Commentary | October 06, 2011

Security Measures in Southwest Asia

As foreign forces plan their exit from Afghanistan, one can question whether they achieved what they had set out to do and if not, as is the case, how will the world cope with unresolved mode of political governance and bilateral conflicts, migration and energy security as well as the concerns of nuclear weapons’ proliferation? The challenges involve linking the diverse nations economically and geo-politically, collective and collaborative action being crucial to enhancing security.

The present Afghan leadership is not capable of sustaining the present western model of democracy and governance; this has been imposed by the west in the mistaken belief that this is suited to a society which remains basically tribal and feudal despite technological advances. Former US Green Beret Captain Amerine who, alongwith his team of 10 Green Berets, was ordered in 2001 to protect Hamid Karzai when the original choice for topmost leader Maulvi Abdul Haq was captured and executed by the Taliban, recently disclosed to journalist Christina Lamb that his HQs had ordered him not to enter Afghanistan unless Karzai could guarantee 300 men on the ground. When they ultimately went in, Karzai, the future president of Afghanistan, could only gather 30 people together!

Europe is awash with constitutional monarchies; one must seriously consider the option of restoring the monarchy in Afghanistan while having a powerful PM, as it used to be before Sardar Daud deposed his cousin Zahir Shah, to ensure unity among the diverse ethnic groups.

The Afghan war has cost Pakistan heavily in human terms. While enhancing our defence and security budget we had to increase allocations for diplomatic efforts, and pay exorbitant economic and social cost estimated to be about US$65 billion. How can one begin to assess the cost to the image of Pakistan as a responsible entity in the comity of nations?

The US has incurred huge cost, some estimate Iraq and Afghanistan at US$4 trillion. Can they continue to do in the current economic climate and a rapidly diminishing appetite, with the EU members not willing to share the cost? What rankles is that there is little or no mention made to the direct cost incurred by Pakistan, as well as the virtual destruction of its socio-political and economic infra-structure. Long after the US and EU have abandoned the present leaders of Afghanistan to their fate, Pakistan will continue to pay a very heavy human cost, quite difficult to quantify the additional cost in socio-political and economic terms.

The 8th Worldwide Security Conference in Brussels organised by the EastWest Institute (EWI), one of the world’s leading think tanks, in cooperation with the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and the Financial Times centred around: (1) sharpening appreciation of the existing security dynamics in Southwest Asia (SWA), (2) analysing new means of promoting collective security in the region, (3) and develop consensus for enhancing security.

In the climate of uncertainty and high risk, the western world must prepare themselves to manage more complex emergencies. Notwithstanding the broad consensus about a durable security policy, the western nations are not geared to address some of the challenges that exist and/or are anticipated in the future described is the present situation in a relevant paper as “a sense of disarray and retreat rather than a commitment to continual reassessment and policy innovation”.

The negative factors influencing the situation include (1) weak commitment among the states in the region to cooperate, to prevent, reduce and/or contain imminent violent conflict, (2) economic growth not consistent with required standard of living, (3) governance remaining weak with power shifting to local actors, ie warlords in the sub-regions, (4) with outside commitment weakening, political leaders facing domestic pressures are reluctant to stake their political future on cooperation. Several risk factors are (1) conflicting requirements of modernisation and tradition (especially religious fundamentalism), (2) likelihood of regional and internal conflicts with a potential for nuclear confrontation and (3) increasing dependence of Europe, Japan and China for energy on this region.

With the exit of the coalition forces, (1) power will shift from governments to both previously weak local actors and anti-state actors, (2) strong demand for democracy, respect of individual rights, adequately compensated employment, education and upward social mobility will impact the legitimacy of governments in the region and (3) military expenditures will increase. The policy recommendations include viz (1) increased coordination between the states of this region, (2) increased regional economic integration, (3) mobilisation of private sector investment in trans-border economic projects and (4) promotion of justice and rule of law for improving governance.

Facts about Pakistan’s sacrifices are generally glossed over, viz (1) the direct and indirect cost to Pakistan as well as collateral damage in both terms of blood and money as well as the lasting damage to its socio-political factors need to be quantified, (2) what about the cost of hosting three million plus Afghans in Pakistan for over two decades? and (3) the cost of Pakistan allowing transit trade without fees and (4) the effect of smuggling on Pakistan’s economy and (5) unrelenting hostile propaganda by the coalition-supported government in Afghanistan affecting public opinion in Pakistan.

What is unfortunate is that no mechanism exists for a dialogue to offset and deal with misperceptions and misrepresentations of facts. Accusations and allegations against Pakistan are based on unsubstantiated facts, using two recent examples, viz (1) Adm Mike Mullen’s unfortunate statement, just before retiring, that Pakistan’s ISI was complicit in the recent attacks on the US Embassy in Kabul alongwith the Haqqani network and (2) consequently Karzai accusing Pakistan of assassinating Burhanuddin Rabbani and using that as a convenient excuse to call off the Tripartite Conference.

The White House has distanced itself from Mullen’s assertion while at the same time encouraging Pakistan to “do more” about the Haqqani network. Given the slogans at Rabbani’s funeral accusing him for Rabbani’s death Hamid Karzai’s accusations were right on cue and understandable. Why indeed did Karzai call him back to attend that particular meeting where he was killed? How better to deflect the allegations in the wake of Mullen’s statement to the world’s favourite bugbear of recent times, the ISI?

While we certainly need to address our counter-terrorism efforts within the Pakistani heartland far better, Pakistan has fought insurgents in its border areas to a standstill at great human cost, taking ten times more casualties than all the coalition countries put together. No one wants to mention the three million plus Afghan refugees spread throughout our soil. Most of Al-Qaeda leaders have been killed by our security forces and 80 percent of Al-Qaeda suspects in Guantanamo Bay were captured by Pakistan.

The evolving consensus is to readjust the role of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) to help the nations find indigenous solutions and encourage countries having credibility in the region, like Turkey, to take a greater role, particularly in enhancing means of livelihood by innovative out-of-the-box thinking.

(Extract from speech given on Oct 3, 2011 at the 8th Worldwide Security Conference organised by the EWI in collaboration with the World Customs Organisation (WCO), Brussels and Financial Times on “Shaping collective security in Southwest Asia, are breakthrough measures possible?”)