General Need for A Reality Check

Indian Express, December 24, 2003

One wonders what is worse from Pakistan’s point of view: the growing international perception that it is a major source of global nuclear proliferation or the official suggestion that individual scientists sold nuclear technology to other countries, including North Korea and Iran, for financial gain?
Either way the Pakistani state looks insufficiently responsible and worthy of international scrutiny and concern.

The decision by Iran and Libya to submit their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programmes to international inspections reflects growing recognition of changed global realities. The regimes in Iran and Libya have learnt that defiance of the world’s sole superpower, the United States, is no longer easy.

There may be many flaws in US foreign policy and a Pax America may not be easily established. But translating the rhetoric of Pax Arabica or Pax Islamica into reality is even less easy.

Instead of confrontation with the global hegemon, the clerics in Tehran and the maverick in Tripoli have opted to save themselves from the risk of regime change. Changed times required a strategic shift.

Many in the US think that leopards do not change their spots. They continue to distrust Colonel Qaddafi and the ayatollahs. Yet the two ‘‘rogue’’ regimes have demonstrated their realisation that the risks of operating outside international norms may no longer be worth taking.

In the realm of WMD at least, Iran and Libya cannot break their word without serious consequences.

Unlike Libya and Iran, Pakistan has never been on America’s ‘‘enemies list’’. The object of its confrontation is India, not the US — and periodic cooperation with the US has often enabled Pakistan to get away with lapses in good international citizenship as defined by Washington.

Pakistan served US interests during the anti-Soviet Afghan war in the 1980s. In return, the US did not press too hard while Pakistan proceeded with its nuclear weapons programme. The understanding was India was Pakistan’s only international adversary and Pakistani nukes would not target US interests.

India, of course, was known to have its own nuclear weapons capability. Pakistan was seen as seeking a regional deterrent. The US thought of Pakistan’s nuclear programme as an Indian problem, rather than an American one.

America’s concern that Pakistan could be a proliferator of nuclear weapons technology was addressed by assurances that the ‘‘pro-US military’’, rather than ‘‘irresponsible civilians’’, controlled the country’s nuclear programme.

The stories about sale of nuclear technology by Pakistani scientists to Iran — and Pakistan’s announced investigation into the role of some nuclear scientists — raises questions. Pakistan’s nukes may be intended solely for India. But the prospect of their availability in the international market and rumours that their components may have been sold to America’s enemies, makes Pakistan’s nuclear weapons a US concern.

Intelligence cooperation against Al-Qaeda and proclamations of an alliance with the US may buy General Pervez Musharraf time. The US may publicly say it trusts Musharraf’s assurances that there are no ‘‘transfers of WMD-related technologies or knowhow … in the present time’’.

But contingency planners in the CIA and the US Department of Defence are probably already working on worst case scenarios involving Pakistani nuclear technology falling into the hands of US enemies — including non-state actors.

General Musharraf and his team have yet to recognise that changes in the global order require a strategic shift in Pakistan’s foreign and domestic policies. His approach to crises has been tactical.

Soon after September 11, 2001, he announced a tactical abandonment of jihad in Afghanistan, arguing this was necessary to keep jihad alive in Jammu and Kashmir.

At any given moment, the general seeks to deflect the pressure at hand, be it from the US or India or from domestic sources. Seeking momentary success, he ignores the need for defining a strategic vision that goes beyond the traditional Pakistani paradigm.

India remains the enemy, the US a necessary source of funds and weapons and the institutional interests of the Pakistan army the core national interest. Nuclear weapons are still seen as Pakistan’s ultimate defence, a military-bureaucratic state the sole means of ensuring stability and a religious identity the only glue binding Pakistan’s citizens.

There is little if any longterm reflection over the security implications of economic failings. The number of those living below the poverty line is now estimated at 39 per cent of the population, up from 2002’s estimate of 31 per cent.

The recent initiative for peace with India too appears tactical rather than strategic. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee clearly considers normalisation of relations with Pakistan an integral part of his strategic vision of an economically vibrant India playing the role of a major world power. Peace with Pakistan is for him important to set India free of a regional irritant, so that it can claim its position under the sun.

But General Musharraf has so far shown only tactical thinking. A ceasefire along the Line of Control, a marked decline in infiltration and an offer to consider setting aside the demand for a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir in return for reciprocal gestures from India are shortterm steps.

Cynics can interpret these as part of an effort to secure a summit meeting with Vajpayee, to establish the general’s bona fides as a peacemaker without changing the status quo in India-Pakistan relations or the military domination of Pakistani politics.

That strategic rethinking has not yet taken place in Rawalpindi-Islamabad was borne out by the statement by Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali that dampened the euphoria about a possible breakthrough on Kashmir minus the insistence on a plebiscite.

A strategic change would come only if the basic premises of Pakistani policy are opened to revision. To disavow responsibility for leakage of nuclear knowhow by blaming individuals and the effort to score points in the build up to talks with India are examples of the old tactical approach of Pakistan’s permanent establishment.

In case of the nuclear leaks, the objective is to avoid a serious setback in relations with the US. With India, the purpose is to initiate a process of normalisation without really bringing down barriers.

But the global scheme of things is changing fast. The US will not always turn a blind eye to, say, past export of nuclear knowhow. India may be less willing to accommodate Pakistani concerns than it is right now.

Pakistan’s internal weaknesses — lack of a self-sustaining political system, military intrusion into civilian aspects of life, inadequate economic growth, jihadi militancy — are also going unattended.

Musharraf is simply muddling through, instead of evolving a clear vision backed by a coherent strategy to make Pakistan a normal — as opposed to a troubled — state.