Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall...

George W. Bush’s recent trip to South Asia exposed some harsh truths that Islamabad is now desperately trying to fudge over.

In today’s Dawn the columnist Irfan Husain does a good job of dissecting reality from the spin.


A tale of two countries By Irfan Husain

IN the recent parliamentary debate on foreign policy, speaker after speaker lambasted the government, comparing the far-reaching nuclear deal with India announced by President Bush in New Delhi with his homilies in Islamabad.

According to General Musharaf’s critics — a rapidly multiplying tribe — this imbalance is a reflection of Pakistan’s failed foreign policy. Although official spokesmen tried to put their usual spin on this obvious reality, the truth is that Bush’s priorities during his visit ought to have served as a reminder of the changing equation in the subcontinent.

Khurshid Kasuri, our foreign minister who normally weighs his words, termed the American tilt towards India as “unacceptable”. Excuse me? I don’t recall either Washington or New Delhi seeking our “acceptance” of a bilateral deal. Even General Jehangir Karamat, our ambassador in Washington, thought he should lecture his host country on the subject. He was quoted in this newspaper as saying:

“Instead of a country-specific deal on a subject as critical as nuclear technology, there should be a package for both India and Pakistan.” The thread running through the statements of various official spokesmen seems to reflect a common Pakistani perception that somehow, Washington should treat India and Pakistan as equals.

The problem is that reality dictates otherwise. By any measure, India has emerged as a major player on the global scene. Pakistan, on the other hand, has moved in the opposite direction, descending into sectarian and ethnic strife, and seen to be harbouring gangs of terrorists on its soil. Granted, 9/11 has boosted its economy as well as its standing as a strategic ally in the American ‘war on terror’. But remove the ‘9/11 factor’, and we are left with a dysfunctional state in terminal decline.

These are harsh, unpalatable truths that are difficult for Pakistanis to accept. But unless we face reality unflinchingly, we will be unable to understand why the rest of the world views us as it does. Equally importantly, we need to see Indias rise not in relation to Pakistan, but as an important regional and global event in its own right.

For much of the half century after its independence, the Indian economy grew slowly, stifled by red tape and over- centralization. By contrast, the Pakistani economy grew more rapidly, propelled by a greater commitment to the free market. But in the nineties, the picture changed: plagued with political instability and military interventions, the Pakistani economy went into a sharp decline while terrorism destabilised the entire system.

India, on the other hand, freed from some of its self-imposed shackles, began making rapid progress. Its large pool of well- educated computer personnel drove Indian information technology to the centre of the world economy, apart from moving to American firms in large numbers. A rising middle class provided the market for a consumer boom, and now, Indian entrepreneurs are competing for business around the world. Bollywood movies are hits abroad, and Indian fashions are seen on catwalks from Milan to Madrid.

Currently in London, a trial of seven young men on terrorism charges is making headlines across Britain. Six of the seven are of Pakistani origin, and are alleged to have received training in bomb making in Pakistan. The prosecution has produced a staggering amount of evidence, so whatever the outcome of the case, it will not be ideal publicity for Pakistan. Similarly, most of the suicide bombers involved in the terror attacks in London last July were of Pakistani origin.

At a conference on Pakistan organised by the Economist in London last month, several speakers, both Pakistani and British, dwelt on the investment opportunities available, as well as the liberal government policies. But the elephant in the hall everybody skirted around was the appalling security problems. One British chief executive of an energy firm operating in Pakistan did speak about the need to hire security guards, and mentioned the recent killing of three Chinese engineers in Balochistan. But the Pakistani speakers did not discuss the issue, perhaps because they are so accustomed to the situation.

The real bottom line here is that for investors, the physical security of their employees is even more important than profits. When extremist mobs torch outlets of western fast food chains, for example, images of the burning buildings flash across the globe in a matter of minutes. The most recognisable image of Pakistan abroad is now one of angry eyes, long beards, and men armed with Kalashnikov rifles.

Musharraf has often boasted of Pakistan’s credentials as a key ally in the ‘war on terror’ by pointing to the large number of Al-Qaeda suspects killed or captured on our soil. But the question to ask — and one asked frequently abroad — is what they were doing in Pakistan in the first place. In investigations into Islamic terrorism across the world, the Pakistan connection has cropped up time and again.

In the nuclear context, we forget just how much damage Dr A.Q. Khan’s supposedly freelance activities have done to Pakistan’s image. If he acted on his own, it is a poor reflection on the control exercised over our nuclear installations by the army. The other (and stronger) possibility is that he was officially encouraged to export atomic secrets to foreign buyers. In either case, to imagine that the Americans would now supply us with the latest nuclear technology is to live in a fool’s paradise.

So when we ask to be treated at par with India, foreigners may make polite noises, but everybody knows where the reality lies. Had it not been for 9/11 and the ongoing western operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan would have been relegated to the backwaters of the world, together with Myanmar, Somalia and Rwanda.

We dug ourselves into this hole, and we can climb out of it, provided we accept the fact that we are in a hole. The first obvious step is to understand that there is no place in today’s world for state-sponsored or even state-tolerated terrorism. The presence of thousands of armed men loosely organised under various fundamentalist and ethnic banners is unacceptable to the rest of the world, and should be unacceptable to us.

Musharraf must realise that words are not enough to combat this plague of mindless violence. His litany of ‘enlightened moderation’ must be matched with action, something that has long been missing from his agenda. What is needed is a sustained, consistent campaign. But political will is required, and for this, a consensus has to be built up.

Unfortunately, our current military dispensation has been just as divisive as the previous ones were. Now, even when he makes eminently sensible proposals, they are rejected by a fractious opposition that no longer trusts Musharraf.

Far from providing a solution, he has now become a part of the problem.



Anonymous said...

I am afraid that Mush's solution to the closer Indo-US relations is to strengthen our relations with China. In my view this is would be a catastrophic mistake. Essentially there are only a few "top-level" military suppliers in the world: the US, Russia and France for major systems and Israel for electronic subsystems. With India already close to Russia, the US, Israel and the EU we would fall way behind if we attempt to bolster our military with much inferior Chinese technology. I think now is the time to cut our losses and accept that we cannot now, or in the near future, compete with India as a military power. Personally, while I sympathize with the Kashmiris, we have to consider ourselves for a change and compromise with India without losing face. One advantage of a close relationship with India is that we may have greater say in the fortunes of Indian Muslims, for whose welfare Pakistan was created in the first place.

In a way PM Singh is correct, we need to get over Kashmir in our discussions with India. There are huge practical advantages as well. We can lower our military spending and spend the money on improving our domestic situation. We really have no strategic threat other than India, while India still must worry about China. We could use India's help and investment in setting up technological universities like IIT. I think we must face the fact that there is no country on this earth that will care for the Pakistani people other than ourselves. The Chinese are strictly pragmatic and just want to contain India. The Arabs are just interested in spreading their Wahhabist religion which is in many ways anathema to our own moderate Islam. The US cares only for its own interests and sees no moral qualms about supporting brutal dictatorships.

If we decide on a peace treaty it should be holistic and go beyond a mere 'cease-fire.' We should concentrate on encouraging Indian investment and opportunities for our youth to study at Indian Universities. We should also make a deal to protect eachothers common archaeological heritage to prevent disasters such as the Babri Masjid incident. With regards to Kashmir I don't think India will ever agree to changing the border. We should instead press for open borders and cooperative security. Therefore we will have oversight to prevent egregious violations by the Indian military and we will be able to destroy the scourge of terrorism.

Onlooker said...


I couldn't agree with you more. For years our agressive beligerency has been based largely on an inflated ego and a large balloon full of hot air - and devoid of any common sense.

It is time for a reality check. The US was never a friend of Pakistan and Pakistan was never a friend of the US. For a while our interests converged in the 1950s and the 1980s and post 9/11 the US became directly involved in our part of the world again.

Truth is that Pakistan is an economic pygmy (59 years down the track, thanks to incompetent leaderships and avaricious tycoons, our economy is still largely based on agricultural produce) and India is quite the opposite.

And whatever surplus funds we have had have been invested in tanks, missiles and making life comfortable for our generals AND NOT in educating our people.

There endeth the lesson.

HH said...

Dear Onlooker,
My column of March 8 makes similar points:

Gulf News, Indian Express and The Nation (Pakistan) March 8, 2006

Pakistan After the Bush Visit

By: Husain Haqqani

The International Herald Tribune headline said it all: “Bush gives India a hug, Pakistan a friendly pat.” President Bush’s recent South Asian trip officially confirmed India’s status as America’s strategic partner. India got the much coveted civilian nuclear deal, which assures U.S. cooperation in India’s use of nuclear technology to meet the country’s burgeoning demand for energy. Pakistan’s claim to a similar deal was firmly turned down and although Bush praised General Musharraf’s efforts in the war against terrorism, he did not say or do anything else to cheer either Musharraf or the rest of official Pakistan.

A highly visible visit by the head of state of the world’s sole superpower would please many government and nations, especially when accompanied with promises of continued economic and military assistance. The U.S. is Pakistan’s major benefactor in aid and political support. Musharraf has often shored up his military regime in the past by taking credit for building close ties with the United States, with accompanying economic benefits such as aid and debt rescheduling. Why then were Bush’s praise for Musharraf during his Islamabad stop-over, and the fact that Pakistan got a state visit from an American president, insufficient to fulfil Pakistani expectations?

Successive military leaders in Pakistan have sought alliance with the United States as a means of overcoming the power imbalance between India and Pakistan as well as to push for Pakistan’s case over Jammu and Kashmir. Musharraf is no exception. The Pakistani generals’ formula for befriending the U.S. is simple. Pakistan offers strategic cooperation to the U.S. in addressing its immediate policy concern: containing Soviet communism during the cold war; providing Afghan Mujahideen a base of operations in the war to bleed the Soviets; and, since 9/11, intelligence sharing and military action against Al-Qaeda. In return, they invariably seek to advance their own goal of “containing” India.

Since the 1950s, when Pakistan and the U.S. first became allies, American assurances of a settlement of the Indo-Pakistan dispute over Jammu and Kashmir has often been the touchstone of U.S. fidelity for Pakistan’s rulers. The U.S. has never been willing to completely forgo good relations with India for Pakistan’s sake. But India’s non-alignment since the beginning of the cold war, and its friendship with the Soviet Union at the time of the Afghan Jihad, made it easier for the U.S. to tilt in Pakistan’s favor though that tilt has not been enough for the Pakistanis even at its height.

Now, when the U.S. considers India a strategic partner, U.S. pronouncements on Kashmir are nothing more than reminders that the parties to that dispute need to settle it some time soon. Had Bush said something more on Kashmir, Musharraf could have used it as a face-saver. The American president decided, however, to stick to his script and avoided saying anything that Musharraf could describe as an offer of American mediation over Kashmir.

As expected, Bush did not press Musharraf very hard on the question of restoring democracy, at least publicly. But he did not leave the issue unaddressed either. In expressing the hope that “democracy is Pakistan’s future,” Bush refuted Musharraf’s assertions that Pakistan is already on the road to democracy. Bush’s expressed expectation of a free and fair parliamentary election in 2007 was an implicit acknowledgement of the fact that electoral exercises organized under Musharraf so far were not above board.

Realistically speaking, there was little reason for Pakistani officials to expect anything different. But Pakistan’s military rulers have a long history of deluding themselves and building unrealistic hopes. The U.S. had given no indication that a civilian nuclear deal would be available to Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan had been told long before the Bush visit not to expect such a deal. In any case, Pakistan had not shown any interest in American civilian nuclear technology until the deal with India was announced a few months ago. The demand for a civilian nuclear agreement was not based on demonstrated energy needs or prior consultation between Pakistan and the U.S. It was a case of asking to be treated exactly as the U.S. deals with India.

The most memorable statement of Bush’s South Asian came at its end when he explained why India and Pakistan could not be treated identically. “Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories,” Bush said at his joint press conference with General Musharraf. Almost every American leader and official dealing with the two countries has had that thought but the hesitation in stating it has often fed unrealistic expectations among Pakistanis.

The visible disappointment in Pakistan over Bush’s visit is not the result of American unreliability, as several Pakistani commentators are claiming. It is the consequence of the persistence of strategic myopia within the Pakistani establishment. Bush deserves credit for being straight-forward in his statements throughout his South Asia trip. He carefully and scrupulously avoided feeding false hopes in Pakistan.

In the past, carefully worded American ambiguity was used by Pakistani generals to claim that the U.S. let them down by not helping them in their military adventures. Ayub Khan blamed the Americans for not coming to his aid when he blundered into war with India in 1965 even though the 1954 bilateral defence treaty between Pakistan and the U.S. did not oblige the U.S. to support Pakistan in the event of a war with a non-Communist power. Yahya Khan was disappointed when his friend Richard Nixon failed to order the Seventh Fleet into the Bay of Bengal during the 1971 Bangladesh war. General Musharraf is already venting anger against India and Afghan president Hamid Karzai for not letting his courtship with the United States result in a marriage on Pakistan’s terms.

But Pakistanis must come to terms with the fundamental flaw in their strategic paradigm instead of periodically lashing out at others, especially the U.S. A nation should not define its interests solely in terms of competing with a much larger neighbor. Pakistan has already suffered enough as a result of its efforts to use periodic alliances with the U.S. to challenge India. This might be a moment to consider a new strategic vision, one which takes advantage of close Indo-U.S. ties to forge a partnership simultaneously with India and the United States. Instead of acting as the prickliest nation in South Asia, Pakistan could then be the friend of its immediate neighbors as well as of the world’s sole superpower. Pursuit of economic prosperity and political stability under democracy, rather than the “containment” or “cutting down to size” of India would be a better strategic goal for Pakistan.

Musharraf has already indicated that he is not considering any changes in the old Pakistani view. The day before Bush’s arrival in Pakistan, Musharraf told an audience of military officers at Islamabad’s National Defence College that he was keeping “Pakistan’s strategic options open” to deal with the new Indo-U.S. partnership. “My recent trip to China was part of my efforts in that direction,” he was reported as saying.

That’s hardly something Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan would not have said.

Husain Haqqani is Director of Boston University’s center for International Relations and author of the book ‘Pakistan between Mosque and Military’ (Carnegie Endowment, 2005).

Anonymous said...

Why does that picture with map look like that, Indian flag in green and blue...?

Anonymous said...

Can anyone confirm whether the defense budget been increased by Rs. 61 bln or not?

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Gedroshian said...

Q: So, which 'phoren' power(s) is supporting the Baloch miscreants?

Just arrested Gazzain.

NOT Amereeka
The thinktank Jamestown Foundation thinks battle in Balochistan = bad for Musharraf = bad for American war on terror.

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