This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive
Former Chief of Naval Staff
Something has been worrying me for the past few years.
Pakistan lies on the cusp of America’s Middle East, Central Asian, and South Asian policies. The pivots of American policies in these three regions are Iran, China, and India respectively. Pakistan needs to nuance and balance its own policies in all three, because the US is the super power that defines narratives to which weaker nations must adjust and find political space that allows them an acceptable secure niche. Opposing a super power as a weak divided nation would be suicidal. Adjusting to a superpower till we are stronger and can claim more political space is possible. What we must not do is make our policies for all three regions subservient to India centricity. India centric and Pakistan centric are not the same.
About three or four years ago America executed an exterior maneuver, almost launched an attack on Iran, and then pulled back. What is our position on a possible conventional attack on Iran? We need to be very clear where our current interests lie on the Iran issue because it is the fulcrum of American policy in the Middle East. Pakistan’s Middle East Policy does not appear to be comprehensive and may not be responding to the real interests of our people as opposed to the interests of our power centers, and is obviously not being signaled or read clearly. The same can be said of many aspects of our India and China policies. Policies not rooted in the people’s interests lead to weak nationhood which is what we are facing today.
Can Iran, the focus of enmity for GCC and Israel, be attacked conventionally without de-nuclearizing Pakistan? This was the question that started worrying me 3 or 4 years ago. Pakistan never indicated that its nuclear umbrella covered Iran or any other Muslim country. Pakistan had consistently supported the security of the GCC countries, and had never threatened Israel. That was a policy not based on reciprocity, given GCC funding of our militant religious right and close Indo-Israel military ties; but it may have suited our power centers.
There is obvious Indian interest to have Pakistan de-nuclearized. But it is perhaps only in the Iran context that it suits American, GCC, and Israeli interests to de-nuclearize Pakistan.
Is Pakistan’s deterrent seen as an umbrella for Iran? Was the pull back based more on Russia, or China’s position? What could be the Russian or Chinese response given the strong economic linkages of mutual dependence of those countries with the US? Is the uncertainty of Pakistan’s position a factor? Are our nuclear policy signals being read clearly? Are we even signaling to countries of that region? Who is pushing this “fear of Pak nuclear” narrative? Are we fated to remain India centric? Have we devised a counter narrative acceptable to all countries involved? These were very vexing questions.
In the current American, Indian, Israel, and GCC narrative mindset it makes sense for them to put our military on the back foot, and support our political dispensation against the military, in the name of greater “democracy”. The only way to take out Pakistan’s nuclear weapon program is by neutralizing the will to resist of the Armed Forces and further destabilizing the country to a stage that the government and people voluntarily demand it’s dismantling under international supervision.
Without it’s nuclear deterrent Pakistan’s very existence could be at stake because we do not fit into the future US paradigms for South Asia, Middle East, or Central Asia due to our “cold war” with India, “historic” relations with Iran, and “time tested” ties to China. We made a point of slapping America in the face with our three horse policy (specially the China horse) when Washington decided on mission creep into Pakistan in their last strategic review. Raymond Davis and the scent of Osama unleashed the current escalation of covert ops and psywar that is destabilizing Pakistan.
Who has put a lid on our policy formulation and review process? The world has moved on. Can we possibly also move forward sitting astride our three dead horse policy? Where is the real-politik narrative to protect our people’s interests?
I am not suggesting sudden U-turns or continuing current suicidal policy without regard to consequences. I am saying that we need to re-arrange the priority of our interests, and then strategize to first find our niche to ensure our own survival, second to buy time to become economically and socially stronger, and third to keep reviewing the priority of our interests to keep gaining more and more political space as and when possible. The review of National Security Policy can be an infrequent process. The execution of strategies evolved under the NSP is a day to day process in all sectors of governance.
Crisis management is not Policy Formulation, or strategy execution. Crisis management is a failure of both.