The Turmoil Within - Pakistan’s future is causing concern all over the world
Amb Kanwal Sibal

Pakistan’s future is raising concerns internationally. Can this nuclear-armed country step back from the brink by radically changing its internal and external outlook? Pakistan cannot break its Islamic links as it came into being because of Islam. But must it discard the relatively softer face of Islam that connects it to its Indian subcontinental roots and embrace more extremist Islamist ideologies? Externally, can it eliminate the debilitating anti-India toxin that has entered its political veins since its birth and, instead of permanently confronting India, explore cooperative bonds with it?

Pakistan has been in turmoil since its creation. It has had several constitutions, its political system has remained weak and several bouts of military rule have altered it. Its political leaders have been assassinated, hanged, mysteriously eliminated, exiled or killed in terrorist attacks.

Pakistan’s obsession about parity with India distorted its priorities from the beginning. For geographic parity, it has worked for India’s break-up, as it believes India to be a product of British colonialism rather than in possession of any organic unity historically. Kashmir’s separation was supposed to begin the unravelling of India. Pakistan’s ambitions in Kashmir have continued to drive its political, economic, religious and security calculus.

Economically, Pakistan aspired to reach parity in performance, not size. For a while it did well and even mocked at India’s poverty levels. But a smaller economic base, excessive reliance on agriculture and textiles, a neglect of industrial development, a dysfunctional educational system and too much reliance on foreign doles have resulted in the economic crisis it faces today.

What it could more purposefully achieve in the background of its martial illusions was military parity. It has, therefore, overarmed itself all these years by propagating an imaginary Indian threat, with infusions of military assistance from abroad. It has achieved nuclear parity; its nuclear arsenal is expanding even as concerns about transfers of nuclear material to extremist groups within its territory grow.

With a lopsided emphasis on defence, Pakistan’s armed forces have acquired a disproportionate weight within the system, stunting democracy, monopolizing a major portion of the national budget, becoming the principal interlocutors of foreign powers, assuming control of the country’s foreign policy in principal areas, and periodically ruling the country directly.

This anti-democratic conduct of the armed forces has forced them to seek some degree of popular legitimacy by reaching out to extremist religious groups which are, in any case, ideologically opposed to democracy.

A highly toxic product of military rule, via encouragement given to extremist religious groups and anti-Indianism, is terrorism, which Pakistan has used as an instrument of State policy for years. By describing terrorists as freedom fighters any moral compunction associated with such reprehensible conduct at State level has been obfuscated.

For long the United States of America and others overlooked this dangerous conduct by the Pakistani State, as Pakistan was too willing to do the US’s bidding and India too unwilling to do so. This tolerance was a bonus for Pakistan and a sanction against India.

For years, until 9/11 happened under the watch of the Taliban set up in Kabul with Pakistan’s support, Pakistan was shielded from international repercussions for promoting terror. It then came under US pressure to control these groups, including those targeting India, less out of any sympathy for India than out of concerns about India-Pakistan tensions distracting attention from the US’s need to obtain Pakistan’s fuller cooperation in fighting al Qaida and other extremists in Afghanistan, and later in Pakistan itself.

Pakistan is now caught in a double bind. It is embroiled in Afghanistan because of its strategic ambitions there, and is not yet ready to extricate itself from its self-destructive confrontation with India. The use of terrorists for political purposes with external aims cannot but have internal repercussions, for the political and legal system in the country, not to mention its moral fibre, gets extremely coarsened.
Pakistan is a unique state, in that no other state uses terrorism so openly and in such an organized manner against another state. And this country, instead of qualifying as a rogue state, is a non-Nato strategic ally of the US.

What is the totality of Pakistan’s condition today? It is wracked internally by terrorism, religious extremism is pushing it towards social and legal regression as the assassinations of the erstwhile governor of Punjab and the minority affairs minister dramatize. The space for moderate elements in the country is lessening.

Pakistan’s economy is stagnant; its low economic growth is a recipe for more trouble ahead. Its relationship with the US has come under severe strain as its duplicitous policies and its two-faced approach to terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere have been exposed.
Its nuclear status is engendering concern not only because of fears of extremists getting access to nuclear material, but also because elements in the armed forces, especially in the navy and the air force, are becoming more and more Islamist.

Pakistan’s sovereignty is being violated regularly, partly by consent and partly as a reaction to its unwillingness to act against the Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani group. Pakistan faces an acute dilemma. If it cooperates more with the Americans it earns the ire of the local jihadi groups and the anti-American Pakistani public is further angered; if it resists cooperating with the Americans, it comes under pressure with threats of curtailment of US military and economic aid.

How should India deal with a Pakistan in turmoil? The romantics in India never lose faith in the possibility of friendship with Pakistan. To that end they will advocate the proposition of an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue with Pakistan, one that removes any pretence of a link between dialogue and terrorism and therefore suits Pakistan. This is why its neophyte foreign minister has begun touting the same phraseology.

Pakistan’s relations with India have become less volatile in recent months largely because of the Indian government’s extraordinarily soft approach. India will have another round of a composite dialogue with Pakistan; it is reconciled to Pakistani prevarications on justice for the Mumbai attack. Our approach seems to be that if our reasonable demands are not met, the demands should be dropped. We seek to deblock situations by exploring concessions.

We have lifted our objections to World Trade Organization-violative concessions by the European Union to Pakistan in the textile sector. At the recent summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in the Maldives, we have promised a preferential trade agreement with Pakistan even though it continues to exclude India from the South Asian Free Trade Area. Pakistan’s backtracking on the granting of the most favoured nation status to India has not discouraged us from making ill-timed gestures and losing bargaining leverage unnecessarily. What diplomatic purpose is served by praising the prime minister of a country most hostile to us as a man of peace, particularly as he is in no position to deliver peace to us?

The way Pakistan deals with its ally and benefactor, the US, despite the immense disparity in their respective powers, the overall texture of the relationship and the pragmatic calculations of gain and loss that Pakistan undoubtedly makes, should be instructive for India. Those who deal with friends with such calculation and cynicism cannot be expected to deal with adversaries with sincerity.

Published in The Telegraph, 14th December 2011

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