Will the security establishment please see the forest for the trees?
“As you may have heard,” Gen. Ashfaq Kayani said, calmly lighting another cigarette, “I’m India-centric.” The Army chief was referencing Bob Woodward’s assessment in Obama’s Wars, which had just been released. The 30-odd journalists who were at the briefing in Rawalpindi last November where the general made these remarks chortled. But this was no joke. General Kayani has on more than one occasion said that while his institution was committed to fighting militancy, it saw India as the real threat and that was unlikely to change in any meaningful way until the Kashmir and water disputes were resolved.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Our ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, recently spoke at Islamabad’s National Defense University, where civil servants and military officers take courses in strategy, conflict resolution, nuclear politics, and diplomacy. When Haqqani asked his audience of military officers who or what they considered the principal national security threat to Pakistan, it was a 50-50 split between the U.S. and terrorists ensconced in Pakistan. When Haqqani asked if India was the real threat, barely a few hands went up. “Gosh, India must be very happy,” he joked. “Pakistan is no longer India-centric as of this afternoon.”
Haqqani’s joke hides a disquieting reality. While the generals seem to view India as the enemy, the 100-plus colonels who attended Haqqani’s talk fear the U.S. more. The lack of consensus and clarity does not inspire confidence, especially given that the Army drives our defense and foreign policies. India is clear about its objective to move toward great power status. America is single-mindedly pursuing the liquidation of Al Qaeda and allied militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But Pakistan’s security and economic objectives remain reactionary and muddled.
For a conservative institution in a bewilderingly complicated region not spoiled for good options, the Army is sticking to the basics. And nothing can be more basic or crude than bigging up the India threat. Faced with a floundering fight against jihadists at home and hostile public opinion abroad, General Kayani’s anti-India outlook rallies the troops and some strains of jihadists, and deflects criticism of the armed forces for cooperating with the U.S., its largest arms supplier and economic benefactor. Behind closed doors, the generals are more willing to express their disappointment with the U.S., and complain that the Army is purposely being kept in the dark about Washington’s plans for post-occupation Afghanistan.
But is the confusion about who our enemies are unavoidable or deliberate? “The years of jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir have confused our officers and people into thinking ideologically instead of viewing strategic issues professionally,” Haqqani told NEWSWEEK Pakistan. “Jihad through unofficial groups in the 1980s and ’90s was a strategic tool, not the state’s sole strategic objective. But now, for many, ideology determines the worldview instead of the strategic reality shaping their view of the enemy.” In short, our emotions are getting the better of us.
This confusion works for our media, which will fulminate against Agnostic India and Arrogant America for ratings and self-gratifying rabblerousing. This undermines what should be a rational, institutional thinking process within the military and it also poisons the public mind and gives audiences targets to pin their frustrations on. In this game, America has been the ultimate godsend, the new philanderer accused of sleeping with our democrats and dictators alike. This state of mind is not going anywhere. The unspoken pressure on media organizations not to be critical of the military following Abbottabad, PNS Mehran, and Saleem Shahzad has made it easier for rightwing pundits to air their bile unchallenged.
As an experiment, let’s diagram precisely what we owe the U.S., what we want from India, and what we are willing to give either. We can then take some clear decisions on drones, joint military and intelligence operations, transnational pipelines, big dams and the like, pledge our positions and work toward achieving some degree of success on these fronts by at least avoiding the rank contradictions that make the state look paralyzed and fractured. Enough with unrehearsed responses in the face of crises and shadowboxing. It’s time to look at the bigger picture.