To learn firsthand how reality loses its relevancy in the media-spin age has been an experience which explains why so many news reports eventually reveal themselves as having not an iota of reality about them. For me the reports on the APC called by Prime Minister Gilani were an interesting study on how what really happened can be totally lost sight of if the government can offer a fast spin and has compliant listeners in the media. Not that that helps the government’s cause in the long run since it creates more distrust and makes it difficult for the government to replay the exercise the next time round. As someone who was present throughout the deliberations – which clearly did not seem to be off the record as may have been understood at the time – the final outcome reflected the non-consensus on the military operation with the leaders divided over the timing, the use of the option itself except as a last resort and so on. However, since the die had already been cast, all that most leaders could do was not to rubber-stamp this decision of the government – and that included the PML-N. So it was surprising to find one newspaper declaring that once the PML-N had endorsed the military operation all opposition voices were silenced! Nothing could have been farther from the truth and if the resolution had simply been the starting point of understanding what really happened in the APC, the truth would have been visible only too clearly. In any case, the APC itself was a welcome move because it allowed the government to put its case forward and also to hear different viewpoints, including the strong consensus that Balochistan was continuing to be neglected at great peril. This column is not intended to repeat the APC proceedings which have been covered extensively, one way or another, in the media already.
Nor is it the intent to clarify one’s position that doubting the efficacy of a military operation, especially one taking place in a political policy void as the present one – since the APC meeting did reveal the lack of a political strategy that would follow when the military operation ended (that in itself is presently open-ended) – does not mean supporting the criminals and militants being targeted by the state.
Far from it. In fact, the fear is that military operations can create a severe backlash and more space for the militants as has been the case in our past. The East Pakistan and Balochistan military operations (1973 and 2006) were also presented as re-establishing the writ of the state and all forms of tales of violence filled the media but in the end the results flowing from these operations were costly and negative – with a civil-military divide that haunts us even today and is played upon by all our external detractors when they seek to undermine the institution of the military.
However, time will eventually expose the realities. After all, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, some of us had pointed out that the US had intentions of undermining the Pakistani state in order to target its nuclear assets. In order to accomplish this end, the US would increase the instability in Pakistan from within. There are those who even today insist that since we cannot threaten the US directly with our nukes, why would they want to take them out or control them. That is too simplistic. After all, that logic should also apply to Iran, yet the US is targeting its nuclear programme. The fact is that as a Muslim country, our nuclear weapons cause discomfiture in the west and Israel plays on this. Recall the words attributed to the first leader of the Israeli state, Ben Gurion: “The world Zionist movement should not be neglectful of the dangers of Pakistan to it. And Pakistan now should be its first target, for this ideological state is a threat to our existence… this lover of the Arabs is more dangerous to us than the Arabs themselves”. (Jewish Chronicle August 1967)
Let us not forget the continuing relevancy of the US-Israel linkage. Now US designs are overt – from the US media raising questions about our nukes, ever since the US succeeded in shifting the centre of gravity of the war from Afghanistan to Pakistan to the US officials raising the bogey of threats to our nuclear command and control.
We have seen Obama’s pronouncements on this count becoming more direct with his latest statement where he declared that as commander-in-chief he had to keep all options open in terms of our nuclear assets. The choice of the C-in-C designation rather than president is significant, as the US would eventually use a military option in this regard – given how our constantly tried and tested friend China would be an impediment to a UNSC resolution perhaps. The parts of the game plan seem to be in place now and well-orchestrated moves are being made.
The first was the appointment of the new US army chief in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, a Special Ops man along with a US media leak that Pakistan had already agreed to hand over its enriched uranium – a technology we acquired with great cost, not the least the cost to the person of A Q Khan – to the US. President Zardari then makes a unilateral and authoritarian decision that Pakistan will not make any more nuclear weapons – despite the fact that to keep the nuclear deterrence viable weapons have to be improved and added to – and revelations in the Pakistani media abound over how damaging budgetary cuts have been made in our nuclear and missile R&D programmes (something that was highlighted months earlier in these columns). Another crucial part of the game plan to take over our nukes was the declaration that US counterinsurgency trainers will move into two locations in Balochistan to ‘train’ our army – despite General Kayani’s welcome declaration that we do not need training. So who is allowing US trainers access into sensitive military areas in Balochistan? If the Pakistan army says it does not need these trainers – and the US record on counterinsurgency is dismal in any case – who is forcing them on us and why?
Eric Margolis did an interesting analysis on the US stirring “a hornet’s nest in Pakistan”, on May18, where he declared that “Pakistan finally bowed to Washington’s angry demands last week by unleashing its military against rebellious Pashtun tribesmen of North-West Frontier Province – collectively mislabelled ‘Taliban’ in the west.” He expressed the fear that “the real danger is in the US acting like an enraged mastodon (an extinct mammal), trampling Pakistan under foot, and forcing Islamabad’s military to make war on its own people. Pakistan could end up like US-occupied Iraq, split into three parts and helpless.” Of course, such a situation can only come to pass if our leadership plays along and dupes this otherwise vibrant nation into losing its strategic assets. Is that what is happening?
This week commenced with three important moves: first there was the already cited Obama statement. Alongside we had President Zardari’s declaration that the Swat operation was simply part of a larger war – which means that instability will be heightened in Pakistan with an increasing exodus of people and more suspicions of militants moving with the innocent. This will bring more rationalisations from the US about the threat to our nukes. The third move was the interior minister’s declaration that the Taliban are “eyeing our nuclear weapons” – a statement he denied having made, but given the proclivity for untruths that I have witnessed firsthand now it is hard to believe the half-hearted ‘clarification’ in some of the media. This will make the US work overtime like nothing else even though it makes no sense for militants to acquire these weapons which are difficult to handle and are not needed in counterinsurgency. (Incidentally, extremists in Israel, India under the BJP and the US under Christian fundamentalist Bush have all had their finger on the nuclear button.) Why would Rehman Malik give such statements when our concerned quarters have already declared that our command and control is safe?
Seymour Hersh, in a conversation with this scribe recently from the UAE, hinted that compromises by our political leadership had already been made on the nuclear programme. But the US also knows that as long as the Pakistan army remains a strong, cohesive organisation, our nukes cannot be accessed. That is why we need to ensure that this institution does not fall prey to US machinations, including getting bogged down in internal military operations that suffer the same fallout as has happened in all earlier operations in our history. How much more do we need to go through before our leaders see that the threat from the US is equally grave as that from the militants?
The writer is a defence analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org