Blame Army for Pakistan's woes
by Salim Mansur
Pakistan is the "most dangerous place on earth" and an "incubator of fanaticism," Peter MacKay, Canada's minister of defence, observed recently.
This assessment is correct, since Pakistan is simultaneously a "rogue" and a "failed" state.
For the West and, most importantly India, this means the need to prevent Pakistan's failure from spilling over international boundaries and spreading instability. It also means containing the rogue state from exporting terror, given the real threat of nuclear blackmail by the same people responsible for keeping secure the country's nuclear arsenal.
The deep seated problem of Pakistan arises from the military's role in politics. Any normal country possesses an army for protecting and securing its interests. Of Pakistan it might be said the army possesses a country to maintain and advance its interests.
The military brass, supported by civilian bureaucracy and a large land-owning class, has run Pakistan as its fiefdom. During brief spells of civilian rule the army generals merely stepped back to give an appearance of a popular government in power.
Any explanation of how this situation evolved is complex and embedded in the history and culture of the people. Briefly, however, the primary domestic reason remains the collective failure of the political class to provide for responsible government based on a consensus of what the country represents and what the people want.
In the absence of such consensus, Pakistan as an ethnically divided country is held together by force, by the appeal to Islam as ideology that went into its making and by an obsession with India as an enemy Hindu state.
Internationally Pakistan's importance has resided in its location. The geo-strategic aspect of Pakistani territory has allowed the military rulers to get away with their heavy-handed rule internally and with deceiving their western allies.
From the earliest years following Pakistan's birth in 1947, the ruling elite sought to capitalize on its geography through alliance with the United States in procuring military-economic assistance.
For more than half of Pakistan's history, military generals – Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf – have ruled the country. In the early Cold War years (1950-60) Pakistan provided air bases for American U-2 spy planes, and was a strategic link alongside Iran and Turkey in the northern tier defence perimeter on the southern borders of the former Soviet Union.
During early 1970s Pakistan became a secret back channel for Nixon-Kissinger diplomacy with Mao's China. In the 1980s the country willingly positioned itself as a front-line state against the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
But in the 1990s Pakistan was downgraded in strategic importance by the Clinton administration following the Soviet defeat and collapse.
This was a mistake of Himalayan proportions allowing Pakistan to emerge as a nuclear weapon state while proliferating nuclear technology in the underground world of rogue states.
Then came 9/11, and the country under military rule again became a front-line state in the U.S.-led war against the Taliban-al-Qaida connection in Afghanistan. This war finally has blown away the military's deceitful cover, given the reluctance to eliminate homegrown Taliban warriors and disarm Islamist organizations nurtured to wage war against India in Kashmir.
The vital lesson, however, of Pakistan for Peter MacKay and others in the post-9/11 world is simple: The West cannot afford a second strategic failure in not preventing Iran, another rogue state, from acquiring nuclear weapons.