Sunday, February 10, 2013 -
From Print Edition
In January 2013, the Pakistan army informed us that it has “changed its operational priorities for the first time in eleven years” describing “internal threats as the greatest risk to the country’s security.” Yes, the end of the Cold War also spelled the end of a 44-year era that witnessed several dozen interstate conflicts. Yes, since the end of the Cold War the frequency of interstate conflicts has gone down sharply and intrastate conflicts have become more common – and more threatening – than ever before.
Pakistan’s current threat matrix has five major elements: military, nuclear, terrorist, cyber and economic. The first two threats, military and nuclear, are existential in nature in the sense that the threats posed by them threaten the “very basis of the state and its physical existence.” Existential threats essentially threaten the “unity, demography and integrity” of a nation-state.
Terrorist, cyber and economic threats are non-existential in nature. The source of existential threats, as a rule, is a state actor because military and nuclear are both state domains. Terrorist threats are non-existential in nature because terrorism is asymmetric warfare between belligerents who possess “unequal military resources and the weaker opponent uses unconventional weapons and tactics to exploit the vulnerabilities of the enemy.”
Internally, Pakistan is fighting a ‘4G War’ where the combatants are the state of Pakistan and violent non-state actors (VNSA). The distinction between a combatant and a non-combatant, however, is blurring. The distinction between a soldier and a civilian is also blurring. Even the distinction between war and politics is blurring. Internally, the war is being fought at three different levels – physical, mental and moral. Intriguingly, physical combat is actually the least important. Then comes mental combat – the ‘will to fight’ and the ‘belief in victory’. The most important, however, is moral combat – ‘whose side is God on’.
The terrorists have two goals: to survive and to convince the state of Pakistan that its goals are either unachievable or too costly. The terrorists fighting the state have two objectives: To delegitimise the state, and to make the state expend manpower. The coalition of terrorists wants to impose a government of their own or somehow bring back a historical, mythical, ‘divine-sanctioned’ structure of governance.
In effect, the inequality between the military resources of the state and its terrorist adversaries is so great that terrorism poses no existential threat to Pakistan’s physical existence, its unity, demography or integrity. But terrorism remains an unacceptable risk – a “risk so high that no reasonable person would deem it acceptable”. To be certain, terrorism in the Pakistani context is a ‘real risk’ meaning that terrorism cannot – and should not – be underemphasised. But, in all probability, terrorism in our context, given the will of the state, remains a ‘manageable risk’. Looking at terrorism from a slightly different angle, terrorism’s signature weapon is fear and fear is a tactical threat not a strategic one.
Where did we go wrong? We failed to learn that a unidimensional National Security Strategy (NSS) singularly focused on ‘defence’ cannot guarantee the longevity of the Pakistani nation-state. In all probability, our future as a nation-state depends on three ‘Ds’, not one. They are: defence, development and diplomacy. Yes, we cannot fight a 4G War with a 3G military doctrine but we cannot forget the history of warfare – the source of all existential threats has always been a state actor, not a non-state one – an army.
The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad. Email: [email protected] Tweets: @saleemfarrukh