We are living in an age of complete uncertainty about our future. The blighted state of Pakistan is sinking in the quagmire of man-made and natural disasters. Wherever one goes, one is confronted with the question: What will become of Pakistan? Will it survive as a nation?
Journalists are trained to analyse a situation on the basis of facts available to the best of their ability and competence. Despite the punditry and the self-righteous demeanour of many of our colleagues, embellished with an aura of being the best informed, the ability to predict the future is limited. In the present mess that we are in, it does not take much to say that things will get worse before they get any better!
The feel-good factor about the country amongst our citizenry is at an all time low. The misgovernment and maladroitness of our leadership and the rhetoric of the politicians have vastly contributed to the present state of insecurity.
At one time, saying that Pakistan was failing as a state was tantamount to treason. But now we have become so desensitised to the description that no one even notices when those in the opposition make the claim at the top of their voice that we are failing.
The rampant floods in Sindh and the dengue epidemic in Punjab are natural disasters. But what is inexcusable is the dismally slow response of the governments involved and the manner in which squabbling politicians have exploited the misery of the suffering people. Added to this is the perennial economic downturn resulting in untold miseries for the proverbial common man.
With the domestic scene already so dismal, our security situation in the region has dramatically deteriorated in the past few weeks as well. Pakistan’s ‘ally’, the US, has gone to town on the ISI openly accusing it of being in cahoots with the Haqqani Network, threatening us with dire consequences including the real possibility of ‘boots on the ground.’
Vehement denials from the top military and civilian leadership are not being paid heed to by Washington. As quickly as it is losing in Afghanistan, it is also losing patience with Islamabad.
Pakistan is in a nutcracker situation. On one side, it is incurring the wrath of the Americans for refusing to move into North Waziristan against the Afghan Taliban, namely the Haqqani Network. On the other, the Pakistani Taliban spearheaded by the TTP have unleashed a wave of terror across the country sans Punjab.
In this sense, we are reaping the fallout of our flawed policies best explained by a Punjabi proverb: being forced to eat a hundred onions as well as simultaneously being thrashed a hundred times. The US and NATO forces are not happy with us. In their perception, we are not only harbouring their enemies in our badlands but also allowing them a launching pad to operate inside Afghanistan.
The Taliban, on the other hand, perceive that Islamabad is doing Washington’s bidding in crushing them. There is not a shred of evidence that the ISI or the military facilitated the US Navy SEALS successful putsch against bin Laden on May 2 this year.
On the contrary, our security establishment has been accused by Washington of complicity with Al-Qaeda on the matter. Despite this, there has been a dramatic escalation in Taliban terrorist attacks on targets inside Pakistan.
It is now amply evident that the Pentagon (under its new head Leon Panetta) and the CIA (also under a new head, David Petraeus) are calling the shots on Pakistan. The good cop, namely the State Department, has taken a back seat for now. Hence, our foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, after a lengthy meeting with her counterpart, Hillary Clinton, saying that there was no ultimatum from Washington was probably speaking the truth.
The top US military officer Admiral Mike Mullen and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta are doing the real talking. In the aftermath of a lengthy discussion with the COAS General Kayani recently in Spain, Mullen has bluntly accused Pakistan of “exporting terrorism to Afghanistan.” He went to the extent of saying that the Haqqani group was a veritable arm of the ISI.
Apparently, neither General Kayani nor the ISI chief (who made a surreptitious trip to Washington on Monday) has been able to convince their US interlocutors about their side of the story. It is apparent that Mullen, Panetta and Petraeus are no longer in a mood to give the benefit of the doubt to Islamabad.
In a state of denial, Islamabad is still not willing to budge and has asked for evidence proving ISI’s complicity with the Haqqanis. It is hardly relevant what actionable intelligence the US has about the ISI being in cahoots with the Afghan Taliban and that it could gain no strategic advantage by sponsoring the recent attack on the US and NATO compound in Kabul. The trouble is that the West, its establishment and media, the Indians and even a substantial number of Pakistanis do not perceive the ISI in a good light.
President Barack Obama, well aware of his dismal approval rating, does not want to go down in history as a one-term president. With the US economy in deep recession and the unemployment rate at a record high, he is a desperate man. Shorn of rhetoric, Obama has not deviated much from his predecessor’s foreign policy goals and methods. In this sense, he has disappointed his liberal supporters in the Democratic Party.
Wrongly accused of being a Muslim by the lunatic fringe and being constantly castigated by the conservative Republicans, especially the Tea Party Movement, Obama is capable of going further than the Bush-Cheney duo to prove his credentials.
A case in point is his recent address at the UN General Assembly where he embraced the rejectionist Israeli position on the question of international recognition of an independent Palestinian state. According to New York magazine’s title story, Obama is “the first Jewish president (of USA).”
Obama the desperate could go to any lengths to cut and run, and declare victory at the same time in Afghanistan. There is a famous Chinese proverb, “When elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets trampled”. It is time our policymakers got out of harm’s way.
Unfortunately, it is already too late. Thanks to our flawed policies, the country has become a vast killing field for the Taliban, supposedly our ‘strategic allies’. On the one side, we have the Haqqani network and allied groups to ‘safeguard’ our strategic depth in Afghanistan. On the other, we are harbouring the JuD and LeT to ‘liberate Kashmir’.
Both have become millstones around our necks. It seems virtually impossible to get rid of them without collateral damage.
The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today