By Khaled Ahmed
December 28, 2019
On November 14, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan talked about the unwisdom of “fighting others’ wars” — instead of, presumably, Pakistan’s own wars. He said that “Pakistan would no more join any alliance for any other country’s war” but “rather play the role of a bridge-builder”. PM Khan referred to the Afghan jihad of the 1980s and the American “war on terror” following the 9/11 crisis. He regretted that the “foreign funding” that flowed into Pakistan’s coffers in return for fighting these wars was nothing compared to the cost paid by the country.
Khan is right in saying that no state that is serious about its developmental targets should ever think of war — this requires limitless realism and rejection of nationalism and its adjuncts of pride and conquest. But the truth is that Pakistan has fought certain wars as an “aligned” state when it was in dire need of financial help. It has also fought wars that its allies in the West didn’t like. Yet, it failed to avoid the kind of fallout that Khan wishes to avoid. The question is which wars were more damaging for Pakistan.
The practical truth is that when Pakistan fought “others” wars, it got some money for the material and spiritual damages it suffered but when it fought its own wars it didn’t get any money. Moreover, it never really recovered from the damage suffered during these wars. Khan opposes Pakistan’s decision to take part in the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan in 2011 which took place under a Chapter 7 resolution of the UN Security Council on which India, like the rest of the world, had consented to become an ally.
An “international army” of “terrorists” was prepared with American and Saudi funds, and Pakistan, in Khan’s words, “trained” this army in terrorism. The irony is that when Pakistan finally turned on its own terrorist outfit called Taliban, Khan and his party sided with this outfit. Khan was “chosen” by this group as its “vakil” (legal representative). At that time, Pakistan was getting out of a “war of others” by getting rid of the Taliban, but that wasn’t palatable to Khan.
Then there were wars fought by Pakistan as “Pakistan’s own wars” with disastrous results and no international support. It fought the 1965 war against India based on its “moral” stance on Kashmir. It used the weapons it had got from the Western allies for fighting the Soviet Union and thus lost international support. There is no evidence that this “national” war against India gave Pakistan any advantage in its internal development. There is, however, evidence that the 1965 war actually sowed the seeds of disagreement between its two wings leading, in 1971, to the fall of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.
The ironies springing from Pakistan’s “own wars” are hard to stomach as we blame “other states” for what happened even in this case. The common denominator in the military defeats suffered by Pakistan is dominance of the country’s army and a succession of martial laws. This dominance continues and PM Khan will have to rethink his wisdom about wars in 2019.
The last war which Pakistan fought as its own war, and not “for American money”, was the Kargil war of 1999. It suffered a defeat more humiliating than the 1971 war. But instead of stock-taking, this “national war” strengthened the very elements who had undertaken this stupid misadventure. Its planner-executioner, then Army chief General Pervez Musharraf, staged a coup against the democratically elected government of Nawaz Sharif, grabbing the reins of power for nearly a decade. An already crippled economy, struggling under the weight of sanctions imposed by the US after the previous year’s nuclear tests, had to cough up $2 billion for the botched war. And, in the eyes of the world, Pakistan was now a dangerously unstable state led by military officers with little or no accountability.
In conclusion, fighting any war in this day and age is disastrous for the state but fighting others’ wars still comes out better than fighting the “patriotic” ones. PM Khan has, though, turned a new leaf by calling out to India to start cross-border trade and embark on a “normalisation” of relations. This means eschewing all kinds of wars — even though fighting “others’ wars” still looks a bit more attractive than Pakistan’s “own wars”.
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan
Original Headline: Wars and Peace
Source: The Indian Express