Posted on Friday, February 27, 2015
in The Friday Times (Editorial)
Not so long ago, India was accusing Pakistan of sponsoring cross-border terrorism and refusing to talk to it; the US was accusing the ISI of being “a veritable arm of the Haqqani network” and cutting off aid; Kabul was accusing Pakistan of hosting the Afghan Taliban in FATA and supporting tit-for-tat TTP terrorists from Kunar; even China was quietly admonishing Pakistan for not stamping out Chinese Islamists training in FATA and fomenting trouble in Xinjiang. Now the Indian foreign secretary is scheduled to visit Islamabad; Pakistan’s DG-ISI has gone to Washington; China’s President has confirmed he will visit Pakistan soon. The Army Chief, DG-ISI and Foreign Minister have all made trips to Kabul. The Afghan President has parleyed in Islamabad. Top American officials come and go routinely. All the regional players are busy talking to one another instead of squabbling. What is going on? Has Pakistan’s military establishment finally woken up to hard new realities that have isolated Pakistan and eroded its state, civil society and economy?
The arrival on the scene of General Raheel Sharif as the new army chief certainly points in some such direction. His predecessor General Kayani ruled the roost for over a decade, as DG-MO, DG-ISI, VCOAS and Army Chief, and presided over deteriorating relations with Kabul, Delhi and Washington. During his time, the TTP was born and became an “existential threat” to Pakistan. By the time General Kayani left, Pakistan’s external and internal position was precarious. Therefore let us make no mistake about the significance of General Raheel Sharif’s entry.
It is General Sharif and not Mr Sharif who has abandoned the false notion of talks with the TTP and taken the war to them. It is General Sharif who has repaired relations with Kabul and Washington. It is General Sharif who is supporting Mr Sharif’s bid to “normalize” relations with India and forcefully backing his efforts to compel the PPP and MQM to set Karachi and Sindh in order. It is General Sharif who has presented the National Action Plan against terrorism to Mr Sharif and it is General Sharif’s corps commanders who are working with provincial governments to lend muscle to their anti-terrorism efforts. It is General Sharif who has ordered the military to shoulder the burden of trying terrorists in military courts after the civilian set-up of ATCs and HCs failed to tackle the problem. And now it is General Sharif who is arm-twisting the Afghan Taliban to open talks with Kabul with a view to bringing the civil war to an end so that the horrible chapter of American intervention can be closed.
Does this amount to a “paradigm change” in the military establishment’s old view of Pakistan’s national security based on certain notions of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan and asymmetric warfare with “perennial enemy” India through the use of religious groups and parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami, Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam, etc, and non-state actors like the Afghan Taliban and jehadis of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-i-Mohammad, etc? In short, is this a repudiation of the exploitation of religion to legitimize and empower a particular national security doctrine of the Pakistani state that has long been the bedrock of the military establishment?
The ISPR says there are no “good” or “bad” Taliban now and that the war is against all Taliban terrorists. In other words, the “good” Afghan Taliban in FATA and Karachi are now as unacceptable as the “bad” Pakistani Taliban of the TTP. This is in line with the military’s policy of routing the TTP and pressurizing the Mullah Omar-Haqqani network to talk peace with Kabul and stop waging war. But there is no clarification about the status of the jihadis, of the LeT, JM etc, and their leaders. Indeed, there is a deliberate attempt to obfuscate this issue.
There is an obvious explanation for this. Unlike the TTP, these jehadis pose no threat to the Pakistani military because they are oriented to undermining India. Therefore the question of disbanding them will not seriously arise until the core issues that bedevil relations with India are settled meaningfully in the long run. That is why Hafiz Saeed’s mouth will not be zipped and Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi will not be convicted quickly and cross-border infiltration into Kashmir will only be tightly “controlled”.
India remains the Pakistan military’s bête-noire. It is the reason for its powerful role in politics. It is the cause of its quest for “strategic depth” and its manufacture of non-state religious actors. It is why the military has made common cause with the mullahs. It also why Pakistan has become a failing state that is at war with its neighbours and with itself. It is only when General Raheel Sharif helps Mr Sharif lay the blocks of enduring peace with India and together both agree to take religion out of the politics of the state that we will be able to say that a paradigm change is underway in Pakistan to make it a modern nation-state.