By Syed Talat Hussain
LAST week, Pakistan strongly reacted to the strategy assessment of Afghanistan and Pakistan the White House submitted to the Congress for review.
The Foreign Office rejoinder repeated Pakistan`s achievements in fighting terrorists, insisted that the country had a clear plan of action, dismissed the trite term `Af-Pak`, and more tellingly indicated that Isaf and Nato forces were hedging their failures in Afghanistan by blaming Pakistan.
This was predictable: in the past whenever the world pointed a finger towards Pakistan for not doing enough on the counter-terrorism front, the response was swift and along similar lines.
Yet the charge of not stepping up to the mark has not gone away. Of the eight listed objectives in pursuit of the goal of defeating and dismantling Al Qaeda, the report repeats five which relate to Pakistan and that were included in earlier submissions to the Congress. The report`s refrain is that Pakistan is the real problem.
There is little that Islamabad can do to change this charge sheet. What it can do is to present its own assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan; one that is comprehensive and, most importantly, well-documented. From this standpoint, the White House report, which Pakistan finds out of sync with reality, serves a useful purpose — it underlines the urgency of the need to structure a counterpoint and give a counter-perspective.
But for now this perspective exists as mere statements that are repeated when the situation so demands. In all these costly years of fighting against militants, not a page has been written as an officially certified version of how much ground Pakistan has actually covered. Dozens of small and big military operations have been announced and wound up, but not a single paragraph is at hand that evaluates their success or their failures for public and international consumption.
When these operations were unfolding their phase-wise evaluation was kept secret. Whether it was change of tactics in fighting terrorists or revision of the accompanying political strategy, no word ever got out about what caused these adjustments, and what gains were made from gearing up these campaigns or by scaling them down.
Fragmented background briefings, guided tours to the cleared areas and occasional briefings were used as tools of information to satisfy the media and address public curiosity. Flyover tours and power-point presentations became the standard method of apprising foreign visitors about the strides made against terrorists. Nothing was ever documented and placed, say before parliament, in the form of a progress report.
The trend continues. Singularly lacking is a comprehensive framework stating the strategic objectives of Pakistan`s efforts on its home soil, laying down the road map, pencilling the progress chart and corroborating claims of success and narrating the reasons for under-achievements and failures.
Pakistan has had to pay a rather heavy cost for not cataloguing its counter-terrorism effort. One cost is continuous confusion in the public discourse about the authenticity of official declarations about Fata and other operations. Most of the criticism or praise of the headway that Pakistani forces have made in reducing the threat of terrorism takes place in a vacuum. Personal preferences or parochial agendas dictate opinions. Since there is no solid baseline assessment available, the nation is divided on the fundamentals of the so-called war on terror — a term no longer in currency but whose tragic consequences continue to dominate.
The other cost is policy confusion. Without a clearly catalogued progress report of the past effort and future policy adjustment is problematic. Adjustment can only take place when there is a score-card to look at; when there is a line that captures the trajectory of a long journey which has hit an impasse and urgently requires either creating a new a path, or even making a U-turn. After years of effort, in 2011, nobody knows where this war is headed. We are fighting it, but don`t know the end-state.
(In a recent presentation to senior military commanders a lawyer of repute mentioned 20 different terms that official versions use to describe ground targets. His point was that laws governing the use of force in conflict situations require absolute clarity in identifying the enemy. In the absence of this clarity, the use of force can be seen as wanton and illegitimate. This is one example of how exceedingly important aspects of counter-terrorism operations have never been nationally debated in an agreed frame of reference.)
But the real cost of not preparing a verifiable fact sheet of this war on the home front is that other versions of reality — such as the White House report — have become standard description of the truth. Rebuttals or the mindless recital of the three-D theory â€“ dialogue, deterrence and development â€“ do not set the record straight. They do not form an adequate response to coordinated international efforts to lay the blame of Afghanistan`s troubles at Pakistan`s doorstep.
It is too superficial to simply counter-charge, as the Foreign Office statement does, that instead of pointing at Pakistan`s inadequacies Nato forces should put their own house in order. Yes, the White House March 2011 report, and others before that, are one side of the picture. But where is our side of the picture?
Ideally, the presidency should ask from the military high command a detailed, written review of how the war has progressed in the Fata region and how far the objectives achieved are in alignment with the mandate parliament has given to the army. If that is too much to ask from the supreme commander of the armed forces, then the federal cabinet can produce a document titled `Report on Fata Operations 2008-2011: a Comprehensive Assessment` and lay it before parliament for debate.
That would be a real service to the cause of promoting the country`s point of view. A three-paragraph press release does not answer the world`s persisting concerns that Pakistan is a laggard rather than a leader in fighting terrorism.
Source: The Dawn