Time to mend fences By Babar Sattar
The News, October 11, 2008
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He is a Rhodes scholar and has an LL.M from Harvard Law School
President Zardari recently told the Wall Street Journal that India has never been a threat for Pakistan – in the context of our trade policy – and also "spoke of militant Islamic groups operating in Kashmir as 'terrorists'". His comments have attracted much opprobrium, especially from the self-proclaimed guardians of Pakistan's ideological and territorial frontiers who fail to distinguish between nationalism and jingoism and deem India-bashing a prerequisite to qualify as a patriotic Pakistani. Are we mad at Zardari because we suspect his motives in handing out an olive branch to India? Or are we questioning his judgment in reconsidering Pakistan's sixty-year old Indo-centric defence and foreign policy that has borne no dividends? It is true that President Zardari's grave credibility deficit is a monkey on his back. But demonizing his views and policies on the basis of perceived mala fide intentions as opposed to faulty judgment will not help either.
Has Pakistan's traditional India policy been a success? Have we been able to 'liberate' Kashmir in the multiple wars we have fought against India and can Kashmiri independence be sought through use-of-force? Has Pakistan emerged as a countervailing force in South Asia that has some leverage in its negotiations with India to help secure the legitimate rights of Kashmiri people? Should we seek a belligerent relationship with our traditional archrival on the eastern frontier at a time when our armed forces are already fatigued by efforts to thwart a full-scale insurgency in the north-western tribal areas? Can we continue with our flawed jihadi project that employs and sponsors militants instilled with religious zeal in covert operations across-border to pursue the strategic goals of the state? Can we morally defend indiscriminate violence used by religiously inspired militants against civilians in other countries as justifiable means to attain legitimate ends?
Pakistani state's traditional threat perception has been dominated by our hostile relationship with India. The two countries have fought two full-scale wars in 1965 and 1971 and a limited war in Kargil in 1999. While historians disagree on the outcome of the 1965 in terms of who won it, the war itself did not promote Pakistan's underlying political objective of catalyzing Kashmir's independence. On the other hand, the war of 1971 and the Kargil episode were unmitigated disasters for Pakistan. In 1971 we lost half our country, the devastating shallowness of our security doctrine – that the defence of the east lies in the west – was badly exposed, and with the surrender of 90,000 soldiers in East Pakistan, the Pakistan Army was confronted with probably the most embarrassing defeat that any army has faced in contemporary times. But having learnt no lessons from the past and not realizing that changing national borders through smart military manoeuvres was the practice of a bygone age, General Musharraf initiated the Kargil misadventure.
What was worse than initiating a misconceived military operation with no exit strategy was our stated policy that it was not the Pakistan Army that had invaded Kargil heights but instead "mujahideen" independent of the state. Officially laying responsibility of the Kargil operation on an independent Islamist militia betrayed the inability of our security policymakers to comprehend evolving strategic thinking around the globe that had begun to question the legitimacy of non-state actors or the erstwhile freedom fighters. Even if a consensus against non-state actors had not yet crystallized in 1999, 9/11 certainly put a seal of unacceptability on militant activities of non-state actors. Thus even from a real politik perspective, this is no time for a responsible state to hone a security doctrine that relies on sponsoring, financing, encouraging or providing sanctuary to militant groups fired up by religious zeal. And yet we expect the president of Pakistan – a country mired in its own deathly struggle against violent religious extremism – to stick his head out to justify militancy in Kashmir.
Even from a military strategy perspective developing a congenial relationship with India at the moment is in Pakistan's interest. The Pakistan Army has already deployed four complete divisions and additional brigades to confront insurgents in Swat and the tribal areas. One complete army corps is already overcommitted in Balochistan. In the event that we need additional troop deployment on the north-western frontier, we cannot do the same without compromising the defence of the eastern front, as our armed forces are not designed to simultaneously fight wars on the eastern and north-western frontier. Our traditional military doctrine has pursued the concept of strategic depth toward the northwest in the event of war on the eastern frontier. Now that we are actually involved in a war in the northwest and there is general consensus that the imminent threat to Pakistan's sovereignty and stability is emanating from the tribal areas and not the eastern frontier shared with India, it makes logical sense to further a policy of détente with India.
We need a consensual acceptance across the decision-making elites of Pakistan that our jihadi project was misconceived since inception. As a matter of strategy a state cannot employ, arm and strengthen militants from amongst its own populace to pursue its strategic objectives that it doesn't have firm control over. All security agencies try to fish in troubled foreign waters and undertake covert operations. But to do so at the cost of your own medium to long-term security is irresponsible. The CIA was financially sponsoring the Afghan jihad, but it did not set up jihadi training camps on its own territory or induct its own citizens into private militias. India's RAW, similarly, might be supporting Baloch insurgents in Pakistan. Security agencies unfortunately play these dirty deadly games. But one cannot sensibly conceive and support a mass-scale covert operation wherein the militants are programmed to turn on the state itself should it decide to abandon the project. This is what happened with the militants trained and equipped to wage 'jihad' in Afghanistan and its fallout is the war the Pakistan Army is currently fighting in the northwest.
Pakistan must realize that there is no fundamental difference between the jihadis of yesteryears fighting in Afghnistan, those fighting against the Pakistan Army in the northwest today or those fighting in Kashmir, to the extent that they are citizens of Pakistan trained in the art of violence. For one, supporting them is dangerous as once the Ginny is out of the bottle it cannot be put back in. Violent religious zeal once proved is hard to quell and a jihadist once commissioned to indulge in militancy at a tender age cannot be decommissioned should state policy change. More importantly it is wrong. If employing and brainwashing an impressionable 15 year old to carry out indiscriminate acts of violence against civilians of Pakistan is criminal, it is equally wrong to support sending such kid to carry out attacks against civilians in India or the United States or even Israel. The fight against terrorism that is claiming innocent civilian lives in Pakistan cannot be won without evolving a morally consistent position toward suicide bombing and religion-inspired violence more generally.
And such consensus must be based on the principle that even the most noble and legitimate ends cannot justify impermissible means. This is not a debate about the legitimacy of Kashmiri Muslims' right to self-determination or the validity or enforceability of UN resolutions underwriting such rights. This is a debate about the means that the Pakistani state should employ to support the righteous pursuit of rights by the Kashmiri people. That Pakistan only provides diplomatic, political and moral support to the indigenous Kashmiri independence movement might not be a candid description of our state policy. We – as a country and as a society – provide such support to the Palestinian cause, as we should. But we don't encourage, finance, train or organize militants to fight against Israel. It is time that we remove any gaps between our stated and actual Kashmir policy as well.
A policy of calling a fifteen year old a freedom fighter if he perpetrates violence against civilians on one side of the border and labelling him a terrorist if he blows himself up on the other side, is neither sustainable nor morally consistent. We must not abandon the Kashmiri people in their just fight, but we must not make their fight our own and instead focus on fighting the fires raging within. For 60 years the policymakers in India and Pakistan have used the bully pulpit to spew anger and hate against each other. It is about time the people of subcontinent move beyond old suspicions and prejudices. And to that end, if President Zardari is willing to initiate an objective review of our traditional India policy and its overhaul based on a new national consensus rooted in contemporary realities and interests, his efforts must be supported.