The centre of the Pakistani solar system is not the sun, as innocents may tend to believe, but our elephant-like neighbour to the east, from whose bosom once-upon-a-time we were carved: India. We may be fighting a war on our western frontier and the greatest threat to the idea envisioned by our luckless founding fathers may come from the forces of religious extremism – whose creation in present form and shape is one of the singular achievements of our defence establishment – but all our war doctrines are based on the real or presumed threat from the east.
Thus, while the world marches on we remain trapped in a time warp, fighting the battles of the past, obsessed with the perception of a threat which spurs us on to a nuclear arms race underpinned by no sense of logic or rationality…as the rest of the world understands these terms.
How much land does a man require?… famously asked Leo Tolstoy. How much nuclear security does a country require? In a reasonable world five nuclear bombs would be enough to ward off real or chimerical dangers. If Al-Qaeda had a single nuclear device the United States would not know how to deal with the threat. We may be a beggar country but, Allah be praised, we have enough nuclear bombs, and missiles to carry them, to spread death and destruction across the entire sub-continent.
Yet our supreme custodians of the national interest, self-appointed protectors of our ideological and geographical frontiers, are not satisfied, continuing to articulate and champion a national security doctrine out of sync with the times.
If the bombs at our disposal and more than half a million men, and mercifully a sprinkling of women, under arms are not enough to impart a sense of security to this putative citadel of Islam – another of our mythical notions – then Ares, the god of war, can descend from Olympus and we will not be secure.
Yes, we have problems with India and will continue to have them. But surely we are not envisaging a recourse to arms to settle these problems. We should stick to our viewpoint on Kashmir and, in this regard, be guided by the wishes of the Kashmiri people. If we have water problems with India we must talk to resolve them. If both countries are engaged in the most senseless of standoffs anywhere in the world – on the dizzying heights of the Siachen Glacier, the only way for common sense to make an appearance is through negotiations.
Except for the first Kashmir war, 1947-48, which allowed us to acquire the portion of Kashmir in our possession, all our subsequent wars with India were exercises in unmitigated folly. In the name of the national interest and, from Gen Ziaul Haq’s time onwards, in the name of ‘jihad’, our supreme keepers of the national flame have done things which in other countries would have called for the requisitioning of a determined firing squad.
Haven’t we gone through enough but must we still learn no lessons? Yes, the Pakistan-India border remains one of the most militarised frontiers in the world. Yes, there is an unbroken chain of military cantonments on the Indian side of the border, just as there is a similar chain – from the mountains of Kashmir to the sea – on our side. But we should be reversing this state of affairs, not advancing it.
Yes, we must remain eternally vigilant, I suppose an inescapable cliché in this sort of discussion. But the point is that we have enough, and to spare, to meet and even exceed the demands of vigilance. There may be sections of Indian public opinion hostile to Pakistan. But that shouldn’t cause us any sleepless nights. There are many things about official India which we don’t like. To hear Indians talk about their economic achievements, the implication being that Pakistan has been left far behind, can be tiresome, especially when repeated too often.
But the mark of being a civilized people is not to eliminate prejudice – it would be a dull world without anger and prejudice – but to keep it in check. We can indulge our fancies in private but when fancy and fantasy cloud public discourse or become substitutes for wisdom in government policy we invite trouble for ourselves.
Pakistan is not a morsel that can be chewed and swallowed. Contrary to what many in the chattering classes assert, Pakistan is not a banana republic. The United States does not run Pakistan and indeed could not, because some of our most glaring stupidities in the name of ‘jihad’ and national security are entirely indigenous, capable of concoction in no other laboratory.
Without under-estimating the ingenuity of the CIA, would the CIA have been able to create something quite like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or the Lashkar-e-Taiba? The Kargil adventure could have been dreamt up only by the best and brightest in our own general staff. The fortress-of-Islam narrative can only be a Pakistani production. Making regular asses of ourselves in the name of religion is very much a home-grown talent.
So let us not run ourselves down and put India on too high a perch. India cannot harm us. Let us get this dangerous nonsense out of our heads. India is not about to attack Pakistan. Its leaders would have to be crazy – crazier than us – to even contemplate the possibility. India attacked us only once, in 1971, and even then we had made such a mess of East Pakistan that it was almost like inviting India to intervene. The rest of the times we attacked India, with nothing but disaster to show for it. We should get the balance of this accounting right.
Pakistan stands in greatest risk from itself, from our incapacity to look hard at our real problems and from our failure to confront those problems. Religious extremism especially in its Taliban and Al-Qaeda variety is a product of 30 years of distortion starting from the Zia era (or rather the 1977 rightist movement against Bhutto which set the stage for so much occurring thereafter). Reversing the tide of this extremist is not just a question of conducting military operations in one area of FATA or another but of reinventing the Pakistani state and making it less of a playground for theocratic forces.
This task of reinvention has to include the country’s most powerful institution, the army…which, unluckily for Pakistan, instead of having a reformist and progressive influence on the nation has been the smithy for the forging of some truly strange concepts and doctrines.
And the time for this reinvention is very short. The Americans begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, as they are priming themselves to do, and a new period of uncertainty, to put it no stronger than this, will begin in that embattled country. We have to get things right between now and then.
None of the principals in Islamabad (to name them is to spoil one’s mood) inspires much hope in this regard. But for the general staff at least, the self-appointed custodians of all that is holy, this should be a cue to change gears and spend less time fretting about India and more time in sizing up the threat of religious extremism – which won’t grow less when the Americans depart.
With all the nonsense assiduously cultivated over the years about strategic depth and our legitimate interests in Afghanistan, and the threat from India, we have managed to turn what could have been a perfectly beautiful country, a crossroads of East and West, the gateway on the one hand to India and on the other to Central Asia, into an abnormal country.
The foremost task facing us as a nation is to return to normality and make education and the march to civilization our central preoccupations, instead of the totem poles currently the greatest objects of our worship: bombs and nuke-carrying missiles.
Tailpiece: Shahzain Bugti being held by the scruff of his neck as he was arrested…a photo, in the context of Balochistan, about as damaging as the one which showed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry being pushed by the head into a waiting car. Will we never learn?