Pakistan’s Strategic Perspective in Evolving World Order
Brigadier Vinod Anand (Retd)
Pakistan’s strategic perspective has been shaped by circumstances of its birth, its geography, history, its struggle for forging a Pakistani identity and the role played by its dominant elite in formulating and sustaining its strategic culture. External and internal shocks have continually impacted the strategic discourse in Pakistan which at different points in its history have forced it to veer away from its much cherished strategic goals. Forces of globalisation and ascendancy of economic and human security over military security have caused the Pakistan establishment to rethink its strategic perceptions and make an attempt in moving towards a more cooperative approach in its regional, economic and security issues. Pakistan is said to have embarked upon Musharraf’s path of ‘enlightened moderation’ with mixed success.
Evolving World Order and Pakistan
Pakistan fashioned its responses to the evolving world order by absorbing the changes in its environment and then devising ‘appropriate’ strategies to maintain its Indo-centric approach as a solution to all its strategic dilemmas. In spite of a continuous flux in the strategic environment, Pakistan’s construct of the world order is very simplistic. A Pakistani analyst while commenting on India-fixation of Pakistan’s strategic thought has observed that “Despite claiming an extra regional identity (greater cultural and regional affiliation with the Middle–East) Pakistan has never ventured to expand its security vision beyond India. In fact, Islamabad’s view of entire world appears simplistic, with the world divided between states that are considered important for their ability to provide any direct or indirect help in strengthening Pakistan against India and those that are of no help in this regard”1. Its relationship with other countries has been underscored by this fundamental perception. The US, and China occupy an important place in Pakistan’s quest for security.
In its quest for balancing equation with India, Pakistan has always endeavoured to remain strategically relevant to the US. The US-Pakistan strategic relationship is underscored by different strategic perspectives. Some of these are outlined below:-
China has been all weather friend of Pakistan since mid-sixties and over the years Pakistan’s strategic interests have largely been satisfied with its relationship with China2.
However, at another level India’s rise as an economic power and its growing cooperation with the US also enhances India’s strategic relevance in China’s calculus. China has been encouraging Pakistan to solve its differences with India, especially the Jammu and Kashmir issue, bilaterally and was almost neutral during Pakistan’s adventure in Kargil.
The Middle East and the Islamic Card
Since Pakistan was created on the basis of Islam, it has strived to be identified as leader and champion of Islam. It stresses its importance as the only nuclear capable Muslim nation of the Ummah. Its solidarity with Islamic causes like Kosovo, Palestine and active participation in Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) is generally aimed at addressing its strategic concerns. A former Ambassador of Pakistan argues that “while favouring an enlightened and moderate approach, Pakistan must defend the core interests of the Islamic world, whether in political matters (as in Palestine and Kashmir), or in ideological or economic affairs.”3 Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries has provided it with political, diplomatic, economic and even military support for its competition with India. Its 1.5 million expatriate community in the Middle East countries provides for a significant amount of foreign remittances. Saudi Arabia have promoted Madrassa culture in Pakistan and contributed to spread of Wahabi Sunni religious orthodoxy which has led to rising sectarianism in Pakistan. With Iran, Pakistan’s relations have gone through many ups and downs as Pakistan had competing interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Pakistan’s perspective is to develop itself as an important trans-Asian hub for Afghanistan, Central Asian Region (CAR) and beyond and provide access to Arabian Sea through its territory. In 1990s Pakistan proliferated nuclear technology to Iran as part of its westward orientation and a vision of acquiring a larger pan Islamic perspective. It has also embarked on the path of improving its relationship with Israel to promote itself as an enlightened and a moderate Muslim state and also to address its concerns on growing Indo-Israeli defence and technological cooperation. It makes good sense to improve its relationship with another anchor of the US Middle East policy and with whom many other Arab nations have diplomatic relations. Pakistan believes that it can play a crucial role in bridging the gap between Arab and Israeli views4.
Central Asian Region and Russia
A weakening of Indo-Russian equation is viewed as an opportunity for Pakistan to exploit the emerging strategic space especially for obtaining defence and military supplies from the nascent states like Ukraine. It has also supported Russia’s case for membership of OIC7. In its strategic perspective, the long term presence of the US in Afghanistan and Central Asia goes contrary to Russian and Chinese interests and a Sino-Russian convergence can be useful to Pakistan’s ambitions in the region. After the signing of Indo-US nuclear energy deal, besides looking at China as an alternate source for its nuclear energy needs, Pakistan may also focus on Russia. Pakistan is viewed by Russia as an evolving hub of energy grid between West Asia, Central Asia and vast markets of South Asia. And, therefore, Russia has (during Russian Prime Minister’s visit to India in March 2006) expressed willingness to have a stake in the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.
Pak perspective is more of a military perspective rather than a holistic national strategic perspective. Pakistan’s strategic edifice is supported by three pillars. First is to seek military parity with India, second is to leverage its geo-strategic location and Islamic linkages and seek military oriented8 (for instance CENTO & SEATO earlier and now Pakistan is most favoured non-NATO ally) and diplomatic alignments that are of help in restraining India and third is to seek asymmetric ways of warfare and strategies for cost effective options. Perceived threat or rather building of threat to its ideology and Islamic nature of state has been used as a powerful ideological and strategic tool by military and civil governments to advance their own agendas. Progressive Islamisation of Pakistan society has created societal dysfunction and the effects of culture of jihad have had world wide reverberations. Policy of jihad in Jammu and Kashmir and Afghanistan were basically to serve India-centric strategic designs of Pakistan establishment. For dominant elite of Pakistan any accommodation with India despite the dictates of realpolitik is an anathema. Strategic culture of Pakistan shaped by its elite prevents it from getting out of the Indo-centric rut and also inhibits it from seeking harmony with India except on the terms defined by this select group.
Strategic Culture: Who shapes it in Pakistan?
Pakistan perceives itself not as a state but as a religious community. It has as yet to learn to behave like a modern state based on comparative advantages in political and economic terms instead of religious terms. Pakistan’s elite insists on running it as a Muslim minority being persecuted by a Hindu majority within the South Asian geopolitical construct. Any onslaught on this process or calculus can only occur due to threat of dire consequences, e.g. threat by the US of post 11 September 2001 incident reprisals. But then escape routes and ways and means are found to reassert Pakistan elites’ old thought processes and tenets of strategic behaviour. All present, past and even likely future actions, in a general sense, can be said to be as a result of such a fixation of the dominant elite11. Dominant elite in Pakistan which is instrumental in shaping its strategic culture is said to consist of military and civilian bureaucrats. They are ‘slow to respond, slow to change, resist alternative world views’ would follow the rut rather than chart out a new path and would be more loyal to the King than King itself. The members have to be loyal to a core of set of principles. This establishment or strategic elite is said to share the idea that India is the main threat to Pakistan and must be countered militarily thereby giving military a paramount role. Accordingly, armed forces are considered as best guarantors of security; and democracy is seen as good only as long as it does not interfere with governance of the elite. Alliances and alignments are necessary to achieve objectives of its Jammu and Kashmir policy. Pakistan establishment also has a longstanding belief that some one or something will always come to Pakistan’s rescue because of its (geo-strategic) location12.
The strategic myths13 made popular by the elite has been that Islam is a unifying force in Pakistan, antagonism and animosity to India is a rallying point for drawing attention away from domestic issues, and patronage and hegemony of the US and China helps Pakistan militarily and economically and enables to withstand Indian pressures. That Islamic ideology and its unifying effect could not help Pakistan keeping its both parts together in 1971 is conveniently glossed over. Pakistan’s troubles like insurgency in Balochistan and unrest in Northern Areas is attributed to India’s machinations. Notions of strategic depth in Afghanistan are also post-Taliban creation. Hussain Haqqani argues that even the reference to Jammu and Kashmir as ‘core issue’ is of recent origins. This concept was invented in 1980s and was entirely absent in 1960s14. Although this oligarchy professes desire for peace with India, it is yet to make a paradigm shift. According to Haqqani the top five per cent of Pakistani individuals (which naturally includes the elite) account for 42 per cent of national income and bottom 20 per cent account for only 8 per cent of national income15. The vested interest of elite continues to maintain a certain degree of hostility against India to maintain it’s pre-eminence.
Main Components of Strategic Perspective
A major shift in Pak policies is said to have taken place in the wake of 11 September 2001 events when General Musharraf did his famous U-turns on a number of issues connected with both its internal and external dynamics. The four areas of strategic transformation to which Pakistan was expected to devote its energies were: Islamic terrorism and extremism, restoration of democracy and democratic institutions, dialogue with India and change in its Jammu and Kashmir policy and its nuclear proliferation activities.
Pakistan’s Jammu and Kashmir policy came into international focus again following terrorists’ attacks on 1 October, 2001 in Kaluchak and 13 December, 2001 attack on Indian Parliament in New Delhi. This led to India mobilising its forces and launching Operation Parakram in order to force Pakistan to change its policy of cross-border terrorism. Pak president in his famous speeches of 12 January 2002 and June 2002 promised again to prevent use of Pakistan’s territory by terrorists for their activities.
In December 2004, General Karamat, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US had acknowledged the misdirection of Pakistan’s strategic policies and was at pain to emphasise that these have been transformed and Pakistan had to pay a price for this strategic re-orientation. This transformation, according to him included the following:
This can be said to be a frank recognition of Pakistan’s obtuse policies and it is also an indicator that Pakistan has not been able to achieve anything of substance in its objectives of strategic redirection even though its strategic elite is seized with the necessity since September 2001. However, the elite leaves no opportunity to impress the international audience about the sacrifices Pakistan had to make to alter its strategic direction and, therefore, it needs the support of international community in its endeavours, especially in terms of military and economic aid and in overlooking of its transgressions of nuclear proliferation activities. Even lack of progress in instituting democratic and social reforms is expected to be glossed over by the international community due to unique security environment of Pakistan and its status of frontline ally in the war against terrorism (FATWAT). Before General Karamat took over as ambassador to the US, Pakistan had been given the status of major non-NATO ally of the US in June 2004, as a reward for its ‘contribution’ to war against terrorism.
Afghanistan Perspective: Pakistan still looking for Strategic Depth
Pakistan is waiting to claim its self assigned strategic space once the American withdrawal takes place from Afghanistan which according to Pakistan’s thought process may take place eventually. Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has stated many times that a strong prosperous and stable Afghanistan would be in everybody’s interest. But then a strong and stable Afghanistan may not be favoured by strategic elite of Pakistan. It has not as yet abandoned its visions of gaining illusory strategic depth vis-à-vis India. It was for only six years of Taliban reign from 1996 to 2001 in Afghanistan that Pakistan had some semblance of so called ‘strategic depth’. In a paper written by a think tank in 2003, the Pakistani author even talks of inevitability of an eventual federation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Historically, a strong and stable Afghanistan has always been a rival of Pakistan and except for Taliban government no other dispensation in Afghanistan has either been under Pakistan’s tutelage or favourably disposed to it. A strong government in Kabul has always been a motivator for Pashtun and Balochi nationalism in Pakistan and has raised questions on controversial Durand line, the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan had also entertained vision of extending the strategic depth to include Islamic nations of Central Asia through Taliban held Afghanistan.
Internal Dynamics: Uncertain Direction
There is also a conflict of interest between Musharraf‘s desire to perpetuate his own rule and his path of enlightened moderation. He side lined the mainstream political parties and gave more political space to Islamist parties which enabled politico-religious combine Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA) to come to power in Baluchistan and NWFP. MMA is the most vociferous opponent of Army’s actions in Waziristan or for that matter MMA is against any step, which is remotely connected with moderation or enlightenment. Yet MMA colluded with Musharraf to approve 17th Amendment to the constitution so that Musharraf as President and head of National Security Council (NSC) could acquire supra-parliamentary powers. Armed with these powers, President can dissolve the National Assembly thus enabling Musharraf to become both king and kingmaker. The role of Military in dictating terms has been institutionalised in the shape of NSC (established in April 2004) for all times to come. Musharraf’s promise of shedding his uniform by end December 2004 did not materialise. Pakistan has been cited as ‘not free’ country in the areas of political rights and civil liberties by the Freedom House Report for the year 2005 (sixth straight year). Mainstream political parties’ leaders have either been exiled or jailed or marginalised and Musharraf has changed Prime Ministers depending on his convenience. It is yet to be seen whether scheduled general elections in 2007 are held and Musharraf sheds his dual charge of President and the Army Chief.
The collusion with MMA has been correctly interpreted by many analysts as contributing to weakening of Musharraf’s resolve to fight militancy and it is also being seen as manifestation of military mullah alliance that has existed since days of Zia. However, Musharraf, through his siding with the US war on terrorism, wishes to be seen as a moderate and pro–democracy leader, yet his record so far shows lack of purpose and direction in moving towards this goal of moderation.
Despite his promises to reform madrassa system of education, no concrete steps have been taken to modify this type of education which promotes violence, intolerance, hatred and militancy.
Ahmed Rashid a well known analyst had written in the wake of London bombings of 7 July 2005 that “the enormous Islamic extremist infrastructure that the military maintained before 11 September 2001 to fight its wars in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir have not been broken up, only put to temporary sleep while clandestine training camps still spring up at new locations. Some militant groups have been banned three times, only to re-appear under different names”.
Musharraf’s war on religious intolerance had also included reforming and amending Hudood Ordinances and Blasphemy Laws promulgated through edicts during Zia’s years. Over the years, these draconian measures have been abused and misused against women and minorities. Musharraf is either unwilling or unable to steer the nation towards his oft-stated path of enlightened moderation.
Human Rights Watch in its annual report of the year 2005, published in January 2006, has observed that Musharraf’s military backed government has done little to address human right concerns and Musharraf has continued to tighten its grip on power. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has objected to Pakistan Army’s and para-military forces’ violation of human rights in Balochistan and Northern Areas. It is also critical of lack of political freedom and abuse of women rights and treatment of minorities. Similar reports have been issued by Amnesty International.
Revisiting Military Security and Economy
A number of reports have cautioned that long term economic outlook of Pakistan is uncertain because Pakistan is highly dependent upon foreign lending and import of basic commodities besides its public debt being 70 per cent of its GDP. Pakistan has been receiving aid from World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international institutions in a more liberal manner after it became ally of the US in war against terror. Even Pakistani diaspora which had become cautious in sending foreign remittances after military take over in October 1999, resumed sending funds after 2001. In 2003, it received $ 4 billion in foreign remittances compared to one billion dollars in 2001. What might compound the problem is consistently substantial fiscal deficit every year.
Pakistan’s external debt of $ 33 billion has grown to $ 38 billion in 2005 (one third of the GDP). Defence expenditure and interest on public debt take away 67 per cent of total revenues leaving very little for expenditure in areas of infrastructure, health and education. Economic reforms have been slow and hampered by political instability or lack of political will. In February 2005, President World Bank remarked that even though macro-economic indicators were looking good, ‘Pakistan has a long way to go in terms of achieving its human development goals’. World Bank President committed to increase lending to Pakistan by 50 per cent for the period 2006 to 2009 and cautioned that there are many problems that remain to be tackled.
In the current fiscal year, Pakistan’s trade deficit in first six months has increased by 132 per cent amounting to $ 5.6 billion compared to $ 2.4 billion for the same period last year. Pakistan’s oil import bill has also increased by 62 per cent. Moreover, Saudi Arabia has declined to resume $ two billion special financing arrangement (SFA) for crude oil imports thus creating more problems. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves of $ 12.5 billion are not adequate to cover $ 13.65 billion worth of six months imports- ‘a benchmark that the Pakistan’s government used to take pride in recent years’20.
Further, the defence expenditure as a percentage of overall government expenditure has been consistently high at an average of 18 per cent for the last five years or so. Similarly the percentage of GDP spent on defence budget has been maintained at four per cent plus levels with large annual increments in real terms in spite of the avowed change in emphasis on military security21. For 2005, its defence expenditure has gone up to five per cent of its GDP22. The US $ three billion aid package for Pakistan apparently lays more emphasis on military component of the aid rather than the civil aid even though the US claims to split its aid evenly between both the components. According to Pentagon, Pakistan received coalition support funding of $ 1.32 billion for period January 2003 to September 2004, an amount roughly equivalent to one-third of total defence expenditure during that period23.
Even though purchase of F-16 fighter aircraft has been deferred by Pakistan due to earth quake and resulting unpopularity of the military government, Pakistan has been given major equipment through US military grants and sales. Another deal signed a week after the earthquake for $ one billion with Sweden for purchase of six early warning aircraft was quietly allowed to continue in spite of urgent requirement of funds for rehabilitation, reconstruction and provision of relief aid (estimated to cost $10 to 12 billion) for the earth quake hit areas24. The inventory of military equipment being provided by the US includes six C-130 military transport aircraft ($ 75 million grant), 12 radars and 40 Bell helicopters ($ 300 million sale), eight P-3C aircraft, six Phalanx guns and 200 TOW missiles (proposed sales worth up to $ 1.2 billion) and sale of 300 Sidewinder air to air missiles and 60 Harpoon anti-ship missiles (worth $ 226 million) besides six Aerostat surveillance radars ($155 million) and other miscellaneous military equipment25. It is obvious that all this equipment is not meant for counter terrorism missions and is ultimately likely to be used against India thus highlighting the misplaced perceptions of the US also in preserving the so called balance in South Asia. This also indicates that Pak military’s notions of security have very low priority for human security and their fixation with military security have not undergone a change.
Jammu and Kashmir Policy and Quest for Parity- Has there been any change?
The Pak military has made heavy investment militarily, psychologically, ideologically and doctrinally in Jammu and Kashmir and in spite of repeated failures has not been able to alter its perceptions. For Musharraf and his military there is an inescapable need to show some returns on this investment and to save its propagated image of saviour of Pakistan. In his zeal to force the pace of peace process Musharraf has been suggesting proposals like demilitarisation and self governance which though look very attractive on the face of it but lack the substantive, political, diplomatic and historical perspective that is needed to solve the 56 years old problem. Musharraf needs to show something to the people before he goes in for general elections in 2007, perhaps with an eye on becoming an elected President.
There appears to be no perceptible change in Pakistan’s defence policy and military strategy, which revolves around being on tactical offensive in Jammu and Kashmir and retaining the capability to upscale low intensity conflict in Jammu and Kashmir as well as in other parts of India combined with continuous improvements in its conventional and nuclear deterrence. A review of Pakistan’s strategic behavior on nuclear and missile related issues would reveal that it has not given up substantively its ambitions of seeking parity with India. Pak has remonstrated before the US that it should be given same benefits and concessions which may be conferred on India due to Indo-US nuclear deal. This is in spite of the adverse record of Pakistan on non-proliferation issues and activities of AQ Khan Network. It has also been reported that even though AQ Khan has been sequestered, certain sections of this network are still active26.
India has to fashion its response options keeping in view the likely scenarios that may emerge in medium and long term. Some have even suggested that it is better to deal with Musharraf now than his replacement later. Even if Musharraf goes, the new dispensation in Pakistan is unlikely to be worse or better than him. It is also a fallacy that Musharraf’s military government is a barrier against fundamentalists taking over the reins of power since it has been propagating this myth to prolong its hold on power. However, on balance, if democratic government comes to power it would definitely be more representative but may still be constrained by strategic culture of its elite to not seek accommodation with India except on its own terms. Islamist parties would continue to influence the strategic discourse. For instance, for 2007 general elections both MMA and Alliance for Restoration of democracy are forming a joint front to contest elections. If Pakistan moves more towards radicalisation and fundamentalism it would become unattractive for the US and the West and its strategic leverages would diminish, therefore, it may continue to follow a policy of calibrated support to extremists in order to remain strategically relevant and at the same time pursue its unaltered strategic interests.
Therefore, irrespective of whether civil or military government comes to power it is unlikely to change substantially Pakistan’s strategic thought process especially in relation to India. The effects of strategic myths made popular by the elite may be attenuated in the long term and beyond when there is a generation change in members of the strategic elite or their perceptions get altered due to some strategic shock. India’s political leadership is unlikely to give any concessions unless fundamental perceptions of Pak elite undergo a change especially in relation to cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Thus India needs to continue to stress on people to people contacts, nuclear and conventional CBMs, trade and transit and enhancement of commercial and economic relations as a priority before moving towards seeking solution to Jammu and Kashmir issue.
Pakistan continues to be a source of instability not only for the region but also for the international community. Its policies have the potential to threaten interests of its neighbours and the US and China. Pak military’s ambivalent record on issues of terrorism and its attempts to export terror through Bangladesh and Nepal needs to be continually highlighted at international fora. Meanwhile our internal machinery needs to be geared up to meet the ever expanding menace of Pak sponsored terrorism and other destabilising activities in India.
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