Pakistan's 'existential threat'

"Pakistan is on course to become an Islamist State" according to a "dismal" scenario being drawn in Washington by US intelligence, defence and diplomatic officials. A recent study concludes: "There's little hope of preventing nuclear-armed Pakistan from disintegrating into fiefdoms controlled by Islamist warlords and terrorists, posing a greater threat to the US than Afghanistan's terrorist haven did before 9/11." A US intelligence official with long experience in Pakistan has predicted that "it's a disaster in the making on the scale of the Iranian revolution." He also questions the post-9/11 US policy focus exclusively on Afghanistan's stabilisation. According to him, the US, Pakistan and India have jointly been pursuing this policy at the cost of Pakistan. In his view, the US and India pursued this policy from their own perspectives made sense. But for Pakistan under General Musharraf to have pursued the same policy all these years makes no sense at all. According to these assessments, the current situation in Swat and rest of Northern Pakistan is the net result of this erratic policy pursued by the US, India and Pakistan. This was a bad, bad, bad policy, is now the clear realisation. Why did Musharraf become an accomplice in this bad, bad, bad policy? The answer is simple. He needed legitimacy and acceptability at the global level. He dragged the war into Pakistan that the US in the aftermath of 9/11 was to fight against Taliban in Afghanistan. The US experts are now convinced that compared to landlocked Afghanistan, Pakistan's instability is far more dangerous for the world because it will not be containable. If instability in Pakistan grows in the coming months and years, it can much easily spread around the region and become a bigger danger for the region and for world at large. The focus on Afghanistan at the cost of Pakistan was therefore a bad policy with dangerous and devastating consequences. General Musharraf became a ready partner in this policy just to remain relevant to America's War On Terror and thus to prolong his own autocratic rule. President George W Bush could not have a more suitable partner his own belligerence-led policies. In the process, Pakistan has paid the heaviest price of its history in terms of unprecedented instability and violence. General Musharraf no doubt is answerable to the nation for his domestic as well as external debacles. American analysts meanwhile agree that Afghanistan now looks much more stable than Pakistan only because the US and NATO forces, assisted by General Musharraf brought all Taliban into Pakistan. Now, those Taliban, in collaboration with Pakistani Taliban, have become a real threat to Pakistan itself and are strengthening their positions with rocket launchers and sophisticated guns on their shoulders in the outskirts of Islamabad. Washington is understandably concerned over the prospect of Talibanisation in Pakistan as a result of the Swat deal. "I think the news over the past several days is very disturbing, the administration is extremely concerned," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, noting similar 'candid' comments made earlier by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She had reportedly said: "Pakistan's fragile government was facing an existential threat" from Islamic militants who according to her were now operating only a few hours away from Islamabad. Defence Secretary Robert Gates also expressed similar concerns by urging Pakistan's leaders to act to stop the militants who have taken control of districts about 100 kilometres outside Islamabad. Meanwhile, President Obama has decided to get personality involved and proposes to host a US-Pakistan-Afghanistan summit on May 6-7 in Washington. According to White House spokesman, the purpose behind this move was only to "find solutions to tile problems that are in this region and to protect the United States." Pakistan no doubt is now seen as the real Afghan issue. The problem starts and ends with us. It is no longer important whose war is this. We are facing the apocalypse now. The elected civilian government faces a serious challenge and an inescapable responsibility to salvage the situation. It needs to weigh its options with seriousness that the gravity of the situation warrants. Pathetically, however, all that it has done so far has been too little, and too late. It is not sufficient for Prime Minister Gilani just to be making statements to the media. He must lead the process for hard decision-making. We need to convene an All Parties Conference to ensure that President Zardari does not go to Washington unprepared for the tripartite summit. Before leaving, he must get the feel of the nation's pulse and real mood. What will be important for him there is not what we are required to do for others' interests; it is what we ought to do for our own national interests. Our sole concern should be our own stability which is today more important to us than stability of any other country. Terrorism is a universal phenomenon and Pakistan alone should not be held responsible to keep the world free of terrorism. We can't keep our own country free of terrorism; how can we guarantee protection to Afghanistan and India. Let them take the responsibility for their own security. We should be worried about our security. But we must be responsible enough not to allow our soil to be used for acts of terrorism against other neighbours. No more acts of interference or infiltration from either side. In this volatile scenario, Washington could restore the needed balance of power in our region. It must also realise that the problems now facing Pakistan are the direct offshoot of wrong US policies in this region. It would be historically inaccurate to circumscribe the Afghan crisis within the context of the 9/11 tragedy alone. The truth of the matter is that Afghanistan has been in a state of crisis because of US mishandling of this region for nearly three decades now. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, instead of giving it the help it deserved for having been used as the final "battlefront" of the Cold war, the international community abandoned the Afghans leaving them at the mercy of their own fate and allowing their country to remain engulfed in a state of chaos and conflict. Once the world turned its back on Afghanistan, the Taliban were the only option left for the Afghan people. The resultant turmoil in Afghanistan provided an ideal breeding ground for extremism and terrorism. Had the US not walked away from Afghanistan after the Soviet pull out, perhaps the history of our world today would have been different. If the world had remained engaged with the people of Afghanistan, providing them strength and succour to rebuild a proper political and economic system and reject the policies of their post-Soviet government, the situation today would have been totally different. Indeed, the Afghans are not the only victims of the Afghan tragedy. Pakistan as the key frontline state in the Afghan war also suffered irreparably in multiple ways in terms of refugee influx, socio-economic burden, rampant terrorism and protracted conflict in its border areas with Afghanistan. The Afghan crisis, both during the post-Soviet era had a direct impact on Pakistan's social, cultural, political, economic and strategic interests. It is time to redress the situation. There can be no two opinions on the need to combat terrorism. But terrorism will not be contained through military operations alone. The more you kill, the more you produce. Violence is already destroying our society. To eliminate this evil, we must address its root causes. There is a tendency to ignore the root causes of terrorism. To address the root causes is not to justify terrorism, but to understand them and thus to overcome them. President Obama must make a clean break from the failed policies of his predecessor. Drone attacks and military incursions across the Durand Line are only deepening the backlash, enraging the people of Pakistan and fuelling the pervasive anti-American sentiment. Military operations alone will not defeat Pakistan's militant groups; addressing some of these groups will require a diverse approach, including strengthening governance and rule of law, creating economic opportunities, and exploring political negotiations. For any regional approach, India-Pakistan equation must be kept straight. US must not ignore Pakistan's legitimate concerns over the "existential threat" that Pakistan feels to its interests because of India's preponderant role in the region, its special country-specific nuclear treatment, and its disproportionate influence in Afghanistan with grave nuisance potential for causing trouble in Pakistan's tribal areas and Balochistan. For effective anti-Taliban campaign, Pakistan's strategic fears and apprehensions in its backyard will have to be alleviated. The writer is a former foreign secretary

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