Pakistan's Dilemma of Strategic Identity

The events in Pakistan over the past few months appear intriguing even to perspicacious Islamabad watchers. The Establishment’s policy of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds since 9/11 has come up for intense internal scrutiny. The many terrorist groups to which Pakistan is a resident country such as the Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Lashkar e Taiyyaba have for the first time openly expressed their lack of confidence in State policy by taking on the Army. The attack on the Punjab Regimental Training Centre in Dargi was symbolic in more ways than one. Perceptible observers did not miss the message which the largely rebellious Pathan diaspora of Waziristan dominated by the Taliban is attempting to convey to the Punjabi dominated government, that retribution will be sharp, focused and will cause heavy casualties. President Musharraf is no longer the sole target, but it is the military which is coming under fire undoubtedly a result of the attack on the mosque in Chingai, Bajaur killing 85 people.

State duplicity is thus under intense pressure and Pakistan would have to sooner or later resolve its dilemma of strategic identity resting in the opposites of either being a moderate Islamic state aligned itself towards Western democracy or a military theocracy pandering to the wishes of the Mullahs. Resolution of the impasse can come about only through tectonic shifts in Pakistani polity which may see a new order emerging in the country over the next few years. Balancing strategic alignment with China is another aspect though seemingly less challenging.

Materially Pakistan has benefited substantially with its policy of deft duplicity of balancing the West, Islamic fundamentalism and China. The smart wages of this policy are evident with the largesse of $ 3.6 billion in military aid received from the USA for operations from January 2002 till August 2005, 25 % of its Defence budget. A further $ 900 million are expected from Pentagons’ massive $ 439 billion FY 2007 budget from reimbursements to coalition supporting nations. The release of F 16 aircraft with advanced avionics as per latest indications will keep the armed forces satiated for a long time to come, ensuring the junta’s hold on power beyond the 2007 elections. China’s largesse is even more impressive, containing as it does the development of Gwadar and the infrastructure around it, six major nuclear power plants over the next decade or so and cooperation in the field of missile and defence technology.

However resolution of the internal stability–instability paradox is proving more challenging as its definition lies in non material aspects of security resting in development, identity resolution, assimilation of the margins and mainstreaming modern human values. The lop sided development of the central core of Punjab and parts of Sindh and the North West Frontier Province at the cost of the lesser developed Western areas of Baluchistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas over the years has led to long term fissures amongst people who are increasingly exposed to the pulls of modernism. The states answer of securitization has only created greater dissonance. The signs of discord are ominous.

The resurgence of violence in Baluchistan after the killing of Akbar Bugti was rapidly brought under control. The state after its initial over joyous reaction quickly reviewed its stance to denote it as a possible accidental detonation of the cave, a story which has seen no takers. But the outward calm is waiting to explode as the leadership of the Baluchi resistance comes to grips with the challenges of coordinating a multi faceted tribal-militancy. The periodic strikes at gas pipelines, the symbol of Baluchi struggle against the Pakistani state have kept alive the roots of insurgency which are likely to erupt at an opportune time in the future.

The curious manner in which it has brought about peace in Northern Waziristan by a virtual surrender to the fundamentalists will once again prove to be a temporary reprieve. Reports indicate that a joint jirga of the Taliban in North and South Waziristan has appointed Mullah Muhammad Nazir, on the list of wanted in Afghanistan and an associate of Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan, chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as the chief of the militants in the area. These elements have already launched a campaign of, “tax” collection and imposed their draconian laws impinging on individual freedoms. With major stakes of the United States as well as the European powers now hinging on success in Afghanistan, a clash with fundamentalist forces is inevitable. Pakistan will have to thus make a strategic choice between the Taliban and the West.

Lack of political debate in the country with a democracy best explained as, “establishment sponsored” has led to inadequate explorations of parallel policy options in a monolithic decision making structure. Thus long term policy is being sacrificed for narrow parochial gains suiting elitist interests leading to emergence of two diametrically opposite trajectories. Till Pakistan is able to resolve this strategic predicament, the country will continue to remain in a state of disarray in the years ahead.             


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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