Pakistan is in a cul de sac. Not for the first time in its history, its politics are in tatters. Its debt ridden society is more radicalised than ever. From a being net food exporter, it now imports food. Increasing water scarcity will increase its food insecurity. These factors are being compounded by unchecked population rise and adverse climatic effects. Its geostrategic value has eroded. Its perpetual benefactors USA, China and the Gulf nations are loathe to bail it out. Investment has bottomed out. Its economy is in doldrums. Unprecedentedly, its military is divided. Fresh elections are on the cards. Even after elections, the chances of its economy improving are bleak. The internal view is that ‘how will a new election at this time of extreme polarisation and economic meltdown, deliver a better future for the endless millions of dispossessed, those steeped in abject poverty and who live in perpetual brutal want?’Apart from its own problems, Afghanistan has become the proverbial old man around Sinbad’s neck. Desperate times for Pakistan call for desperate measures. How about sensible measures for desperate times?
What are these sensible measures? How does one identify them? That is the challenge for Pakistan. From outside, the situation and issues are quite clear. Once in a while, every nation comes to a point where it has to undertake a major course correction to plug holes in its sinking ship. The moment for China came in 1972, when it opened up to the world after the Nixon-Mao reproachment. The second moment for China came when it embarked upon its four modernisations under Deng and opened up to development in a market oriented economy. Both these moments demanded that China shed its old ideas and hardcore communist ideologies to tread the difficult but sensible path. For India, the moment came when it had to hock its gold in the Bank of England in 1991 and undertake reforms to get off the licence-permit raj economy. The moment for Bangladesh came when it decided to mend fences with India and put a cap on religious extremist forces so as to tread the growth path. All these countries have turned around from being near basket cases and are growth oriented stories. These populous nations though representing differing scalars over different time periods have lessons for Pakistan to imbibe.
The Pakistan case is complicated due to its unchecked population and increasing radicalisation. These cannot be reversed easily. It is also characterised by unaffordable extravagances. Unless these are shed, Pakistan cannot turn around. In my opinion, the extravagances of Pakistan are its obsession with Kashmir, its Nuclear program and its Army. These three are self-laid traps of Pakistan. Unless these are moderated to some extent, Pakistan will continue its free fall to an end state which will be worse than Sri Lanka. The fundamental problem is that in the Pakistani psyche, these three factors are the bulwarks against the ‘existential’ threat from India. However is India an existential threat to Pakistan or its lifeline?
From an ‘existential’ point of view, India and Pakistan may have felt that each posed an existential threat to the other till about the last decade of the last century. Well before that Pakistan actually ceased to be India’s existential threat. After that India remained an existential threat to Pakistan only in its hyperventilating vivid imagination. In the early 70s, India had the wherewithal and opportunity to usurp Bangladesh. However it did not do so. On the contrary, it enabled Bangladesh to come into being and supported it through thick and thin to develop it into the prosperous nation that it is today. In that era, India definitely had the wherewithal to break up Pakistan. Yet it did not do so since ‘intent’ was never there. Even if assuming that India intends to cause ‘non-existence’ of Pakistan, there will always be the land mass and population which compromises that nation in some form or the other. Look at it anyway, India’s troubles with a composite Pakistan or broken down mini Pakistans’ will not evaporate. They might just compound. Hence posing an existential threat to Pakistan does not make sense. India in its path of developmental and rise path does not need to usurp and get embroiled with 200 million Pakistanis whose entire Islamic life belief is being the antithesis of India. India has long grown past this romantic and foolish idea that ‘Midnights Children’ can reunite. India also does not want a war or conflict with Pakistan at the cost of detracting it from its own rise. Look at it any way. India does not pose any form of existential threat to Pakistan. In fact, if anything, it is Pakistan itself which poses an existential threat to Pakistan. The current situation is self-created by its extravagances. Incidentally, these ideas are really plagiarised from views of Pakistanis themselves in some form or the other.
Pakistan’s primary extravagance is its Kashmir obsession from which it gets nothing. Political and military capital invested in Kashmir has the sole aim of revenge against India for all the wars it has instigated and lost. It embarked on three decades of proxy war through state sponsored terrorism based on the Zia doctrine unsuccessfully. After this, it should now be clear to Pakistan that defeating India by this route is a no more a choice or option. On the other hand its activities in Kashmir have earned it a reputation of being the most dangerous nation with terrorist serpents in its backyard. The view within Pakistan itself is that “ Pakistan must let embattled Kashmiris sort out their problems with India while staying strictly within the formal bounds of what we have pledged to do — provide Kashmiris political and diplomatic support, and no more. If regional peace follows then one can be hopeful about civilian supremacy in Pakistan, moderation of defence expenses and, ultimately, some degree of self-sufficiency. Instead of more back-breaking Chinese loans, the way ahead lies through mutually beneficial Pakistan-India trade. If China and India are geopolitical rivals that can trade massively with each other, why cannot Pakistan and India do the same?”( Pervez Hoodbhoy in Pakistan badly needs a rudder). This is a sentiment which is gaining more traction in their intelligentsia. Pakistan has to let go of Kashmir if it has to right its listing ship. As days go by, the political, military and economic cost of maintaining their ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’ project will go only up.
The second extravaganza is its Nuclear Program. The fixation that being a nuclear weapon nation not only guarantees its existence but also gives it an aggressive edge and respect in international relations is past expiry date. Pakistan has used the ‘stability-instability’ paradox of nuclear deterrence to further its interests against India. It has tried to destabilise India through hybrid methods in the space offered by the instability window. Currently, the instability window has expanded into Pakistan. It has to now contend with a self-created hybrid situation which is a composite of radicalisation of a significant portion of the army and population, the vulnerabilities of a unpopular CPEC , the rebel movements in Baluchistan and the TTP activities in tribal areas. The TTP is a monster created by a Pakistani fathered Frankenstein (aka Taliban). The instability in Pakistan is on the verge of spinning into total chaos. Pakistani nuclear assets falling into the hands of free floating radical or subversive elements is a palpable international trepidation. Resultantly, investors stay away from Pakistan. Further, Pakistan has to sink money into an enterprise which has lost geopolitical value. The cost of maintaining a nuclear program mainly for weapons is financially unviable for an impoverished state. (Incidentally the nuclear power capacity in Pakistan is only 3400mw). If India is half smart, it will never threaten Pakistan with a conventional conflict. It must and will exploit the hybrid option using the same stability instability paradox. To put it in the words of a Pakistani ‘What was supposed to give Pakistan a psychological assurance has ended up making it psychologically vulnerable. It has the warheads and the delivery vehicles, but the sense of vulnerability remains. If we want to add any value to the capability, that mindset must undergo a change, resulting in policies that seek to enhance security through non-military strategies’. Ejaz Haider wrote this in 2018 in an article @ 20 Years Of Nukes: What Have We Learnt?. It was recently published again in Dawn! It is relevant to the core.
The Pakistani Army is in a class of its own. It is like a Fast Breeder Plutonium Reactor; constantly enriching itself at the expense of Pakistan. It has been termed the best Army which has never won a war based on sound logic. Militarily it has lost all wars it has fought. It has not been able to defend the territorial integrity of the nation. However over the years it became enmeshed deeply into the nations politics and has emerged as the final arbiter as to who is to run Pakistan. For the actual threat which Pakistan faces, the country does not need nor can it afford the kind of Army it has. The extravagance does not lie in its outsized military capabilities but in its outsized apportioning of state resources to itself and its personnel. The fact that the Army is an extravagance is recognised by Pakistanis. The opinion emanating from within the country is that free American lunches have gone and the Chinese dinner is going to be a costly debt trap. Unless the extravagances of the Pakistan Army are curtailed , the nation cannot survive itself. This is now being articulated openly. When Najam Sethi (@What Next ) says ‘we cannot rule out the possibility that in the next inevitable round of political turmoil, all political stakeholders, including PPP, PMLN and PTI, will be on the same page against the Miltablishment, determined to assert civilian autonomy (if not supremacy),’ does it portend of things to come? Unproductive defence expenditures and militarism has to ease off.
The standard Pakistani solution of eternal borrowing more at home and abroad has run its course. Donors and lenders are wise to the financial risks involved in bailing out Pakistan without guarantees or returns. Its international reputation has morphed from being seen as a progressive state to one of a toxic radioactive state to be shunned. It is time for Pakistan to stand up on its own through its means. It has to do the sensible thing in these desperate times. Pakistan cannot profit from trade with Iran or an impoverished Afghanistan. It cannot offer anything to the Gulf and Saudis other than manpower. The CPEC has proven to be a debt millstone around its neck. It can grow only by trade with India and by providing transit to India. In fact India is its only lifeline. In case the lifeline has to work, Pakistan has to significantly scale down its unaffordable extravagances. Look at it anyway. The Pakistani ship is adrift in bad weather near a rocky shore with quarrelling crew members trading blows rather than worrying about shipwreck. The moment has come in Pakistan’s history to do that sensible turnaround which China, India and Bangladesh did at various points of time. It is hereafter up to Pakatan to chose to sail to safe shores or wallow rudderless in stormy seas. All this coming from an Indian General might seem to be anathema and part of a plot to subvert the idea called Pakistan. However Pakistan has to stop being an ostrich and accept its own reality at first.
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