Sunday April 21, 2024

Beyond militarism

By Raashid Wali Janjua
January 11, 2017

Pakistan’s national security dilemma has an uncanny resemblance to the security dilemma of the Sparta-led Peloponnesian League that was embroiled in a mutually enervating duel with the Greek Empire from 431 to 410 BC.

Right from its inception, Pakistan has been confronted by a Hobson’s choice ie whether to acquiesce to the political blandishments of a bigger neighbour that regarded the partition of the Subcontinent as the vivisection of India or to get locked into a perpetual conflict with India. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had unequivocally defined his vision of an independent Pakistan in his August 11, 1948 speech in the Constituent Assembly in these words: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

The Quaid’s vision, however, did not get anchored in a flux-like Pakistani polity and a perilous external security environment. The war over Kashmir that began initially as a domestic reaction to gross injustice and violence against the Kashmiri Muslims soon exercised a pull on Pakistan that got involved pell-mell into the raging conflict between oppressive Dogra regime forces and the local freedom fighters. The active involvement of the Indian army and the subsequent response by Pakistan army resulted in a war followed by a UN-brokered ceasefire. The failure of the Indian leadership to honour its commitments on the Kashmir plebiscite and aggressive attempts to choke Pakistan’s economy by blocking the flow of the eastern rivers sounded alarm bells in the minds of Pakistan’s civil and military establishment.

Confronted right from its inception by threats to its political as well economic survival, Pakistan’s political leadership took a conscious decision after due cogitation to rely on the US-led Western camp to ward off the clear and present danger to its national survival. It was a classic external balancing act in the parlance of international relations wherein Pakistan sought the protective umbrella of the US with regard to a belligerent neighbour that was out to dismember it through political machinations and economic coercion. The US-Pakistan entente cordiale flourished against the backdrop of the cold war between the two leading world powers ie the US and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had also tried to woo Pakistan but its overtures were spurned by the political leadership of the Pakistan.

The decision to jump on the US bandwagon was a consequence of the Pakistani civil-military establishment’s cold calculations about the utility of the external balancer. In the US, the Pakistani establishment envisioned a reliable ally that had the global clout as well as the military and economic strength to support an ally in need of protection. Liaquat Ali Khan – egged on by his own political instincts as well as the predilections of civil-military bureaucracy – decided to visit the US after spurning a Soviet invitation. That decision resulted in Pakistan’s barnacle-like attachment with the US coat-tails at the cost of regional estrangement with geographically proximate state actors, such as India, Afghanistan and Soviet Union.

As a recompense for US-sponsored Seato and Cento alliances, Pakistan received generous military and economic aid. The US aid ironically developed Pakistan’s military as the preponderant military institution that in times to come would eclipse all other institutions, shaping a national vision in line with the security imperatives of a young nation.

Indian obduracy and the constant warmongering indirectly fuelled Afghan irredentism that caught Pakistan into a vice-like grip, imperilling its security. The dues ex machina status of the US and the enhanced image of its domestic protege, the Pakistan army was invested with a saviour complex that further morphed into security paranoia due to constant Indian bellicosity and the unresolved Kashmir conflict. The lineaments of the national security state were beginning to take shape due to a constant adversarial relationship with India, tenuous peace with Afghanistan, and a weak polity.

Pakistan’s political instability – due to a crisis of leadership after Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination and the machinations of bureaucracy – also resulted in a vacuum that sucked the most organised institution of the country in the political arena. When the military ultimately filled the political vacuum due to our fractured polity and weak leadership, the process of security state formation was completed.

The military, saddled with the burden of governance during the Ayub era, brought a peculiar mindset to the formulation of the domestic as well as foreign policy, framing all challenges in terms of military threats. An aid-enabled model of economic progress and the US security umbrella emboldened Pakistan to settle boundary and water disputes with India through a mixture of foreign arbitration and military adventurism.

A border skirmish with India over the Rann of Kutch issue induced overconfidence in our military capability, with a segment of civilian and military bureaucracy believing in the efficacy of the military option to settle the Kashmir issue. Operation Gibraltar was a logical result of this happy war paranoia that resulted in the 1965 war. The 1971 debacle also failed to bring about a paradigm shift in our national security assessment as the two countries fought a limited war in Kargil and came close to another in 2001-02.

The nuclear deterrence had also apparently failed to impress upon the two countries the need to adopt a new national security paradigm predicated upon geo-economics. The failure to factor in the economic, political, and food security has led towards a national security matrix that is heavily weighted in favour of military threats. The national security, nowadays, has to be viewed in terms of geo-economics instead of geopolitics. Defence, diplomacy, and development is the trinity that defines national security instead of a military capability-centric approach. The skewed civil-military balance in the country is also a consequence of the lopsided understanding of national security wherein the inputs of vital civilian institutions are marginalised due to a lack of understanding of their importance.

It is time we adopted a new national security paradigm based on cooperative engagement with all neighbours and global powers without compromising on our national interests. Internal cohesion, political stability, economic equity, and an astute diplomacy should act as our steel sinews burnished by a sound defence capability that is meant not to provoke but to revoke both foreign as well as domestic conflicts. A development cum cooperative engagement model instead of militarism should define our comprehensive national security model. 


The writer is a PhD scholar at Nust.