In Pakistan, as experts have pointed out, the tail has always wagged the dog. This is to say that the political economy of national power (economy, national cohesion, constitutional rule, etc) is hostage to a given notion of military security (India is the permanent enemy) that fashions its foreign policy. In most states, it’s the other way round: military security is just one dimension of national power and foreign policy is just one element of sustaining national power.
This doctrine of national security based on India as the permanent threat and enemy has had crippling consequences for national power: it has relegated constitutional rule to military over-lordship; it has created armed non-state actors that have eroded national cohesion; and it has bled the economy at the altar of the defense budget. Worse, it has made Pakistan dependent on the United States for sustaining both the military and the economy. The chickens have now come home to roost – the US no longer requires Pakistan as a long-term asset that has to be nurtured with injections of money and weapons; the non-state actors are slowly but surely destroying the writ of the state; the economy is in shreds; and the country is isolated and alienated in the region and abroad.
Prime minister Nawaz Sharif understands this instinctively – he wants peace with India; he wants constitutional civilian control over the military, he wants a robust self-reliant economy. The problem is that he still hasn’t figured how to go about bringing paradigm change.
The first step is to convince the military leadership that its old national security paradigm is unsustainable and must be changed appropriately. Fortunately, it is dawning on the generals that the existential threat comes from internal Muslim non-state actors rather than external Hindu India. But the problem is that they are still unable or unwilling to fashion a comprehensive new doctrine to replace the old one. This is partly because of a developed aversion to civilian supremacy and partly because the military’s very raison d’etre is India-centered in terms of its education, training, doctrines, logistics, perks and privileges and will brook no sudden ruptures from conventional wisdom and practice. Now Mr Sharif will have to use the “Kayani doctrine” of the internal Vs external enemy as a platform from which to nudge the new army chief, General Raheel, to put it into practice. How to do that is the million-dollar question.
One way for Mr Sharif is to continue with the old “composite dialogue” approach with India and hope to be a “net gainer” from dispute settlements on Kashmir, Siachin, Sir Creek, Water, etc. But this has failed to click with India since Kargil and then Mumbai destroyed all remnants of trust and Pakistan has not done anything to bring the criminal perpetrators to justice. Indeed, India’s regional doctrine has progressively posited Pakistan as an “untrustworthy state” with whom no unconditional “business” is possible. Therefore Mr Sharif’s attempt to raise the issue of “self-determination of Kashmir” at the UN in September and Sartaj Aziz’s recent exhortation to India to let go of Siachin are misguided steps in the wrong direction for paradigm change.
Much the same may be said of Mr Sharif’s efforts to smoke the peace pipe with the “existential” TTP internal enemy. This is the time to launch a military operation to degrade the TTP because its leadership is in disarray and talk to it after a measure of success has been achieved.
Mr Sharif’s approach to US-Pak relations also betrays the policy-weakness as on the two issues above. He wants Washington to do more for Pakistan but offers no concrete input into America’s national security requirements. Indeed, by demanding an end to drone strikes, he actually seems to be asking America to dispense with an effective weapon that successfully aims to degrade the Taliban, while helping them to regroup and reassert their power against Pakistan!
Despite his best intentions, Mr Sharif remains a prisoner of the national security establishment and conservative foreign policy advisors. Instead of asking India and America to “do more” unilaterally for Pakistan, a more fruitful approach may be to first join hands with them to stabilize and unite Afghanistan which figures prominently in everyone’s national security paradigm. Mr Karzai’s visit to India next week can show the way forward in the region.
India doesn’t want an American base in Afghanistan aimed at encircling and dominating the Asia-Pacific; Pakistan doesn’t want the US eying its nuclear weapons program; Afghanistan doesn’t want to compromise its national dignity any more by continuing to bed with a foreign occupation power. They all want an end to America’s current dominant role no less than the Taliban’s potentially dominant role in Afghanistan. Therefore they should all seek ways and means of achieving this two-pronged objective via a trilateral mechanism. This is the best way to build common trust to pave the way for bilateral dispute resolution in the future.