Fighting for Peace

Caught in the maelstrom of fast crystallising contours of the latest Great Game, we are bewildered, confused, and yet as self-centered as always

By: Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Ghulam Mustafa
Published: February 14, 2018
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Where and how would Pakistan be in the years ahead? An interesting question – interesting, but difficult to answer.

Falling prey to temptations or hazarding guesses isn’t very unpopular with us, neither are generalisations or obfuscations. Avoiding them is.

How do these practices impact our discourse? They lead us to distortions that in turn cause skewed thinking and equally erratic decision-making. Pakistan’s present predicament is the sum total of all these and more.

In this backdrop of the many possibilities, there is only one certainty: serious challenges lie ahead. That’s how our situation has been for the past 70 years – murky, nerve-racking and pretty tumultuous. A positive change has never been an option. All we are getting better at is to mess up a little more as the years pass by.

Caught in the maelstrom of fast crystallising contours of the latest Great Game, we are bewildered, confused, and yet as self-centered as always.

Having refused to recognise clear signs of this struggle, we steadfastly fail to mould our policies or anything else about our personal or national lives.  Why should our future be any different from our present (or past)?

    We endlessly brag about our great geo-strategic advantage in the vaguest of terms and, despite suffering its consequences twice in our short history, we just refuse to budge.

Now, when China’s OBOR – pivoted around CPEC – is upon us, we still do nothing but gloat over this great opportunity and how it would be a game changer for everyone around. Claiming credit for this no-fault-of-ours continues to be the hallmark of our myopic politics.

Thanks to Donald Trump for hitting us over the head with his very first tweet of the year, we seem to have woken up to the imminent dangers. To be sure, some of us do talk about possible fallouts of China’s great strategic outreach but with little conviction and even lesser clarity.

We do also mention vaguely about this or that country being against this project and express the resolve to protect this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at all costs. No one has thought about these costs in concrete terms or done something about reducing them to manageable levels. Our only concern seems to be the obscure financial aspects or the projects linked with them.

Even that wouldn’t be so bad if only it were blueprinted to begin with. Stumbling-along and blundering-about (unfortunately, our only consistent traits) pose a very real threat of plan derailment because the government refuses to strategise and develop organisational structure or management tools to properly handle the mammoth scheme. Be that as it may, it is time for a reality check of another kind.

All isn’t lost or so bad. The US is stewing in a pot of its own making, and seems hell bent on taking it to the boil. A situation far too tempting for Russia, China, the Central Asian States and Iran, all caught up in the wake of Washington’s grand strategic ambitions.

Our sufferings at the hands of the US are for different reasons but no less either. Having helped in the war to undo the Soviet Union, we were badly hit when the Americans left the region abruptly. Then Pakistan was dragged right back when the superpower returned to the region yet again, following 9/11.

Was it accidental or, like Iraq’s WMD, a manufactured excuse to re-enter Afghanistan? The jury may not take long to decide in the latter’s favour. Reason: the buffer zone that includes Pakistan as well, separating the Eurasian land mass from the Indian Ocean, has to be controlled by whichever side wishes to win this round in the Game of Thrones. It just can’t be left unclaimed.

Extremism and terrorism were, and continue to be, a threat to world peace. Eliminating the menace should be everyone’s cause. However, creating one proxy to undo an existing one, or killing terrorists without rooting out the causes are not the solution.

    It is now pretty obvious that the facade of destroying extremism and Al-Qaeda – thin to start with – is worn out completely because the US hasn’t really tried doing it right.

Consequently, no one has any doubts that the Americans aren’t leaving Afghanistan any time soon and want Pakistan’s total compliance in whatever strategy Washington may lay out for the region.

The catch is that Pakistan has done what it could and finds it difficult to oblige beyond certain limits. The issue is further exacerbated by the fact that India – allowed huge space in this volatile region – works completely against our interests. Our hostile neighbour’s strategic partnership with the US, in the making since the late 90s, is now in full swing, what with LEMOA (Logistic Exchange Memorandum Agreement) and the rest.

The ring around America’s Afghanistan – comprising Iran, the Central Asian States, Russia, China and/or Pakistan – seems to be developing one common thread: force the US out or, at least, reduce its influence below the danger threshold. Sure, there are differences, but not the kind which can’t be overcome by China’s OBOR, progressively unfolding in all its geo-economic grandeur.

Add to this scenario the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of being able to bleed the Americans white, and you have the perfect bonding device. Should this combine decide to become a hammer then resurgent Afghan Taliban, Washington’s weak spot, can be the anvil to crush the American dream on.

The US strategists understand these dangers and have put in place their own plans based on softening up Iran, while trying to squeeze Pakistan out. If successful, this will obviate domination of the Eurasian land mass and the Indian Ocean by any other power. America would enjoy this singular advantage and whatever comes with it.

Everything happening within and around Pakistan falls into place once this crucial element is understood, specially the continued American pressure accentuated by Indian belligerence. Since this alone wouldn’t work, the need arises for the two partners to seek to open up our internal front.

It seems that the two prongs of this strategy, in place since long, are finally achieving synergy that could be lethal for our wellbeing. Doubters only need to look at the recent happenings in, and to, Iran for confirmation if they need any.

Pakistan’s future will continue to be dominated by these two key factors: external pressures, coupled with a worsening internal situation, to force us out of this combine around Washington’s Afghan quagmire.

It is no rocket science to know that a weak internal front is a far greater danger than anything coming from outside. It is also no surprise, therefore, that we are in a mess, most of it of our own making.

Unfortunately, instead of doing something to correct the situation, we continue to rush in the opposite direction. Our political leadership, particularly the ruling junta, is a key player in this regard.

Contrary to claims made by the government, all serious economists are worried about the future of our foreign loan based economic structure.

Our much-trumpeted National Action Plan is as good as dead and buried. The institutional framework enshrined in the Constitution lies in tatters, while most of our nation’s institutions have been rendered ineffective.

The ones still standing, like the apex court and the army, are under relentless attack.

Of the two, the army is the biggest stumbling block for the US as well as certain elements within our own ranks. These natural allies have joined hands to weaken this key institution holding out against all enemies of Pakistan. Starting with the Kerry Luger Bill, onto Memo-gate and Dawn Leaks, the list goes on.

Where would it leave Pakistan?  Right where it is now, down the ladder? Or, upward mobile in its efforts to rank among developed nations? No marks for guessing that we would be worse off were the existing imbroglio to persist. We need an internally strong Pakistan and we need it yesterday.

This objective can only be achieved through a strong national policy – evolved, supported and made fully operative by real representatives of our teeming millions.

Therefore, the people of Pakistan, the biggest stakeholders in the affairs of the state, have to make a very crucial decision. They have to vote “themselves” into power, support the apex court and the army in cleansing our own house. Obviously, we have to do a lot before we can embark upon this journey. But once we reach this milestone there won’t be a civil-military, or any other, divide.

The goal is not only attainable it is well within reach, thanks to our people who now fully understand, and are ready to unite and defend, their country’s inherent strength in being central to every strategic objective in this part of the world.

About the Author
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Ghulam Mustafa
The writer is a leading defence analyst and commentator. He was the commander of the Army’s Strategic Force Command and has also served as the Mangla Corps Commander