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April 26, 2014

Being a national security state

Opinion

April 26, 2014

If you’re going to be a national security state, you have to do it better. You have to be scary, but scary to the point of reverence, not scary to the point of disgust and contempt. This means that your soldiers and spies need to be as comfortable with hand to hand combat, as they are with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. They need to understand the implications of the Battle of Badr, as much as they do the lessons of the Battle of Uhud. It means that in 1989, they have to be adept at playing 21st century games, and in 2014, they have to master psy-ops online, because the enemy is bigger, badder, more sophisticated, and more scientific than the acne-infested insides of an MIT physics lab.
If you are going to be a national security state, that everybody is always out to get, you have to build your own machines, with your own money. Your own hardware, like planes, and your own software, like voice over IP applications – that everybody downloads. You have to build your own everything. If you’re going to be a national security state, you have to win. Regularly.
What you cannot afford, and what indicates a basic lack of competence and capability is that you lose the little battles, to nothing enemies. You cannot afford to be despised by people with a wide audience. You cannot afford to develop sources over two decades that turn on you over two years and cause you headaches that you cannot manage. You cannot afford testimonies in the parliaments of countries that matter, countries that supply you, sometimes with cold, hard cash, and sometimes with even colder, harder hardware.
You cannot afford to buy everybody, because not everybody is for sale. You cannot afford to fool yourself into believing the sycophantic lunatics that are easy to buy and easy to keep, because those lunatics aren’t taken seriously anywhere, except in your offices. You cannot afford more lies than you can manage, and you cannot afford to have the enemy gloating, satisfied at having

cracked you open like a mea culpa piñata, with every credible voice in your country seeking to retain that credibility by, at best sidestepping questions about you, and at worst, joining in the chorus.
Pakistan is an amazing country. Nobody gives it a chance, and year after year, we keep pretending that merely continuing to exist on the map is a sign of resilience and character. It isn’t. It takes a remarkable series of successes or failures to change the map. We often forget where Pakistan came from. It came from the success of a lawyer who argued effectively against supposedly more well-liked, smarter, better, richer and nastier opponents. Quaid-e-Azam beat Nehru, Gandhi, Patel, Azad and the British Empire, and there was not a single shot fired.
There is something to be said about being smooth, about having irrefutable arguments, and being better at English, than the English, and better at law, than any lawyer. Maybe the smartest guy in the room doesn’t always win, but he usually does. And the dumbest guy? He never wins, no matter how much muscle he has, or how scary he looks.
Was it wildly inappropriate for this Geo News to flash pictures of the DG ISI and blame him for the attack on Hamid Mir? It sure was. But here’s the rub. Until the state machinery didn’t kick into action, and many phone calls were made, and the opinion-manufacturing gears didn’t kick into motion, the allegations against the ISI were treated credibly, by many. The international angle to the allegations and the timing, so soon after Carlotta Gall’s attempts to create a niche as a fiction writer selling books in the nonfiction section of Barnes & Noble and on Amazon, it really is instructive. If Pakistan is going to continue to be a national security state, this reputational problem that the armed forces, and in particular the ISI have, is a major liability.
For some folks, embittered by the shellacking that the country’s security institutions have been bearing for several years now, this is a product of people having opinions about national security despite lacking the expertise to have those opinions. Perhaps, once upon a time, you had to have some kind of expertise to have a credible opinion about technical things. But when you construct a national security state that is decidedly unapologetic about being a national security state, you endow every citizen and indeed, everyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world, with the ‘expertise’ to have an opinion. Moreover, you empower your enemies to have their way with your good name.
“Everybody does it”, we’re told. Really? Everybody? Yes. “Look at the CIA!” we’re told. Yes. Look at them. They outsourced intelligence gathering to goons working for for-profit pigs like Blackwater, handed guns to their goons, like Raymond Davis, with valid Pakistanis visas, to shoot up a street in broad daylight, kill two Pakistanis, run over and kill another on their getaway cruise through Lahore’s main thoroughfares, and then successfully have such goons handed over, only to return to their home country, like free men. Free to have road rage in parking lots, and live the American Dream.
So yes. Look at the CIA. They are taking our lunch money, laughing in our face, and then handing back a few cents. And hat in hand, we’re at the tarmac at Chaklala, waiting for the next delegation, for a little more strategic lovin’.
Do other countries’ intel communities have journalists in their countries working for them? Of course they do. But I’d argue that their most valuable sources and assets aren’t the petty crooks that take money under table. I’d argue that the most valuable sources and assets are the ones that would never publicly go after their own country’s agencies, out of a sense of solidarity – even if they sometimes strongly disagree with their agencies’ agendas, or methods, or people.
Do other countries’ intel communities have people in Pakistan working for them? Of course they do. Who are they? Hard to say, because again, the most valuable assets and sources for foreign countries’ intel agencies in Pakistan aren’t the Dr Afridis – those scumbags are bought and sold at low rates, with only the most wildly accidental relevance, as was Afridi’s.
The most valuable assets and sources other countries enjoy in Pakistan are those folks who are not for sale. Those who have no interest in any country’s intel wars, and who simply call things as they see them, and they see Pakistan’s own weaknesses and failures more frequently and more passionately than they see other countries’ weaknesses and failures, because their primary concern as Pakistanis, is Pakistan – not the doings of another country.
Pakistan’s discourse has long been a cesspool in which one can make any accusation about anyone at any time. Now, the chickens have come home to roost. Any other country could afford this kind of a Wild West. But Pakistan is not any other country. It is, and will continue to be, for the foreseeable future, a national security state.
Pakistan cannot afford to have its intelligence services accused of petty murder on national television. The immediate reactions have already occurred, but the real tests are the medium and long-term lessons the military leadership takes from this. For decades we have not learnt the right lessons – leading us to today. Could tomorrow be different?
The writer is an analyst and commentator.