( Comment by Awaam : So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly arise and make them miserable—-Aldous Huxley )
The stakes couldn’t be higher nor the opportunity hidden in this hour of seeming distress more promising. Provided we don’t prove exceptionally unlucky once more — or exceptionally stupid — the crisis in which we find ourselves is an opportunity to change the face of Pakistan, change our direction and our established modes of thinking and make up for all the lost years — years lost to mediocre leadership, both civil and military.
It is not us who have created this moment of opportunity. Indeed it lay not in our power to do so. It has come our way through a combination of factors: America’s presence in Afghanistan; the growing Taliban threat within Pakistan; and Barack Obama as US president.
It is Obama’s approach to Afghanistan which has enhanced Pakistan’s importance — whether Pakistan’s inept leadership understands this or not. Crucial to any American success in Afghanistan — anything that enables the US to make a half-dignified exit from there — is Pakistan’s role or, specifically, the role of its army.
On its own, the US is in no position to commit the kind of resources and troops that could bend Afghanistan to its will. For that it needs the active engagement of Pakistan’s 600,000 strong army. Which should explain the Obama administration’s desperation to get the Pakistan army involved in seriously fighting the Taliban.
For reasons we need not go into here, the army was reluctant to take on the Taliban. And this is how things would have remained had it not been for the Swat Taliban’s ineffable stupidity. Their aggressiveness, when a quieter posture would have suited their interests better, left the army with no choice but to shake off its lassitude and commence serious hostilities.
American pressure also played a part. But by itself this pressure, without the unerring folly of the Swat Taliban, would not have created the tipping point which led to the Swat operation.
The leadership of the Swat Taliban can now rue the consequences of their overreaching belligerence. A thousand drone attacks could not have done to them what an aroused Pakistan army is now doing. If the Pakistan army’s will to fight which it had sadly lost, now stands restored, it is because of these bearded warriors. The Pakistani nation owes them a debt of gratitude. As does the CIA and the Pentagon.
But we will be kidding ourselves if we think that what we are in is a passing storm. The Swat Taliban are on the run but they haven’t been eliminated. They have taken to the mountains and will remain a threat unless they keep being pursued. Which means that the army will have to remain in Malakand division for a long time.
FATA, especially the two Waziristans, remain no-go areas. Sooner or later the army will have to take them back. Everything is negotiable except Pakistan’s unity and integrity. There cannot be space in Pakistan for any independent emirate, which is what South Waziristan to all intents and purposes presently is.
So we are in this for the long haul. This is not going to be a summer’s campaign. The Taliban are not about to vanish overnight and the US too is not about to disappear from Afghanistan in a hurry. In truth, Pakistan is the new Cambodia, which requires some explaining.
At the height of the Vietnam war, the Americans said that there was no defeating the Viet Cong unless Cambodia, through which Viet Cong supply routes passed, was secured. The Americans went into Cambodia but the Viet Cong were not defeated. Forty years later Cambodia has still not recovered from what the US did to it.
Pakistan is not a soft state like Cambodia. Still, those at the helm of affairs will need to be extra careful, and its leaders will have to be a whole lot better than they are, to ensure that Pakistan doesn’t go Cambodia’s way.
Ideally, the civilian government should be in effective control of events. Actually, not least because of the vacuum resulting from Zardari’s inadequacy and Prime Minister Gilani’s various limitations, it is the army which is calling the shots, making the army chief, Gen Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, the first among equals in the present setup. Small wonder if the Americans increasingly turn to him in important matters.
This is not Gen Kayani’s fault. Even so, it bears remembering that we have paid dearly for Bonapartism before and there is no reason to think the consequences are going to be any different if we succumb to its temptations once again. Even with inadequacy a hundred times greater than Zardari’s, the truth still holds that the Pakistan army acts best when it remains within its own sphere. The moment it steps outside that magic circle it invites disaster and ignominy. There is no more enduring lesson in our history than this.
There’s more to nation-building than merely seizing power. And there’s more to war than merely being on the winning side. In the present context, defeating the Taliban will never be enough unless the causes which led to their rise in the first place are eliminated.
The army has to be re-educated. Pakistan’s strategic depth lies not in the spaces of any other country but in its own capacity to build a functioning nation. If our streets and cities are clean, if we learn the virtues of public transport, if our schools and hospitals deliver, if we learn to treat the environment with respect, we will have all the strategic depth that we need.
With India for the foreseeable future we will have an uneasy relationship. It is not easy living with an elephant as your neighbour. But the old notion of India being enemy number one has been overtaken by events. In fact both countries need to grow up. There is no sense any more in keeping our strike formations pointed at each other. India’s tanks are only good for Pakistan. Our tanks are only good for India. There’s no sense in this deployment. Both countries have nuclear weapons. What more do we need for deterrence?
In the new Pakistan that we should be creating there should be no room for armed warriors dedicated to the liberation of Kashmir by force. Thus Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hafiz Muhammad Saeed may have had their uses, or relevance, once upon a time but not any more. Their time is past.
The ‘jihadi’ mindset cannot be divided into separate categories. It is of a piece. ‘Jihad’ can’t be good for one border and bad for another. It doesn’t happen that way. It was the genie of ‘jihad’ which mutated into the Taliban. If we are now up in arms against the Taliban, we will have to bid a final farewell to the original genie.
There are so many other jihads, more real than the ones consuming our energies in the past, awaiting our attention: against poverty, ignorance and disease. The Pakistan of our dreams will not be realised unless these are fought.
General Ziaul Haq’s Islam was a homage to hypocrisy. Pakistan’s soul can never be at peace unless what he wrought in the name of a spurious religiosity, including the Hudood laws, is not rolled back. The muck of the Augean stables was nothing compared to the garbage pitch-forked into our Constitution. We need to go back to the Constitution as it was in 1977. We don’t need to turn Pakistan into any kind of permissive Babylon. That just won’t do. But in social terms we need to make Pakistan a freer place. Too many taboos, too many social restrictions, are not good for the spirit of any nation.
All this needn’t remain a utopian ideal. Just as steel is forged in the heat of fire, in the stress and storm of the present conflict against the Taliban our best minds should be thinking about how best to rethink the direction of Pakistan.