By Najam Sethi
The Parliamentary Committee on National Security has taken more than two months to get cracking. Now it is faced with the prospect of being left in the lurch by the PMLN that is backpedaling on certain proposals. Thus the PPP government finds it difficult to own the proposals recommended by the military, which imply, at the very least, a reopening of the NATO supply line without absolute US guarantees of an end to the drone strikes. Meanwhile, President Obama has hissed a word of advice to Prime Minister Gillani: ‘protect your sovereignty by all means but don’t undermine US national security interests’.
If the US knows what is in its national security interest and will define it and fight to protect it, why is Pakistan unable or unwilling to defend its own national interest and do likewise?
Pakistan’s problem is that it is not ready to define and own up to its national interest, especially in relation to the role and place of America in it. Until now, the military had defined the national interest as being synonymous with its own exclusive construction of the notion of national security and national power and articulate it both openly and secretly. The civilians were either out of the loop of decision making for long periods of time when the military was directly in power; or too dependent on the military for political survival to challenge it when they were in and out of office for brief periods of time; or too lacking in political vision and courage to fashion an alternative to it. But several new factors have compelled the military to knock on the door of the civilians and ask them to take formal “ownership” of foreign policy especially relating to Pakistan’s relations with America.
The first is the rise of angry anti-Americanism in Pakistan as a powerful force dominating public policy and popular discourse. In this environment it is “wise” for the military to stand in the shadow of the elected politicians and dictate business “concessions” for America in exchange for its rentier staple of money and hardware, and let the civilians face the music for “bartering away sovereignty”. The second is PPP government-PMLN opposition relations which are bitterly focused on narrow party political ends in an election year which make it difficult to stitch up an effective, pragmatic and consistent notion of the national interest vis a vis America. The third is the rise of Imran Khan who is baiting anti-Americanism and religiosity to woo voters away from the besieged PPP and embattled PMLN. In a perverse way, the military’s policy of sustaining anti-Americanism by nurturing aggressive non-state actors like the Pakistan Defence Council, as well as indirect support to Imran Khan, in order to leverage its bargaining position with America has come back to haunt it. The military sought to leverage Raymond Davis and the Salala attack to obtain greater checks and balances on the CIA’s footprint in Pakistan and drone strikes against its Haqqani assets in North Waziristan. What it has got instead is a deep reluctance on the part of the civilians to become an overt element of any new and revised “deal” with America even along the lines determined by the military behind the scenes.
In the transition to the Afghan endgame, America is bound to become more desperate and aggressive and the Pakistani military more intransigent and ambitious. Relations are bound to deteriorate again. The more this happens, the more the civilians will either shy away from owning up to concessions to America on behalf of the military or put up stiff resistance to the Americans and risk Pakistan’s international censure and isolation.
Therefore two new internal initiatives are urgently needed. First, the military must grant bipartisan civilians an opportunity to freely debate and define the “national interest” and help change it to mean something more meaningful and substantial than “national security” and “strategic depth” as defined by the military. This will make it easier for civilians across the political divide to “own” national security policy, including relations with America, and sell it to the public. Second, the military must stand up and be counted in the public eye as supporting the new definitional policy vis a vis America rather than hide behind the coattails of squabbling politicians. This will strengthen the hand of the civilians as partners with the military in a new paradigm of “national power” rather than as “security risks and “sellouts”.
General Ashfaq Kayani must openly take his public share of fashioning the new transactional relationship with America. Instead of parliament owning up to any new US-Pak relationship that smacks of appeasement to an anti-American public, GHQ must squarely take joint-responsibility for it. The ISPR can start by candidly explaining the agreement between Gen Kayani and the two top American generals who met him in Rawalpindi last Wednesday. Then it must back up Parliament’s final recommendations to the hilt.
Courtesy: The Friday Times