Paradigm shift

Pakistan is gradually coming out of a cold war era mindset

Paradigm shift
A lot of analysis on the current day Pakistan, particularly by American, Indian and Afghan commentators, continues to be rooted in the past. Much of the argument is a one-way ostracization of Pakistan based on the baggage which is undeniable but which cannot and should not be used to judge a constantly evolving situation. Such analysis, while embracing their respective countries’ geopolitical alignments as “unavoidable necessity,” blatantly ignores the compulsions that geopolitics place on Pakistan.

Let us dissect some of the factors that require a closer and sympathetic scrutiny by foreign commentators, most of whom would project anything relating to Pakistan as “linear and black and white,” disregarding the fact that geo-politics is mostly gray and is non-linear because of the competing political and commercial interests of nations.

Commentators, firstly, need to note the difference between September 19, 2001, when General Pervez Musharraf simply announced to join the US-led anti-terror war, and March 2015, when Nawaz Sharif had to back-peddle on his commitment of all-out support to Saudi Arabia. Although financially and politically indebted, Pakistan seems to have weathered the storm.
Geo-politics is mostly gray and non-linear

Secondly, commentators misleadingly project Pakistan as the only big roadblock to reconciliation as well as an “unreasonable opponent” to the overland transit trade rights for India, without explaining the Pakistani reservations about it.

They point to the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s frustration with Pakistan too. During his recent India visit, Ghani warned Islamabad (according to The Hindu newspaper) that if it does not open the Wagah land transit for Afghan imports from India, his country could take counter measures. “We will not provide equal transit access to Central Asia [for Pakistani trucks],” he said. Ghani said it was a question of “sovereign equality”, and Pakistan must accept the “national treatment” clause agreed to in the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit and Trade Agreement (APTTA). The APTTA, signed in 2011, gives each country equal access up to the national boundaries of both.

Ghani’s statement is inherently flawed and contradictory. Afghanistan remains entitled to transit trade via Karachi, Pakistan. It is also exporting to India, and Afghan trucks have been allowed to offload their cargo at Atari, the Indian border crossing at Wagah. They also have the option to pick up Indian goods for Afghanistan, officials in Islamabad insist.

The second contradiction to relates to Afghanistan itself. For years, it has stalled Dushanbe’s request to extend APTTA to Tajikistan, another landlocked country. But Pakistan has not linked the transit rights to Tajikistan via Afghanistan through to Karachi because, primarily, it is upto Kabul and Dushanbe to settle the transit trade. Similarly, the transit rights for India (to Afghanistan and Central Asia), remain an India-Pakistan matter – subject to a number of variables that President Ghani cannot and must not – as an astute economist and politician – ignore.

Unless the India-Pakistan dialogue resumes in a cordial way, with mutually facilitating confidence building measures, the Afghan president cannot hope to use transit rights for India via Wagah into a bargaining chip for his relations with Pakistan. International relations are intrinsically interest-and-need-based and this requires mutual accommodation.

The second big transition that Pakistan is going through is a categorical, though gradual rejection of the past policies. The crackdown against militants in FATA and Karachi underscore the new paradigm. Peace management, appeasement and accommodation of non-state actors is a thing of the past, senior military and foreign office officials underline.

There is a clear break from the past. Background interviews do entail this impression. Both civil-military leaderships appear committed to the Afghan reconstruction and reconciliation but this is not a simple transaction, they caution. We are dealing with an extremely stubborn lot that has grown and survived in mountains for over three decades.

“I can say with conviction that an unusual synergy of civil-military thought is currently driving our Afghan and India policy,” underlined one of the senior-most officials at the ministry of foreign affairs.

A senior military official insisted that the “paradigm shift” is rooted in fears that the natural alliance between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban could lead to the emergence of a joint Islamic emirate in the region. This could turn into a real direct existential threat for all of us, the general said, while pointing to the latest five military casualties, including that of a young captain during clashes in the Tirah valley of the Khyber agency.

The considerable decline in incidence of terror is a direct reflection of the damage that the Operation Zarb-e-Azb seems to have inflicted on the TTP and its associates.

Of course, Pakistan has yet to come clean on non-state entities such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba. “I agree this bridge has yet to be crossed, and we also know it is absolutely essential to do something conclusive and demonstrable about it,” said a security official – underlining an issue that remains an intractable thorn in relations with India.

Statistics between June 2014 and April this year suggest that the strategic clarity on top has to a certain extent reversed the security situation for the better, something also indirectly acknowledged by the Chinese officials, who used to spend a lot of time on this issue. But, said a key official at the foreign ministry, Chinese officials pleasantly surprised us by not taking up terrorism and security this time. We assume they understand the complex situation and appreciate the efforts undertaken so far, he said.

Pakistan’s foreign office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam recently even went to the extent of denouncing Taliban’s so-called Spring Offensive and reiterated support for the reconciliation process.

“We have invested a lot in building peace and we have very high stakes in maintaining peace and stability, the best course for both countries therefore is closer cooperation and coordination.”

The third element in the current analysis on Pakistan and Afghanistan is the “competitive advantage that India offers to Afghanistan.”

For Kabul, while Beijing and Washington are important, it is Delhi that could provide what Afghanistan seeks: economic resources and investment and noninterference in internal affairs, Ms Aparna Pande wrote in a TFT comment last week. But if Afghanistan’s security is important for “India’s own security and stability”, how can it not be equally important for Pakistan? Can Pakistan afford to have a destabilized and embattled neighbor? India does have “economic resources and investment” to offer to Afghanistan, economic resources and investment alone cannot guarantee an edge to outsiders. Nor can this ensure stability of the host nation.

The latest report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghan reconstruction provides an eye-opening glimpse of what even the sole super power of the world could not achieve despite spending huge sums on Afghanistan. Compared with the much touted $2 billion that India has committed to or spent in Afghanistan since the 2002 Tokyo conference, the US has committed a staggering $109.8 billion between 2004-2014, with about $14.9 billion in the pipeline.

This obvisously does not take into account more than a trillion dollars that the US and its allies spent on security operations. Nor does it include more than $10 billion that came from the Special Operations Funds which were largely spent on reconstruction and infrastructure projects. Nor does it include the $8.4 billion that the US has provided for counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan, though the country remains the global leader in illicit opium cultivation and production. Ironically, this has happened despite the presence of over 100,000 US-ISAF troops until a year ago.

The fourth major change that the Pakistani security apparatus and the political leadership have embraced – under the Chinese influence – is the decision not to respond to what Afghans or Indians say about it. Nor to take any positions on the evolving India-US alignment in the region.

The civilian and military leadership says it is guided by the Chinese principle of good relations with all neighbours and a singular focus on internal stability and economic development.

The fact that China has turned Pakistan into the pivot of the One Road One Belt vision of President Xi Jinping seems to be driving Pakistan to gradually divorce the cold war era mindset. Islamabad and Rawalpindi, it is glaringly clear, cannot expect to reap the dividends of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor if their romance with the old security paradigm continues. Officials insist they are aware of the next steps required to make the Corridor vision become a reality. This however will also require a national consultative process and a grand consensus within.

The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and the author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbu Tahrir’s Global Caliphate.