Why bother: We will do it ourselves
Did Richard Armitage make an understatement when he threatened to pulp Pakistan to Stone Age? And in reaction, had Pakistani policy makers averted a conflict through unstinted support and secure ultimate national interests? As I have repeatedly asserted, the public through media is merely exposed to a very small fraction of the reality eclipsed with subtle propaganda. The unknown is of grave concern. Eight years hence, after all that has happened, Pakistan’s security perspectives have only deepened.
The ‘shock and awe’ phase of the invasion of Afghanistan witnessed the worse use of violence for global domination. In deciding the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan (AF-PAK), the Capitol Hill strategists chose to ignore a basic lesson of the American Civil War in which the North despite a rag tag army defeated the more sophisticated South; any use of violence related to hate and revenge will ultimately fail. ISAF, USA and the Afghan Combine, unlike Pakistan have ceded more and more ground to the Afghan resistance. The third surge seems to be leading nowhere and prospects of an imminent US withdrawal look dimmer by the day. The question arises, then why Afghanistan?
In a conflict not of our choosing, but in many ways of our own making, landmarks crucial to a winning national strategy are elusive. Following military operations, Pakistan holds more ground in troubled areas. However, in a counter insurgency operation, ground is not always the most vital. In a conflict lacking manoeuvres and firepower, the insurgent has the option to melt away and float in the milieu like fish in water. The method, time and target to strike are always flexible, invariably punctuated with surprise. In contrast, the security mechanism remains stretched to limits, predictable and static. Devoid of any noteworthy economic and moral support, for how long will the country be able to sustain an ongoing asymmetrical conflict that is now costing more than all the wars in the past combined?
The effects of the Afghan conflict on Pakistan are damaging on all counts. The malaise is like a squamous with tentacles spread to every sinew of our society. The military to some extent may succeed in dominating the geographical and cyber space, but what of the individuals whose mind cannot be reached and tamed and who have the capacity to proliferate? They inevitably matter in a society fractured by poor economic conditions, sectarianism, crime and population explosion. Seen in the context of the ongoing political controversies, economic recession and fault lines within the society, it will take a very long and herculean efforts to restore normalcy. Given the obtaining environments, conditions are most likely to worsen before we could hope for a turn for the positive. What happens during the interim and how, we as a nation contend is the concern of every Pakistani. Tragically, a national policy to win hearts and minds in general and at the grassroots in particular is conspicuously missing. For how long can we play the flute while Pakistan burns?
Barring military operations daringly led by young officers, all other indicators of a national well being have gradually plummeted. Unplanned urbanisation in mega cities is rapidly morphing into bigger pockets of poverty providing breeding grounds for minimalist agendas. Wheat, sugar, rice, cotton, fertilizer, pesticide, cement and communication cartels are on an unchecked loose. Value added exports are being manipulated to dwindle in face of raw exports, pricing issues, time delays, energy shortages, transportation costs and high interest rates. Agricultural products like cane, cotton, wheat and paddy have virtually suffocated through pricing mechanisms, water shortages and energy in puts. Two years of bumper crops are now hampered by lack of winter monsoons and extremely low water particularly in the river systems. The GDP other than the incidental 1.1 is virtually at a halt. Barring the import bill, Pakistan’s economic downturn does not appear to be effected by the global recession. The question arises that despite positive home grown indicators, why Pakistan’s economy is being allowed to slide into shortages, hyperinflation and dependency?
Just like the insurgents need a cause and outside support to sustain themselves, counties fighting them also need a powerhouse to defeat them. Even the best military plans are doomed to fail in the absence of an all encompassing national strategy. So far the entire might of ISAF and USA with full international support and massive resources has only resulted in ceding more areas to Taliban. In contrast, Pakistan despite economic constraints, manipulative political economy and practically non existent international assistance/support has cleared area after area. In terms of success ratios to economics, the results have been at a fraction of what ISAF and USA spend in Afghanistan. Yet the unending chants of ‘do more’ grows vociferous and threatening by the day. India has been showered far more praises in this WOT than Pakistan that has done the donkey’s work and remains a donkey.
Gratitude to Pakistan in this disowned conflict usually makes head lines in form of leaks by the American and British media reflecting an uneasiness with Pakistan’s nuclear capability and complicity with terrorism. This propaganda is followed by statements of US and UK officials synchronised with threatening statements and posturing from India and their military establishment. With the Baghliar Dam in operation and numerous ‘run of the river’ power generating units on rivers leading to Pakistan in place, India manipulates water flow at will.
What has the government done to formulate a cohesive national policy? Rather than venture on an all encompassing national austerity program, boost domestic growth particularly in the agrarian sector, facilitate value addition of exports and initiate rehabilitation plans for young men exposed to militancy, the government seems to adopt and pursue policies to the contrary. International Financial Institutions with their unfriendly conditions are back. Price structuring is grossly manipulative and exports discouraged. At the same time the government is involved in serious political differences with its allies, military establishment and the judiciary. Rather than channelize all efforts into the conflict and nation building, resources are being wasted on issues not of immediate significance. It appears that Pakistan’s policy makers have willingly chosen to recluse the nation to backwardness. President’s recent tirades are unequivocal in that ‘if we go, everything goes with us’. This is indeed a very poor reflection of a country and its leadership at war.
Least metaphorically, lanterns and candles are back but expensive. Earthen oil lamps have replaced energy savers and petromax. Raw brown sugar is now a household substitute. In rural areas, donkey carts and bullocks are becoming the preferred mode of transport. A generation bred on consumerism and leasing is rushing to cycle shops.
Being loyal that we are, we will do it ourselves and save USA the bother. Welcome to the Stone Age!
Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a Political Economist.