LAHORE - We’re on our own. Nobody will help. Nobody will hurt. They throw up their hands and say, “The Pakistani Taliban are home-grown, there is no interest in taking them on. It is a problem for Pakistan to solve.” The argument that the insurgency found footing in Pakistan with the start of the Afghan war, finds no takers at NATO, which heads the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan. The participation in the war was Pakistan’s sovereign decision, “…and no country should fight a war for an international community.” In short: sovereignty means nothing is compulsory – you made the decision, now own it. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, “It’s not our war”, remains the rallying cry. The feeling among the very nervous international community watching the region, is that if Pakistan cleans up its ‘domestic’ mess: great. Cigars all round. If it doesn’t, there’s always a place on the emerging threats list; and that is a list that precipitates serious preparation and a plan for action. Not the paralysis we are accustomed to for similarly themed lists here at home.
At NATO, for example, not one, but two strategic commands are dedicated to transformation, to deal with “emerging, asymmetrical threats”, as one official put it. Where it took a tear-jerker briefing by the UNHCR to convince NATO members to contribute troops for a historic first, “boots-on-ground” relief operation in the aftermath of the devastating 2005 earthquake; it is hard to imagine a military alliance such as NATO having much trouble convincing 28 members to unanimously agree to noting rising, uncontrolled Islamic militancy in a nuclear-armed country as an “emerging threat”.
But, Pakistan is a NATO partner. We have problems, yes; surely we’re not the enemy?
Quite so. But it’s “types of global trends” that are “threatening”, not countries per se. If your country is a (perhaps, even reluctant) host to one or more of these “emerging threats”…well, the rest of the world must protect itself. Take the example of the development of a missile defence system to protect airspace over NATO countries. With over 30 countries actively pursuing missile technology – many of them well-lauded NATO partners in various capacities – it’s not, for example, the Russians, that NATO allies worry about.
Pakistan’s relationship with the US finds expected reflection in its perception by NATO allies. Surprisingly, the Raymond Davis episode left quite an impression on member states of the Alliance, other than the Americans. The Raymond Davis case “added to the discomfort” after Salala (facts about which are still, reportedly, “disputed”), say officials, and “fuelled distrust between Pakistan and the West”. Then again, in Pakistan, the NATO alliance and the US are rarely differentiated between. The last time there was a “review of US-Pakistan relations”, it was following the death of 26 soldiers, after NATO helicopters fired at a checkpost in Salala.
It so happens, another review of US-Pakistan relations is imminent, if Chaudhry Nisar has his way. The reason is highly unlikely to inspire confidence in Pakistan’s ability and seriousness to fight a menace that poses more danger to its own people, than to any other country’s. The review is being demanded after the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, a man wanted in Pakistan, with a Rs 50 million reward on his head. Bizarre? Yes. But Chaudhry Nisar and Imran Khan don’t think so. From their speeches, it would seem Pakistan has come to see no difference in the deaths of those who fight for it, and those who fight against it. It seems that every death in this war is to be equally mourned. Those buried in flag-draped coffins, and the ones they fought against, treated without distinction.
Meanwhile, the world watches: Pakistan tying itself in knots, unable to recognise the ills that ail it, desperately trying to preserve a disease wrongly labelled a cure, drowning in self-pity, public sentiment deliberately driven quite, quite mad. Our place on the emerging threats list is waiting. And one day, and one mishandled crisis at a time, we inch closer to accepting the unspoken invitation.