Friday, July 11, 2008

"The great conspiracy" & A Q Khan

The great conspiracy
By Ayesha Siddiqa, Dawn, July 11, 2008

DR A.Q. Khan recently spoke about the great American ‘conspiracy’ to destroy Pakistan. He was of the view, aired in a television programme, that an American think tank had predicted the break-up of the country by 2015.

Furthermore, the frontier province will join Afghanistan, Sindh will find its own way and Balochistan will opt out as well.

This will leave Punjab which according to the great scientist represents about 60 per cent of Pakistan and has the nuclear weapons as well. Since Punjab does not have any animosity with India or Afghanistan, it will be forced to sign the NPT and thus surrender the nuclear weapons. Interestingly, Dr Samar Mubarakmand, who is another shining star of Pakistan’s nuclear establishment, also subscribed to the theory that there is a conspiracy to destroy the country.

Although there are some who do not believe in such a conspiracy theory, there are many who are convinced of the presence of a serious threat to the country. The war and conflict that has engulfed major parts of the country might not just be a case of inept policies. External forces always provide an impetus to an internal conflict. In fact, as is obvious in India’s case as well, the involvement of external forces deepen conflicts which survive due to mismanagement by the state’s bureaucracy.

The problem in Pakistan’s case is that it does not take a lot to deepen the conflict in a situation where the internal forces, such as the ruling elite, are completely blinded by greed. The ruling classes are so focused on their interests that they fail to make long-term policies or provide direction to the people. It does not take a nuclear physicist to see that the politicians will fail to push back the military which might return in the days to come.

Such an eventuality would further weaken the already fragile fabric of the state. Pakistan’s ruling elite is mercenary and depends on foreign capital inflows. Therefore it has failed to plan for the country’s political, economic and social progress. The internal friction will intensify the confusion and conflict which already exists.

The policymakers appear divided between their inability to curb their own greed and fighting the external forces through supporting elements. This will further drag the country towards chaos and conflict. We cannot support foreign forces to attract their capital and at the same time try to curb their influence by producing other violent elements. Mir Jaffar and Mir Sadiq are not just names of individuals but convoluted policies as well.

But referring to Dr Khan’s prediction, there are a few points in his claims which are highly interesting such as his belief that the nuclear weapons will eventually be retained by Punjab in the new dispensation. To reiterate his opinion, Punjab will be forced to sign the NPT and give up its nuclear weapons once it is all that remains of Pakistan. Logically speaking, the concentration of 60-70 nuclear warheads (supposing this is what Pakistan has now) in such a small territory will be dangerous and the international community will feel nervous about it.

Dr Khan believes that since Punjab does not have any animosity with India or Afghanistan, it will have no reason to retain the nuclear weapons. One would like to remind the great doctor of a couple of things.

First, in this scenario, Punjab will feel more insecure and thus will have a greater reason to retain its weapons. A Pakistan concentrated in Punjab will be a landlocked territory with no access to a seaport or source of water. If one is to believe that the other parts of the federating unit will break away, it is hard to imagine that these units will be friendly enough to negotiate facilities like access to seaports, water, gas, oil and other resources. If the military and nuclear weapons are concentrated in just one territory, then whoever has the military might will try to hold on to it to force the breakaway units to cooperate.

Second, Dr Khan’s statement does not reflect any understanding of our national history. For instance, he has completely forgotten that bad relations and friction with India is a fetish of the Urdu-speaking and Punjabi elite. The fact that Altaf Hussain has gone and made statements in India or that the two Punjabs are trying to improve trade relations does not hide the fact that the obsession with 1947 is limited to Punjabis and Pakistanis of North Indian origin.

Historically, these two ethnic groups have dominated the Pakistani state and its policymaking. These are also the two groups most affected by the partition of the Indian subcontinent. So it is a fallacious assumption that Punjab does not have problems with India and Afghanistan. The policy of strategic depth, which was meant to create a friendly government in Afghanistan during the 1990s, was partly conceived by a GHQ dominated for many years by officers from Punjab.

The institutional memory of the military and civil bureaucracies does not look at its traditional rivals sympathetically. The belief is that India will never leave any stone unturned to destroy Pakistan. Furthermore, the belief is that it has now paired up with the US to harm Pakistan.

But the more important issue is the ease with which Dr Khan has assumed that the other federating units will secede from the union. Is this just an individual thought or the thinking of the deeper establishment as well? The statement reflects an utter lack of trust in the smaller provinces. The message between the lines is that since these people are lesser Pakistanis they will leave the federation at the first opportunity. Such thinking is problematic because it does not address the problems faced by the people of the smaller provinces.

It may be a fact that external forces are involved in pinpricking in Balochistan but this does not address the larger issue of the disenchantment felt by the Baloch people. For so many years the state has ignored its own people and partnered with tribal leaders who are now being blamed for the lack of development in the province. The same applies to Sindh and the Frontier. Despite the fact that a lot of Sindhi landowners have always remained part of the government, the people were punished severely during the 1980s and the 1990s.

If Dr Khan and the rest of the establishment look hard they will see that the federation and its nuclear weapons can be saved if the powers that be were to show lesser callousness and greed.

The writer is an independent strategic and political

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