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Old Wednesday, July 02, 2008
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Post A costly drift and neglect

A costly drift and neglect

Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Shireen M Mazari

Pakistan continues to create unique situations for itself. After the February elections, hopes for a normal democratic dispensation quickly died when we saw yet another unique governance system come into play. We now have a government and parliament on the one hand, and a decision maker outside of these structures on the other the Zardari phenomenon. The result is that parliament and the cabinet are fast becoming irrelevant to crucial decision making as was the case in the Musharraf-Aziz setup, but the difference now being that strategic decisions are being privatised and power being delinked from responsibility.

Ironically, the main coalition partner of the PPP, the PML-N, seems to be completely in the dark also as to what is happening in terms of policies as Chaudhry Nisar has been compelled to state in terms of the military action in Pakhtunkhwa province and the tribal areas. The fact that parliament was not brought in seems to be a deliberate attempt to create a further divide between the military and the civilian political elite. Is this part of the new game plan that is emerging: deliberate chaos, policy drifts, increased civil-military mistrust? All this will of course benefit our detractors be it our large neighbour to the east or the external super power with its grand neocon design.

The drift in state affairs is certainly not hindering the new members of the government from enjoying all their perks. However, in the chaos that prevails all around us, no one seems to be particularly bothered about some crucial developments relating to our external policies. As has been our shameful tradition, our leaders continue to provide time for mere bureaucrats from the US. Our prime minister, in the subservient tradition long established towards the US, continues to make the right noises by declaring that the Pakistan's strategic partnership with the US would not remain restricted only to the war on terror. Given that we have given up a large bit of our sovereignty for this relationship already, God help us if we go beyond for that will entail handing over the country to the US.

Incidentally, the US already has its own plans for Pakistan and the anti-Pakistan group of US analysts of Indian origin are already sharpening their knives. Now they have the added advantage of the US-funded Balusa group's leader here as the National Security Adviser and another member as the Foreign Minister! Nor are we being spared the absurd declarations from the prime minister who has once again declared that "we will never negotiate with militants nor allow foreigners to use our soil against another country." Perhaps someone should educate him on the fact that states in similar situations have always had to negotiate with militants as has been pointed out in these columns, with the examples of Britain and the IRA and Sri Lanka and the LTTE, to again cite some cases.

As for preserving the sanctity of our territory, could he explain why the Pakistani state then got involved in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan at the behest of the US and why we are turning a blind eye to what the US is doing through Shamsi base against Iran? Even more important, the prime minister should explain why we are allowing an external power the right to use our soil against our own people as they carry out missile and helicopter gunship attacks on our territory? But then ordinary Pakistani lives have always been cheap for our rulers.

However, coming back to the fact that our drift in terms of policies is preventing us from evolving crucial responses to developments in the neighbourhood and beyond. Just look at our embarrassing silence in response to what is happening in Indian Occupied Kashmir for days now. For all those who had declared that India was winning over the Kashmiri people, clearly they need to do a major reality check. The situation in Occupied Kashmir remains brutal and the people remain alienated from their Indian occupiers which results in violence and mayhem at the slightest provocation. If anyone thinks the Kashmiris have accepted being part of the Indian Union, they need to take off their blinkers.

The only thing that is certain is that the Kashmiris struggling against Indian occupation have given up on any expectations they had of getting some level of sustained and rational support from Pakistan. If we are unclear today of our state's Kashmir policy, how can the Kashmiris understand where we stand. Our policy drift has certainly sent wrong signals to the Kashmiris, especially when all and sundry insist on holding forth on Kashmir without even an awareness of the facts on the ground. We have let down the Kashmiris more by our inconsistency than anything else.

Nor is it just Kashmir. For over a year now some of us have wanted the government to prepare a proper strategy to deal with the Indo-US nuclear deal and its fallout in terms of IAEA safeguards and the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG). So far there is nothing but complacency that has been evident in our decision-making circles. Would India have been equally complacent if Pakistan had signed a similar deal with a major power?

For instance, India is seeking to negotiate a special safeguards agreement with the IAEA (already mentioned in these columns earlier) rather than accepting the standard one for non-NPT states like Pakistan, which we continue to sign for our civilian reactors. India wants an escape clause in its safeguard agreement and Pakistan needs to make clear publicly so that international arms control lobbyists can be mobilised that if the IAEA gives India a country-specific safeguards agreement then Pakistan will also seek the same and will not sign the existing IAEA agreement for its new civilian plants. So far we have done little but vacillate on this count partly because we feel the majority of the IAEA Board will go with India in any case. But this is a defeatist approach and we should be more active on this front including making more public India's proliferation record.

Secondly, the US is seeking India-specific waivers from the NSG while Pakistan has called for a criteria-based approach. Interestingly, Israel has a similar approach to Pakistan on this issue and it circulated a non-paper in this regard over a year ago. Again, we seem to have done little on this count, although there are some NSG members who are opposed to the Indian deal on principle countries like New Zealand, Ireland and Sweden. Others may be more ambivalent but anti-nuclear lobbies within their countries can be approached. Even within the US there is a strong lobby opposed to the US-India nuclear deal including the various arms control NGOs.

The point is that we are being kept so busy internally that we have almost stopped responding to developments that already impact or will certainly impact our strategic environment in a most negative fashion in the future. Whether by design or by sheer ineptitude, our successive rulers are reducing our regional strategic operational space post-9/11. That is why the Karzais of this world can threaten us with impunity and the US can brazenly conduct itself intrusively within our domestic space.

Meanwhile, internally, we are creating greater gulfs between the haves and have-nots and thereby encouraging a culture of intolerance bred out of frustration and anger. As for the fear of Talibanisation of Pakistan, the best way to prevent that in the long term is to create some space between our state and the US so that the people are confident that the state is making decisions based on its national interests and not on US interests. That is the only way to give the nation, as opposed to simply the rulers, a long-term stake in strengthening a tolerant and vibrant Pakistan.

The writer is a defence analyst. Email:
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