By Shirin R. Tahir- Kheli
THESE are difficult times for Pakistan, a country of some 180 million people fighting for the future of their nation under impossible strains. The state is in the throes of calibrating the relationship of civil and military institutions and how that effort plays out will likely have profound consequences for the country and for the region. Assumptions of military oversight over national security have lately suffered a blow due to the initially undetected U. S. raid into Pakistan and the killing of Osama bin Laden within a stone's throw from a premier military institution on May 2.
Then, on May 23, six or more wellarmed militants attacked a naval air base in Karachi, destroying two U. S. supplied P- 3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft, and fighting a pitched battle with army forces for 18 hours before four of them were killed and the rest escaped.
Targeting the PNS Mehran base, a high security area and destroying valuable military hardware that provided antisubmarine warfare capability to the Pakistani navy, is a bold and unprecedented escalation aimed at demonstrating the militants’ capability and the military's inability to safeguard some of its most prized hardware.
For the military establishment, charges of incompetence and negligence are new.
For sixty- four years, there was little criticism as they garnered the lion's share of the state's resources. Past failures, including the 1971 war that cost East Pakistan, were blamed on the ineptitude of the civilian political leadership. Their failures were said by the military to have brought the country to the brink.
Not so this time. The militants’ attacks focused on military assets to demonstrate that no weapon system was outside the scope of an attack. International repercussions from the Mehran attack are likely to reverberate for a while. And internal politics may drive the process for the moment.
Already, there is a divide between what the party in power, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), is saying and the sentiments expressed by the main opposition, Pakistan Muslim League (N) headed by Nawaz Sharif. The PPP is playing it safe, willing to listen to the reasons for the problems on the bin Laden and the latest naval base attack fronts. Wanting to stay in power for another two years to complete its term in office, having broken precedent by re- appointing General Ashfaq Kayani as army chief for another three year term last fall, criticism by the PPP leadership has been muted. PPP members have voiced strong concern in the media and at parliamentary sessions which saw both the army and the intelligence chiefs being summoned for answers on the failure to guard against the American incursion and the lack of awareness on part of the army brass of bin Laden hiding in their midst for years.
The opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, has taken a hard stand, calling for an inquiry and accountability up the chain of command. Unlike times of yore, today's Pakistan has a robust media which has finally homed in on issues of national security and the performance of military czars, heretofore a taboo for discussion.
Pakistanis are being asked to press the military into a transparent assessment of its failures and action to deal with those who have brought things to such a pass.
As economic woes mount, the question being asked is: why should the people pay for a negligent military, once beyond reproach but now saddled with charges of ineptitude and corruption at the top?
Reaction to the calls for accountability will likely go one of two ways: first, the military will take the criticism to heart, recognise that as the custodians of the nation's security and its nuclear arsenal, it has to be beyond reproach in performance and reputation. Under such a scenario, a full- scale inquiry will lead to corrective action, even involving the dismissal/ resignation of commanders found lacking in judgment or oversight.
A second scenario would be one in which blame for all of the recent problems are laid at the feet of the civilian leadership, the U. S. and/ or India. Here it would be said that the enemies of Pakistan have taken it upon themselves to bring the country to its knees and that any corrective action would thus amount to giving in to those who want the destruction of Pakistan.
It is certainly in the interests of the U. S. and India to help ensure that the second scenario is not the favoured one. Such an effort is even more necessary now that political leaders in Pakistan, along with the people, are beginning to note that India is not Pakistan's enemy number one.
Restraint by India at this critical time, in particular, will help generate support for internal military accountability because Pakistani leaders and people finally seem to recognise that Pakistan's strength and viability are not a function of endless acquisition of hardware but of a leadership with a vision and its people being given the resources and priority to advance economically in security in a democratic state.
American policy in the near future in Pakistan is complicated by the low opinion most Pakistanis have of the U. S. The U. S- India strategic relationship had fed the decline in US fortunes in Pakistan where the much touted de- hyphenation of the India- Pakistan equation for Washington has fed the paranoia of the average Pakistani.
This at a time when a weakened Pakistan threatened by militants operating at will, causing havoc in urban and tribal areas, has serious consequences for India.
Pakistan's implosion will not leave India untouched, for as Indian leaders have noted, “Geography is destiny” for the subcontinent.
One can only hope that the recent thaw in India's relations with Pakistan will move forward and that joint enterprises from trade to energy and water cooperation along with a resolution of the more easily soluble issues dividing the two neighbours will change the future for the better. All who want a South Asia at peace and productively engaged in cooperation for the benefit of the region will need to press their case now.
The writer served at the White House on the National Security Council Staff under three Presidents. She is currently a Carnegie Scholar crisis
Source: Mail Today