By Majid Mahmood
US incursion into Pakistan, Operation Geronimo, to kill Bin Laden has raised multiple challenges for Pakistan at diplomatic, military and domestic levels. At the diplomatic front Pakistan is faced by a difficult situation as it is portrayed, by the western media, as a state danger to international peace and security. At the military level, the credibility of Pakistan armed forces is in question due to failure in detecting and responding to intruding US helicopters. Lastly, at the domestic level there is a crisis of leadership, Paralysis of decision making and the failure of institutions based upon the liberal thought.
Whether or not Bin Laden was in Abottabad? Or how was he killed? And other related questions are largely irrelevant. The real issue that concerns Pakistan and is threatening to the stability of its regional influence, global image and nuclear deterrence is hostile Unites States led presence in its back yard that facilitates aggression deep inside Pakistan both presently and in future. Moreover, the assassination of Bin Laden does not change the geopolitical realities of the region which are predominantly shaped by Pakistan’s influence and strategic posturing.
The present state of US – Pakistan relations facilitates preserving vital United State’s interests in the region like sustaining US war in Afghanistan and its ‘stabilization’, keeping India’s power in check, alignment with China and preventing the rise of a major Islamic power in Asia. The war in Afghanistan, a need for a ‘negotiated settlement’ in line with US interests and its logistical base i.e. the supply lines are leverages for Pakistan that has the capacity to bring potential advantage both at regional and global level. For China, Pakistan is its door into the Muslim world and a source of containment of India. Any perceived US – India collusion against weakening Pakistan militarily will also serve as a threat to China and this geo political necessity, rather than passion, will compel China to assert in a way to maintain the status co of balance of power in the region.
Then Pakistan is a nuclear weapon state, albeit responsible, with a credible nuclear deterrence to deter any perceived plans to impose war from all strategic directions. The threat of inflicting an unacceptable damage in a regional conflict is one of the major factors in the prevention any sort of aggression in the region post 1998 overt nuclearization. This also provides a considerable freedom of action for Pakistan to flex its muscles, both soft and hard power, to preserve and expand its influence in the regions encompassing the reach of its strategic weapons. United States projects its power abroad through a network of Naval and Land bases. Given Pakistan’s robust nuclear capability and its potential to inflict unacceptable damage, United States can effectively be deprived of these base stations of political influence in regions vital to US strategic interests.
It is time to turn the crisis into an opportunity. With this framework in mind, it is imperative for Pakistan to operationalize anti Americanism as a policy and reconstruct a foreign policy that runs contrary to US interests in the region. Pakistan’s break with United States poses strategic challenges to United States US forces cannot cope with. Amid tough statements from Washington and NATO, US officials like Senator Kerry, secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense secretary Gates and President Obama himself acknowledged on the number of occasions the importance of Pakistan in protecting its vital national interest in the region an bringing Afghan war to an end.
At the policy level, the fundamental objective of Pakistan’s foreign policy should be the establishment of a larger geographical unit, void of any extra regional presence, at regional level encompassing Pakistan, Afghanistan and central Asia. This will serve as a catalyst, in near future, for connecting this regional block with the Muslim regions of broader Middle East, and North Africa, where regimes are vulnerable under severe pressure from the society. This strategic alignment with popular uprising in Arab world will provide much needed alternate to Pakistan for influencing global politics.
Under this broad policy umbrella, Pakistan must devise an effective political plan for global and regional maneuvering to prevent isolation in international community, to thwart US plans to build an international coalition against Pakistan and lastly, neutralize regional rivals to deny America the availability of regional ally against Pakistan. Vital natural resources and wealth available to this geographical block will play a key role in forging strong alliances to realize above mentioned three objectives. At strategic level, the development of nuclear capable Intercontinental ballistic Missiles (ICBM’s) should be a doctrinal necessity rather than a matter of choice. Significant political dividends can be extracted out of this nuclear posture envisaging a global approach.
There should be no illusion about the fact that, in order to establish and sustain a new political outlook, things would have to be radically changed from within the Pakistani State. Paralysis of decision making and failure of institutionalism forces us to converge on a rational belief that the present polity of the country, based upon liberal thoughts and institutions, lacks the capacity to under take, sustain and maintain momentum of this level. A new chain of command in Civil – Military relations, exclusive of any foreign influence, with state institutions built upon the creed of masses will result in requisite coherence in policy making, availability of leadership in crisis, clarity of purpose, institutional decision making and industrial/economic growth.
These are difficult choices, but the reality of Pakistan drives home that these, in fact, are the choices.
The author is Reseach Fellow at South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI). He can be accessed at [email protected]