Pakistan needs to clean up its act and change its course to become a normal state.
Seen from a rational perspective, Pakistan needs to clean up its act and change its course to become a normal state instead of behaving like a paranoid, ‘greedy’ state that leverages and encashes its nuisance value – the former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright called it an ‘international migraine’ – to rest of the world. The rational view holds that terrorism has boomeranged on Pakistan and is threatening its very existence. Terrorism has not only distorted the political system but has also adversely impacted the economy, society and foreign policy of Pakistan, ruining the image of the country and making it something of a pariah in the international community. For Pakistan to progress, it must be seen to be moving in step with rest of the world and by staying on the right side of international public opinion.
The Pakistanis pretend that they are doing precisely what the world expects of them. For a couple of years now, the spiel is that Pakistan is changing and is making enormous sacrifices in a ‘fight to save the world’ from the fires of Jihadist terrorism, which incidentally they had ignited and fanned themselves. The reality, however, is that Pakistan continues to play both arsonist and victim. The reality is also that there is practically no paradigm change in the strategic calculus of the Pakistani state, one component of which is cutting India down to size in order to establish their dominance in the region. Using jihad as an instrument of policy remains an integral and organic part of this calculus. The outward manifestation of this calculus remaining intact can be seen in four D’s: Defiance (reflected in the way Pakistan has cocked a snook at American efforts to abjure the destabilising tactical nuclear weapons);
Denial (not just washing their hands off the Pathankot terror attack but also accusing India of mounting a ‘false flag’ operation in Pathankot to sully Pakistan’s image, and following it up with a rather shoddy and sloppy campaign embodied by the ‘spy saga’ involving a former Indian Navy officer to show India as main player behind the troubles in Balochistan and TTP terrorists); Deception (pretending to fight terrorism while continuing to support, sponsor and provide sanctuary to Taliban and other terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad); and Delusion (imagining that Pakistan is now in the driver’s seat as far as regional geo-politics, geo-economics and geo-strategy is concerned).
Rationality is, in any case, a very subjective thing. What the rest of the world sees as irrational, is perfectly rational for the Pakistanis. This is the reason that while the world was aghast at outrages like the Lahore park bombing or the school massacre in Peshawar, the Pakistani establishment saw these as a small price to pay in terms of the larger strategic canvas on which Pakistan’s strategic calculus is sought to be imprinted. In other words, what the rest of the world thought will change Pakistan’s strategic direction, is actually seen by the Pakistani establishment, at worst, as collateral damage in the pursuit of its grand strategic plans, and at best, as an opportunity to convince the world that they are the victims who need to be supported to fight the beastly jihadists.
In an interview to Al Jazeera, the former ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani admitted as much when asked about the Peshawar school attack. In the 1980s, while Pakistan was busy fuelling the Afghan ‘jihad’ against the Soviet occupation, Afghan and Soviet agents launched a devastating tit-for-tat bombing campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other parts of Pakistan. But the human and other costs of this retaliation, did not deter the Pakistani generals from pursuing their strategic goals.
The same dynamic is at play today. What is sold to the world as Pakistan changing course and fighting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations is really nothing more than Pakistan cracking the whip on terror groups that had gone out of control or stepped out of line of the strategic imperatives laid down by the military establishment. In other words, Pakistan is trying to regain control over the terrorists, not eliminate them. This is why the ‘good’ terrorists like the Lashkar-e-Taiba are able to run Shariah courts in Lahore and the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief is protected from UN sanctions by using a Chinese veto, while ‘bad’ terrorists face the brunt of a merciless and ruthless military operation.
Another pointer that nothing has changed in Pakistan is the conspiracy theories that the Pakistanis spin to blame their problems with the TTP and Baloch freedom fighters on India. These conspiracy theories only buttress the strategic narrative and justifies the strategic calculus because the way the Pakistanis see it, these problems are imposed from outside and once they get into a position to dominate the strategic space, these problems will get sorted out automatically. Add to this denial, the delusion (evoked recently even by the Pakistan High Commissioner in India) that Pakistan is the pivot of Asia and connects South, Central and West Asia and China. This delusion, or if you will, the grand strategic design that Pakistan is the centre of gravity in this region propels the rest of the policy framework. The problems of dealing with such a psychotic country are obvious. Worse, instead of administering bitter medicine to cure such a country, it is being given sweet pills by the Chinese, Americans and rest of the west, which incentivise, encourage and embolden Pakistan to continue along the path it is already treading. In other words, instead of improving the situation in Pakistan, the kid-glove treatment is worsening it, and making it a more dangerous place than what it already is, not just for India but also for rest of the region and world.
The writer is Senior Fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation