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Avoiding meltdown- Ikram Sehgal

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A comprehensive review of overall US policy by the Obama administration notwithstanding, many independent entities have undertaken such analyses. One such exercise is “The Strategy for Stability of Afghanistan-Pakistan” by the Asia Society, appropriately labelled “Back from the Brink?” A commendable effort even at a cursory glance, it needs more thorough study before commenting. Thanks to an extraordinary American called Dr Jeffrey Starr, I could engage in interactive discussions in both Washington DC and in New York, it was refreshing to see both openness and candour unfortunately missing during the Bush years. Contrary views then could quickly make you an outcast, neither seen nor heard, nor heard from, this despite the enduring American penchant for “fair play.”

Corrective measures are considered necessary, unfortunately some cannot wait. The Pakistan Army must get over its hang-up of not accepting the US offer for counter-insurgency (CI) training. That FC can fulfil this role is a non-starter, it can at best support the Army in its operations. Not having many US trainers on the ground in Pakistan in the prevailing anti-American environment is understandable. Nevertheless, the US offer to train Pakistani trainers must be accepted without delay. Officers must be sent to designated US counter-insurgency training establishments, simultaneously a CI facility must be readied at a convenient location within Pakistan. The funds earmarked must be purposefully spent on equipment meant for CI, including helicopters, night-vision devices, electronic tracking devices, communications equipment, sophisticated jamming devices. CI requires military success to go hand in hand with political and socio-economic initiatives. The best example is CIA’s Hank Crumpton (later ambassador) and his merry band of 300-plus with suitcases full of US dollars and wish lists air-dropped on demand, they did more to mobilise the tribals against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda at the beginning of the Afghan War in 2001 successfully, in contrast to the tens of thousands of soldiers who followed. Take the Army/FC operations in Bajaur. You cannot quell such uprisings simply by flattening villages. they create considerable collateral damage as well as another wave of internal refugees.

An independent force must counter terrorism wherever it may be, in the mountains or in the urban areas. Neither the Pakistan Army nor the civilian law enforcement agencies (LEAs) are presently capable of fighting terrorism in its full dimension. It is simply not their role and function to take on the terrorist’s logistics and infrastructure. The mission orientation of this Counter-Terrorism Force (CTF) must give it a specialised Tables of Organisation and Equipment (TO&E). Because of the nature and extent of the threat, a permanent establishment must draw its rank and file from the Armed Forces, LEAs and paramilitary forces, with its own integral logistics, air dynamics, inherent intelligence capability, and tasked with no other mission except fighting terrorism. This includes not doing escort and guard duties for VIPs (and those who consider themselves VIPs). Such manpower must have an option to return to the parent service during their first year in the CTF. The present threat perception requires a minimum force of brigade-sized combat teams, each for FATA, Dir/Bajaur, Swat and Balochistan, with battalion-sized teams each for Islamabad Capital Territory, Central/Southern Punjab and Sindh. Aviation support teams should be positioned in the nearest airbases in proximity to the area of operations.

The most generous nation on Earth, the US, has fallen grievously in the esteem of the world. While this includes Pakistanis, the moot question conversely is, can we as Pakistanis survive the anti-Pakistan animosity that is sweeping the US mass perception that most would terrorism has its origins in Pakistan? Visiting the US over the past fortnight has been both a rewarding and mortifying experience. The video images of the girl being flogged by the Taliban in Swat added fuel to the fire. For those of us who believe we can get out a more moderate message to an increasingly skeptical world, this despicable and unexplainable atrocity left us at an utter loss for words. The reaction in most of the civilised world was to be expected, assuaged somewhat by the spate of protests organised by outraged civil society within Pakistan. Most countries can survive political and economic sanctions, social ostracisation will lead to virtual isolation, will further exacerbate the inherent identity problems within the country. Has a point been reached where we may well be beyond redemption?

Australian David Kilcullen, advisor on counter-terrorism to Gen David Petraeus, gives only six months for the Pakistani State to collapse, at least according to a recent quote in The New York Times. One has great respect for David Kilcullen’s sagacity as well as his undeniable relative success in Iraq, but to paraphrase Mark Twain, his prophecy of Pakistan’s imminent demise is greatly exaggerated. The perception of impending doom may be pervasive among the average American, this less than pessimistic view is not shared by most of those presently contributing to shaping US policy. Nevertheless they are apprehensive that the situation may spiral from bad to worse if immediate corrective measures are not taken. On the other hand, their compromising of ideals which Americans cherish but fail to apply to Pakistan leads to singular confusion in choosing the right partners on the ground in Pakistan. This has a disconnect with both the Pakistani intelligentsia and masses.

The Pakistani people are looking for a better quality of life, the delivery of justice exceeds all other aspirations. Accountability of governance is part of the justice system. We may have inadvertently turned this corner on March 15 when mob justice rather than the rule of law restored the chief justice back to his rightful place in the Supreme Court. Knowing he is riding a tiger, the CJ’s actions since have been mature and deliberate, he is fighting against time before the same mob justice brings down civilised society. Justice delayed is justice denied to the frustrated people of Pakistan. The NRO stands as a symbol of the rank injustice pervading the psyche of Pakistani society today.

Whether delivered by regular diplomats or successful practitioners of the art does not matter, of critical importance to Pakistan is that our moderate message must have positive effect. The major focus is in the US capital, Washington DC. Ambassador Haqqani is an effective lobbyist, the question is, can he put the interests of his mentor over that of the country? These have coincided till very recently, what happens when they diverge? Maybe Haqqani, who has changed ideological sides often, may be too smart for his own good in a city that quickly spots phonies. One would rather have in place a diplomat of credibility and stature, Haqqani could successfully service a contract for being the country’s lobbyist in Washington DC. On the other hand patriotically motivated Husain Haroon has been a revelation in the UN, performing brilliantly in promoting Pakistan’s cause over everything else.

When competent and credible democratic governance is allowed to function and given the necessary tools, Pakistan will be able to shoulder the responsibility of being the frontline State representing civilised society’s endgame combating the evils of terrorism at ground zero.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:

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