Over the years, I have had the opportunity to converse with several former foreign secretaries and senior ambassadors and during these conversations (some lengthy, some brief) I have habitually made it a point of asking each of them one simple question: Who has dictated Pakistan’s foreign policy over the past few decades?
The answer, without fail, has always been the same: The GHQ.
The last civilian to have controlled the country’s foreign policy was clearly Z.A. Bhutto. So ever since his ouster Pakistan’s foreign policy has been largely dictated by a handful of generals.
From cadet school onwards the thinking of the Pakistan military mind remains sharply focussed on one country: India – our ‘perpetual enemy’. It therefore doesn’t take much to figure that any foreign policy devised by the GHQ would have to be entirely India-centric.
In his latest Friday Times editorial Two Options for Pak Military Najam Sethi quite pithily summed up the army’s national security doctrine pertaining to Afghanistan.
Not surprisingly, he insists, that “the root of its Afghanistan policies on its western border…is the Pakistan military’s obsession with India on its eastern border.”
According to Sethi the GHQ’s doctrine on Afghanistan is as follows:
(1) Afghanistan must not be allowed to fall into the hands of pro-India elements, like the Northern Alliance Uzbek-Tajik ethnic combine
(2) It should therefore be dominated by pro-Pakistan Pakhtuns who have historically straddled both Pakistan and Afghanistan
(3) These Pakhtuns should not be secular, or pro-Russia or pro-India like earlier Pakhtun regimes until 1990 and the current Karzai regime
(4) The Islamic Pakhtun Taliban should be supported as the least objectionable option.
He then points out:
It is this doctrine that has spawned sectarian violence and fundamentalism in Pakistan and enabled Al Qaeda to take root in Afghanistan.
…Until now, the price of this doctrine was paid by Pakistanis because the military is all powerful and unaccountable. But the Al-Qaeda-Taliban nexus has sucked the US into the region and pitted the Pakistani military’s regional interests against the American military-industrial complex’s global ambitions.
And while the military had to take a step backwards when a bigger armed force threatened to ‘bomb it back to the Stone Age’, their thinking apparently essentially remains the same. As Sethi remarks:
The Pakistani military’s assessment is that the Americans have no long term staying power in the region, as demonstrated by their impending retreat from Iraq, and that Pakistan is sure to rebound as the key player in Afghanistan, hence the need to retain its Taliban assets.
But now tribulations appear to be on the way.
Until now the US has nudged the international media to accuse Pakistan of “hosting” the Taliban. It has also played “good cop” in Islamabad who praises General Musharraf and bad cop in Kabul who clucks sympathetically with President Hamid Karzai when he blasts Pakistan. But that “soft” approach may be changing. Recent statements by top US officials and generals claiming that Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders are holed out in sanctuaries inside Pakistan are meant to signal that if Pakistan doesn’t stop the Taliban then America will conduct pre-emptive strikes against them inside Pakistan.
Islamabad’s ambiguous response lacks credibility. It denies Taliban and Al-Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan but cracks down on foreign or Pakistani journalists who try to verify its claim… Mr Bush wants an outright “victory” over the Taliban while Mr Musharraf means to deny him exactly that… We should therefore expect a chorus of foreign and local calls for “democracy” and taming of the Pak army by Democrats and Republicans alike.
According to Sethi, faced with growing US hostility, Musharraf and his GHQ will have only two options left:
The Pakistan military establishment can continue to play devious “power games” at home and abroad, deepen ethnic and religious fissures in the country, demean and weaken the democratic impulse of the people and lead Pakistan into isolation and despair.
Or it can bury its obsession with India, allow Afghanistan to acquire an autonomous, moderate, pro-West centre of gravity, focus on rolling back the tide of religious extremism and build a stable and sustainable economy.
In the event of such happenings your Blogger’s guess is that Musharraf will instinctively go for the ‘Kursi’ option – i.e. whichever option that better safeguards his grip on power (his old slogan of 'Pakistan First' doesn't count for much these days).