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The Future Of Pakistan’s National Security Wisdom: A Change Long Coming

General (r) Ahmed Mahmud, then Inter-Services Intelligence chief during Musharraf’s era sat in the office of United States Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage on the day of 9/11 attacks. He was in the US on that day by happenstance for a security related visit to discuss Osama Bin Laden. As the incredible events of the day unfolded, it is widely known amongst strategy makers that the Chief was told that Pakistan is either with the US or against it. This heralded a significant change in demands of the international community from Pakistan.  The era of Jamat-ud-Dawa, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Taliban as strategic assets for the west and Pakistan in the region was over. The baggage of the cold war, earlier orchestrated via significant funding, weaponry and an ISI-CIA alliance to contain the Soviets in Afghanistan had come to its watershed moment.

National security wisdom of a state often fits neatly into grand strategy, a master-plan constructed deliberately to achieve long term interests and goals of a state. This is done by prioritising consciously held beliefs amongst decision makers about state’s direction and end goals. But what are strongly held beliefs amongst Pakistan’s decision makers constituting the national security establishment? In the 1980’s, General Zia and his strong cohort of army generals knew well that it was crucial for Pakistan to align itself with the west to counter an impending Soviet threat on the Afghanistan border. Post-Soviet withdrawal, national security wisdom began pivoting around India again. Policymakers and strategic masterminds of Pakistan’s defence have always remained in a security dilemma about India and its intentions. The hollowed past of 1965 war and Indian invasion that led to breakup of Pakistan rings deep amongst national security elite of the country.

Pakistan’s identity is created out of the Indian threat. It is perhaps the major reason for high rise nationalistic sentiments that dominate generations within our border (but nationalism is a topic for a later day). The Indian threat however shapes our tactical and strategic weaponry: Ghauri and Shaheen missiles have been carefully designed to impact and target areas across the border while the nuclear programme was constructed primarily as deterrent to counter an Indian conventional or nuclear attack. Amongst this strategic thinking, it was viewed that leftovers of the cold war i.e. Jamat Ud Dawa, Lashkar-e-Taiba and offshoots of these armed and charity groups were crucial proxies to the fight Indian oppression in Kashmir.

Pakistan and India have been locked into a situation of grave proxy wars. Whilst India had been long busy in spreading grass roots hatred for Pakistan through terror networks in Balochistan and using Central Asian offshoots of Taliban to destabilise Pakistan. The latter viewed armed groups as pivotal to counter Indian threat in Kashmir and so and so forth. Perhaps, General (r) Assad Durrani’s statement at the Oxford Union fits best here as he spoke of hard core national interest that has dominated national security wisdom. Post 2001 however, all of that had to change as the geopolitical environment had completely altered.

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Pakistan’s grand strategy and national security wisdom proved to be short sighted and self-defeating. Pakistan may have suffered the most in the war on terror and done the most on war on terror but these groups have sabotaged our image and brought sheer international humiliation. The US got away by using anti human rights regimes to quell communism whereas India is hardly in lime light for Kulbhushan Jadhav’s RAW-backed spy ring funding terror networks in Balochistan. Truth be told, the history of international relations is littered with use of proxies for national interest. The difference however is that these countries play according to the unsaid and covert rules of international relations i.e. there is full deniability as far as proxy doesn’t exist inside the country. Send them away, everyone nods happily. Yes, international relations centred on geopolitics and national interest are a harsh reality.

Whilst we might have played our role in eradicating terrorism from South Waziristan, Swat, Mingora and other northern areas, we have failed to convince and persuade the international community about willingness and decisiveness to eradicate various extremist groups from the country. Any tacit or the remotest of inactivity to curb them equates to, as seen, a legitimate tool for India to blame Pakistan of being a terrorist state. An ex-head of British Intelligence once remarked in a private conversation that the authority and expertise the Pakistani state commands on gathering intelligence on terror groups and forging alliances in the region is unparalleled due to its tumultuous but vital experience in the Cold War.

This is precisely why the US has asked Pakistan to broker the talks with Taliban in relation to Afghanistan. It is evidenced by the fact that the United States cannot afford to lose a strategic ally in Pakistan whose eyes and ears are best equipped at determining the level of insurgency in Kandahar, locating hideouts of key terrorists, forming coalitions and bringing Taliban on board for negotiations. Hence, a corollary of that is: Pakistan is viewed best placed from the western prism to counter and effectively wipe out these groups from not just harming its internal security but conducting activities wherever they wish using Pakistan’s territory. The benchmark then is raised for Pakistan i.e. even if it doesn’t explicitly or implicitly support these groups, it is still expected to take conclusive action against them.

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The national security wisdom on the international front however is severely incompatible with the international community’s demands, perception and an overwhelmingly powerful Indian lobby. For example, US-India Political Action Committee, which delivered several briefings to members of Congress and the Senate to obtain approval and support for the infamous India-US nuclear deal in 2008 has been vying to put Pakistan on the FATF list. Most of our negotiations with the IMF are boiling down to whether the country is put on FATF or not. Our strongest ally, China, has had to suffer embarrassment to veto western resolutions against certain individuals. Convincing, overt and swift action against these groups will be a bigger victory following the release of Abhinandan, orchestrated by western powers much to dismay of PTI supporters.

Credit however must be given where it is due. It is a welcome move by the current government and Prime Minister to take resounding action by placing controversial figures in prison and on the banned list. And while we cheer for this move, let us not forget, that in the midst of the government having decided to take swift and internationally convincing action against members of the banned groups, the man who first broke this story about PML-N’s government demanding this is facing a treason charge whereas Ex-PM is in prison (Hint: DawnLeaks)

This is perhaps Pakistan’s grand strategy – it is defined by short term-ism and is wrangled in institutional tussles. Opening it up for debate and acknowledging flaws is the best way forward.

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