A string of closely-related international developments took place within last two weeks, with far-reaching security, geo-political and geo-strategic implications for Pakistan, and thus meriting a national debate about revisiting some of our policies internally but firmly facing the propaganda regionally and internationally.
President Trump’s terse and admonishing tone for Pakistan while unveiling his new Afghan Policy, and the more recent BRICS September 4 declaration that included, besides others, Pakistan-based terrorist groups as a threat to regional security, riveted global attention to the bad-press-afflicted country, mostly for the wrong reasons.
The change in US tone was a tad expected -- but ominous nonetheless -- given the suspicion-fuelled downward spiral in the US-Pakistan relations, especially after the change of guards at the White House. However, the BRICS declaration was rather a ‘bolt from the blue’ although its evolution and fermentation can be traced back.
These developments are indeed both alarming and disturbing. In past, a classic response to such accusations has been absolute denial that did no good and helped India to manoeuvre the situation. The policy of complete denial is as much a non-starter as US policy of solving Afghanistan and terrorism imbroglio through brute force and military means.
Our Foreign Office gave a balanced response through a rejoinder to the BRICS declaration on September 5, stating that “Pakistan shared international concerns about terrorism threat in the region,” but also called for attention to the rise of extremist ideologies and persecution of minorities in its neighbourhood by a BRICS member country.
We must let the world know, by raising our voice at relevant international forums, that blame game would only deepen the crisis and benefit the enemies of peace. The terrorism today has assumed transnational dimensions, not having roots in any particular country or region. That Daesh or Islamic State got birth without any particular states’ patronage and were able to expand their outreach beyond Middle East and establish their footprint in Afghanistan despite the presence of US military machine and ISAF, vindicates that terrorism can flourish in the presence of strongest armed forces present in a country or region. Today, even US, France, UK and other European countries are having a hard time curbing acts of terror on their soil, despite having latest technology and economic resources and very small portion of the people affected, so it is wrong to blame and expect Pakistan to do so in one swoop, with limited resources and bigger challenges.
Without denying that there are still some loose ends to be tied, Pakistan has over the years exhibited a firm and sustained resolve towards banishing terrorist elements from its soil through affirmative action. Through successful anti-terror military campaigns such as 2009 Operation Rah-e-Raast and Operation Rah-e-Nijat that targeted Swat and South Waziristan areas, to 2014 Operation Zarb-e-Azb that rid North Waziristan of terrorist elements, to the on-going ‘Operation Raddul Fasaad’ that covers all the country, Pakistan has inked its commitment to eliminating terror through the scared blood of the martyrs, the valiant soldiers, civil servants, lawyers, students, innocent women, and children.
In addition, we also banned many extremist organisations, and also put in place a firm constitutional and legal framework through relevant constitutional amendments and new laws to address the threat through legal dimension as well. A National Action Plan (NAP) had been chalked out which had across political parties, institutions, provincial lines or boundaries ownership. Recent developments and decisions in Islamabad, Washington, Beijing and New Delhi and the surrounding shallow debate, may create hurdles and divides in the already slow paced NAP implementation.
The new Afghanistan and South Asia Policy statement announced by US President Donald Trump spells out harsher and pointed criticism on Pakistan. The US president’s censuring Pakistan and holding it responsible for a number of their own failures and frustrations, is not fair and just. Since the new US policy also aims at the whole of South Asia, the persecution of innocent Kashmiris facing Indian state-sponsored terrorism in the Occupied Valley deserved at least a mention if not censure by the same yardstick.
US president and company are mentioning again and again that the US spent billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan, but Islamabad was still not ready to mend its ways. The US president attached high value to the lives of American people, especially those of its soldiers, in the policy statement speech.
It is high time for the US to adopt a uniform and non-discriminatory approach to value of human life. A terrorist act and ensuing carnage (must) evoke same sentiments of pain, loss, and compassion no matter which continent you are on; which religion you follow; which language you speak; or what colour skin you have. Whether terrorists target World Trade Centre in New York, Brussels Airport, stadiums in Paris and London, a school in Peshawar, a hospital in Quetta, a children park in Lahore, a mosque in Kabul, the blood of the innocent spilled cannot be narrowly dubbed or selectively valued as Pakistani and Afghani or European and American. Likewise taking civilian lives and liberties in the name of religion is terrorism; be it serial killing of young and old meat carrying men or burning homes and bodies by any country in the region and across globe.
Again despite having played the role of the frontline state in the international war on terror over last 17 years, Pakistan still continues to be at the receiving end by continuing to face US derision, suspicion and distrust, while India, whose role in destabilising Pakistan through subversive covert activities, threatens to disrupt peace in the region, is getting a preferential treatment. This latitude is dangerously fanning fundamentalism and extremism in India generally. The atrocities being meted out to innocent Kashmiris living in the held valley as well as Dalits, low-caste communities and Muslims on eating cow meat are stark examples of rise of extremism in India. The killing of a progressive female journalist is latest in the series.
Moreover, as we talk of possible US economic sanctions and embargoes, Pakistan must gird up its loins. We must shake off yoke of dependability on US or any friend or foe’s aid, and make our economic and trade trajectory self-driven based on more reliance on our indigenous resources and efforts rather than aided projects. In many cases the US sanctions have helped the nations in indigenous, sustainable development. Iran is a good example in the region.
The trouble for the US is that Pakistan can afford to walk away any time because the claims of billions of dollars of aid are false. A few hundred million dollars that come as US aid with much humiliation and threats should no longer hold Pakistan hostage to US whims and capriciousness anymore.
The US and other powers must re-evaluate the situation and be more considerate of Pakistan’s challenges, efforts and constraints. It is high time each nation and power should “Do More” -- than finding faults and pointing fingers as it won’t get us anywhere. It must be realised that there is no military solution to the Afghan imbroglio. Historically no one has been able to rule or conquer Afghanistan from Alexander to British and from Russia to US. India becoming an ambitious regional power ladder climber should also note that.
The US and emerging economic powers and blocks must also shun their destructive war economy approach – which strategically thrives on willful creation of chaos and instability leading to conflicts nourished by weapons produced in trillions of dollars worth war industry to keep business thriving while the less privileged or less articulate of the world drown in misery.
We need to tell the world that: Pakistan is more sinned against than sinning. Over the last 10 years, our human causalities exceed 70 thousand, while we sustained economic losses to the tune of 118.3 billion dollars between 2002 and 2016, according to the State Bank of Pakistan, in its annual report 2015-16.
It has affected the country’s exports, prevented the inflows of foreign investment, and slowed down the overall economic activity, besides severely impacting upon social and political harmony and security situation in the country.
The US 9/11 has become Pakistan’s 24/7.
The current crisis of terrorism within Pakistan is partly a reaction to Pakistan’s continuing military campaign to eliminate terrorist and extremists from its soil, and more an upshot of destabilisation tactics of non-state actors masquerading as Jehadis some of whom are patronised, supported and funded by our neighbouring countries, especially India, and operating from Afghanistan.
Pakistan must not allow itself to be caught between the juggernaut of the power struggle between Washington, Beijing, Russia and the ambitious India under Modi. Pakistan is a sovereign and responsible state that has given more than its due share in terms of human life and loss to economy and infrastructure to making itself, the region and the world safe. The war that Pakistan is fighting against terrorists on its soil does not only have domestic implications, it’s a war that Pakistan is fighting for world and regional peace and stability. However, Pakistan should in no way agree to fight Afghan war on its land.
As a positive dividend, Mr Trump’s statement has evoked a strong collective and consensual reaction within Pakistan from governmental, parliamentary and military quarters. The Pakistan Parliament not just unanimously criticised Trump’s speech, rather thrashed the US trend of consistently presenting an anti-Pakistan narrative despite tremendous sacrifices in the war on terror.
An important message was also given to the US when the Army Chief during a meeting with US ambassador, said that “Pakistan is not looking for any material or financial assistance from the United States, but needs trust, understanding and acknowledgment of its contributions in the war against terror.”
While rejecting American and Indian accusation, we should take into account the genuine concerns of China and other friends, without compromising our national sovereignty for any one. It’s time we take our fate into our own hands instead of making compromises on our sovereignty and respect. Compromises on state writ and authority should no more be allowed within country by a national consensus of zero tolerance of any terrorist organisation, group or ideology. Standing firm and united we can overcome chronic, recent and emerging challenges.