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Wanted in Pakistan, someone to bell the cat

Wanted in Pakistan, someone to bell the cat

Author: Husain Haqqani
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: November 24, 2001

The turn of events in Afghanistan over the past two weeks is being described as a strategic debacle for Pakistan. After 20 years of involvement in Afghan affairs, Islamabad suddenly finds itself without any significant friends across its Northwest frontier. The Taliban, hitherto cultivated by Pakistan at the expense of friendly relations with other nations, are bitter about General Pervez Musharraf's U-turn against them. Pashtun warlords returning to their former bastions in eastern and southern Afghanistan are seeking the patronage of the CIA instead of the ISI. The Northern Alliance, now firmly in control of Kabul, continues to breathe fire against Islamabad.

The US-led coalition has a military presence in Afghanistan while Iran, Russia and India are rushing to establish embassies in Kabul. But Pakistan has been reduced to issuing vacuous statements about a broad-based government in Afghanistan. Once the unfortunate slaughter of foreign volunteers fighting alongside the Taliban in Kunduz is over, Pakistan will also be forced to count dead bodies of its citizens. Having failed to prevent young men infused with the spirit of Jihad from crossing over into Afghanistan, it must now deal with the failure in preventing their massacre.

General Musharraf cannot be faulted for joining the US-led coalition in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. But the question he must ask himself and his colleagues in the army relates to their policies prior to US re-engagement (if military strikes can be termed that) in Afghanistan.

General Musharraf has said repeatedly since September 11 that he has saved ''Pakistan's core interests'' by aligning with the United States. These core interests are defined as the country's nuclear weapons programme and its focus on the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. But if Afghanistan was not a core Pakistani interest, why did Islamabad squander so much of its limited resources and good will over influencing the course of events in that country?

Pakistan's extensive involvement in Afghanistan was assumed that a Pashtun-led, Islamic-oriented government in Kabul would be more favourably disposed to Islamabad than a regime comprising secular Pashtuns or leaders from Afghanistan's ethnic minorities. Primarily, the military leadership and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) undertook policy making about Afghanistan, leaving little room for inputs from the Foreign Office or civilian analysts. Had civilian opinion been taken into consideration, there were enough voices calling for broadening the range of Pakistan's contacts among Afghan leaders.

The single-dimension minds formulating policy at the time failed to take into consideration the possibility of international involvement in Afghanistan of the kind manifested in the past two months. Pakistan could, at least, have been better prepared for a stage when its ability to control events in Afghanistan would be limited as it is now.

The decision to burn bridges with all other Afghan groups for the sake of the Taliban is not the first occasion in Pakistan's history that strategic decisions have been made without a fallback position. In 1965, Field Marshal Ayub Khan led the country into war with India assuming that the war would be limited to the Kashmir region and that Indian forces will not cross the international boundary.

In 1971, General Yahya Khan assumed that the United States and China would intervene militarily to protect the integrity of Pakistan. In 1999, the Kargil adventure was undertaken without providing for either international pressure or for India's resolve to retake those heights even at great military cost.

On all these occasions, 'straightforward' military decision-makers thought in simplistic military terms, ignoring political complexities. On all these occasions, no post-mortem examination was carried out to assess where and why Pakistan went wrong. In case of the East Pakistan/Bangladesh crisis, the Hamoodur Rahman Commission was established but its findings were not made public for almost three decades.

It's time for Pakistan to break with that tradition. A commission must immediately be established to conduct accountability of those who led Pakistan into the delusory policies that have left it with no friends and the prospect of incessant civil war in a neighbouring country with tribes which straddle its borders. And unlike the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, this commission's report should be made public as soon as its open deliberations are completed.

The Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report offered us an insight into the core problems of decision making in Pakistan. That the country's politicians are selfish individuals willing to risk the country's future for personal gains is a fact known to most Pakistanis for quite some time. But the army is no better, if the report is to be believed. The reported shenanigans of General Yahya and his closest aides led to critical questions about our nation's institution of last resort.

How could so many top generals be as depraved as Yahya's coterie? Why was the then military leadership a victim of delusions about its strength and the state of Pakistan's international relations?

General Musharraf could learn a few lessons from the experiences of Pakistan under General Yahya Khan, who presided over the 1971 debacle. Like Pakistan's present ruler, General Yahya had assumed power at a time of national crisis, with considerable support from the people. He had attempted to reform the country and lay the foundations of democracy guided by him and his uniformed associates. Personal weaknesses relating to wine and women notwithstanding, he was an able soldier and financially honest man.

His intentions were good but his inability to understand political issues and to deal with them led to military defeat as well as division of Pakistan. Yahya believed that he had been assigned a mission by the Almighty to save Pakistan from politicians he believed to be corrupt and unsuited to lead the nation. He did not waver for one minute from the ''strategy'' that he and his fellow generals evolved, ignoring public opinion and the voices of the intelligentsia.

The ''strategy'' turned out to be a recipe for national disaster. The lesson is to acknowledge that the complex problems of a nation such as Pakistan cannot be solved by the simple though straightforward approach of a soldier with a sense of God-given mission.

As the consequence of Pakistan's Afghan misadventure become apparent with each passing day, General Musharraf would do well to take a deep breath and examine the record of other soldier-rulers who either refused to heed civilian advice or chose the wrong political course. A soldier is trained to be courageous and to ignore suggestions that interfere with the brave prescription. A ruler, on the other hand, needs to take into account many factors that may not fit the do-or-die paradigm.

(Husain Haqqani has served as adviser to prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, and as Pakistan's ambassador to Sri Lanka)

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