower.

Primarily for personal gains and strengthening the military’s hold on power in the country, he succumbed to do Uncle Sam’s bidding and agreed to place Pakistan’s resources at its disposal. The airbases were handed over. Ground and airspace was open to the NATO forces. The Pakistan army was ordered to break the time-tested policy of not to militarily take on the armed pathan tribes in FATA. Thus, funds started trickling in for the services rendered. But while the dictate was readily complied with, no conditions or quid pro quo was secured in return for the commitments made.

Before he was pushed out, the general-president left the legacy of a political deal midwifed by Washington and London, which was based on a preposterous law that legitimised corruption and criminal offences committed by thousands of wayward politicians. However, these politicians later assumed the reins of power at the federal level. With the passage of time they have proved to be the wily dictator’s worthy successors. In fact tainted, weak and vulnerable as they are, they let the overbearing superpower escalate pressure and unwholesome intervention on the country. The unwarranted drone attacks increased enormously, despite unanimous resolutions passed by the Pakistani Parliament to stop the violation of the country’s sovereignty. These attacks have not only resulted in the killing of hundreds of civilians (along with a few Al-Qaeda leaders), but have also given rise to horrendous suicide bombings all over the country spreading terror and misery in all the four provinces. The military operations in FATA and adjoining places have also taken a heavy toll on the displacement of civilians in the tribal areas. More than 100,000 Pakistani troops for the last seven or so years have remained engaged with the militants, forcing thousands of local inhabitants to leave their homes and hearths. According to one estimate, 30,000 civilians and 5,000 security forces have lost their lives. These numbers have exceeded the total American casualties in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And as against $15 billion or so reported to have been received from the USA, Pakistan’s losses during the period in question are reckoned to be more than $60 billion. Interestingly enough all along the American administration has been pressing Pakistan to “do more”.

It is, indeed, ironic that USA’s failure in Afghanistan is, to a considerable extent, attributed to Pakistan’s military for not doing enough, bringing to mind how Cambodia was scapegoated when Washington’s war in Vietnam had come to an ignominious end. Presently, Pakistan is being targeted for the debacle in the neighbouring country.

But some major questions are: With all the might of the NATO forces equipped as they are with the state-of-the-art war machine, how come they have performed so poorly when it comes to take care of the Taliban entering Afghanistan from Pakistan? Why are there so few check posts on the Afghan side as compared to the numbers on the Pakistani side of the border?

Indeed, there are limits and constraints of capacity and national interests, which Pakistan has to keep in view while agreeing to extend operations as coerced by the US. Instead of recognising Pakistan’s point of view, Washington has been hectoring Islamabad and threatening to take unilateral action on its soil. After the Abbottabad strike the possibility of such an operation has increased. The American media, the Congressmen, the State Department and the Pentagon had been building up a case against the republic (Pakistan) accusing its military and intelligence services of complicity with the Haqqani group of Taliban considered to be residing in North Waziristan. Pakistan denies any such complicity; the ISI has also been accused of backing up the Taliban in their activities in Afghanistan.

But little has been done by the federal government to engage the American administration and media to discuss the above mentioned contentious issues. Influential visitors have descended from Washington frequently to put pressure on our political and military rulers. It virtually has been a one-way traffic. Some isolated visits by the COAS and DG ISI, but practically nothing has been done by our civilian leaders to engage their counterparts. There has been total absence of public diplomacy. This scribe in his columns has repeatedly highlighted this lapse with little response from Islamabad.

In the meantime, the anti-Pakistan lobby in Washington has been raising the temperature at the Congress, the Pentagon, the State Department and in the media in various ways. Any attack in Kabul is straightaway traced to the ISI. The latest statements of Panetta and Mullen are a virtual declaration of hostilities against Pakistan. Seldom is such a strong language used against a declared ally.

Unfortunately, our feckless leadership is utterly unprepared and till recently unconcerned with the ominous developments. So the whole burden of dealing with the threat has fallen on the GHQ. The Foreign Office’s denials and the discredited Interior Minister’s specious warning, as a reaction to sharp declarations by top American functionaries, carry little weight.

Pakistan presently is beset with natural disasters and internal strife, both mismanaged by an inept and profligate national government, also lacking spine and sagacity. The opposition is weak and fragmented. Will the foreign threat of an external attack stir up and bring it together? Why can’t our senior leaders led by Nawaz Sharif fly over to Washington and engage the authorities there to address the issues bedevilling the US-Pakistan relations?

It is time Pakistan takes up these issues at the highest political level. Most instructive, in this context, is a report jointly prepared by the US Council on Foreign Relations and Aspen Institute India, which inter alia speaks about “possible contingencies” regarding the developments in Pakistan, including the possibility of the country’s nuclear complex “being” penetrated by terrorists. According to the study, Pakistan is facing a systemic decline. It asks India and the US to work jointly in dealing with the emerging situation in Afghanistan.