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December 16, 2010

Misconceptions about us


December 16, 2010

The writer is a defence and political
Vice president and director of public policy at the leading US think-tank East West Institute (EWI), a former Newsweek editor (and a good friend) Andrew Nagorski suggested that during my next visit to New York I should try and dispel the “three biggest misconceptions about Pakistan”.
The biggest one by far is that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is vulnerable to the Taliban and other Islamist extremist groups. Fuelling such anxieties are mostly hypothetical conjectures for motivated reasons and not surprisingly India has been the cheerleader for this canard. While no cogent argument has ever been given, the negative campaign causes a majority in Pakistan to believe that the sinister motive behind the almost nightmarish scenario being created is that the US is secretly intent on confiscating Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
US officials, including President Barack Obama have said, at least publicly, that they believe Pakistan’s weapons are safe. Given the layers of security and protocols that envelop and secure the arsenal, stealing or taking over a country’s nuclear assets is not easy. Nuclear weapons are not operated simply by buttons but by an entire system of complicated codes and sophisticated machinery. Advanced security mechanisms of a comprehensive command-and-control structure range from tightened physical safety to technical controls in the nuclear weapons themselves, these have been acknowledged by international regulatory authorities.
After A Q Khan was discredited for illicit nuclear dealings, Pakistan introduced a multilayered, foolproof system of internal monitoring. The codes controlling the nuclear warheads and operating them are restricted to a few nuclear scientists and some anonymous people in the government. Do the Taliban or other extremists possess the technical know-how or knowledge to operate such sophisticated technology? There are persistent unsubstantiated claims about

Pakistani government officials being sympathetic to Al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban and aiding them in obtaining the know-how and control to operate Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
The support that Pakistan had for the Taliban was politically motivated, this ended after 9/11. Those making the accusations have not named one Al-Qaeda or Taliban sympathiser in the Pakistani government, the Pakistan army or the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). Even as big a critic of the Pakistani nuclear programme as my respected friend Pervez Hoodbhoy told the BBC, “I don’t believe they can be obtained by fundamentalist groups like Al-Qaeda, the days of smuggling centrifuges out of Kahuta [Pakistan’s main nuclear research facility] ended with AQ Khan.”
The misconception about Pakistan being a “failed state”, or well on the way to being one, underscores the tendency in the western media to lump the entire nation together into a single Islamo-fascist entity. Nothing could be further from the truth. This diverse nation of more than 170 million, Pakistan contains the entire spectrum of various Islamic practices. Even in Peshawar, probably the city with the closest resemblance to the militant caricature the West has of Pakistan, there are moderates and extremists, sufis and secularists. Punjab and Sindh, the two most populous provinces, have a heavy sufi flavour that is very different from the puritanical Wahabism that is followed by the Taliban and their ilk.
The successful military action in Swat was only possible when the Pakistan army got the political space necessary to conduct such an operation from a large and vibrant civil society in Pakistan’s urban areas that has been vocal and active about protecting its rights, reacting to Sufi Mohammad’s faux pas in repudiating Pakistan’s constitution and the Supreme Court, in addition to his son-in-law’s brutal applications of his brand of Islam. By its action, the Pakistan army confirmed it remains a cohesive body that will not countenance a Taliban takeover.
Pakistan is not an exporter of terror. During his visit to India in July 2010, British PM James Cameron openly accused elements of Pakistan’s security and intelligence services of promoting the export of terrorism, lately German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed the same canard during Indian PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to Germany. Both Cameron and Merkel clearly were wooing the Indian leaders and public for crass commercial purposes.
India is a vast market of 1.2 billion people. Pakistan in contrast has only 170 million consumers. Accusing the ISI of playing a double-game and supporting the Taliban and exporting terror strongly belies logic. If the ISI was supporting the Taliban against the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan why would the Taliban target the ISI and military targets within Pakistan unless as revenge for the Pakistan military’s war on them?
Linking the ISI with the Taliban is nothing but a very organised media war to keep Pakistan under pressure for various reasons. It seems ridiculous that an intelligence agency is funding and breeding a group of miscreants and sending them out to create havoc, whose first and foremost target is the agency itself. While US leaders have sometimes expressed suspicions about the presence of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership in Pakistan, they have officially refrained from accusing Pakistan of supporting the Taliban against coalition forces in Afghanistan. However there is a trust deficit that Pakistan must address.
Interestingly, the role played by the armed forces of Pakistan and the ISI in the war against terror is always praised and applauded by western countries in their official communications. In their successful counterinsurgency (COIN) operations of uprooting terrorists from their strongholds in Swat, Malakand and South Waziristan, the Pakistan army has lost thousands of men in the last 18 months, ten times more than all coalition casualties in Afghanistan during the same period. Thousands of civilians have fallen victims to drone attacks in the tribal region and suicide attacks in Pakistani cities. To quote Bob Woodward from his book “Obama’s Wars”, while talking to CIA’s Michael Hayden about the CIA’s drone attacks causing innocent civilian casualties, Zardari is reported to have said, “kill the seniors. Collateral damage worries you Americans, it does not worry me.” With such callousness manifest in our own head of state for our citizens, who needs enemies?
Being one of the biggest victims of terrorism in the world, not just in terms of the number of citizens killed or injured but also in terms of the resources diverted from health, education and development to fight terrorists, why would any entity in Pakistan contrive against the country’s interest? Pakistan’s economy has been severely jolted by the war on terror. Why would Pakistan pay such a heavy price and export terrorism on the side?
As one of the few developing nations in the world that can feed and clothe itself, notions that label Pakistan as a failed or a failing state are highly unfair, and mostly mischievous. Despite the terrorist pressure, Pakistan has sustained achievements to show across the board, hallmark growth in the sectors of telecommunications, banking and the electronic media, participation in UN peacekeeping missions over the years, emergence of an activist judiciary, the armed forces getting their mission orientation right, etc.
To paraphrase Mark Twain’s famous remark in the context of David Kilcullen very confidently predicting doom for Pakistan within the next six months back in March 2009, “the rumours of our demise are greatly exaggerated.”
(Summary of the Q & A Breakfast at EWI New York, and concurrently EWI Brussels by electronic video link, on December 13, 2010).

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