Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Our interests must be paramount

Pakistan’s policy making capabilities have always displayed a lack of foresight, a dearth of planning, and a result of reactive thinking rather than a well thought out strategic approach that accounts for the possible repercussions also. Besides this the accommodation of foreign influences and pressures leaves little room to pursue national interests.

The weak and unprincipled governments that our non-system keeps throwing up therefore rule with a bundle of contradictions that create chaos, mismanagement and failures which keep aggravating the miseries of the people and enriching the ruling classes.

These contradictions become quite apparent in the way peace talks with the TTP have become messy. One must go back a little to see how and why the present mess was created. A belated All Parties Conference (APC) decided apparently unanimously to give talks a chance. From the outset many felt that two parties were not on board and the shadow of a third party loomed large on the Conference, but all were prepared to go along with the charade for a while. The parties referred are the establishment, the government and the U.S... As a result four months were spent to confound and confuse, Hakimullah Mehsud was killed by the Americans, a Church was bombed, other bombings took place, and many innocent people were killed. The Taliban did not take responsibility for some of the attacks. The question is who was trying to derail the talks?  We kept dithering whether to talk or not to talk and then we formed a committee of four consisting of an ex-Ambassador, two journalists, and an ex-ISI man. This was a low level committee with no serving officials, without any senior officer or Minister, and no clarity on the authority of this motley group. This once again created the impression that we were not serious enough. In a couple of meetings of the two committees nothing much was forthcoming and then came the unfortunate killing by a Taliban group of twenty-three soldiers of the Frontier Constabulary who were in their custody since 2010. As a result the talks are now derailed. Taliban claim that sixteen of their men in custody in KPK and seven in Karachi have been killed by the authorities without trial or any charges and they had sent warnings to this effect by email in early February. Therefore they claim theirs was a retaliatory step. If this is at all true, one must say that if a government and its officers indulge in the unlawful killing of citizens in its custody then how can we demand that an outlawed group cannot do the same? It is also worth asking why the Taliban would kill our soldiers suddenly now after holding them prisoner for more than three years, particularly when talks are taking place? Is it possible they were provoked so that an excuse could be found to end the talks? A denial has come from the establishment on the in custody killings claimed by the TTP, but one must ask whether the credibility of those who have been misleading the Supreme Court for some years on the missing persons case can be good enough to be taken at face value in this case?

As predicted the three parties who do not favour talks will have their way since the government has decided to discontinue the talks, according to the Interior Minister. The Defence Minister has disclosed that “permission has been granted to the Army to act against terrorists.” Air strikes have taken place and military bulletins have informed us that many militants have been killed in Waziristan. There is no information provided on civilian casualties, it is difficult to believe that there were none.

An impression is being conveyed that we shall talk when we like and fight when we like. This policy of just retaliating with airstrikes and such half-measures is doomed to failure, either we fight to eliminate the TTP as a force or we talk peace. Any other approach will mean an endless hostility with all its concomitant negatives without any benefits.

Carrying on with the hypothesis that the U.S. is dead against any talks which may lead to some peace arrangement with TTP as this is not in their interest, and does not fit into their exit plans of 2014. We already know that they have drummed it into our head that this is “our war” and in his last major address Gen. Kayani reinforced this view quite clearly and categorically. Can we expect our civilian governments, either Zardari’s corruption machine or Nawaz Shareef’s Punjabi parade, to withstand the joint pressure of the U.S. and the military and take independent decisions? We should not forget that the Prime Minister has recently added new dimensions to our enslavement by accepting Saudi Arabia’s latest diktats. Therefore peace talks will have to take a back seat.

Now that the pendulum is swinging back on the required track for a war to eliminate the Taliban, we need to analyse some of the consequences of such an action.

The biggest question will be sustainability in terms of financial and other resources, tied in with the duration required and the size of operation needed. Knowing that NATO has not been able to eliminate the Taliban and Al-Qaeda after twelve years, with over 150,000 troops deployed and around $One Trillion spent, what do we think of our outlay and our chances?

With the Nato forces already thinning out and a not too friendly government in Afghanistan, presence of Indian influence and on top of it a porous border that troubles the Americans will now trouble us in reverse.

We must expect heightened violence in our cities as the terrorists will want to attack our soft belly where it hurts most. The thinking that operations in Waziristan will lead to a reduction in violence within the country is faulty; the enemy will always go for your weakest parts. At least until he has not been sufficiently weakened, which would take quite some time to happen.

The Afghan Taliban’s sympathies and support will be with the TTP. We should not take it for granted that they are beholden to us, their goals are motivated by extreme religious beliefs and their agenda is quite different for an Islamic Emirate in the region beyond Afghanistan.

We have been our worst enemies who have provided our real adversaries many a chance to weaken us and who still continue our devastation. One of the major reasons why it is important to paralyse Pakistan is its Atomic power. That is the common aim of the U.S., India, Israel, Russia and their client states. It is in their larger interest that Pakistan be bogged down in conflicts, a sick economy, internal violence; all leading to a failed state and then go for the elimination of our nuclear arsenal. A scenario similar to how Syria was forced to give up its chemical weapons can take place. It’s happening elsewhere why can it not happen here?

When we look at it dispassionately, we must recognize that economically we are in dire straits. An operation of this nature will further disrupt the economy, create more debt and inflation and further impoverish an already burdened populace. We have suffered a lot as a nation over the last thirty-five years, we need to bring closure to this chapter, heal our wounds and strengthen our socio-economic structure enabling us to look forward to the future. Above all else, our interests must be paramount.

Nobody is advocating surrender, nor is there the slightest hint of following any such route, however serious negotiations are the only sensible way to protect our interests. We must talk, persuade, cajole and understand their point of view. After all why have they reached this extreme level of disenchantment with their own country? What has been our attitude towards the Tribal Areas, how has the pernicious Political Agent system foisted by us oppressed them, denied their rights and impoverished them? Why is FATA’s representation in the National Assembly so rigged that each time they join up with whosoever is the ruling party? Why can’t we merge FATA into KPK and provide them all rights, privileges and responsibilities available to the rest? Or any other arrangement that is mutually agreeable. After all a government must accommodate the just demands of the people and reject that which is either unconstitutional or unjust.

Our petty and unprincipled politics is ruining Pakistan, let us rise above to heal the wounds and not inflict more injuries by following senseless policies of confrontation at the behest of others.

by Farooq Sumar
The writer is a businessman and a former chairman of the National Textile Foundation.