Commentary | November 05, 2010

Pakistan: A Resilient Nation

To paraphrase Mark Twain: “Rumours about Pakistan’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.” By any measure, the country has defied the odds, and we are one of the most resilient nations on earth. How many nations are capable of surviving the manmade and natural catastrophes that we are periodically subjected to, not counting the disaster that is our democratic leadership? Even incurable optimists like me do not cease to wonder at our inherent ability to rise from the ashes. Something like Razzak’s amazing century the other day in Abu Dhabi.

In 2009, parliament (which is “supreme”) voluntarily surrendered sovereign authority in Swat, with hardly any debate and in less than one day. The public mask for the evil designs of Fazlullah, his murderous son-in-law, Sufi Mohammad gave away the jihadis’ hand by publicly heaping scorn on the Supreme Court. For good measure, he added that the militants did not recognise the country’s Constitution. Had the media darling of that time not shot off his mouth prematurely, Swat’s population would today be subject to the Fazlullah brand of Shahriah, thanks to parliament that has never revoked that despicable Resolution. With Islamabad only 60 kms away as the crow flies. The “domino theory” was very much a possibility in the adjoining districts. The outraged public reaction and the continuing atrocities perpetuated by Fazlullah was “casus belli,” giving space to the army deal with them effectively.

Once given the green signal and with the population firmly behind its campaign the army showed no reluctance or hesitation in going after the insurgent terrorist menace within our borders. The successful counterinsurgency overcame the psychological barrier, the feeling that the jihadis could not be beaten. The battlefield momentum was thereafter extended to South Waziristan. The Mahsuds provided the supposedly impenetrable outer ring around the non-Pakistani Al-Qaeda stronghold. But the myth of their invincibility, created with the help of uninformed media hype, soon evaporated. Many cadres of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were killed. Some were taken captive but a substantial number melted away, many of them seeking (and receiving) refuge in North Waziristan from the Haqqani group.

Not that the army is infallible. The other day someone mentioned that the Pakistani army was working on a new doctrine. One was not surprised that an enquiry about the national security strategy on which the doctrine should be based produced blank looks. One may be forgiven for being rather skeptical. But, after all, who can forget the brilliance (and the after-effects) of the last two “doctrines”: (1) the defence of the East lies in the West, and (2) Afghanistan gives us strategic depth.

In similar vein, when Mian Nawaz Sharif talks about a 25-year charter drawn up by all stakeholders, one wonders what in the world is he talking about. For example, what really is the PML-N chief doing about the electricity and petroleum rates hiked beyond description? Forget the “vision thing.” The PML-N leader should start playing the role that Pakistanis want from the opposition, both within parliament and outside, providing the checks and balances that are the essence of democracy.
The Supreme Court judgment on the 18th Amendment was quite Solomonic, and hopefully parliament would respond in a mature fashion and correct the anomalies that have slipped into an otherwise commendable Raza Rabbani-led achievement. The PML-N’s ineptitude and the Supreme Court inaction have gifted Zardari time and space time and again. The one public official in Pakistan who does not have to declare his assets, the president has used this repeated let-off quite brilliantly, launching an effective attack against the Supreme Court’s credibility. While the Supreme Court has been forced occasionally to take the opposition’s role by default to ensure and/or enforce the rule of law for the hapless people of Pakistan, it has only itself to blame for vacillating in implementing its judgment on the NRO, whose beneficiaries continue to disfigure at will whatever governance there is in Pakistan.

The US is generous in getting material and monetary aid to us whenever we face either manmade and/or natural disasters. The US Chinooks supplementing Pakistan Army Aviation helicopters made the difference between life and death for millions stranded above the snowline in the high mountains during Earthquake 2005. The Chinooks were joined this time around during the devastating Floods 2010 by Sea Stallions in saving thousands upon thousands from the rising floodwaters, as well as delivering timely material aid. The $2 billion in military aid promised by the US recently is rather niggardly (at $500 million a year beginning 2012), when the amount is compared to the $18 billion largesse for the Afghan National Army (ANA). One must not look a gift horse in the mouth, but one feel more than a little aggrieved at what is being poured into a black hole in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army has lost more than 3,000 killed in the last 18 months, the ANA less than 300 dead (all the coalition forces put together have lost about 600 killed in action this year).

It is a fact of life that our young men in uniform are being killed in the line of duty at a ratio of 10:1 to the number of coalition casualties put together. Compared to the Afghan civilian casualties, our young and old – men, women and children – are dying at about the same rate at the hands of suicide bombers in the streets of Pakistan. While we must own the war against terrorism, it is ours to fight and win, the disparity in our effort compared to the treatment meted out to us rankles with us.

US ambassador Cameron Munter has hit the ground running. That is good, given the rather large shoes of his predecessor that he has to fill. Ambassador Anne Patterson was a class act and, even though one did disagree with her shoring up an inherently corrupt and ineffective leadership in Pakistan which represents everything that the average American can never stomach, she was outstanding in coalescing the core interests of the US with the concerns of Pakistan.

It is no secret that the US has always had (and continues to have) inordinate influence over our rulers, civil and military included, and while Pakistan may not always carry out their express instructions immediately, either because of a lack of resources and/or long-term core interests: e.g., action against the Haqqani group in North Waziristan, the US can (and must) use its considerable clout, Holbrooke notwithstanding, to ensure that our corrupt-to-the-core rulers adhere to the rule of law.

Let’s call a spade a spade and not insult everybody’s intelligence. We should be content being paid a pittance as mercenaries. What else will be made out to look when President Obama visits the real US “strategic partner” in the next few days? While the security of the US president must be the deciding factor, Obama should be persuaded to put himself in harm’s way for “a country that refuses to fail.” Even a few hours on our soil would be a tremendous vote of confidence.

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