frontiers

Who Blinks First?

Tactful but firm tackling only option

By: Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Tariq Khan
Published: February 14, 2018
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Hillary Clinton said on record before the Congress that Pakistan had been let down by the US; former CIA director Petraeus said there was no evidence of Pakistan’s role in destabilising Afghanistan; Chuck Hagel, while he was defense secretary, stated that India creates problems in Pakistan; Mattis, the current Defense Secretary, warned India to cool down in their support to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

These heavy-weights – and several others in the US administration, military system and legislature – have tried to clear Pakistan’s name. Their exhortations have had little effect. Yet our own stalwarts are trying to find ways and means to ‘explain’ to the US government ‘our real position.’ Some others among them dub it as a ‘misunderstanding.’ Such foolish scraping and fawning is probably unique to us alone.

It must be clearly understood that the United States is neither searching for a clarification nor is it interested in seeing one. The US has decided to embark on a course of action and would not steer away from sacrificing its policy at the altar of truth or on the ground reality.

With a maniac as the US President, the Washington ‘establishment’ is having a field day as they project personal agendas and spit in the face of the world. The insignificant Dana Rohrabacher and Ted Poe types find their relevance today in discovering a cause for the separation of Balochistan.

You are unreliable, you are two-faced, they say. Our stalwarts scream that we are not. Our parliament is offended. Our ministers are angry. Everyone is disappointed and the nation is in shock.

First of all, the United States has only done what it always does: Abandon an ally, especially Pakistan, when it is no longer needed. This should come as no surprise to anyone. We should clearly note, underscore and advertise this fact so that our future leaders can get the message and learn from history.

Secondly, we see the United States withdrawing their monetary assistance. How can we demand that they support us financially? That is their prerogative and if they have decided to stop supporting us, why are we crying hoarse? It is neither our right nor are we employed by them. Live with it.

Now we come to this nonsense that this was not our war and that we fought for the United States. Please take cognisance.

I have been in combat the longest and during that time we snatched back 35,000 sq kms out of 48,000 sq kms of our land from the clutches of the terrorist hordes. We did not do this for the United States.

The Indus Highway was closed, the Peshawar Airport was shut down, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Government was about to shift to Abbottabad, the businesses in Peshawar were moving out, our tribal areas were a no-go, the Bajaur Agency had an Afghan flag and Afghan currency.

We made deals and negotiated ourselves into every corner hoping that it would bring peace. We even disgracefully surrendered the people of Swat to Sufi Muhammad in the hope that we could ‘give peace a chance’. I saw people shivering and quivering when militants entered Margalla Hills.

With short memories, we conveniently forgot the APS carnage. How many of us call still recall the attacks on our air and naval bases? We ignored the attack on GHQ. We looked the other way as the airport in Karachi was hit. We had been saying then that this was all because of joining the US war in Afghanistan and a product of our policies. We could not be more wrong. How does one explain the 2,000 sectarian deaths in Pakistan before 9/11?

 

Besides, despite being members of the United Nations and having signed the unanimous UN Resolution 1377 of 12th November 2001 (a must read for all), ours was the only army that had no troops under US Command. And we never operated beyond our own territory. Do these critics want that Pakistan should have fought on behalf of the Taliban?

After all, what did the Pakistan government want from all the foreigners residing in Pakistani territory? It was to register with the authorities, settle into designated areas and disarm or report to centres for repatriation to their respective countries. Was this unfair?

Not only did these individuals and groups refuse to comply, they insisted on waging war from Pakistani territory in total disregard and defiance of the state policy not to engage in Afghanistan. They said it was their right to fight a Jihad in Afghanistan. It was these foreigners, and our very own sold-out militants, who connived together for pelf and place that brought the war to Pakistan.

Now we hypocritically say we have sacrificed 70,000 lives. Did we do it for the United States? No, these lives were lost in the battle for Pakistan, as we secured our country against a RAW-initiated insurgency and CIA-supported terrorism.

We must not belittle our tremendous achievements in the battlefield just to win a cheap and irrelevant argument. We secured 3,500 kms of lines of communications. We established the writ of the government. We cleared our areas of all militants. And we did this for Pakistan and not the United States.

    Our falling out with the United States is the outcome of a failed foreign policy. A government without a foreign minister for four years allowed an Indian walk-over at Capitol Hill. This has to be acknowledged and cannot  just be brushed aside.

Our then prime minister claimed he was the foreign minister. Well then that’s where the buck stops. We had Hussain Haqqani as our ambassador. We had Fatemi as our advisor!

We are further compromised because of the debt we have incurred. The money our rulers stole from public projects and distributed amongst relatives and friends so wantonly that the very foundations of the state have been shaken up.

The PM refused to even mention Kulbhushan at the UN. Jindal turns up without a visa. Modi is invited to the PM’s house for a wedding. Well done!! Our leader entertains the enemies of the state even when they threaten to cut us into four pieces.

This all then led to the Dawn Leaks – an attempt to declare the Pakistan Army as a terrorist organisation.

Having gone through all this we are shocked when the US now withholds assistance!!!

Nowadays everyone (including me) seems to have some solution to the crisis we are going through.

The diplomatic scene has faded into obscurity since we have nothing to offer and have exhausted space thanks to this highly incompetent government.

Talking our way through it in search of peace is exactly like surrendering to Sufi Muhammad in Swat. Nothing to talk about!!

We need to first acquire the space for any meaningful talks. Just simply saying ‘let’s negotiate,’ makes no sense and is not that easy. We are suffering the consequences of huge capacity issues in our government.

It is obvious that the US must be in the complete know-how that it is losing the war in Afghanistan on account of its own limited capacity and incompetence and that Pakistan is the least of the causes.

Despite knowing this, Washington continually blames Islamabad. The strategy serves two purposes: Firstly, it creates a credible justification for US failure and, secondly, it provides the US a casus belli to prosecute Pakistan. It is important0 to understand why the US would want to bring pressure on Pakistan:

Regional Objectives

  •     Contain Chinese economic growth.
  •     Challenge Russian military relevance.
  •     Keep a watchful eye on Iran.
  •     Retain regional influence through physical presence.
  •     Set up and support India as a proxy.

Local Objectives

  •    Create conditions for denuclearisation of Pakistan.
  •    Scuttle CPEC through Indian subversion in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.
  •    Reward India by allowing it a free hand in Kashmir.
  •    Destabilise FATA and encourage Afghan claims using TTP and Daesh.
  •    Impact Pakistan’s economic vulnerability by withdrawing financial support and influencing international institutions to call in the debt.
  •    Hope the government would be willing to trade off financial relief for nuclear capping.
  •    Declare the Pakistan Army a terrorist group and extend international travel bans on its personnel.
  •    Consider stepping up drone attacks and encouraging India to undertake ‘surgical strikes’ which India has already claimed, with the tacit approval of everyone.
  •    Finding no credible response, extend bombing campaigns into settled areas with an intent to create discord, weaken government writ and support disharmony.
  •    Having created chaos and instability, undertake boots-on-ground operations and encourage separatist movements in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.

 

Pakistan’s responses

The first and foremost recommendation by people, generally, is  appeasement and an abject surrender. I may go along, if this strategy could save the state. It will not. The US and India will not be satisfied without attaining the objectives listed above.

Diplomacy, negotiations, etc., may sound good in a drawing room discussion, may prove some of us better intellectuals than the rest, but the fact of the matter is that they will not resolve anything. Such peaceful gestures can only come after having created the grounds for diplomacy.

 

Recommended response

Immediate

  •    Reduce the US presence in the country to a skeleton staff at the embassy.
  •    Kick out all US-based NGOs.
  •    Renegotiate GLOCs (ground access to Afghanistan).

Concurrent

  •    Inform the Security Council that India by its own self-confessed statements has committed an act of war and that Pakistan retains the right to respond at a time and place of its own choosing.
  •    If India resorts to any more verbal ‘surgical strikes,’ physically respond in the areas of Pathankot, Madhupur, Jammu, etc.
  •    Bring to the Security Council’s notice that the US has threatened Pakistan militarily with unilateral action and that Pakistan has the right to self defence.
  •    Inform Afghanistan that any act of hostility would trigger a response at Jalalabad, Kandahar, Kabul and Bagram.

Future

  •    Find common cause,  mutual interests with Iran.
  •    Speed up Russo-Pak military collaboration.
  •    Enhance Chinese involvement along Kashmir.
  •    Begin an aggressive Kashmir campaign Stock up on fuel and food, starting now
  • Work out a debt-retirement scheme through a credible and honest programme involving the people of Pakistan.
  •    Begin a proper accountability process to bring to a close cases pertaining to Memo Gate, Dawn Leaks, the Kargil. Operation, the Abbottabad Commission, theft and corruption.
  •    Structure a proper lobby team to build the country’s image.

 

The US may not be ready for a physical fight beyond a certain escalation. Measured confrontation may force the US to step back. I earlier used the term incremental pressure. It was deliberate. At every stage where the US is not challenged, the pressure will shift and increase, step by step. Putting our best foot forward, we may be able to bring Washington to the negotiating table which is what everyone wants.

Talks are only done when there is mutual respect. Nobody respects a loser. For now it is brinkmanship and we need to see who blinks first.

If the US is willing to come to some understanding we can offer them assistance in an honourable withdrawal from the region, a role in the CPEC, and business opportunities in the country.

It is not necessary to fight the US if it can be helped. However, acquiescing is not the answer and we must not sell ourselves short, as we usually do. We may have to go through some difficult times but that is what nations are made up of; to stand up for themselves, their sovereignty and their independence.

    On the home front, there is a lot of cleaning up to do as well, without which we can never be acknowledged as a sovereign nation. First and foremost is the removal of all maulvi influence.

These people will never let this country be independent, self-sustaining and respectable. Religion has no place in the affairs of the state. The sooner we realise this, the quicker we shall be on our way to redemption. Catering to a belligerent but semi-educated, opinionated preacher will always bring us into an ideological conflict not only amongst ourselves but with everyone around us. We shall be fighting a never-ending Jihad.           The best service we can do to Islam is to follow it in our individual lives and not pass judgments on others.

Until religiosity is removed from our political, administrative and diplomatic policies, we will always be hostage to the maulvi, who has brought us to where we are today.

About the Author
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Tariq Khan
The writer is a retired Pakistan Army general, who has served as Corps Commander at Mangla and Inspector General Frontier Corps