Why Pakistan Needs to Change Its India Focused Security Approach to Counter Extremism

Pakistan needs to understand that it has to set its priorities right and shake off its paranoia about India. Our neighbor is no longer interested in annexing Pakistan. It has moved on to bigger things whereas we have just remained stuck. It is time to move on.
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After the recent tragedy in Peshawar, there is a lot of debate going on with respect to future trajectory of Pakistan's security policy. No doubt there is some progression with respect to immediate tactics such as rapid trials of the convicted terrorists, steps towards establishment of military courts (which is quite controversial given the already prevalent civil military imbalance) and media campaign aimed at bolstering public support against militants.

However, the Pakistani government and particularly military establishment are still not addressing the core issues which pertain to the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan. Unless and until those are sorted out the threat will also persist. The key is building a politically stable state which is effective in exercising its writ and also providing basic services to its citizens.

Ahmed Rashid, the famous author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos has identified four major problems of Pakistan which have prevented it from becoming a politically stable state capable of providing even basic services to its citizens. These four problems are: a) Inability of Pakistani state to forge a national identity which has resulted in continuous positioning of the country as a national security state built around fear of India ; b) Civil Military Imbalance; c) Use of non-state actors to wage proxy wars and; d) inability to effectively deal with ethnic rifts.

If we look closely, we would find that all these are highly interlinked. For example, Pakistan's positioning itself as a national security state has resulted in a very powerful army which besides undermining the civilians has also waged wars and proxy wars. Usage of non-state actors is the direct outcome of army's dominant role emanating out of Pakistan's status as national security state. Likewise, Pakistan's inability to tackle ethnic rifts has resulted in its continuing to position itself as a national security state and also encouraged nurturing of non-state actors like Taliban. There is credible evidence that bolstering of Taliban besides creating strategic depth, was also done to counter Pashtun nationalism. The idea was to promote Wahhabi/Salafi version of hardline Islam in Afghanistan which would negate Pashtun separatism by emphasizing Islamic identity.

Pakistan has also tried to blame external powers like India for promoting ethnic rifts and separatism rather than trying to resolve these by decentralization and inclusiveness. Looking towards India as the only source or at least the major source has further reinforced its national security positioning and through this channel affected all other factors discussed above. In fact if I have to single out one major root cause behind these interrelated complications, it is our obsession with India.

Earlier, particularly after the independence, such a fear was understandable. After all, Pakistan was carved out of British India and although I don't personally agree with the term partition (as India has very rarely been politically one), but in the popular imagination it was a partition. In the early years it was feared that India would re-annex Pakistan and our founding fathers can be forgiven for thinking like that.

At that time preservation of state was the chief concern and it was important that nation should be ready for a war of survival. Likewise, whipping fear of India made some pragmatic sense as it "united" an ethnically diverse Pakistan in the face of a "common" enemy.

Let's not forget that the biggest anomaly with Pakistan has been that those who were living in West Pakistan were never that keen on it. Ironically those who lived in present day India were the ones who wanted it along with Bengali Muslims. On the other hand, areas falling under present day Pakistan did not witness the same kind of fervor. Only Sindh was apparently fully in favor of it. At very late stages did the Punjab convert. NWFP's referendum was extremely controversial whereas some part of Baluchistan was virtually annexed. Due to this weak support base, Islam and fear of India became the main ideological tools to unite Pakistan.

Unfortunately this combination has continued to this date. Both these were employed even more vigorously after East Pakistan's secession, in which India played a role. Although India was involved, Pakistan did not bother to even look into the real cause: denial of Bengalis of their rights and refusal to give them a substantial share in revenue and governance.

After the East Pakistan debacle, Indian fear apparently became justified and became the main factor determining not only Pakistan's policy but also its efforts to arm itself with nuclear weapons. Pakistan's external policy was not merely a diplomatic endeavor but stretched to include promotion of non-state actors.

Infiltration in Afghanistan actually began during the "democratic" rule of Bhutto who also initiated Pakistan's nuclear program. In the '80s after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, India regained top priority and Pakistan initiated its misadventure in both Kashmir and Afghanistan by using non-state actors for infiltration.

In fact, Pakistan is a "model" national security state. During '90s when India and China were laying foundations to become economic powerhouses, Pakistan was focused on fighting proxy wars and cultivating Jihadist groups only to subsequently lose their control.

The entire concept of strategic depth is built around fear of India and putting it into practice has been nightmarish to say the least. Pakistan's Frankenstein monsters have turned against the state showing that you cannot feed crocodiles while expecting that they won't eat you. Today, in many ways Pakistan is reaping what it sowed due to its Indian obsession.

The problem is that we continue with it whereas our neighbor has simply zoomed ahead towards bigger and better things in life. It has managed to capitalize on globalization and while we may disagree whether the ensuing liberalization has uniformly benefitted all, the fact is that in absolute terms millions have come out of poverty.

On the other hand, Pakistan has remained trapped in its paranoia and instead of developing a responsible state has remained stuck with a national security state. A national security state generally has very strong emphasis on military prowess (particularly it devotes a lot of resources on Military budget), is focused a lot on espionage activities (both domestically and internationally), and above all is characterized by autocratic/militaristic tendencies with a permanent civil military imbalance.

The army has long understood that for it to receive continuous importance, India has to remain a threat. Despite possessing nuclear weapons (which by the way were acquired supposedly to render the conventional army unnecessary), huge expenditures are dedicated for maintaining a huge army.

Without Indian threat or rather public perception of it, the army would never be able to command such resources. Its importance has also allowed the officer cadre to build a military industrial complex through extraction of state resources.

It is military's perverse incentive to maintain India as a number one threat in the public imagination. Historically it has even been willing to thwart peace initiatives by civilian governments. In 1999, when Nawaz Sharif was trying to woo BJP government in India, so called liberal General Musharraf was sending soldiers to Kargil heights. Later on, Nawaz Sharif was sent packing.

Right now our homegrown monsters are the greatest threats. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed. Threat is now clearly internal. Even as the threat has become largely internal, our security doctrine continues to be India centric.

And unless this changes, we will always be stuck. It is this approach that is still preventing an all-out war against ALL extremists by focusing on action against select groups only. Some groups are still at large for strategic purposes. Unless this changes, nothing will change.

Pakistan needs to understand that it has to set its priorities right and shake off its paranoia about India. Our neighbor is no longer interested in annexing Pakistan. It has moved on to bigger things whereas we have just remained stuck. It is time to move on.

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