Buffoonery with a sinister intent? Shireen M Mazari

Is the new political setup really so naïve and clumsy as we are being made to believe by absurd acts of bungling, such as those relating to the prime minister’s broadcast on national television and the whole “control of the ISI-IB” episode? It simply cannot be so, which leads one to assume that such actions hide a more devious intent. For one, both these incidents show an undermining of the office of the prime minister – elected by the people and their representatives in Parliament. It is as if the unelected political string-pullers want to keep the prime minister weak and powerless.

The ISI-IB incident was bizarre, to say the least, given that the logic as explained by the PPP leadership held little ground. After all, the ISI and IB are already under civilian control and if it was simply an effort to deny future political stigma to the army, then all the prime minister had to do was to delink the “I” or internal wing of the ISI from its main body! After all, that is what has been a source of political contentiousness over the years. However, it seems the present unelected string-pullers sought to undermine the organisation itself by politicising it further by placing it under the unelected interior adviser! As for the claims that all stakeholders had been consulted and had given their consent to this new move, it soon became evident that that had not been the case. As usual, coalition partners and other stakeholders had simply been left out of the loop and soon they made this public.

So, has everything been restored to the status quo ante? Not quite, because this deliberate blundering move conceals a more sinister design. What remains covertly active is the ongoing attempt by the US-gifted National Security Adviser, Durrani, to bring the ISI and IB under his domain. This is part of a larger design to realign and reorient our external agendas and policies, and it is here that a more sinister design becomes clearer.

Seemingly random acts are, in reality, interconnected. Take, for example, the US effort to halt our diplomatic efforts to counter the Indo-US nuclear deal at the IAEA and within the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. Despite denials, sources within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs claim that Ambassador Haqqani sent a cable asking that such efforts be halted. How else does one explain the aborting of the Special Envoy’s trip to China in this connection, midway? The next target of our national interest-based nuclear diplomacy will be to ensure that we give up our position and opposition to the US draft of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty that is presently in the Commission on Disarmament in Geneva and which the US and India are seeking to fast-track through using all sorts of political gambits.

It is now widely believed in Foreign Policy circles that Haqqani is the new instrument for the implementation of a new direction for Pakistan’s foreign policy – a direction that is totally US-driven. Haqqani seems to have become the lead person in pushing a US agenda on Pakistan – some would say he is the de facto foreign minister. Perhaps that is why no one has bothered to inform the de jure foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, that the US has consistently and publicly declared, ad nauseam, that the Indo-US nuclear deal is only for India and will never be given to Pakistan. Even more important, many in Pakistan feel it will have too many negative connotations for Pakistan’s nuclear programme and therefore we should not be seeking it – especially not continuing to plead for it, as was the inclination of Qureshi’s predecessor.

While the seeds of a major US tilt in our external policy may have been sown earlier, now the effort is to completely undermine our relations with our old ally China by ensuring that our priorities will be Washington-determined and the most important relationship will be with the US, not China. Presumably that is why PM Gilani broke away from the custom of new Pakistani leaders visiting China after performing Umra in Saudi Arabia before any other foreign visit.

As part of this new drive, at the micro level we are seeing the sudden halting of important postings for diplomats known to be critical of India and the US in terms of Pakistan’s interests. Ambassador Akram’s removal also needs to be understood in this context. It is also known in the corridors of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Haqqani was heard declaring that our diplomats should forget about China and focus on our new major allies – the US and India!

But it is at the macro level that we must see the sinister design of delinking us from our strategic relationship with China, since the US game plan in Asia is to sideline and eventually contain China. India is already part of this agenda at multiple levels – beginning with its partnership with the US in missile defence (which also poses a deterrence dilemma for Pakistan), its nuclear deal and its membership of what has been referred to as a “Concert of Democracies” and includes Australia and New Zealand as well as, ironically, Singapore, alongside the US. Now Pakistan is being drawn into this framework with disastrous consequences, especially in terms of jeopardising Pakistan’s strategic cooperation with China – which is part of the US intent especially in terms of our nuclear programme, including nuclear power generation.

That there is a sinister design should have been clear much earlier on when Zardari declared, in an “Aaj TV” interview with Nasim Zehra, that Gwadar was a means of promoting trade with India – something contrary to our longstanding position that Gwadar was a means of accessing Central Asia and buttressing our economic ties to China. It is as part of this design that we also have to see the unilateral trade concessions to India in the new trade policy, as well as the new efforts to bring in India’s multinational Mittal group into the Thar coal project – which means a deliberate pushing away of the Chinese companies who had been involved in negotiations over the last few years. Interestingly, in the previous government one of the lawyers arguing against the privatisation of the Steel Mill, in 2006, referred to Lakshmi Mittal’s interest in purchasing the Steel Mill; this he could have done after three years, since the terms of privatisation only tied the purchaser to holding on to his shares for three years after, which he could sell to anyone.

So can one simply brush off recent actions as one-offs and mere acts of buffoonery? Or is the sinister design now becoming more overt as the new political dispensation, especially the unelected string-pullers from Zardari to the bunch of strategically-placed advisers, make their moves riding roughshod over whoever or whatever stands in their way? While Parliament remains sidelined and the people buckle under the growing economic burden and a receding access to basic utilities, the state priorities are being remoulded to finally give the US and India what they want: a compliant, strategically weak and dependent Pakistan. The compromises at the nuclear level will have devastating long-term effects, just as undermining our strategic partnership with China will leave us permanently weakened.

Pakistan’s long-term cooperation with China has been a longstanding irritant for India and the US. After all, it allowed us strategic sustenance and even today, contrary to public perception, we are not dependent on US military hardware and spares which were denied for decades. Similarly, we managed to develop our nuclear capability and our civil nuclear power capabilities in spite of US efforts to undermine both. And we got developmental and economic assistance which allowed us to develop Gwadar, Saindak and many other projects for which there were no Western takers at the time and for which Chinese citizens paid for with their lives. Now we are in danger of finally succumbing to what we resisted all these years – US diktat. So let us not simply laugh off the buffoonery of the present political dispensation – there is a darker ominous side.

The writer is a defence analyst. Email: callstr@hotmail.com

Source: The News, 30/7/2008

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