New Age Islam
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The War Within Islam ( 29 Dec 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan's National Interest: The Strategic Depth Thesis

By Farrukh Khan Pitafi

Those trying to reinvent the strategic depth thesis by claiming that Pakistan has ‘legitimate’ interests in Afghanistan should also try to define these interests. If they are talking of trade interests, such concerns can effectively be managed through effective diplomacy.

Pakistanis are jubilant, as if we have won another cricket final against India. Not only did the Chinese premier decide to come to Pakistan but he reiterated his nation’s support for us while addressing our parliament too. So the situation is not too bad. Or is it? Then perhaps our polite guest could not shatter our hopes by giving us a lecture on the virtues of reality. This of course proves that China indeed is a great friend of Pakistan. But please do believe me when I say that while the Chinese premier did say what we wanted to hear, we should not ignore the fact that the country is in a deeper mess than we have ever thought.

I know many among my friends say that I am being too harsh on this nation. That other nations also fail in their commitments. That countries like the US and Britain also support insurgencies. That we cannot keep trying to please the world. That the Taliban are not our enemies and we should engage with them through dialogue because the US is trying to do the same. That the Blasphemy Law is only one of the laws being abused in this country and similar instances are found abroad too. That if we talk about Indo-Pak peace building today, we are not patriotic enough. That secularism and democracy are alien concepts not suitable to the religiously charged environment of Pakistan.

Let me start answering the intrinsic distrust in all these questions by repeating here my constant refrain before our foreign peers. The only part of the world that I care about is my country. I do not care how or why it was created, what follies its various governments committed. The only thing I care about is that it is my home, I am what I am because of it, I love it, I can die for it and I definitely want to see it improving. It breaks my heart to see such a humungous potential being squandered by a myopic outlook. Trust me, unlike many who will take an instant in declaring me an enemy of the state or a foreign stooge, I take the pain and suffering of this nation quite literally and physically. I am a poor man by choice and anyone who thinks I argue all this because of foreign funds will be deeply disappointed.

As for those who do not want to give up their ideational political contradictions, I have only one thing to say. The founder of this nation, the Quaid-e-Azam, our sole spokesman then, chose democracy as the system of governance for this country. No matter how much he is projected otherwise or quoted out of context, the fact remains that he, essentially, was a secular man. It is hard to imagine that a person of his outlook would envision a state where faith takes precedence over citizen’s rights or civil liberties. Similarly, while it is true that in the 1947 war, especially in Operation Gulmarg, a ragtag band of sub-state actors was used, and the Quaid did at least tolerate their involvement, he never approved proxy wars as a state policy. In 1947 too, we often forget, it was a difficult choice made most likely out of sheer desperation over General Gracey’s insubordination and the birth pangs of the nascent state. If anything it was actually a political reaction to the army’s institutional defiance rather than a policy decision to give the army another tool against its neighbours. It is true that other countries, some of them otherwise quite civilised, I grant you, too fight proxy wars. But clearly no one is foolish enough to create a Frankenstein by equipping the insurgents with a religious cover or narrative.

Those trying to reinvent the strategic depth thesis by claiming that Pakistan has ‘legitimate’ interests in Afghanistan should also try to define these interests. If they are talking of trade interests, such concerns can effectively be managed through effective diplomacy. If all this talk is about the Indian presence in Afghanistan, then let me be very honest with you; the Indian presence there matters to us because there is hostility between the two countries. It is true that the two countries have fought four wars and a cold war continues between the two to date. This can be mitigated through direct dialogue and peace building. I know that there is no shortcut to peace. If there is any process in place it will take its due course. But the biggest problem is the absence of a process. I think there are two bottlenecks in its way. First of course is the pressure from the radical Hindu parties in India, especially following the Mumbai carnage. And the second more serious issue is the perception that a Pakistani civilian government lacks the support of the country’s establishment and something like Kargil may take place once a process starts.

The Pakistan Army may of course have its own reasons. It is widely perceived that our army per chance or choice is India-centric. Many think that once there is genuine peace between the two nations, the army may lose the justification for its existence. Frankly, this perception is deeply flawed. The importance of a standing army in any nation’s defence cannot be overstated. The army will stay put because thanks to the war on terror it has acquired an internal counterinsurgency-related dimension too. The only change may come in defence spending for a bit. Once the country gets breathing space through these means and the economy manages to stand on its feet, the defence budget may also not be such a big burden. India, please note, has grown so beyond us. Rather than wasting more time in trying to control its policy choices, we need to harness its market potential for the greater good.

And this brings us to the final point. This country’s economy needs a genuine boost. It is sad that we still want to play power poker on such crucial national issues. It is sad how we are defeating our national interest by playing partisan. The issue of reformed general sales tax (RGST) is critical to our economic revival and simultaneously the government should be able to work out the details of a growth stimulus. Build the economy and then indulge in imperial hubris as much as you like. But in international relations too, from Nazi Germany to Saddam’s Iraq and Ahmadinejad’s Iran, isolation has never been and will never be anything constructive.

The writer is an independent columnist and a talk show host. He can be reached at

Source: Daily Times