Pakistan as a sovereign state is a geographic reality dictated by its boundary, but its internal and external strategic policy indicates that it is no less than a state in serious crisis. Furthermore, the identity that Pakistan as a country enshrines since its conception has become contorted as much as it remains an unfinished and fragmented cause. Pakistan’s inept leaders successfully manufactured India as its existential threat and is complacent to be preoccupied by such idea. It helps to bolster their cause of being an Islamic state and keeps the army at bay, ignoring the fact it is virtually hijacked by its gigantic military establishment. The contemporary political Pakistan testifies enough that some extraordinary and painful works still needed to be done for the cause of its identity and its statehood. Furthermore, this has to be done accounting the strategic reality of Pakistan.
Since the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) by the US forces, Pakistan’s neighbour: Afghanistan’s condition has changed for better or for worse. At least, it had two parliamentary elections and has a functioning democracy albeit a very imperfect one. It is a country at war and the ISAF and the US forces are still struggling to fend off the Taliban, despite a surge in troops by Obama administration and the development of a ‘professional’ Afghan security sector. Pakistan has a strategic interest in its neighbour since Afghanistan has long been considered its ‘strategic depth’.
However, Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan turns out to be rather ineffective, at least during the post-cold war era. Misguided by the historical proximity to Taliban, Pakistan takes Taliban as a safer bet for its stable sway over Afghanistan for the long run. Predicting that Taliban will ultimately survive the NATO and US onslaught, Pakistan’s covert proximity to Taliban is not beyond credible suspicion. Therefore, it is not surprising at all that as much as the geography of Pak-Afghan border appears to be difficult to scramble or uprooting the Taliban, complicity of Pakistan’s former or current intelligence commanders is equally a significant factor for the Taliban and other Islamic militant groups’ resilience.
Numerous sources underscores that Pakistan’s ISI personnel directly or indirectly provide supports to Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen, Hizbul Mujahedeen and Haqqani Network. Recent uproar in Pakistan’s journalist society after the murder of Saleem Shahzad further testifies the extent of the ISI’s complicity in maintaining active contacts with the militants. Besides Saleem Shahzad, there were numerous others who disappeared, murdered or forced to shut their mouth whenever the ISI was under the attack of investigative journalism. In fact, in addition to the ISI complicity, Pakistan’s military was suspected of being infiltrated by the Islamic extremist ideology which raised significant question for the safety of its nuclear arsenals.
Furthermore, Pakistani commander’s parallel role of fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in one front in the name of counter-terrorism and its simultaneous support of various Islamic militant groups on the other, have caused critical lack of trust between the military and the militants. These militant groups’ link either with the Taliban or with the al-Qaeda has enabled both not only to withstand the war waged by the US and the current Afghan government but also to get reinforced and to retaliate from Pakistan’s rear.
Moreover, it is the frontline Pakistani soldiers and the poor civilians, whose eventual karma is to be an IDP, pay the price of Pakistan government’s pretentious war. The irony is that the same philosophy of these groups that Pakistan exploits as a proxy drive against its arch enemy India for the cause of Kashmir, can and will be eventually a bitter pill to swallow for itself. If Afghanistan as an institutional democracy and an Islamic republic by constitution falls short of being a Dar-ul-Islam (land of Islam), Pakistan too will not be spared when time is ripe for these militant groups vying to establish their control over Pakistan. As such, Pakistan’s relationship with the US as well as with its neighbours fails to cement durable and meaningful trust.
Somewhere back in the history, Pakistan also lost the cause of its national interest in its people. When the struggle to improve the lot of its own people should be the raison d’Etat of Pakistan as a state, its national interest became over occupied by its animosity towards India. Its revered military who often gets the blank cheque from its people is either preoccupied playing war games with India or too eager to rule the country whenever it deems necessary.
However, it is not only the military that is responsible but also the political parties and their inept leadership for over 60 years. The reason Pakistan as a state is an unfinished task is because it still has a vast area under FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) which is ruled under the FCA (Frontier Crime Regulation) act of 1901 that denies fundamental rights to the tribal population with opaque governance mechanism run by the Pakistani bureaucrats. Discriminating jirga-justice based on customary laws fails to ensure any form of democratic rights to its residents. They are victims of both the militants as well as the whimsical rule by the government Pakistani Agents (PA). When justice is denied and the state fails to establish democratic rights, 60 years are enough for its residents to lose any sense of affiliation with the Pakistani cause.
It is not indifferent either when Pakistan is also taken as a fragmented identity taking into account of Baluchistan, where provincial and federal government rely more on military solution rather than a political one for quelling the Baluch cause. The number of insurgents there may have declined after decades of Pakistani military’s brutal operation but the face and nature of the insurgents transformed too. The new insurgents with leaders such as Allah Nazar of BLF (Baloch Liberation Front) and their sympathisers are now from the educated class, who has a more critical reason for their struggle against Pakistan. They are the result of the oppression by the Pakistani military establishments. Even the Sindh province is not immune from communal crisis where party politics are still run along the ethnic cleavage, where whether one is Muhajir or not is more important. Deadly riot as recent as the one in July is a proof of that.
Provided all these complex internal crisis and Pakistan’s geopolitic nightmare, it can still thrive to be a strong nation only when as a state, it cares less to develop short range missiles with tactical nuclear warhead and cares more to improve its governance. Pakistan has to prove still worthy of being a state which invests into its people’s welfare instead of prioritising military aid. It also has to take a foreign policy that is multilateral instead of either aligning with the US or China only.
Finally, Pakistan should take the new opportunity of settling unresolved issues with India and not jeopardise the bilateral peace effort by its ISI’s covert support to militant groups against India. It is never too late for its leaders to think hard how to rein in its belligerent intelligence establishment.
Asif Farooq is a graduate student of Political Science at the University of Waterloo, Canada. He is also the co-founder of RiFF, a Canadian based charity group.