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May 16, 2017

Plugging Dawn leaks permanently


May 16, 2017

There is something to be said about the maturity and thoughtfulness employed by both the elected government and the military leadership in trying to defuse the Dawn leaks crisis, after it was re-ignited by the DG ISPR’s infamous “rejected” tweet.

Sadly, instead of the afterglow of what seemed to be a good thing, we’ve had to contend with hyper-patriots lamenting the withdrawal of the “rejected” tweet as akin to the December 19, 1971 surrender of Pakistani troops in East Pakistan. This kind of hyperventilating may be sincere, but it is deeply misplaced. The subsequent personal attacks on the army leadership represent a concerted effort to corrode the coherence of the Pakistani military. Only an enemy of Pakistan could ever want to take an argument that far. As it happens, the enemies of Pakistan have had a very good few days.

Afghanistan attacked a census team in Chaman, and then engaged in a firefight with Pakistani troops. Iran’s army leadership threatened Pakistan with cross-border kinetic action. India filed a suit at the International Court of Justice to try to secure access to Kulbushan Yadav, a self-confessed terror-abetting spymaster acting on behalf of the Indian government. Pakistan’s attendance of the OBOR gala in Beijing was marred by terrorist attacks in Mastung and Gwadar. Anyone that thinks Pakistan is not being targeted by its enemies at a time when it is on the cusp of a geo-economic turning point is either stupid, or wilfully (and shamefully) turning a blind eye to the evidence.

The Dawn Leaks saga endures in this context not because there should be any more sackings of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s people, nor because the army must be shown who is boss. The saga endures because the single greatest instrument available to Pakistan’s enemies continues to be ignored by public policy in Pakistan: internationally sanctioned terrorist groups continuing to live on Pakistani soil.

The Pakistani military is extremely sensitive – as it should be – to suggestions that any terrorist group enjoys its favour. But institutional dynamics have at least two dimensions of inertia: the first being the slowness with which real change occurs, and the second, perhaps more vexing, that perceptions about change take even longer to change than the change itself. It is most likely true that the Haqqani Network, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and/or the Jaish-e-Mohammad do not enjoy the protection or endorsement of any arm of the Pakistani state, overt or covert. It is also true however that deep relationships forged in times of conflict and war, and sustained over many years, are difficult to cut off easily.

The general sense of most analysts is that whilst it is almost certain that no segment of the military has formal links with these dangerous groups, the continued existence of these groups suggests that Pakistan has not formally decided to challenge their existence. The more cynical analysis is that the reason for the absence of any signal that suggests that Pakistan is going to tackle these groups is the continued belief among some people in Pakistan that these groups represent a useful set of public policy instruments.

Of course, just like there is no such thing as clear-as-day, smoking-gun proof of formal support, there is also no such thing as tangible proof of the severing of all relations between state agencies and formerly useful non-state actors. And if the only problem was India’s Arnab Goswami foaming at the mouth, then we wouldn’t have much of a problem at all. But the problem is more urgent than an unhinged Indian media. In the last year alone, Lashkar individuals and affiliates have been sanctioned by the UN, the US and even by Saudi Arabia. The LeT problem is a problem of international legitimacy. Pakistan is not being asked to wave a magic wand and make LeT or JeM disappear, but it is being asked to treat the international system, upon which it depends for money, goods and services, with some modicum of respect.

The Pakistani military is keenly aware of the seriousness of the threat represented by the continued freedom and operations of internationally sanctioned groups. It was this knowledge that caused the Dawn story to be as explosive as it was among the officers’ corps. Whatever happened in the meeting that the story reported on, and whoever leaked its contents, are sideshows. The real story is that the two greatest weapons available to Pakistan’s enemies are the ease with which they can paint Pakistan as a country operating outside international norms, and the ease with which they can trigger civil-military crises.

Neither of these two vulnerabilities can be solved by firing Tariq Fatemi or Pervaiz Rashid. Neither of these two vulnerabilities can be plugged by the army’s public assertion of its role as defender of last resort for Pakistan’s ideological and territorial frontiers. Tweets, either issued or withdrawn, do not matter in the matter of the two great weapons Pakistan has built for its enemies. The only thing that matters is how Pakistan plans, executes and communicates the seriousness with which we treat our international standing.

This doesn’t require a war in Bahawalpur or in Khost or Nuristan or in Muridke. It doesn’t require any progress with India on any issue, from Siachen and Sir Creek, to the Indus Waters Treaty or Kashmir. It requires neither an assertion of strength by Pakistan, nor an embrace of weakness. It simply requires urgent and visible steps to place the national interest over and above the institutional and individual interests of the various actors involved.

The first step in this journey is not more dramatics. A few arrests don’t mean much when the foundational dynamics in the country are so weak as to have produced the fallout from the Dawn story in the first place. The first step is for a sustained and serious effort by the prime minister to win back some, if not all, of the trust of the officer corps of the Pakistan Army. This is not an easy thing to do. The PM may rightly ask himself why he has to be the one making the effort, having won elections three times. The answer is simple. We have to live in the world we live in, not the world we wish we lived in. Normative analysis is useful in assessing what is perfect and what is not. It is useless in defining the way forward. In the imperfect democracy that is Pakistan, it is elected civilians that have to do more, and keep doing more.

Second, Pakistan must make good on the post-APS promise of putting its house in order. The National Action Plan has become nothing more than a cheap trick, paraded before sceptical audiences every time there is a terror attack – but the long-term answer to non-state actors is enmeshed within those poorly drafted twenty bullet points: a stronger state. Prosecutors that operate without fear. Judges that can look animals in the eye and put them in the zoos they belong in. Cops with the guns, and ammo and shields they need to take on the bad guys.

All this cannot become hostage to games between the Interior and the PM Office, or worse, between Secretariat and Aabpara, or between Islamabad and Rawalpindi. A serious effort to map out a decade-long plan to re-tool the Pakistani state for 21st century peace has not been made. The answer to Pakistani problems like Lashkars, Jaishes and Networks should not, cannot and will not come from the CT and CVE plans of other countries. The answer will come from within us, and our society’s decision to enjoy the privileges of Pakistan as an important, strong, powerful and credible international actor.

The Dawn story that triggered a seven-month long national crisis has still not been dealt with meaningfully because we have wasted these months engaged in arguments that benefit Pakistan’s enemies. It is time for Pakistani leaders to focus on what will benefit Pakistan: take away the weapons available to our enemies, tackle the non-state actors that the world uses to intimidate and embarrass us. Nothing demands greater civil military dialogue and cooperation. And nothing could be more patriotic. Long live the Pakistan Army. Long live the Prime Minister.


The writer is an analyst and commentator.



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