(A Brace for Bloody Winters)
By Samson Simon Sharaf
The long awaited Obama Speech is over. It is to wait and see the impact of the third surge in a highly destabilized, charged and violent region. The endgame if one dares, is not what Secretary Clinton wants us to believe.
I would describe the new strategy as a tight balloon in hot air that may rapture even before it reaches close to its objectives. The speech makes all the right noises of an establishment given up on the doctrine of ‘Shock and Awe’ that promoted absolutism in distant lands. It recognizes Pakistan’s integrity, sovereignty and welfare of the people. Following intense lobbying between State Department and Pentagon, there appears a lead role for the Pentagon working in tandem with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) previously headed by General Stanley McChrystal from the Vice President’s Office and the CIA.
Obama is in similar establishment pressure that Kennedy had to bear in Bay of Pigs and when he wanted to thin out from Vietnam. Cognisant that he should not go down in history as ‘Obama who never was’, the new AF-PAK strategy is a compromise with enough blank space for narratives to be filled later. It is these blank narratives that cause concern. As clarifications from Gates and Clinton suggest: There is not a deadline.
There is- what we have is a specific date on which we will begin transferring responsibility for security, district by district, province by province, in Afghanistan to the Afghans. The process of that and the subsequent thinning of our forces will take place over a period of time and will happen – and will be done based on the conditions on the ground, and the decision on that will be made by our commanders in the field.
The speech is but the tip of iceberg diplomacy. What lies undisclosed is high intensity sting and covert intelligence operations conducted by CIA and the dreaded JSOC. The message is unambiguous. Pakistan will have to face a surge of expanded drone attacks by both JSOC and CIA, and a cruel spate of covertly sanctioned illegal assassinations, sting operations and anarchy generated by contractors besides the routine State Department leaks capable of breaking hell in Pakistan.
Conspicuously, there is no mention of India in the script. It is also mysterious that all regional powers including China, Russia and Iran are maintaining an eerie silence on AF-PAK Strategy.
But this is the script left to Pakistan’s Security Establishment and hapless people to contend with. The much needed public support to this war on terrorism could slowly erode creating a vicious reaction; something needed to declare Pakistan an unstable state under the UN auspices. The other dimensions of this war will be shaped by our very own. Pakistan’s political establishment has not behaved in a manner worthy of a country at war on multiple fronts. Narrow political agendas are too endearing to spare a moment for a larger mission. There is a laissez faire and total absence of political structuring, be it meeting heads of foreign missions, dignitaries or foreign intelligence agencies. US diplomacy holds a carrot for politicians to push back the military and intelligence agencies at the perilous cost of the existence of the state itself.
Pakistan’s economy is in a downward spiral with no hedging. Within a decade, the country is energy deficient. Agriculture sector, the only positive indicators for many decades is being manipulated to a position of becoming non productive. The farmer has been exposed to the greedy cartels, which the government shows no resolve to control.
It began with the manipulative buying of sugar cane followed by the disappearance of Atta from the market during a bumper year. Now the paddy crops are ready with no buyers while the value added industry is going hoarse over extra ordinary exports of raw cotton and yarn. The latest is the manipulation of tomato prices in Sindh by cartels from Rs. 80 to a paltry Rs. 2.
India has acquired the capability to manipulate the waters of Chenab feeding Punjab. Kishen Ganga project will affect the planned Neelum Project and Mangla reservoir. There are reports that IRSA has refused water to Punjab from River Indus implying that Southern Punjab will not produce enough winter crops that it normally does raising the ante on food security as also give impetus to the movement for devolving the province.
The Sales Tax imposed in 2000 was legislated as a Value Addition Tax (VAT) that never served its purpose. It is yet again being changed to VAT. Traditionally, such taxes are imposed on growing and developing economies. In Pakistan, suffice to say that the effects of this taxation on an ailing, sinking and manipulative economy will be negative.
This is not a comedy of errors but a deliberately executed policy to halt the wheels. As poverty grows, so will the, frustration and crime in society. This fits into the US Schemes of shaping the environment. The blanks in the narrative and the implosion being generated within are the hot air that would inevitably lead to a clash between the armed forces, intelligence agencies and the present government. It will also be exploited by self styled experts and media hungry generals to spill beans long after they had sold their conscience, something that serves to prove many US hypotheses on the Pakistan defence establishment. The next 18 months and beyond will be difficult for Pakistan and its national security. The government and politicians have to move away from their self preserving policies to a broad canvas of national consensus. It is also crucial to move from a US enforced war strategy to an approach based on national consensus that takes cognizance of justifiable US sensibilities and concerns.
Some of the contours of such a policy are:
A broad minimum consensus on national security that addresses the war on terrorism, fast track socio economic development at grass roots and economic hedging.
Take China, Russia and Iran into confidence on how Pakistan intends to play its role in the latest surge.
Persuade USA to support Pakistan against the secessionist movement in Balochistan. Identify and dissected various brands of militants within a broad name of Taliban and deal them separately both politically and militarily. The purpose: to isolate groups with links to al Qaeda.
Shift counter insurgency operations from a sledge hammer strategy to precision actions based on intelligence, air support and air mobile tactics. Just like USA is engaging Afghan Taliban, we must also engage their sympathisers in Pakistan to draw them away from the al Qaeda operatives and urban terrorists towards a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Stop dragging feet on the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) and legislate it as an effective mechanism to counter insurgency and urban terrorism. It must co-opt representative from the armed forces, law enforcement agencies, intelligence, local bodies, civil society and media.
The temptation to fill political slots must be resisted. The spirit of nationhood must be carried forward from the NFC Award to all other areas of national cohesion, well being and security.
The private media must formulate a national security code of conduct on sensitive national security matters and black out self styled belatedly confessing opportunists. The government of Pakistan has to appreciate the dangers to Pakistan’s integrity and security arising out of the third surge. The opportunities have to be recognised, even if it be at the cost of short term tactical disadvantage.
The bottom line is that after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan must emerge as a responsible nuclear power with no scope for private armies led by criminals, thugs and militants. This means bracing for a bloody winter in the urban areas.
Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a Political Economist.