View Full Version : Pakistan: Peyton Place revisted! :D

04-12-03, 09:53 PM

Winds of change

By Irfan Husain

A couple of months ago, something of a seismic shift occurred in our neighbourhood, but curiously the event went largely unnoticed in the local media. Perhaps we thought if we did not talk about it, the problem would go away on its own.

But the fact remains that during Iran's President Khatami's visit to India last winter, an agreement was signed between the two countries, permitting Indian naval vessels the use of Iranian ports in the event of an Indo-Pakistan war. As far as one recalls, there was no official statement from our government explaining what this meant in terms of our geo-strategic environment.

Clearly, the significance of this development is chilling as far as our security is concerned for it means that Pakistan's defence planners can no longer count on the kind of help Iran gave us during the wars of 1965 and 1971. On the contrary, there is now a pronounced pro-India tilt in Tehran.

It is fashionable these days to hold politicians and public servants accountable for their action. So who should we pillory for this enormous strategic debacle? Our path diverged from Iran's the moment the establishment started supporting the fanatical Taliban in Afghanistan against the various Shia tribes.

This narrow, sectarian mindset was also much in evidence in the blind eye successive governments turned to the murder of scores of Shias across the country by vicious religious militias like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. These zealots have specially targeted Shia doctors and have largely gone scot-free. Several Iranian diplomats, engineers and air force trainees have also been killed in various Pakistani cities.

Thus, far from demonstrating to the Iranian leadership that we were reliable allies, we showed them hostility at every turn. We began undermining our decades-old friendship with Iran - one of the principal cornerstones of our foreign policy - soon after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in which the ISI had played a key role.

Drunk on their own success, our generals became convinced that Pakistan could now play a major role not just in Afghanistan but in Central Asia following the collapse of the USSR. Zia and his coterie did not stop to reflect on the fact that Pakistan's success had much to do with the massive American support we had received. Once this was withdrawn soon after the Soviet pullout, Pakistan reverted to what it had always been: a backward, fractious Third World nation whose ambitions far outstripped its resources.

Without coordinating with Tehran, which had legitimate interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia, our master strategists armed and supported a series of leaders from Gulbadin Hikmatyar to Mullah Omar and his medieval Taliban. The result of this blatant interference was endless civil war and the complete devastation of our neighbour. In this process, various Shia groups suffered terribly, and Iran received a considerable setback as it tried to support its co-religionists spread across much of Afghanistan.

Our efforts to make friends in Central Asia and to extend our influence have fallen victim to our fanaticism: an old friend who is a senior member of an international organization told me that when he called on the president of Azerbaijan, he was asked what the Pakistani government was up to.

Apparently, groups of jihadis had been flown to his country, allegedly with ISI support, to stir up local fanatics. The Azerbaijan government had to impose tough travel restrictions between the two countries. The same story is true of western China where Pakistani fanatics have whipped up local Muslims, much to the Chinese government's intense annoyance.

So in a sense, our isolation is complete: in the west and north-west lie an indifferent Iran and an angry Afghanistan; and in the east, a belligerent India is itching to settle scores. The Americans are currently engaged in Pakistan for purely their own reasons. Once they think they have controlled the threat of terrorism emanating from our part of the world, they will go their own way. Our leaders need to remember that sanctions can be imposed far more quickly than they are removed.

To imagine that the Americans will jeopardize their close business interests in India for our sake is to live in a fool's paradise. Arab states have quietly shelved even their pro forma support for Pakistan as they forge stronger links with India. China has put aside its border dispute with India to strengthen commercial ties. And as it transforms its economy, it has made it clear to Islamabad that it does not wish to be embroiled in the unending Kashmir dispute.

Encircled and isolated, what are the strategic choices before us? Either we sulk and insist that the rest of the world is wrong and sink deeper into our isolation, much as North Korea has, or we can join the rest of the world. Easier said than done: as angry, bearded faces rampage in the streets against the American-led assault on Iraq, it is difficult to imagine how we can get out of the holier-than-thou mindset we have come to assume over the years. Our assumption that we have the moral high ground in all matters makes it that much harder to take tough, rational decisions. Given our inability to change directions (unless a U-turn is imposed on us), our positions harden and calcify. Nobody has yet accused us of flexibility.

To any objective observer, Kashmir is a dead issue, and nothing will be gained by continuing to flog it. And yet, even sensible Pakistanis are unwilling to come forward and say so openly. The recent appalling slaughter of 24 Kashmiri Pandits shows how explosive an issue it is, and emphasizes yet again the need to normalize relations with India and move ahead on other aspects of bilateral ties like trade and travel. This whole business of jihad (and it is, among other things, a business) has to be switched off and its proponents tamed.

One knows this is a tall order, and not one in keeping with this government's wishes or priorities. Brainwashed into a knee-jerk 'Kashmir at any cost' philosophy, our generals have a single-point agenda to which the whole nation is now hostage. But for how long?

As we stand isolated and virtually friendless, we are in desperate need to review our mistakes and chart a new path. Unfortunately, as one surveys the landscape, one cannot see the kind of visionary leaders needed for such an exercise.