Pakistan’s ‘national interest’ has always been determined by its army. The army itself got its intellectual orientation from the state’s early narrow focus on survival. The textbooks have reinforced the trend of fixing the Pakistani mind on military survival against India. Early civilian leadership invited the army into its their political institutions because confrontation with India dominated the scene in Pakistan. Military rule concretised and perpetuated the military aspect of the state and added the ideological dimension to it under General Zia. After Zia, and the end of the bipolar world which had made military rule in Pakistan possible, ‘national interest’ should have shifted from military security to economic security. Confrontation with India no longer brought any dividends. The policy of face-off was gradually getting unstuck as the jehad in Kashmir wore on in the 1990s. As Pakistan duplicated the covert war of Afghanistan in Kashmir, its economy declined sharply and its internal political scene threw up problems of security that had nothing to do with India.
Jehad and the writ of the state: The period of the jehad in Kashmir was the period of remarkable economic recovery in India and sharp economic decline in Pakistan. Pakistan’s fixed ‘national interest’ had to be modified in the light of the country’s shifting security perspective characterised by a diminishing writ of the state. Although some voices were raised in favour of a review debate, Pakistan’s national discourse remained overwhelmingly military-oriented. Textbook indoctrination and the vested interests formed around jehad coalesced to put up a joint front against new security perceptions. Pakistan army saw its own corporate interest in standing behind the surrogate armies of the mujahideen ‘keeping the Kashmir dispute alive’. As political leadership declined under the 8th Amendment and as civilian leaders ran up against the textbook indoctrination of confrontation, the army took to the task of building up the strength of the seminary-based religious leadership. As the mujahideen and the army emerged as the two dominant ‘weaponised’ forces in Pakistan, the institutions of the state gradually surrendered to their extra-constitutional power.
Religion, instead of being Pakistan’s ideology, became the force that increasingly challenged and defeated the writ of the state. The army stood behind the exemption given to the jehadi militias and their aggressive leaders from the law of the land. As civilian governments found themselves helpless in the face of street power of the warrior priests, policy began to be formed outside the state institutions. Policies initiated by elected leaders to take account of the changed security perceptions were forcibly reversed by the bureaucracy which saw the army calling the shots. The ability of the jehad leaders to create events on the ground actually became a part of the process of policy-formation. The state constantly adjusted to the ‘advances’ made on the ground by the surrogate armies. Finally, the outside world became mistrustful of the state of Pakistan itself. The civilian governments paid lip-service to the diplomacy of ‘keeping the Kashmir dispute alive’. While the politicians thus exposed themselves to charges of insincerity, the army remained convinced that Pakistan had a case.
National security and Kashmir: After the army rejected the Nawaz-Vajpayee joint declaration in Lahore in 1999, General Musharraf himself presided over the policy of ‘highlighting the Kashmir dispute internationally through the Kargil Operation’. The upshot of this policy was that, as the Kashmir dispute hit the headlines all over the world, Pakistan lost international support for its case on Kashmir. From now onwards, it was no longer in Pakistan’s interest to highlight the Kashmir dispute. Every time the Kashmir dispute is highlighted Pakistan loses face. The world saw the Kashmir crisis as a Pakistani mischief and the jehadi militias as terrorists. While it protested India’s atrocities in Indian-Held Kashmir, it equally disapproved of the jehadi militias, some of whom were declared terrorist organisations. The army at this point tried to take hold of the Kashmir policy to effect the needed changes in it, but realised that the militias and their religious leaders had in fact created a centre of power parallel to state authority. What had been happening to the elected governments now started happening to the army. Balked by international isolation, the enormity of which was at first denied, it thought of ‘redefining’ the ‘national interest’, only to find that the public mind was too indoctrinated to accept this redefinition.
General Musharraf seemed disenchanted by the end of 2000. When he declared that he would talk to Vajpayee with a ‘flexible’ stance on Kashmir, many observers including the Indian leadership thought that the time for the final ‘redefinition’ of ‘national security’ had arrived in Pakistan, and that this time it would actually stick because the Pakistan army had changed its mind. It had tried to shake down the economy for cash and found that there was nothing much left in it after two decades of jehad. In fact, jehad progressively devalued the national assets, till there were no buyers for them at home and abroad. It had tried to reestablish the writ of the state and found that too many new centres of power had emerged under the regime of exemption, which now needed to be rolled back. It had tried to make tactical moves inside the Kashmir jehad and found that policy was no longer actually made in Islamabad. The militias tended to break rather than bend to the edicts of the army. General Musharraf at Agra failed to reach the kind of understanding that was needed with India for a carefully modulated change in Pakistan’s security perceptions. He opted instead to bolster his image at home on the basis of the old security perceptions. Then September 11 happened and the Pakistan army was carried suddenly from its slowly-slowly process of reorientation to a headlong confrontation with these centres of power. The people of Pakistan were suddenly told that the warriors the state extolled not long ago were actually the villains damaging Pakistan’s ‘national interest’.
Army and the new security paradigm: Now that the threat of war is looming, the Pakistan army has two options. The first one is easy because it is based on the old reflexes. The rhetoric of war is no longer producing the public chemistry it did in 1965 despite the PTV and the ideological Urdu press. There are far too many rivals in the arena who can turn the rhetoric around in their favour: the religious leaders, the jehadi militias, and the two ousted political parties. The PML and the PPP were rejected in the past for their efforts to perceive Pakistan’s national security differently from the army and its surrogate warriors. The second option is hard because it will reflect an internal change of the mindset in the army after its steadily traumatic experience of Pakistan as a state and an equally shocking knowledge of a world that increasingly distrusted Pakistan as a society. Some shift of emphasis under General Musharraf struck many supporters of his regime as promising, who may now feel deceived and doubt its ability to make the big changes the country needs. The emphasis on the economy has produced marginally better conditions for growth, only if the other ‘unchanged’ aspects of ‘national security’ don’t impinge on it. Terrorism by the jehadi militias and their defiant deeds of diplomatically embarrassing violence in Jammu has brought on a war that Pakistan does not want.
The army needs to settle with India on the basis of a changed international perception of the Kashmir dispute. This ‘international’ perception is increasingly a ‘national’ one too as the Pakistani intelligentsia sees the jehadi militias round on the army and challenge its credentials as the guardian of Pakistan’s ‘national interest’. The world, including most of the Islamic world, no longer supports the proxy war the army uses as Low Intensity Conflict. Any kind of war fought with India without international support would be meaningless even if Pakistan wins. Living under the threat of war, Pakistan will only produce poverty and damage its already fraying social fabric. Its nuclear weapons give it defensive security but are no use if it wants to change the status quo or if war actually takes place. It needs to focus on the internal situation in Pakistan after having relieved the Indian pressure. The army must first decide that it needs to change the old national security paradigm. It can then cooperate with the politicians it has rejected in the past for the political heresy of looking at national security differently. National economy can benefit from this paradigm shift and prosperity can dim the contours of the indoctrination the public mind has absorbed in the past. From a warrior state threatened by war and threatening its neighbours with war, Pakistan can become a trading nation with international oil and gas pipelines running across its territories.
If the army returns to its barracks without a change in the national agenda it has presided over, the politicians will return in October 2002 and resume their simian pantomime all over again. The intelligence agencies, representing the paranoia of the old state, will twist arms and redouble their efforts to pull it down. Army chiefs will continue to be weaklings in the face of the warlike mindset surrounding them, roaring at India but wincing at the hardships faced in the task of governing Pakistan. Already indecision at the GHQ in times of national crisis has characterised military policy, allowing a civilian politician to take the wrong decision in 1998 to test a nuclear device on top of abysmal economic indicators and destroy the economy by freezing the foreign currency accounts. Paradoxically, it will not be good for Pakistan if the army stands aside while the politicians cope with security problems, simply because the Musharraf interlude will have taught the army that it does not pay to interfere. But General Musharraf should read correctly into the pre-referendum support he received from the Pakistani public for his project of reining in the militias. The people want the army to change the security paradigm and convert the state into a non-warrior one. If he stays on, he must assist the elected government to make this change. Non-interference without a fundamental change in security perceptions will simply not do.
Published in Pakistan weekly magazine TheFridayTimes