By Rifaat Hamid Ghani
IS PAKISTAN secure? Yes we have a nuclear deterrent; but we would have to be pushed to the very edge to employ it. This means outsiders seeking to push and control Pakistan’s direction for diverse purposes, can, to a sufficiently large extent, afford to ignore it: Except that Pakistan’s nuclear actualities make it a factor in the global power calculus. So how vulnerable is Pakistan to sundry pushes in any ‘preferred’ political direction?
One must distinguish between the state’s citizens who are entitled to local political expression and other countries or external power blocs, which – in terms of their own interests – also have the right to push and pressurize. However, their interests are seldom unreservedly the same as Pakistan’s. We need to ask to what extent any particular push matches or conflicts with Pakistan’s free inclinations.
Given the unabated inherent malice of the first-to-nuclearize Bharat, our much larger neighbor, the nuclear deterrent is something Pakistan had to acquire: and has to keep. Furthermore, market economics give Bharat global weightage Pakistan cannot approach. And Pakistan cannot but be conscious of the dualities of nuclear policies and ethics in the US, its western allies and strategically scattered surrogates.
The Islamic content of Pakistan’s nuclear identity is a constant – but that does not complete the arithmetic. There are other significant and separated variables affecting the focal lens the western bloc turns on Pakistan: Such as Russia, no longer that Marxist economically, but still a countervailing force – and alternative bulwark. China is another country with a distinct political philosophy and global orientations whose power to challenge and supplement western assistance globally is waxing rather than waning – sanctions come or sanctions go. Pakistan’s geographical status in regard to Asian and Eurasian proximities and passages is unaffected by FATF and IMF cutoffs and listings. Indeed, excessive western pressure on Pakistan in either an economic or strategic political context could rebound.
And so we return to the fact that, at present, Pakistan, puny as it may be, is the sole Muslim nuclear power. That defining dimension is enhanced by the oft-demonstrated professional excellence of its army, internationally lauded in UN peace-serving missions.
What does being Muslim signify in pan Islamic terms for countries inside and outside the rubric? The lengths to which the western bloc goes to frustrate Iran as well as offer nuclear reassurance to Muslim countries that may be at odds with Iran for reasons of their own, are embarrassingly evident in several developments both past and current. Where an absolutist regime’s power-interests align and coincide seamlessly with external blocs, internal conflict and dissent are rendered irrelevant. In politically numbed countries with negligible military capability there is no significant initial inhibitor to the provision of bases to an expansive or constrictive-minded west: Though seismic reactions can follow such as the emergence of Osama bin Laden. Again, power politics and popular sentiment can diverge or seesaw: Interactions between Afghanistan, the USSR and the US exemplify this horribly.
Empathy with fellow Muslims in other lands is natural. Doubtless if the ‘excesses’ highlighted by the western media against the fellow Muslim in China or former Soviet Republics turn as blatant and impactful as for instance in Israel and what ought to be Palestine, there would be a pan Islamic citizens’ reaction. Thus, Muslim states that are willing to recognize Israel are inhibited by popular sentiment unless and until there is a quid pro quo for Palestinians.
However, in the context of the Middle East and Gulf, Muslim states are seen variously and unscrupulously opposed/allied in abetting or eliminating brutal civil conflict in other Muslim states for a preferred regime’s or element’s mere political ascendancy. Our Parliament set a precedent of legislating against involvement in intra Muslim conflict. But interventionism need not ask for permission.
And what of the hideous face of internal sectarianism and ensuing violence as seen within our own country? And the subsequent too uncomfortably relevant question: how may this element be exploited in, by, for conflict(s) in our vicinity? In local terms, inflammatory clerics and zealots can misinterpret dispassionate neutrality. Ironically enough, advocacy of democratic tolerance of pluralities can fuel or trigger conflict and violence. Witness the assassination of Salman Taseer and the Qadri phenomenon. In the context of the Hazara and Pakhtun communities, sectarian differences and trans border ethnic linkages pose particular hazards for our country.
The power vacuum forming in the wake of America’s defeat in (camouflaged as withdrawal from) Afghanistan is reinforcing as well as restructuring a chronic security challenge to Pakistan. The ambivalently defined Afghan-Pak border has always been porous. Even where terrain may not be acknowledged as held in common, tribal ethnicities and norms and mores are. Bharat and Pakistan have a history of substantially accusing each other of sabotage and subversion. Western power blocs and Bharat’s animus for Pakistan could become self-servingly allied in scapegoating and exerting pressure on Pakistan.
For Afghanistan’s civil strife did not end or begin with the USSR’s entry and exit or America’s salvaging and scuttling. It cannot end until Afghanistan’s components themselves choose to come to terms with one another. Interestingly, the PM’s favoured Turkish TV-soap reflects and glamorizes tribal culture and the triumphant Muslim warrior. Hybrid warfare at its subtlest? After all, Turkey and NATO are not apart, no matter how much the staunch Muslim in Erdogan is badmouthed.
Pakistan has to protect itself from any eventuality of its own warriors and patriots being compelled to fill the body-bags America’s GIs now, given recourse to technological advance, do not need to occupy as the unavoidable outcome of America’s interventionism: this is the gut reaction of every Pakistani.
They don’t have an inkling of how the government intends addressing the issue.