As if Pakistan’s domestic woes were not troubling, the unravelling of the US strategy and its implications are eluding even the best of strategists. Mind you, Pakistan is a place every third person is a ‘strategy’ expert and the term ‘strategic’, thanks to the militarisation of the Pakistani mind, is an ever-popular reference. The ideological domination of Pakistan’s discourse is a palpable reality. This is why, across the political spectrum one finds a sense of victory over the failure of US strategy in Afghanistan. This failure is interpreted as the validation of Pakistan’s ‘genuine’ and ‘legitimate’ interest in Afghanistan.
What has worried me most in recent weeks is the capitulation of the liberal-secular chatterati to this pop-discourse of military war games. One is not surprised when former generals and the hawkish hordes of former Foreign Office mandarins express their jubilation. But when supposedly rational and progressive experts pontificate about how ‘we’ have made ‘them’ fail, it is simply shocking. This identification of Pakistani nationalism and patriotism with the invasion of Kabul through proxies is a strange phenomenon. If I am not being too cynical, national pride, even in the jingoistic confines of nation-state narratives, has several other dimensions which are simply ignored. Those who are celebrating the US/Nato withdrawal (full or partial) are prima facie ignorant of the grave consequences of a Taliban regime in southern Afghanistan.
Three questions are of import. First, whether the delinking of Afghani Taliban from Al-Qaeda will take place in actual terms or not. Second, where would the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan be within the cooperation matrix; and third, what will happen to the larger issue of extremism and sectarianism in Pakistan? Thus far, these three issues remain unaddressed. The Jekyll-Hyde nature of state engagement with the issue of militancy is not sustainable. Above all, Pakistan’s tottering democracy is going to be further strained if the tide of Talibanisation gets out of control. This is where we find the policy debate unimaginative and regurgitating the national security fables, removed from the long-term interests of Pakistan.
We need to reassess state priorities. Our economy is in doldrums due to the refusal of Pakistan’s elites to pay taxes and their perennial squandering of public resources. Our youth is directionless, trapped in outdated collapsing education systems that do not provide skills. And jobs are not keeping pace with the demand. Sectarianism is now embedded in the social fabric and extremism has acquired legitimacy under the dominant ideology of global political Islam.
In these circumstances, ruling Kabul to contain the enemy — India — is hardly something to celebrate. If anything, Pakistan’s economy will get a boost through regional economic cooperation. But these concerns are marginal to mainstream strategic thinking. In fact, strategy is now a reflection of an adhoc, short-term view of military might and dominance. Pakistan is under attack from within. Its geostrategic location, admittedly, makes it difficult to focus exclusively on domestic imperatives. How can the good Taliban in the neighbourhood be good for the country? We are in an intractable situation, victims of our history and geography. Most importantly, we are victims of our own delusions of grandeur. Any change will have to re-engineer the Pakistani mind and disarm it of martial narratives. A tall order, but without achieving this our downward slide will continue and is likely to accelerate once the Americans start pulling out and our strategic assets march on to reclaim the depth we had gained in the 1990s. Are we condemned to repeat history? Only time will tell.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2010.