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December 2, 2016



This thing on policy

So, another chief changes. When Raheel Sharif was to be inducted we made a lot of his heart being in the right place since he had introduced doctrinal changes by placing terrorism at the head in the hierarchy of threats, ahead of India. And it was applauded by the vocal sections of society, and the media of course. Mostly, Raheel Sharif lived up to that image even if it always was an institutional process.

Both, Kayani and Sharif, subsequently had to come out loudly reclaiming that there was a difference in treating the immediate from the perennial, and that each held its eminence in their rightful consideration. Subsequent events in how India-Pakistan relations have evolved testified to this belief.

This time round the deal is hinged around two fundamental principles, not so cleanly enunciated, but built nonetheless around the hope meant to wean away from the perennial. Translated, it means lowering India further down the list of priorities in threats.

There are two ways of proposing this expectation as a new chief takes the helm. One is the rethink of the security paradigm. It is intended to take emphasis away from the role of the military in our national life by lowering the perceived wariness of India and Afghanistan and replacing it instead with the need for human security. Really what it aims to convey is that the role of the civilian portion of the state is far more important than the military side of the state, and that aspects of human security vis a vis food, energy, climate, impacting the larger populace must hold far greater importance than the external threats on the two borders.

It is a thought – and nothing wrong with it. But how do we bring that about? Because there are two sides to a confrontation, and even if one was to cede and give up would that mean that the other too would follow suit? Or when the Indians do what they have been doing at the LoC and the WB, we simply turn around and say that we are now focusing on the non-traditional side of the security paradigm and will instead like to work on securing our food and climate potential, if you please. Good deed; don’t get me wrong. This should be done even when we are not fighting and should be the primary objective of any civilian dispensation, but when warring, because someone else is imposing one on you, it is not the best practice you want to indulge in.

To bring a complete reversal of the security paradigm thus is the second half of what the policy prognosticians hope can nudge the process under the new chief: can he cede the control of the foreign and security policies back to the civilian establishment? Clearly it emerges from a strong perception on who controls policy, really – the GHQ or Islamabad? And there is a ring of truth to it. Let us take it by the horns then.

The genesis of policy lies in the civilian fold, without a question, security, defence, or any other. This is what we teach in the military to all aspiring to the highest ranks. Perhaps those who miss out in this knowledge are the ones meant to coin them – the civilian leadership. In various sessions with parliamentarians on policy formulation conducted under the auspices of Pildat, and contributed to by this author, a majority exhibited a sad lack of knowledge on basic structures and processes of policy.

Such dysfunction is then filled in by the civilian and military bureaucracies on behalf of their absent bosses, which the politicians then duly sign into existence. This brings to naught what is basic to democratic governance and germane to the needs of establishing priorities in governance.

The military needs to identify its mission and then chalk out a strategy for the business side of things. As per the theory of deriving the two, these emerge from the defence policy, which of its own right must be authored by the government and is the child of the security policy. It never is - neither the security policy, which if ever authored will necessarily include the non-traditional security needs of society, tying all other policies – social and economic – to it as well; nor is the defence policy ever coined by the government.

But let us assume that we had the smartest civilian bosses and they were to reformulate the policy on India. This is how they will need to begin – by answering a few questions. How do we respond to Indian aggression on the LoC and the WB? How should we think about Kashmir? Is Kashmir an issue? Should it be one? What are the medium term prospects for a continuation of the Pakistan policy under Modi as it is playing itself out? What will and can change the heart in Delhi on Pakistan? Is a change of heart in Delhi what we seek through policy revision? Are we ready to do what will change Indian disposition towards Pakistan? At what cost – to Pakistan and to the Kashmiris? Can there be a limited war on the eastern border in the medium term? What should Pakistan do to avoid one and to fight one?

You get the feel. There are no clear answers to these. Mostly qualifications will prevail. Clearly, as a nation, unless you wish to forego the epithet, you will need to be ready for all possibilities. And that will mean having a military that can secure you against external threats in a very difficult and complex region of the world. Improvements in the regional environment are but the pale of civilian establishment but for those to happen conflict must first be eliminated. Or all players in the region have to be imbued with an unadulterated sense of rational intercourse leading to a saner destiny. Enroute, where interests will clash, it will be back to square one.

There is a lot these political leaders have invested in public sentiment when carving out their respective niche with the people. That is what politics is all about. It helps to remind how frequently our leadership has exulted on keeping to the Kashmiri commitment. Having said so, walking back is political suicide. Now try, answering any of the questions above. It is not the military that keeps you from waltzing about with India but the investment in time and belief that has been put into popularising a stance that acts as the inhibitor. Don’t blame the military; what haunts are the home-grown restraints.

And this is without factoring the widespread hatred of Pakistan that Modi has psyched into the Indian minds. Or the principles – those be damned. It is time we stopped playing opportunistic games with this nation under the guise of an imbalance that has roots in the serious inadequacies of the existing political structure.


Email: [email protected]