COMMENT: The eternal embrace —Shahzad Chaudhry
Treat the war as two separate wars without one being answerable to the other. Let each fight his way using whatever works best for them to appease, conciliate, reintegrate and mainstream people back into the peaceful fold of the past
From the most preferred allies bound in a proclaimed strategic relationship, the US and Pakistan find themselves estranged and increasingly adrift. This was a relationship founded on weak fundamentals, not one of choice but of convenience. This was a need-based relationship, has always been. For the two to gradually drift apart is but natural and an inevitable end to a cyclical association.
It has not yet ended but is almost there. Somewhere in July and beyond in 2010, there was this increased need for the two military commanders of each side to meet more often and develop a common understanding of the motives, objectives and strategies that needed to bring some success to the Afghan War. There may have been some understanding reached but mostly it was a case of both sides talking through the other; the camaraderie that both enjoyed till then seemed to have taken a clear back seat. First in Geneva, at a NATO and their allies meet, and then in October at the Pakistan-US strategic dialogue, General Kayani, Pakistan’s Army chief, spelt out in clear terms Pakistan’s apprehensions and hopes on how the situation in Afghanistan could be moved towards a respectable resolution. No, it was not about ‘strategic depth’, that most commentators in Pakistan use to lash out at the military, nor a government of Pakistan’s choice in Afghanistan after the US left, but simply a case of Pakistan being given her rightful place at the table as the endgame is played out in Afghanistan. Pakistan already stretched in the east, and likely to be heavily engaged internally in a long war to eliminate extremist strands from Pakistan’s societal midst, cannot afford a third front in the shape of either an inimical Afghanistan or a placid Afghanistan under inimical influence — read India. The reformulation of Pakistan’s threat perception into a less hostile determination is possible but, for that to happen, relations on the India-Pakistan front will need dramatic improvement, something unlikely in the short run.
But I digress. The US and Pakistan are in an unequal relationship. The concept of sovereign equality works well between two evenly matched states but where the tenor is more patron-client, sovereignty is a fabled dream. Pakistan’s politics is American-sponsored; no major party with a reasonable possibility to assume power will ever want to annoy the US with critical statements. The Raymond Davis case is a typical example; when he was finally released, all hell broke loose in phenomenal grandstanding, but while he was still in and the government seemed at a loss on how to appease all quarters, the president sought an All Parties Conference to find a way out of the imbroglio; not a soul moved — so much for Pakistan’s political double-speak. With a government in power, and others like the Sharif brothers indirect beneficiaries on the back of an American-sponsored National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), it is unlikely that Pakistan can break loose from this eternal embrace.
Similarly, Pakistan will not tax its electorate — the PPP, its agricultural support base and the PML-N and MQM, its trader groups. As such Pakistan stays perpetually indebted to American handouts as the Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB) arrangement or the IMF-World Bank-Asian Development Bank (IFIs) facilitation. The US carries majority votes in each of these institutions, which are critical to keeping the Pakistani economy afloat during this war against militancy and extremism. The PPP in power has been bereft of any ideas on how to move the economy under a convenient ruse of the economy being a war economy and hence okay to remain impoverished. Not that there are no options. The PPP has never had the economy on their radar, so Pakistan continues to languish.
Militarily too, Pakistan has been traditionally US-provisioned. It is no gainsaying that Pakistan’s difficult neighbourhood imposes its own dynamics, making it imperative to seek a bigger bang for every buck that the military must spend. The military espouses a reasonably well-founded professional tradition built around some real cutting edge capabilities. Most are American in origin, others are either not as good or as cost-efficient. The F-16 remains the easiest bogey in Pakistani discourse but most forget that prior to the recent induction of 18 later-model versions, the other fleet is approaching three decades of service with the PAF. Most other fighters are even older. Yet these were paid for with Pakistani money. What the military now covets however is the three billion dollars in aid over the next five years that will bring some newer technologies to the army, which remains desperately short on much desired improvements. This too keeps Pakistan beholden to the US.
Get to the war now. What began as one war has slowly degenerated into a two-war reality. When political aims, strategic objectives and operational strategies remain different, when geo-politics rules end-state culmination, when latent objectives remain latent and do not get shared and when in operational terms the two armies that operate in two distinct geographic regions, even though contiguous, have centres of gravity that are literally poles apart in geographic terms — Kandahar and North Waziristan — there is little if any operational synchronisation in their application. Led by two different commanders, these are two different wars fought by two different armies with significantly different capabilities. It is best to recognise these as two different wars that, in effect, since these are being fought with the common purpose of eliminating extremism and militancy, feed into the supra-strategic level and help the same larger cause but in their own separate ways. Come to think of it, a constant US blame of Pakistan not doing North Waziristan, Pakistan blaming US drone attacks and her many special operatives active in its midst, the CIA and the ISI suspecting each other whole hog but keeping up appearances and Gary Ackermann popping the inevitable on the US’s misplaced regional preferences, and all of the US wondering what in this world these Pakistanis think of themselves when not playing to the tune of the US when she is the one that pays their bills. All this, and then some, lead to this irremediable acrimony.
My solution: treat the war as two separate wars without one being answerable to the other. Let each fight his way using whatever works best for them to appease, conciliate, reintegrate and mainstream people back into the peaceful fold of the past, ensuring that vulnerabilities are not allowed to re-emerge. Even the Taliban, around another time, will be a lot smarter than to play the international crusader. To appease Ackermann and Co, if KLB may not come through let the IFIs alone sustain Pakistan in the short-term; in the meanwhile, Pakistan must find some spine to reform and rekindle her economy. The military should restructure and reorient based on political direction that should be returned its flexibility to work problems with India, the Taliban, and in Balochistan on politico-economic planks.
That way, when we tout sovereignty, it will make an agreeable noise. That way we would obviate the need for any drones to test our sovereignty on a daily basis. We would also stop demeaning ourselves around the baseless banter of being listless. The true sovereign is Allah alone. That should put all else to rest.
Shahzad Chaudhry is a political and defence analyst