Optic Test for Pakistan

Islamabad has no option but to stop terror funding and proxy war against India and Afghanistan; correct its policy of over dependence on outside for solving internal problems

By Asit Manohar, Shankar Kumar

Optics for the two months old Imran Khan government has gradually begun to change in Pakistan. A large section of media people and common men in Pakistan feel that newly elected Prime Minister’s continued playing of second fiddle to the country’s big-headed Army Generals and lack of clarity on way to steer the country out of crisis, would imperil the country’s overall interests. Those who voted him to power in the July 25 General Elections have begun to feel cheated; they had high expectations from the flamboyant cricketer-turned-politician who says he will go to IMF and friendly countries to seek bailout package. Since he knows that no package will come without string attached to it, his actions as the country’s Prime Minister are bound to generate hopelessness, disgust and indifference among a large section of people.

On October 10, he launched housing scheme under which 50 lakh affordable houses will be built in five years for low income group people. With this, he argued, as many as 40 sectors, including cement, tiles, bricks, wood and others will see a rise in demand and youths will get jobs. In this housing scheme, the Pakistan government’s role will be that of facilitator and, funding will be made by private investors, he said while launching the scheme in Islamabad. Prime Minister Imran Khan also said that the housing scheme will be a step in the direction of ‘Naya Pakistan.’ He may be right in his claims. But when fundamentals of the country are wrong, how he will fulfill his goals is a big question.

Already noise has started building against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Burdened by huge debt and widening current account deficit, Imran Khan too announced that his government would review the projects under $62 billion CPEC, a planned network of roads, railways and energy projects liking Pakistan’s Gwadar Port in Balochistan province with China’s Xinjiang province. The CPEC is expected to be complete by 2030. Financial secrecy involved with the initiative and lack of clarity as to how Pakistan will get benefit out of the multi-billion project, has created a negative vibe against China-led multi-billion infrastructure project in the country.

There is a fear that like Sri Lanka and Tajikistan, Pakistan may also have to keep in pawn its sovereign territory in exchange for China’s unpaid loans. Tajikistan had to cede 1 per cent of its territory to China in 2011 in exchange for unpaid loans and then in December 2017, Sri Lanka handed over the Hambantota Port to China on lease for 99 years, in exchange for $1.1 billion in debt relief. As skeletons over China’s loan trappings are tumbling out of cupboard, noise against Chinese design in pushing its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) across the world has started becoming shrill.

In August, Malaysia cancelled the Chinese-funded $20 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and a natural gas pipeline project in Sabah out of fear that the country will become bankrupt  if it goes ahead with these Chinese funded project. Similarly, Myanmar decided to scale back deep water port project which was to be built by China’s state-run CITIC Group with $10 billion funding from Beijing at Kyaukpyu in Rakhine state. In August Myanmar said the port investment would now be thinned down to just $1.3 billion. While the Imran Khan-headed government has decided to make review of the Chinese funded CPEC project, Pakistan Army will allow him to depart from earlier Pakistan governments’ stand on the project is a million dollar question. The Imran Khan government is already seen as a puppet of Pakistan Army. We have seen the way journalists who criticize Army or pen against Hafiz Saeed, the Jammat-ud-Dawa leader and mastermind of the 26/11 attack, are penalized in the country. Cyril Almeida, a leading columnist for Dawn, remained lucky as the Lahore High Court, which summoned him recently on a treason charge, gave him a personal relief. While arrest warrant against him has been withdrawn, the High Court has also ordered removal of his name from the no-fly list.

On September 25, the High Court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against him on a treason charge as his article in May featured Nawaz Sharif’s interview in which the deposed Prime Minister had supported India’s accusation that Pakistan Army aided the terrorists who carried out the 2008 Mumbai attack in which 166 people, including foreigners were killed. The move created a sense of unease among Pakistani journalists and civil society members. Some of them went to the extent of calling it as the “darkest period” of journalism in Pakistan’s history.

For India, however, the incident remained a matter of concern as it showed that Prime Minister Imran Khan, while doing Pakistan Army’s bid on the terrorism front, would pursue aggressive anti-India agenda. On October 1, the Imran Khan government’s Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Noor-Ul-HaqQadri shared a dais with Lashkar-e-Taiba founder and 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed, just hours after Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the UN General Assembly that his country has “turned the tide against terrorism.” The incident showed that there is no change in Pakistan’s attitude towards terrorism even after Imran Khan assumed prime ministerial chair in the country.

Also, there is a recorded fact about Imran Khan’s association with hardliners and jehadis. He courted controversy by describing Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander Wali-ur-Rehman, killed by American troops in 2013, as “pro peace.” In 2013 itself, his statement grabbed media headlines when he said that the Taliban should be allowed to open an office somewhere in Pakistan. His argument was that if the US could open offices for the Afghan Taliban in Qatar, why the Pakistan Taliban couldn’t do the same? In an interview with BBC HARDtalk  programme on June 4, 2018, he defended the Taliban’s justice system, while in January this year his party, PTI gave a grant of worth PKR 550 million to madrasas of Sami-ul-Haq who is also known as the ‘Father of Taliban.’ Then ahead of the July 25 polls, the PTI joined hands with MaulanaFazlurRehman Khalil, who is on the US terror watch list.

He has refused to acknowledge that Pakistani schools, not just madrassas are churning out radicals who are fueled with passion for jihad. Instead, he feels that services rendered by the seminaries for the uplift of the society can’t be ignored. This way he tries to sideline several reports which have linked seminaries in Pakistan with radical terror groups. Pakistan-based seminaries are said to be playing a critical role in sustaining the international terrorist network. It is said that academic curriculum drafted during military ruler Muhammad Zia ul-Haq’s regime in 1978 has not faded out of Pakistan’s educational system completely because “no Pakistani leader has had the courage to implement serious reforms,” says, Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physicist and activist who doesn’t hesitate to call Pakistan Army a state within the state.

Participating in a debate on a Pakistani television, Hoodbhoy recently said Pakistan Army shelters people who support terrorism. His analysis fits into present scheme of things in Pakistan where Imran Khan, co-opted by Army to the country’s prime ministerial chair, does what Generals sitting in Rawalpindi-based GHQ want. If media persons try to point finger against these Army Generals for the current state of affairs in Pakistan where terrorists and their supporters walk free despite ban on them, they are targeted, abducted and killed. A few months before the July 25 General Election, several journalists were beaten or abducted for their open criticism of the country’s Army. In June, Gul Bukhari, a political commentator was kidnapped in an army controlled area of Lahore and abductors were none other than men in military uniform. Through such intimidating actions, media’s mouth is gaged, but question is: Can Pakistan Prime Minister turn Pakistan into a ‘Naya Pakistan’ by shooting messengers? Certainly, Imran does what his godfather directs him to do. But this way he is not going to save his personal image which is that of independent thinking personality.

However, at this juncture, one can ask why Pakistan is facing this precarious condition and what’s its folly that has almost turned it into a failed state? For this, one has not to pore over the pages of history, rather will see it in Pakistan’s day today activity in the subcontinent: Its tense relationship with India; continued shepherding of terrorist organizations under its misconceived strategic policy. Amid this, hard work done by Indian diplomats in convincing the world about Pakistan’s role in fomenting terrorism—has hit Islamabad hard.  It should be borne in mind that stability of any country is an outcome of relations it shares with its neighbours. India too has a mixed set of relations with its neighboring countries. India shares a rich historical and cultural legacy but, during the last seven decades the armed conflict and terror attacks have been a low point. According to Kautiliya’s philosophy, neighbors are regarded as enemies and an enemy‘s immediate neighbor as a friend. The central concern of India‘s relationship with Afghanistan is to counter the nefarious design of Pakistan, along with having access to, gas and oil rich central Asia.

Dynamics of cold war divided whole world into two distinct and polar opposite blocs. The US led NATO and the erstwhile Communist USSR lead Warsaw pact. Despite this ideological division many countries chose to try a middle path. During the Cold War as members of the Non-Aligned movement (NAM), both Afghanistan and India remained neutral. Afghanistan played an important role in the NAM from the latter’s emergence till the advent of the Communist regime in April 1978. The Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 and the succeeding civil war devastated Afghanistan and bred extremist ideology that left no room for the kind of cooperation that India had been promoting.

In September 1996 when the Taliban swept onto the Afghan political scene contacts were disrupted. The Taliban was born in the Islamic schools that had sprung up in the Afghan refugee camps inside Pakistan. The Taliban’s presence in Afghanistan and the Pakistani control over it and the way the country was used for not only training Kashmiri and other terrorist outfits against India but the Kandahar hijacking incident only confirmed India’s worse fears.

Afghanistan holds strategic importance for India as a potential counterweight in its relationship with Pakistan. The ethnically Pashtun and Baluch belts straddling the Durand Line are bone of contention between Pakistan and Afghanistan. So Pakistan has always wanted to control the Afghanistan’s political regime. It is not in India’s strategic and economic interests to see Afghanistan being ruled by a pro-Pakistani regime. Strategic factors have played an important part from the very beginning. Both India and Afghanistan border Pakistan whose relationship with the latter has had a share of several ups and downs. Pakistan has seen India’s growing economic presence and influence in Afghanistan as a strategic loss.

So, to hit Indian interest in Af-Pak region, Islamabad unnecessarily burnt its hands by encouraging the Taliban, the terrorist outfit which has now joined hands with LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammad.  Now, the Af-Pak border has become terror heaven, which has traditionally been funded by Pakistani establishment. Earlier, these terror outfits used to niddle the USSR, which suffice the US needs and hence all Pak abetted terrorism in Afghanistan was ignored on international platforms. But, once the USSR disintegrated, American interest in the region started to decline and in a calibrated manner, Washington fished out its majority of troops from Afghanistan leaving Pakistan exposed to the global community. Taking advantage of this, New Delhi started to corner Islamabad on global platforms with clandestine support of Moscow and Washington.

Today, Pakistan is in limbo. If it stops abetting terror organizations, these terror outfits would start targeting Pakistan, which has already started to happen. The money which was supposed for the welfare of the Pakistani citizens was used for abetting terrorism to destabilize India. Until, it had support of the US, they could afford this anti-India proxy war, but once Donald Trump took over, he started to squeeze American aid to Pakistan citing ‘American aides are not for terror funding.’ Now, Donald Trump has stopped all kinds of American aides to Pakistan alleging ‘Pakistan a terror heaven’ — a charge that New Delhi has been alleging since early nineties of the last century.

While Indian policy in Afghanistan was to maintain peace and stability in Afghanistan, Pakistani diplomats look at Indian engagement there as an exacerbation to Pakistan. India’s strategic presence in Afghanistan is one of the New Delhi’s objectives in moving toward great power status. While India’s presence in Afghanistan has Pakistan-specific utility, India’s interests in Afghanistan can be seen as merely one element within India‘s desire to be able to protect its interests well beyond South Asia. Hence, the Pakistani army and respective governments were more interested in destabilizing Indian growth without retrospection whether they can afford to do that or not. As a result, entire welfare works got stalled in Pakistan and funds meant for those measures were diverted to terror funding. When there was dearth of fund; they took loan from various international lending platforms like World Bank, IMF etc. They even took loans from a country like China that lends money at a very high rate of interest. As a result, this terror funding diplomacy of Islamabad denied growth to the entire nation. Hence, it’s not Imran Khan who should be held responsible for the precarious condition of the Pakistani economy and its people. In actual, it’s Pakistani Army, ISI and the various democratic governments who played into the hands of US and China for mere satisfying their ego. For satisfaction of their customary ego, they ignored the welfare of their citizens, which is now hitting Pakistan dearly.

Like India, Pakistan too adopted the policy of ‘an enemy’s enemy is a friend’ and made friendship with China, especially after the 1962 Indo-China War. But, the Pakistani army and the successive governments failed to understand the strong economic ties of both the nations. They didn’t realize that Pakistani market can’t match with India and they continue to do the defense shopping with Beijing beyond their affordability.

Even recently, Islamabad has decided to buy 48 deadly Drones from China to counter New Delhi’s S-400 Air Defense System, which it has recently signed to buy from Moscow. On one hand, Pakistani government is asking its non-resident Pakistanis to contribute money for making dam, Pakistani Prime Minister is selling buffalos and luxury cars of the PMO to generate funds to pay interest of the Chinese debt and on the other hand they are engaging themselves to commit the same mistake, which the previous governments have done.

In fact, China too is not in a good shape to help Islamabad. Their controlled economy has started to back fire and hence, the country of fire-spitting dragon is facing enormous stress. A lot of nations have decided to come out of its ambitious OBOR project, which can further put Beijing under economic heat and such a development in OBOR may force China to starve for funds to keep OBOR on track. So, in coming years, rather bailing out Pakistan from the economic crisis, Beijing would try to strengthen its economic ties with the US and India to pare its losses in OBOR. So, Pakistan may become a sacrificial goat in this Beijing bid and Islamabad is certainly not prepared for this shift that may take place in Beijing’s diplomacy. Islamabad has sought for another bailout package from the World Bank within five years, which is suicidal. It should first stop funding the terror organizations and make a milieu to initiate bi-lateral talks with India. They need to correct their policy of over dependence on outside for solving their internal problems.