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Strategic Options

It was not comfortable being either an American or a Pakistani, for widely differing reasons, in Davos this year. The World Economic Forum (WEF) is normally a love-fest, antagonism is almost never aired in the aura of optimism that is normally prevalent. Because of the aversion of most Europeans towards war in Iraq, Americans (constituting a fair percentage of the 1500 persons attending WEF) found themselves in defensive mode even though the much-respected US Secretary of State Colin Powell made an eloquent case for war to topple Saddam Hussain. While one is used to Indians reacting in an offensively defensive manner to our bringing Kashmir on the table, this year the Indians took a back seat orchestrating a world consensus against Pakistan’s very existence as a responsible member of the comity of nations. Speaker after speaker recommended coordinated action against Pakistan’s nuclear potential, there was no fig leaf of innuendo anymore. The straightforward allegation put us in the business of exporting terrorism. The general consensus was that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities were a potential threat to the world, the premise being that if Musharraf was overthrown, the 650000-man Pakistan Army would be overwhelmed by “200000 dedicated Jehadis”. Instead of waiting to be subjected to “nuclear terrorism” their convoluted logic was that the world would be far better off launching a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan, even in priority to Iraq! These were no ordinary persons, they happen to be the world’s top leaders in government, business, academics, etc the elite of the elite! More depressing was to see the blissful ignorance we are living in on returning from Davos. This country is in a state of permanent Basant, God help us!

Dangerously out of sync with the existing realities in an increasingly unipolar world, both with respect to our domestic situation and external challenges, this is further complicated by internal shortcomings becoming entangled in issues of primary concern to the rest of the world. The world makes no bones about our being the main sponsors of the Taliban in Afghanistan, who in turn gave shelter to the Al-Qaeda. Despite being a member of the Coalition’s “war on terrorism”, we now stand accused of giving safe haven to the Taliban escaping the American dragnet in Afghanistan and thus by extension, the logistics and moral support for the resurgence of the Al-Qaeda. By effectively blurring the line between freedom fighters in Indian-Occupied Kashmir against Indian oppression and terrorism (that the world is averse to), the adverse international propaganda has successfully merged the concept of “Jehad” into terrorism. Whether we like it or not, the freedom struggle in Kashmir is equated with the international terrorism the US-led world is waging war against. We are in deep trouble for viz (1) not reading the writing on the wall in persisting with our polices of the 90s (2) the irresponsible rhetoric of some of our leaders and (3) complacency and ineffectiveness in coping with the Indian media offensive. For the most part we are oblivious of the extreme dangers of being dragged into the vortex of the deteriorating international situation. Living in a dream world largely of our own making, we must prepare ourselves for potential attack on our nuclear facilities. It is one thing to base our strategy on perceptions, it is ridiculous to believe largely self-invented perceptions, “cornerstone of US policy” indeed!

We have three broad strategic policy options, viz (1) non-alignment and neutrality thereof (2) offensive posture with involvement in low intensity conflicts and (3) constructive alignment and preservation of defense deterrent. The first option is not possible because (1) no country with self-respect will accept such hegemony and that too by those with whom we have 1000 year plus history of conflict and (2) have a peculiar geo-political location in a region which is adjacent to the gas-potential which makes the oil rich Gulf Region and Central Asia a vital ground for the world. Not only do we have an unstable neighbor to our northwest by west (Afghanistan) but because of wrong policy initiatives (and their own policy interests) we have somewhat estranged our neighbor to the immediate west (Iran). Neither small as Switzerland nor geographically incapable of being out of harm’s way of big power machinations, we are not like Sweden to be on the rim of geo-political machinations. Given the fact that we see ourselves as defenders of the faith against a numerically superior religious belief (Hinduism) vigorously inimical to Islam (as practiced by Hindutva), we cannot accept Balkan-isation.

The genesis of the second option can be found in the first attempt to send across infiltrators into Indian-occupied Kashmir after the Hazratbal incident of 1964, this was an unmitigated disaster. Yet the same pattern was used in 1965 in the planning and implementation of “Operation Gibraltar”, this led to a far bigger disaster. To relieve the Indian counter-pressure in Azad Kashmir because 12 Division (defending Azad Kashmir) had lost several key mountain passes, we had to launch “Operation Grand Slam” to capture Akhnur. This led to the Indians coming across the international border and the stalemate of the 1965 war. With the evacuation of the Soviets from Afghanistan and winding down of the war in the late 80s, we switched the offensive posture applied in Afghanistan to Kashmir and engaged the Indians in low intensity conflict. One must have the maturity to acknowledge that instead of lessening, Indian repression against Muslims in the valley has increased manifold. While Kashmir may have been brought to the center of the world attention for a couple of years after Kargil as a possible flashpoint for a nuclear showdown (and thus international mediation), it has (1) almost exhausted the Kashmiri resolve and (2) 9/11 perpetrators have badly eroded our international standing as a responsible nation. A military solution in the circumstances is outwardly heroic but impracticable. The mood of the world’s governments and intelligentsia where “Jehad” is equated with terrorism, it is suicidal. It has caused serious friction with our traditional trading partners, the G-8 nations. The support of some of our religious groups to rebels in China’s Sinkiang Province almost alienated Pakistan’s long-term strategic ally.

The only strategic option that we can follow in the present world security environment is “constructive alignment and preservation of defensive deterrence” (translated, protecting our nuclear option). We will have to shift emphasis on ideological orientation (better said than done) to economic integration so that we shake off our growing image as an adventurer-terrorist State. We must preserve the nuclear deterrent but reduce the fat of our defense establishments and concentrate on quality, technology and efficiency i.e. more bang for the buck. We should deepen our strategic alliance with China in both military and economic terms while remaining engaged economically and militarily in an increasingly unipolar world with the G-8 countries and the European Union. We should ease tension with India and try economic engagement as a means to address the core issue of Kashmir. We must seriously consider why we are refraining from recognizing the State of Israel. Muslim countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Qatar already have diplomatic ties with Israel, other Arab/muslim countries are more or less poised to do so. So why should Pakistan, which has no direct quarrel with the Jewish State, take a confrontationist view to the only other country founded on religious ideology?

National policies must be drawn out of national interests, the only premise before our leadership should be “survival” in exclusion to other priorities, we cannot afford continuing to follow policies that have been found bankrupt. Somewhere we must find the leadership that will have the courage to evaluate and implement both short and long-term national aims and objectives.

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