- We need to sort our own problems first
Pakistan may be a dangerous country to live in but an interesting country to study. On November 25, through a statement, the White House reminded Pakistan of the consequences of not detaining and charging Hafiz Saeed, who was accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The caveat was in response to a court’s decision on November 22 to set Saeed free owing to want of evidence, thereby ending his house arrest imposed since January. In the statement, the White House unequivocally said that by not cooperating Pakistan was jeopardising its relations with the US, besides risking Pakistan’s global reputation. The warning shows the level of mistrust that has grown between the two countries.
On November 26 minister for defence, Khurram Dastgir, represented Pakistan at the first meeting of Defence Ministers of Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) in Riyadh and assured Saudi Arabia of Pakistan’s support and cooperation within the mutually agreed framework of the IMCTC. Hitherto, Dastgir has not made public the salient features of the framework he declared to have been mutually agreed. Nevertheless, the term “mutually agreed” reduces the agreement to the bilateral level, which, in the current situation, defies the concept of “coalition” having 41 Islamic countries on the panel making it a pan-Islamic coalition. Such a coalition, in its both character and objective, is unprecedented since the end of the World War II. The same reality beckons suspicion and causes disquiet.
Pakistan has a chequered history of jumping into coalitions and then regretting the decision later on, be it SEATO (in 1954), SENTO (in 1955), or the War on Terror (in 2001). This time what makes the joining deja vu is that, like in the past, it is the military nose by which Pakistan has been pulled to join the IMCTC. Interestingly, this has happened when Pakistan is still struggling to overcome the menace of terrorism. So far, though, Pakistan is meeting success, Pakistan has not emerged fully successful in stamping out terrorism to qualify for offering its anti-terrorism services to other countries. It is known that there are countries which prefer to deal with Pakistan through the army and not through the (civilian) government, and this is the major factor plunging the innocent of this country into turmoil. Recently, after the war on terror launched in the wake of 9/11, this is the second coalition Pakistan has joined. The modalities of the US-led war on terror were not known, the modalities of the Saudi-led war on terror are also not known.
It is quite predictable that any military action taken by the IMCTC under the command of General Raheel Sharif is bound to create blowback for Pakistan. Wars disrespect boundaries. The country is awash with fanatics. Suicide jacket was invented in Iraq after 2003, and it made its way to Pakistan through Afghanistan within one year. Al Qaeda which fled Pakistan a few years ago or the Daesh which is still struggling to make its presence felt around will find leeway and justification to rear its head. One of the main problems with any such coalition led by the military is that the blowback remains undifferentiating. For instance, in case of war on terror, it was observed that though the prime target of reaction remained the army but the retaliation did not differentiate between civilian and military lives. The army delights in a privilege to take shelter in their cantonments but the civilian lot remains vulnerable to attacks. Dozens of police officers have lost their lives. The state does not promise them the same kind of financial recompenses as given to the family of army officers who sacrifice their lives in the line of duty.
Pakistan has a chequered history of jumping into coalitions and then regretting the decision later on, be it SEATO (in 1954), SENTO (in 1955), or the War on Terror (in 2001)
The problem in this case is that General Raheel Sharif technically bypassed the Pakistan government to join the coalition. Initially, it was told that he joined in his personal capacity but then the whole army stood by him and with that the Pakistan government too. In principle, the government of Saudi Arabia should have contacted the Pakistan government to enquire about its willingness and in the case of an affirmative response the Saudi government could have asked the Pakistan government to suggest a few names from the retired lot of army generals. However, this procedure was circumvented. The tragedy is that General Raheel Sharif also did not bother to follow this procedure. In fact, Pakistan’s parliament was skirted in both selecting its army man and joining the coalition. The primary motive of Pakistan’s joining the coalition is that the army has joined it through its retired general. If General Raheel Sharif had joined the coalition in his private capacity as a retired general, there would have been no left need for the prime minister, defence minister, foreign minister, chief of army staff and DG ISI to attend the IMCTC conference of Minister of Defence Council in Riyadh on November 27.
On the terrorism front, during his tenure, General Raheel Sharif did not do anything special or profound to be considered an expert at terrorism eradication. Moreover, the anti-terrorism experience of General Raheel Sharif is related to the war on terror in the context of Pakistan. No such war on terror has been going on nor have its reactions been experienced in Saudi Arabia, where the history and culture of peace and war are entirely different.
Disturbance in the Middle East (ME) rocking one country or another is essentially a post-2010 phenomenon when the US forces were leaving Iraq under the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the Arab Spring was taking birth in Tunisia. The concomitance of these two major events destabilised the ME subsequently. Both the events contributed significantly to the destabilisation of Syria and its losing territory to Daesh (from neighbouring Iraq) to outclass al Qaeda and the ilk by April 2013 and declare an Islamic Caliphate in June 2014. How can General Raheel Sharif manage this destabilisation? His presence is bound to irk all those who are having stakes in Iraq and Syria. Interestingly, both the US and Russia are also present in Syria but they have failed to stabilise the country and the region. What extra and special General Raheel Sharif is to do is not known?
The point is simple: instead of taking care of the ME affairs, Pakistan should take care of itself. In the ME, Pakistan is yet to be embroiled in a conflict which is avoidable. Back home, Pakistanis are still grappling with the reality of war on terror, which was first against al Qaeda and is now against the Taliban. The warning issued by the White House needs to be taken seriously. Pakistan needs to put its house in order instead of poking nose into the affairs of other countries. Any conflict in the ME involving Pakistan army, whether serving or retired army men, is bound to invite repercussions. Pakistanis have suffered a lot from the reaction of the US-led war on terror and they are not ready for any new backlash coming in any form from the ME.