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Monday, February 20, 2012

A Comment on Anatol Lieven's perception of Pakistan

A Comment on Anatol Lieven's perception of Pakistan

A Mutiny Grows in Punjab by Anatol Lieven: A Comment from Peshawar

Prof. Ijaz Khan

Sometimes even (partially) correct factual description of a situation may lead to interpretations and policy recommendations not really warranted by it. Anatol Lieven in his book ‘Pakistan: A Hard Country’ has done precisely that. He builds on his arguments in his essay titled ‘A Mutiny Grows in Punjab’. His arguments and policy recommendations can be summarized as


1.  Afghanistan and Pakistan do not represent one strategic area as portrayed by the term Af–Pak.
2.  Winning in Afghanistan is not of vital interest to USA
3.  Return of Taliban rule to Afghanistan, especially to southern Afghanistan (thus also hinting at division of Afghanistan) under whatever name and form will have no negative implications for US interests
4.  The insurgency in FATA or its use as safe havens by extremists/ terrorists is also of much less significance than current US policy gives it.
5. By implications the US focus on the North West of Pakistan (FATA Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan) is at best not worth the importance given to it.
6.  The real issue is the growing religious extremist threat to Pakistani State which comes from Punjab
7.  Democracy is against the genesis of the people and society of Pakistan.
8. US must support status quo, which means military controlled (directly or indirectly) Pakistan.
9. Pakistan must not be pressurized towards democratization or for more real action against extremists/ terrorists as that will weaken Pakistani State.
   So, by implications, the elimination of extremists/ terrorists is not possible either through direct US action or through Pakistani state, so US policy need not aim at it.

 The strategic connection between the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not separable. At the same time relationship between the two states is such that road to one cannot go through another. Policy must aim at both as one strategic area. Which means one must avoid focusing on one and expecting or pushing the other to follow suit or go its own way. Policy towards one must be cognizant of the situation in the other.
Historically speaking, the United States considered the slipping of Afghanistan into the Soviet camp in the 1950s as acceptable.  Repeated pleas by the then Afghan government for support were ignored. The US tried to convince Afghanistan to mend its ways with Pakistan. The US policy after failing to woo India into the ‘containment policy’ considered Pakistan’s geo strategic location to be of real consequence and Afghanistan to be expandable. To be fair, Afghanistan also refused to be part of the system of alliances, US was building around Soviet Union in the early days of the Cold War. The US did attempt to bring Afghanistan into its web of alliances, but that attempt hinged on Afghanistan’s mending its differences with Pakistan, and giving up of Afghanistan’s traditional non aligned policy, both of which were not acceptable to Afghanistan. US also readily accepted Afghanistan as largely within the Soviet sphere of influence and considered Pakistan being a part of its alliance system to be a better bargain. The consequences of that policy are well documented.  Soviet intervention into Afghanistan, the US sponsored Jihad against that and the subsequent Soviet withdrawal and collapse, followed by abandoning of Afghanistan and the rise of Taliban, its becoming a hub of terrorists from the around the World, more significantly Al Qaeda, 9/11 and today the global terrorism need not to be detailed or discussed here. However, two points must be emphasized, one, both the Soviet intervention and the rise of Taliban/ concentration of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, were a direct consequence of a strategic assessment of Afghanistan which gave it less priority and two, Religious extremists that were tools of Pakistan’s Policy (those tools also fitted well in US policy towards Soviet Union) now became partners in policy making with aspirations to control policy making and ultimately the state of Pakistan. The problem with Pakistan is that Pakistani policy is directed towards scaling them down from their partnership status and hitting at their aspirations to control, however, not to eliminate them as it still wants them back as tools of policy.
Further he misses the whole point when he separates the problem in Afghanistan from that in Pakistan or for that matter in Punjab, which he correctly identifies as the real locale of the threat rather than FATA. A policy that aims at stabilizing the situation in Pakistan and letting Afghanistan go its own way is not based on a sound understanding of the ground realities. Basing policy on promises and assurances, even at the highest levels, of eliminating Al Qaeda from Afghanistan and containing Taliban to Afghanistan only will be policy based on a rather flawed understanding of behavior of States and an understanding of Pakistani state which ignores an interptretation of Pakistan’s policy also presented by the Anatol Lieven himself, when he informs against expecting Pakistan to act against Afghan Taliban as that is not in conformity with its (Pakistan’s) ‘Strategic Calculations’. A Taliban victory in Afghanistan will strengthen the forces of ‘Mutiny in Punjab’ to a level and pitch that no level of US support for the Pakistani state will be able to contain it, short of a US direct intervention. A probability that, in the considered opinion of this writer, will yield much worse results for US interests as well as Pakistani stability than the current situation in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Such a scenario may spill over into other regional states, especially India. It will be a nightmare by comparison to what is happening today. Abandoning Afghanistan will give such a strong message to the extremists every where including the mutineers of Punjab and trust in their capability that containing them may require a more brutal action than currently being taken by Libyan state forces against people. More importantly, will Pakistan army take such a action? There should be no doubts that it will not.
Anatol Lieven makes another contradictory argument. While he correctly identifies Pakistan with Punjab, he contradicts himself when he asserts that there is more sympathy to Taliban amongst Pashtuns than Punjabis as he throughout correctly identifies the extremists in Punjab to be the real threat. By extension he argues that along with Afghanistan, Pashtuns of Pakistan are also of less significance for US interests. It must be understood that Pashtun territory is being used by extremists from around the world, most of them from Punjab, with Pashtuns as foot soldiers. So, the level of sympathy with Taliban has been presented as much exaggerated.
The problem in Pashtun territories especially in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is a result of combination of the undemocratic growth of the Pakistani State and its strategic calculations. The reason for the ability of extremists to use Pashtun territory is lack of (more than bad) governance there. So, rather than accepting and dealing with Pakistan as Punjab, a fact directly responsible for Pakistan’s strategic calculations vis a vis India and use of religious extremists as policy tools, this needs to be identified as the basic problem.
In a nutshell Anatol Lieven argues for preserving the Pakistani State in its current political administrative make up in total disregard to the mind set that it generates and is in turn protected by it and the resultant security policies. Expecting such a State to be able to contain the terrorist threat that emanates from its territory is a self contradictory assertion.  This comment argues that; one the ‘War against Terrorism’ is in the whole of Af–Pak territory and as such it will be lost or won in the whole of the territory; the need for a stable and secure Pakistan is in every one’s interest, including the United States; how it can be guaranteed needs more serious thought than just preserving the status quo, which is becoming more and more un sustainable. This comment concludes that unless a fundamental re appraisal by Pakistan’s of its self identity, the World view based on it, which gives a certain color to its threat perceptions and security paradigm which in turn influences the tools, allies and methods it selects for its security, is carried out, situation in the region will continuously deteriorate. The threat of terrorism that emanates from Pakistan (Read Punjab) has been correctly identified to be real and long term; however, the means to contain it appears to be not just unsustainable but counter productive. The terrorist threat from it is a consequence of the status quo and so cannot even be restricted it, its elimination by the status quo is simply not possible. Rather in order to maintain status quo, Pakistan will continuously drift towards more religousization/Talibanization.
Punajbization of Pakistan has resulted in Talibanization/religiousization of Pakistan’s security paradigm The US policy must aim at a strong democratic, federal Pakistan, with a plural multi national identity reflected in its decision making and power structure, which is only possible through sustenance of internal democratic process and improved governance, which will lead to a re assessment of self and surrounding. US cannot abandon Afghanistan or the region, through some face saving formula. It has to leave, but after securing it enough for Afghan State to be able to continue its stability and democratizing process on its own. That is needed not just because Afghanistan is important in its own right but also for the whole region, especially Pakistan. Finally, there are no quick fix solutions. Any attempts or policy aiming at quick fix solutions will be self defeating and will result in much worse intermediate term conditions.

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