The writer is a former ambassador.
It is becoming progressively easier for America to knock off opponents. While getting rid of Saddam Hussein required a whole army, a shipload of light weaponry, a handful of Nato jets attacking around the clock and a motley lot of irate locals sufficed for Qaddafi. Removing Assad promises to be even less costly (although far bloodier). The Americans don’t intend to fire a shot. The Turks, Saudis and Qataris are planning and organising Assad’s destruction and also footing the bill. Al-Qaeda too is pitching in.
Against Iran, which is next, as everything is to be done from the air and no messy ground operation is involved, it’s likely to be relatively painless. Unless, of course, something goes horribly wrong, and then Iraq will seem like a picnic. After Iran, it’s Pakistan turn. Why? Because, according to one Western analyst: “America is in the business of starting wars, since they are good for America’s only remaining business – arms. Afghanistan and Pakistan have the same fate awaiting them as Syria and Libya: war and dismemberment.”
That may appear farfetched, but not really. The prospect of Afghanistan, a contrived and loosely-united (former) kingdom, splintering was always on the cards. The Durrani dynasty had, by guile and force, managed to keep the warring ethnic groups quiescent. But the years of Taliban rule, followed by the American invasion and the gruesome atrocities which preceded and followed these events, has not only sharpened existing ethnic, religious and political differences but suffused them with a hatred that will take decades to erase. For all practical purposes Afghanistan is already dismembered.
In Pakistan Fata is now partially, if not wholly, out of federal control. And Balochistan is in the grip of a secessionist movement backed openly by Delhi and Kabul, and slyly by Washington. All of which suggests that the much predicted unravelling of Pakistan too may have commenced. A study sponsored by Bush Republicans in 2000 had actually recommended that the incoming Bush administration have recourse to wars to bolster American security. Authored by neo-cons, the plan advised America to “seize the moment” and take advantage of its unrivalled military supremacy to neutralise the dangers posed by those countries that possessed, or were bent on acquiring, nuclear weapons. The study named Iran and North Korea, but implicitly also Pakistan. Presumably the strategy of small wars was to be undertaken only if the cost in American lives and treasure was not unduly onerous.
As it happened, it was not. Superior weapon technology has greatly reduced US battlefield casualties. A pilot “flying” a drone can engage in combat knowing he will be home for dinner. Robots, drones, exploding bullets and soon autonomous (killing) machines will reduce war risks; so much so, that the war option for US strategists kicks in fairly quickly when options for dealing with opponents are being reviewed
Nor has the financial cost been prohibitive if we take into account the many ways America has to recoup expenditure, like privileged access to Libyan and Iraqi oil, exploration rights and extracting lucrative contracts for American conglomerates from pliable Nato-installed regimes. US oil giants and others like Halliburton have ferreted away millions in profits. Of course, Afghanistan has been a serious drain on America’s treasury, but by staying on and propping up Karzai in Kabul, Washington hopes to eventually recoup a part of what was spent by securing mining and other rights in a country brimming with underground natural resources.
Where the Americans did err was in underestimating the loathing for America their invasion and occupation of Iraq and the ongoing war in Afghanistan has generated in the Muslim world. And if Iran is attacked, or an attempt made to seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, the torrent of anti-Americanism that it will unleash will reach new scales. True, such a prospect hardly scares America, but the regional instability that will occur will not only heighten tensions but also endanger domestic peace and international security, and eventually, America’s own security.
It has not been easy for Pakistanis to decide whether America or the Taliban pose the greater threat. On the one hand, they believe America is forever on the qui vive to seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons; that Washington is ganging up with Delhi and Kabul against Pakistan; turning a blind eye to the TTP presence in Afghanistan; and that America has no compunctions about “droning” Pakistanis on the mere suspicion of their being terrorists, and even killing our soldiers without remorse.
On the other hand, most Pakistanis consider the Taliban’s odious brand of Islam, their barbarism and their antediluvian mindset no less abhorrent. But what trumps all, in the minds of the awam, the populace, is the fear that America means to forcibly deprive Pakistan of its nuclear arsenal, thereby leaving it defenceless against India. Why, then, they ask, should Pakistanis risk lives and treasure for the sake of America? Is not doing America’s “dirty work” contrary to national pride and also national interests? (When America faced a similar choice as a result of on-the-ground realities in Afghanistan, namely, either give up parts of Afghanistan to the Taliban or risk losing both Pakistan and Afghanistan to the extremists, Washington decided to cut Pakistan loose.)
Such sentiments were reflected in recent parliamentary resolutions and debates on the future course of Pakistan-US relations, and also the reason why the Pakistani government scurried to advise Washington not to take parliament’s resolutions seriously, as the government had no intention of paying any heed. Hence, the rosy gloss placed on the outcome of the recent ISI-CIA confabulations by officials is viewed by the awam with considerable scepticism. Someone likened the meeting between the two spy chiefs as “being forced to make love to someone you loath.”
Anyway, it’s only a question of time before the Haqqanis mount yet another attack on Isaf forces in Afghanistan and the TTP (in Afghanistan) against the army. And if those result in retaliatory American strikes on Pakistan, or vice versa, because that prospect too cannot be ruled out any longer, it will be back to the trenches for both, to the delight the Taliban. It is their catastrophically contrasting and deficient policies and strategies which have brought America and Pakistan to this dangerous pass. The interlocking of historical ignorance, overblown national pride, sparse common sense and galloping hubris is a lethal combination.
And yet, Pakistani liberals single out Pakistan for blame. True, our concept of “strategic depth” brought nothing but disaster, and so too all the drivel about jihad being our real national vocation. But that is not exclusively responsible for the difficulties in which Pakistan-US relations are mired. Nothing has done more to motivate extremists in Muslim countries than the five- decades-old cumulative impact of American policies on the Muslim world. Unqualified American support for Israel, an American military presence in Muslim lands, support for Muslim dictators and police states, and the occupation of Muslim countries have so damaged America’s image among Muslims that it is now beyond repair. Any Muslim regime that indulges America has had to pay a stiff price when it comes to popularity and public esteem.
A better policy for both would have been non-interventionist, commerce-oriented, non-ideological, and undergirded by an inflexible bias towards neutrality in other people’s wars. With this further caution to Pakistan’s decision-makers: Get out of the present mess as soon, and as cleanly as you can, and go back to the drawing board.