The bad news is that “Operation Geronimo” of May 2, 2011, is the worst debacle for the Pakistani military establishment since the misadventure at Kargil in 1999. It has seriously shaken the confidence and belief of the nation in and for itself. The good news is that it may yet help tilt the civil-military imbalance towards an elected civilian parliament that is conscious of the urgent need to review and amend the “national security paradigm” that has been monopolized by the military since partition and is responsible for many of our problems. Consider.
The nation is awash with untenable and absurd conspiracy theories, mostly anti-American. This is a reflection of our impotence in the face of facts and our rage at being confronted with an unpalatable truth. Both the truth and the facts humiliate us by showing up our national and institutional weaknesses and compel us to manufacture delusional fictions to comfort ourselves. If Abbottabad was a “drama” enacted by the Americans for various reasons, if there was no Osama bin Laden in the compound, then we must also accept that the Pakistani military establishment was fully involved in the “drama”. It is the ISI that has told us, on the basis of the evidence of the three widows of OBL in its care, that OBL had lived in the compound for six years and was killed by the US Navy seals who stormed the compound last Monday – in which case we should ask for explanations and accountability at home from the military instead of fuming against the Americans as co-conspirators.
Much the same mass delusion and intellectual hypocrisy is attached to arguments about how America has “violated our sovereignty” in the OBL case. Of course, they have. But the drones “violate” it every week on the basis of secret rules of engagement agreed upon with the Americans many years ago by the Pakistani military high command that are still in play. The media knows this but doesn’t want to ask the military to explain it. Further, our sovereignty has truly been violated by the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda foreign intruders in safe havens in Waziristan. To add injury to insult, these terrorists have killed over 35,000 Pakistanis in the last five years. But no one is focused on the existential threat to Pakistan from them. Indeed, stupid arguments are given that once the Americans leave Afghanistan these terrorists will simply vanish, ignoring their proclaimed mission statement to overthrow the state and constitution of Pakistan. Note also that anti-American terrorists like Ramzi Yusuf, Aimal Kansi, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Umer Sheikh, and dozens of others conspired to harm America from the soil of Pakistan long before 9/11.
The fact also is that our “sovereignty” was sold to America when our civil-military bureaucracy entered into unequal military pacts with the US in the 1950s, when it offered Pakistan as a “front-line” state for America in its war against the USSR when the rest of the post-colonial world was cobbling an autonomous “non-aligned movement”, when it sold our sufi soul to various jihadi organisations sponsored (as the modern-day equivalents of “America’s founding fathers” as per President Ronald Reagan) and paid for by America in Afghanistan. The civil-military bureaucracy hoodwinked Pakistanis by flogging it as a sovereign sale to “friends, not masters”. In the latest post 9/11 era, the US has paid $18 billion to Pakistan for buying into its “sovereignty” under General Pervez Musharraf and it is no surprise that much of this money has gone to replenish the Pakistani military or to line the pockets of usurpers.
Meanwhile, the military has fashioned a national security doctrine to suit its manufacture of a national security state. This is based on a “palpable and continuing threat from India” to undo Pakistan. In its latest formulation, the threat is supposed to emanate from India’s “capacity” to harm Pakistan rather than its intentions to make peace, which is a recipe for an arms race and not an antidote to war. It is true that India’s Hindu ruling elites were initially averse to the idea of Pakistan and hostile to the new country. They were also unfair in denying Kashmir to Pakistan. But since the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Pakistan, the deterrent has worked to obliterate any existential threat to Pakistan from India. The 1999 Lahore summit between the civilian political leaders of both countries was a confirmation of this new reality. Unfortunately, however, the military has become so obsessed with the idea of itself as the sole protector and saviour of Pakistan, a corollary of which is its continuing demand for constantly rising “defense” budgets and monopoly in foreign policy making, that it is not ready to open up its national security doctrine for discussion, debate and re-evaluation in the light of new economic, political and regional realities. This, despite the fact of disastrous military policy making in 1965 (Operation Gibraltar, that provoked war with India), in 1971 (war with India that dismembered Pakistan), in 1984 (loss of Siachin), in the 1980s (warlike tensions with India over Pakistan’s support to the Khalistan movement), in the Afghan jihad (whose militant Islamism blowback has crippled
Pakistani culture and politics), in the 1990s Kashmir jihad (that has wiped out a generation of Kashmiris and created jihadi militias in Pakistan without yielding Kashmir), in the 1999 Kargil conflict (that led to a military defeat and the overthrow of a democratically elected government), and now gross incompetence or complicity in shielding OBL.
If 9/11 was a wake-up call for America, this may be a defining moment for Pakistan. At stake is not the uneasy US-Pak relationship which yields billions of dollars for renting a part of our sovereignty to America but the domestic civil-military imbalance that has deformed the nature of civil society and crippled the economy, and the war against the non-state actors and terrorists who have usurped our sovereignty and are threatening to propel us into a suicidal conflict with the US and India.
To be sure, Pakistan must retain robust military defense preparedness not only against an overarching and arrogant India but also against a potentially destablising Afghan state that is in the making (the US envisages a 250,000 strong Afghan army in a couple of years led by Tajik-Uzbek elements of the Northern Alliance that have traditionally been anti-Pakistan). But the way to protect ourselves is to build trust and peace and trade and interdependence with our neighbours like India and Afghanistan and Iran and allies like America and the EU instead of trying to weaken or leverage them by internal and external state and non-state provocations as we have done in the past. “Sovereignty” is not abstract or absolute. It is a realistic function of power. Power is also not absolute or abstract. It is relative to the demonstrated power of others, singly or in groups. Power is also related to economic autarky and prosperity. Finally power is related to the social contract between a people and its rulers via a consensus constitution in which elected civilian parliaments are supreme.
Some civilians in Pakistan are beginning to understand this logic and are demanding serious accountability of their elected and appointed leaders. Nawaz Sharif has taken a statesmanlike lead in this matter by asking for a judicial commission to probe the May 2 debacle and fix responsibility. He is right in saying that that there can be no confidence in the military holding itself accountable as proposed by the Prime Minister. But this accountability should not just be of some civil-military leaders who have been hoist by their own petard in current circumstances. Nor should it be a knee-jerk reaction to the bullying of the US. It should be a rigorous and sustained accountability of rigid self-serving institutional doctrines that have propelled Pakistan into an unsustainable arms race with India and are seeking to control Afghanistan, that want to leverage terrorist non-state actors against America. We must also right the delusional mass mindsets that ill-serve Pakistan’s economy and polity in this day and age.