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Monday, January 2, 2012

What do Pakistanis perceive about their National Security ?

I am prompted to write this by the article titled, "Seeing Beyond Perceptions" in The Nation, a Pakistani English language newspaper, by a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force(PAF), who is now a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University. I thought that the article portrays prominent thinking among the elites of the Pakistani society and hence worth having a look at.

He writes that "Over 50 parliamentarians, bureaucrats, advocates, technocrats, media men, prominent members of the civil society and politicians assembled at the National Defence University to conceptualise the contours of Comprehensive National Security". Apparently, it was all 'Brownian Movement' initially but soon the group settled down to serious thinking and came to some conclusions after five weeks of intense and wide-ranging deliberations. Who funded this effort, to whom the conclusions were presented and what effect that would have in moulding future policy decisions are unknown as they were not revealed. But, we can make some guesses. However, the scope of this activity seems serious enough to look into the conclusions.

The 50-odd members from diverse sections of the civil society have concluded that the present difficulties of the Pakistani state are transient and Pakistan has nothing but a bright future. All it needs to do is to be resolute and follow 'a comprehensive national security'. Now, this is a give away to me, at least, as to which of the three branches of the State, viz. Executive or Judiciary or the Armed Forces, would have funded this workshop. As an Indian, I can nothing but wish Pakistan a very bright future because Pakistanis were, after all, Indians until sixty four years back. That aside, I would like to look critically at the outcome of the five week deliberations.

In essence, what was advocated by this group of intellectuals was more of the same. That is quite disappointing. No revision in policies in light of mounting crises facing Pakistan squarely in its face ? No quest to dig deep and understand the truest cause for the troubles of Pakistan ? The superficiality of the exercise makes one believe that the attempt was motivated by an agenda. Let us look at the causes identified by the group and the solutions proffered thereupon.

The author says, "The major concerns to our national security radiate from international isolation, poor governance, shaky economy, lack of control over non-State actors, an aura of insecurity among the general public, no-go areas in the context of imposition of State’s writ, penetration of foreign influence in our domestic media, lack of our outreach to international media, and the ability of foreign intelligence agencies to penetrate into our socio-political fabric. Ambiguities as to whose war are we fighting have resulted in a huge perceptional gap between the national policy (both political and military) and public opinion. This dichotomy has the potential of tearing apart the fabric of the State. This gap is being filled by the hostile States, both regional and extra regional, to create fissures and promote separatist trends."

Let us look at each one of these concerns.

    International isolation.
Now, this is seriously true. Even traditionally friendly non-Muslim states like the US, UK, Japan, China or the ummah brothers such as the KSA have been unwilling to lend a helping hand to an embattled Pakistan. In better times, each one of these nations had its own reasons for the ‘rescue act’ and Pakistan exploited their compulsions to the hilt. But, times have changed, even drastically. The US has at last discovered that all this while Pakistan has been following a perfidious agenda with it vis-a-vis Global War on Terror (GWoT). Normally, whenever a major operation involving cooperation between the US and Pakistan reaches a denouement, the US discovers some startling piece of perfidy by Pakistan, as though by magic. It suddenly discovered in c. 1990 that Pakistan had enriched Uranium beyond the promised levels and also possessed nuclear weapons, within barely a few months after it had pulled out of Afghanistan and Pakistan following the Geneva accord. Until then, the US had helped Pakistan acquire nuclear weapons, their delivery platforms and Uranium enrichment facilities, in the decade of the 80s. Until then, it stubbornly refused to listen to voices from other nations and its own intelligence agency about Pakistan's furious march towards nuclear weapons. All that changed within a few months. Again, after eliminating Osama bin Laden and severely degrading Al Qaeda's leadership and capabilities, the US is on the verge of withdrawing the bulk of its military from Afghanistan (but for a small contingent perhaps) and as the general usefulness of Pakistan diminishes rapidly, the US is becoming aware of Pakistan's mendacity. The parties to the marriage contract, the US and Pakistan, willingly consummate knowing perfectly well that it is a marriage of convenience, would not last more than a decade and each would befool the other to achieve their tactical goals. They are 'made for each other'. But, each such marriage followed by a messy divorce has left Pakistan enormously weakened internaly due to the unleashing of extreme religious right wing forces. It also leaves India with a more bellicose and more dangerous neighbour. Nowadays, the region and the world have also become fair targets for this dangerous nation. Hence the international isolation.

For its part, the UK has been reeling under the effects of jihadi Islamism practised by British nationals of Pakistani origin, whose parents and grandparents were generously allowed to migrate to the UK in the 50s and the 60s by Her Majesty's Government for loyal services rendered so far and expected to be rendered in the future. The British have been so worried by the envelope of jihadi terrorism that during a visit to Islamabad, the British Prime Minister Mr. Gordon Brown addressing a press conference in Islamabad on Dec. 15, 2008, along with the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, was blunt in stating “Three quarters of the most serious plots investigated by the British authorities have links to al-Qaeda in Pakistan. The time has come for action, not words.” Addressing the British troops in Afghanistan in April 2009, he reiterated as follows: "There is a line of terror, a chain of terror that goes from Pakistan and the border areas of Afghanistan right back to the streets of all our countries" Three months after Mr. Brown's pronouncement, Lord Malloch-Brown, Foreign Office Minister for Africa and Asia said damningly, "The main terrorist threat comes from Pakistan and Somalia – not Afghanistan", equating Pakistan, a nuclear power, with the failed state of Somalia. Gordon Brown's successor, David Cameron administered a sort of coup de grace in July 2010 when, addressing the employees of Infosys at Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, of all places, he said that " . . . we should be very clear with Pakistan that we want to see a strong and a stable and a democratic Pakistan, but we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able in any way to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan, or anywhere else in the world." Responding later to the outrage this statement created in Pakistan, he further rubbed salt in the wounded Pakistani honour & dignity when he told BBC, "[I gave]pretty clear and frank answer to a straight question. I don’t regret that at all". So, things have been quite difficult with Pakistan's colonial creator and consistent supporter as well.

The Pakistanis never tire of referring to their relationship with China in glowing terms, even to the point of sounding ridiculous. Even China has been tough with the Pakistani government over Islamist jihadi terrorism emanating from the Pakistani soil affecting Uyghur or even the safety of Chinese citizens in Pakistan itself. China has also been quite wary of its funding procedures. It funds only specific projects and does not give any cash whatsoever unlike Pakistan's Western friends who were doing so until recently. A meaningful comment by Zhao Gancheng, Director of South Asia studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, summed it up nicely: "The ‘all-weather friendship’ doesn’t mean that all of Pakistan’s bills should be paid by us".

What about the ummah brothers, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ? These are no ordinary brothers if one recalls history. Both KSA and the UAE have directly helped the Pakistanis during its 1965 and 1971 wars with India either by lending fighter planes to the PAF from their respective air forces or allowing Pakistan to safekeep some of their fighter planes in their lands, out of reach of the Indian Air Force(IAF). They had thrown their lot with Pakistan, discarding their centuries old traditional warm ties with India, just because Pakistan happened to be a Muslim country. KSA ensured that Pakistan would survive after the imposition of sanctions against that country following the 1998 nuclear tests, by supplying oil free and later on much deferred easy payments for three years, which it finally even wrote-off. The magnitude of this ‘help’ by Saudi Arabia can be gauged when one realizes that the annual oil bill of USD 6B which Saudi Arabia deferred and eventually wrote-off was the same as the foreign remittances Pakistan receives annually. Saudi Arabia has bankrolled the nuclear weapons project of Pakistan. Pakistan’s stockpile of nuclear weapons is rumoured to consist of Saudi Arabia’s share too which that country has decided to safekeep in Pakistan. KSA also funded the acquisition by a bankrupt Pakistan of the French Agosta submarines and also F-16s from the US. The Pakistanis have also been quite helpful to KSA. . Since the 1970s, the Saudi Royalty, fearing disloyal members of the armed forces staging coups, always retained strong contingents of the Pakistani Army to protect the royal palaces. The lack of skills and abilities of the Saudis pushed Saudi Arabia to seek the assistance of Pakistan in building up and even manning the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF). A big contingent of PAF pilots was stationed at various air bases in Saudi Arabia and they even took part in operations such as repulsing the Yemeni incursion into Saudi Arabia in c. 1969 and attacking the rebel Houthi strongholds in c. 2010. After the Khomeini revolution in Iran, KSA has used Pakistani soil to keep tabs on Iran. The UAE hid away Pakistani-supported Indian terrorists like Dawood Ibrahim and his associates and failed to arrest and extradite them to India even when there has been several Interpol alerts and Dawood Ibrahim was freely roaming around the Emirates. Both nations, especially the KSA, had taken virulent stand against India in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) deliberations at the prompting of Pakistan. Pakistan has even ceded away sovereignty of vast tracts of its lands in the Sind and Balochistan to the dozens of princes of these two ummah brothers to hunt down the endangered species of the houbara bustards. So much so that a top Saudi Adviser to the King of Saudi Arabia was reported as boasting to the Americn diplomat, “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants”, as WikiLeaks exposed in November 2010.

So, what happened to this joined-at-the-hip brotherliness ? When Pakistan's economy began to plummet and it encountered serious economic woes after the twin jeopardy of worldwide recession of c. 2007 and the high crude oil prices (not that the economy was great before), neither of these ummah brothers came to its rescue. The cartel of Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP) that was setup to help Pakistan included these brothers but they were utterly unenthusiastic about helping. The said they would route their funds only through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and that too only for specific projects. And, when Pakistan went to IMF, it did get a loan of USD 7.6 Billion but was forced to control its soaring fiscal deficit, reduce its inflation, eliminate borrowing by the Government, free the stock and foreign exchange markets from Government interference, widen tax net, give autonomy to State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), reduce borrowings from SBP, reduce huge subsidies in power sector etc. With terrorism engulfing the entire Pakistan, KSA even imposed conditions on its nationals from travelling to that country. It wanted all its nationals to first get clearance from the Kingdom's Foreign Affairs Ministry before applying for a Pakistani visa. Repeated pleas from Gen. Musharraf received only a cold shoulder from KSA. Even such a friendly country as Saudi Arabia expressed worries when Prince Saud al-Faisal declared that “Pakistan is a friendly country, and therefore, any time we see dangerous things in a friendly country, we are not only sorry but also worried” to, of all the people, Indian journalists at Riyadh who were accompaniying Indian Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh during his February, 2010 visit to the Kingdom. That must have come as an unkindest cut of all to Pakistan's honour and dignity.

The European Union said that it could provide financial assistance only if it was allowed to directly access the beneficiaries and not through the Government or its agencies. In a 2008 report on "Terrorism Situation and Trends", the European Police Office (Europol) said, "Afghan Taliban and pro-Taliban groups in Pakistan have links to the increasingly active core-structure of Al Qaeda that is currently based in the Pashtun tribal areas in western Pakistan". The report further listed how Pakistan has become the most dangerous training ground for jihadi terrorists and how expatriate Pakistanis have become terrorists throughout Europe. According to the report, majority of the arrested suspects in the foiled attacks in the UK, Germany and Denmark had received some form of training in Pakistan. The top Judge of the Spanish terrorism court has voiced concern about expanding terror threat from Pakistan. Thus, nations and organizations that were once generous supporters of Pakistan through money and material, winking at or even helping in its transgressions, began to impose restrictions. Unable to take the burden, the Pakistani Parliament even passed a unanimous resolution in September, 2010 asking international donors and lending agencies to write-off Pakistan’s entire debt burden. Simply, nobody responded.

Among its neighbours, both Afghanistan and Iran have been extremely critical of its use of terror as an instrument of state policy. The neighbouring countries of Pakistan have suffered immensely from the state-sponsored and state-neglected terrorism emanating from Pakistan and have voiced their anger, bitterness and concern many times. Pakistani sources have admitted to such “mischief” at least in neighbouring countries. Iran has openly accused the Pakistani intelligence agencies as helping the anti-Iranian Jundullah group operating in the Sistan-Balochistan area. In December, 2009, Teheran presented evidence to Islamabad, showing a link between Pakistani intelligence agencies and Sistan-based Jundullah militant group. Even the President of the tiny Maldives, Mohammed Nashed, said in an interview in October, 2009 that Maldivians were being trained in Pakistan for jihad.

I am sure that with this sampling compiled above, it is easy to see how far the sense of 'international isolation' has come to.

Let us see the rest of the 'perception' in subsequent installments.

See Part II here

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