Clinging to fallen idols…
What is the basis of our tug-of-war with the US? The question of national security. This question is one of sensitivity and that of immense importance for every state. The death of 24 of our soldiers in the Nato attack is indeed a big tragedy. But it is unfortunate that this has not happened for the first time. If the registering of our protests was so important at this breach of our security and sovereignty (as it should be), why did we allow things to reach such a pass? Why didn’t we huff and puff at the first such instance?
What is the difference between then and now? If we consider the situation, the US was first regularly giving us economic and military aid and was bearing cross-border incursion into Afghanistan with patience. Concomitantly, we also bore the attacks on our posts. We were silent when a pro-Pakistan jirga was bombed and we silently let the drone attacks continue. What does this mean? This means that we can be forgiving about the national security issue when we want and unforgiving and unyielding when we want. This vacillation engenders uncertainty and misinformation. Every country in the world has a consistent and zero-tolerance policy with regards to its security. There is no leeway here. Those that exhibit laxity are the ones that are not only the target of foreign aggression but are also expected to bear such instances.
Even now, our reaction to the Nato attack is limited. We’ve blocked Nato supply lines on trivial matters beforehand. Even now, we have no intention of closing them up for good. Official statements indicate that there will be a little give and take on the matter but the routes will be opened. The conditions that we have set before the US in our state of umbrage are nowhere near enough to redress the aggression we have suffered. They have already reserved the right to apologise saying that they will decide whether to do so after their investigative report. The report is definitely going to give arguments in favour of their operation and their apology, if any, is going to be prefaced with a string of ifs and buts. Is that enough recompense for an attack on our national security. No expert on defence affairs or seasoned politician would say that an apology would be an even trade for the blood of 24 of our men.
We raise a lot of hue and cry about security issue; we have practically turned our country into a security state. Our national income and foreign loans are neither used on developmental projects and infrastructure nor on creating employment and economic growth. The lion’s share is spent on security-related matters. What does that mean? The baseline is that wherever there is expenditure on security, the primary reason is to save the country from foreign aggression and give the public a secure environment to live in. Russia, China, India, the US and other countries where security was given top billing and a strong defence infrastructure was built, the public was given peace and the opportunity to prosper. What did we get?
Our main aim in giving security top priority was to liberate Kashmir. We fought three wars with India on that count. In all three instances, we were the one who initiated the proceedings. Immediately after independence, when conflict arose on the fate of Kashmir, before negotiations could be started, some local commanders initiated proceedings in Kashmir and said that it was the tribal mujahideen crossing over to help their Kashmiri brethren. The present-day Azad Kashmir is the fruit of Kashmiri labour. The tribal mujahideen had scarce little to do with it and the people of Gilgit-Baltistan was liberated and defended by local residents. But the presence of these tribal mujahideen was used as an excuse by India to formally send it army to Kashmir and this army occupation continues to this date.
We sent insurgents in 1965 with the idea that the Kashmiris would rise with them but that id not happen which then led to us formally initiating military action in Chumb sector. We then had to fight the ’65 war consequently and go to Tashkent and promise that we would solve the Kashmir dispute by talking it out bilaterally. This amounted to leaving UN out of the reckoning. Another consequence of the 1965 war was that the idea strengthened in East Pakistan that Pakistan’s defence capabilities were centred in and meant for West Pakistan and that East Pakistan would be thrown to the wolves in the case of war with India. This led to the genesis of the idea of cessions. Our notions of state security had been badly defeated and we gave India the room to manoeuvre in 1971, giving it chance to break our country into two. Uptill then, every paisa spent on defence had gone down the drain.
After the 1971 war, we had to appeal to the international community for the freeing of 95000 prisoners of war. We opened the Kargil front again in 1999 and had to appeal to the US for the freeing of our soldiers from India. We already had the nuclear bomb at that point in time. It was a bomb that was solely for dealing with India. But it amounted to naught in this case.
In 1979, we started interfering in Afghanistan’s internal matters. After a while, America bought our services in the country for dollars and arms. When the retreat of the Soviet Army was assured, we bestowed on Afghanistan the status of our ‘strategic depth’ and asked US to recognise this in the Geneva Accord. The elected PM did not deem this to be suitable at the time and he drafted the Accord as per international rules and signed it.
Our security’s guardians started berating the US for abandoning us whereas in reality, the US had come through on its commitment by giving us the promised aid and arms while also ignoring our nuclear programme as an added bonus. What they did was prop up Zia’s government which was indeed harmful to Pakistan. But our security experts were revelling in the power of ruling the country. They had already cooked up a plan to ensure ‘strategic depth’ by propping up the Taliban. The rule of our propped-up Taliban did not last but what did happen was that the country was occupied by the US. Now we are again adamant that the US should ensure our and curb India’s influence in Afghanistan before exiting.
It is common sense that the US fought this was to ensure its own interest, not ours. After accumulating such huge losses, it will do what is in its own best interests. If it deems fit, it will change the schedule of its withdrawal but it will never give us the opportunity to bring Afghanistan under our influence. Whatever we want for ourselves, we’ll have to milk it while staying inside the framework of the US’ interests. If we think that we can bring the US to its knees by closing supply routes or airspace, we are dead wrong. On the flipside, we could sustain even more losses. We’ve already suffered much due to declaring Afghanistan our ‘strategic depth’. Apparently, not enough.
Isn’t it time we reviewed our security paradigm and the faulty policies associated with it. Before preparing a ‘new roadmap of relations with the US’, it would be better if we made a new roadmap for our security and its policies. Our notion of ‘security’ is now badly outmoded and thoroughly defeated. We should reformulate it and then start a new chapter of relations with our neighbours and international powers. By including Afghanistan in our security calculus, we have divided ourselves on the eastern and western front and spread ourselves too thin. We have nothing to gain in Afghanistan. Its better we open our eyes to that.
The writer is one of Pakistan’s most widely read columnists.