Within a span of 24 hours in March 2009, we, the people of Pakistan, heard addresses by two presidents. The first, by the President of the United States, a bold, confident address, delivered as usual without any fumbling for words, spelt out the promised comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. While some of his assumptions regarding Pakistan may not have pleased some of our analysts, his strategy is indeed as he promised, one that draws a clear line between dealing with ‘the enemy’ and the rest of the people of the region. His key words: “investing in Pakistan today, is investing in the US’ future.”
While many a Pakistani analyst considers his ‘new strategy’ a sugarcoated continuance of the Bush administration’s policies, I do not. Obama has identified the need to address issues of social and human development, and I can fully sympathise with his desire to set benchmarks for further aid. If the Pakistani political leadership has as questionable a past as the current crop, it is essential to monitor the utilisation of all monies provided to them. While I too find the distrust insulting, it must be acknowledged that our leadership has put in considerable effort to earn it.
There are two concerns: the first has nothing to do with the contents of Obama’s speech, but is a consequence of his assertion that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda now have found safe havens in Pakistan’s tribal areas, which may or may not be accurate, but we are back to the favourite ‘rogue ISI’ theme. The only real reason for this theme is that the US military leadership, despite Admiral Mullen’s bold admission of failure before Congress, is unable to accept the fact that the US military is being defeated in Afghanistan; just as they refused to do in Vietnam.
The logic behind this assertion: since the enormous military might of the US cannot be defeated by the ragtag Taliban, the only possible reason for their lack of success has to be the support militants are receiving from the other side of the border. And, since the ISI is recognised as an efficient intelligence organisation, it is impossible that militant infiltration into Afghanistan could occur if the ISI chose to prevent it; ergo, the ISI is complicit and has rogue elements!
That conclusion worries me; I am almost certain it is untrue.
My second concern is that while Obama has spelt out a genuinely workable strategy, its success hinges on the tactics of its implementation. If those providing assistance in the development of the tribal areas of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are governed by conventional wisdom and ignore the psycho-cultural apprehensions of the locals, their efforts, however well intentioned, are doomed to fail.
The second speech we heard was our President Zardari’s annual address to the joint sitting of parliament. Battered, bruised and humbled by the way the lawyers’ movement and the Long March had finally forced him to concede to their demands, he must be given credit for attempting to put up a brave face.
Reading a prepared text, he was still fumbling for words. But what was most interesting was the subtle manner in which he was, while emphasising the sovereignty of parliament, also attempting to shift the blame for all his previous errors to parliament. He urged the speaker of the lower house “as I had in my first address, to form a committee to formulate an amendment bill for the constitution addressing the 17th Amendment and Article 58-2(b)…and request that this be done without any delay.”
Even with regard to the imposition of Governor’s Rule in Punjab, he said, “I recommend the lifting of…Governor’s Rule in Punjab”, as if to imply that even that had to be lifted by parliament and was therefore imposed by it!
Considering his recent humbling, it was a bold and masterly performance, by any standards, in which he attempted to correct his errors of the past. He could have easily done this before the Long March and not suffered the humiliation that he ultimately had to.
The real question is: has President Zardari really learned his lesson; or is he simply waiting for another opportunity to pay back the Sharif brethren, who led the Long March to bring him to his knees? Or will he now accept the role of a figurehead head-of-state, as should be in a parliamentary democracy?
While time alone will tell, I will begin to hope that he has changed if, within the next month or so, Zardari replaces the Governor Punjab with someone who is more politically acceptable, and permits the prime minister to sack the incumbent interior advisor, another individual with a dubious background who has been imposed on the prime minister because he enjoys Zardari’s patronage.
Presidents Obama and Zardari, whose future conduct may decide the future of this region as well as that of terrorism, have spoken words that could lead us to a better future. In Obama’s case, I do not doubt his sincerity, but apprehend that the tactical implementation of his strategy may not come up to his expectations. Zardari has baggage from the past, and his year in office has been riddled with deceit and broken promises; has he really changed all the way through? We will have to wait and see.
This article is a modified version of one originally written for the daily National. The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)
Reproduced by permission of DT