Pakistan after the fall of Kabul

Benazir Bhutto
History casts its long shadow over Pakistan and its neighbour Afghanistan. The failure to reach a political settlement over the extradition of Al-Qaeda suspects saw the dark clouds of war descend on the region. September 11 changed the calculus of politics. B-52 bombers zoomed across the sky dropping their lethal loads on a country that knew too much war but unable to make peace. 

A public frenzy was whipped up in Pakistan. Many were motivated to donate their life savings or send their young sons off to a war "for Islam". They were led to believe victory would be theirs "once the ground assault began". Intoxicated by the idea of triumphing over a superpower, the misguided youth rushed to the camps of charlatans who promised victory. The battle lines were drawn. Yet most knew the outcome. Even as Islamabad watched the young men rush off to Afghanistan to defend the Taliban, it was discussing a post-Taliban government. 

The Taliban were doomed to defeat at the hands of a superior military force. The youth who went to fight were abandoned. The fighting started and the Afghan militia melted into the villages. Arab fighters fought to death or took to the mountain caves. The Pakistani, new to the terrain, had nowhere to go. He was captured, beaten or killed. The Pakistani leaders, who provoked them into the fight, were conveniently under "house arrest". 

As the Northern Alliance advanced, the bodies of unclaimed dead Pakistanis littered the landscape. None had stopped them from going. None came forward to accept their dead bodies. They were abandoned. No one knows what happened to the Arab widows and orphans other than that they were banned from entering Pakistan. 

Defeat has its own bitter aftertaste. The earlier bravado of victory in the ground war and the noisy demonstrations for fighting against the infidel ended. A dark silence descended. Few asked for accountability of those who provoked young men into siding with the Taliban. Few wondered about the mothers who lost their sons or the young widows or orphans. 

The second Afghan war is a double tragedy for the Muslim world. It is a war that never should have happened. Yet, in the madrassahs set up under Zia, that second war took its roots bringing in its wake death, destruction and shame. 

The Taliban got nothing in their determination to reject a political solution. Voices that once defended them are now silenced. Victory has a thousand fathers, defeat is an orphan. Yet those who supported the Taliban in their irrational defiance bear a moral and political responsibility for events. They owe an explanation to the thousands of Pakistanis encouraged to join an unnecessary war without chance of victory. 

The Taliban war brought world attention to Pakistan. The sun rose from behind clouds to shine on Islamabad's rulers. The sun is bright but the clouds are still there. The world focus is on terrorism. It's shortsighted for the military regime to see the present world sympathy as a solution to Pakistan's problems. 

The world's largesse during the Zia era failed to solve the internal crisis. It's unlikely that largesse today can be any different. Ultimately, every nation needs to stand on its own feet. Unless the internal social fabric is properly weaved, external props will only get so far. 

Even as Islamabad joined the international coalition against terror, it failed to negotiate an economic dividend for the people. Then the Western Mantra was, "what can we do for Islamabad?" With the Bonn accord, that Mantra will change to, "what can we do for Kabul?" 

It is naive to assume the billions of aid dollars flowing into Kabul will go to Pakistani contractors. The Establishment's Taliban-fixated policy alienated the Alliance as well as many Pashtuns. There is little love lost for Islamabad in Kabul. Having put all their eggs in one basket, the military regime was forced to plead with the US President for crumbs in the power sharing formula for post-Taliban Kabul. 

The heady days of US support in September led the military regime to warn India to "lay off". But the war ended too quickly for Islamabad. General Dostum in the North, rather than General Musharaf in the south, became the catalyst to force the Taliban retreat. 

Islamabad still remains fixated with external props. In so doing, it neglects internal realities. Even as the West helps fill Islamabad's empty coffers, the recession continues. Capital lacks confidence in a military dictatorship governing a country with unstable borders in the north and east, and an uncertain direction. 
Trade is the key to economic salvation yet it is a key lost in the madrassahs of Pakistan. Here the men learn to fire guns instead of learning to manage businesses. Yet the lesson of the 20th century is the reality of economic power. Releasing economic power has prerequisites like freedom, rule of law, deregulation and open competition. Economic interests play a critical role in building peaceful relations. Trading relations increase the partners' joint economic welfare. 

Some of the world's greatest opportunities for trade and growth are the undeveloped markets of South Asia. Before the British conquest, it was one of the world's richest regions. It can again claim its heritage by building peace through conflict management. 

Nearly a quarter of the world's population lives in South Asia. Sadly, their combined income is less than two percent of gross global income. Its per capita income of $430 is only 10 percent of the world average. These dismal figures hide untold stories of hungry children, of deprivation. In them lie the wails of the women and the woes of the men. 

Depressingly, nearly half the population, some 45 percent, lives in poverty and squalor on less than a dollar a day. If one were to include those living on less than two dollars a day, the number balloons. 
Academic studies correlate conflict and poverty. The advanced countries managed conflicts and arrived at a consensus value system, including respect for the will of the people, for the rule of law, for fair elections and for fair judicial judgements. 

Such a consensus is still to develop in Pakistan. There are some ready to accept rigged elections or judgements "in the national interest". The national interest, tragically, is defined by those who bring defeat and disgrace. Witness the implementation of the "national interest" in East Pakistan in 1971, the hanging of a Prime Minister in 1979, the loss in Siachin in 1987, Kargil in 1999 and the determination to stand by the Taliban regardless. 

The "national interest" has become an Establishment prerogative. Therefore debate is silenced and its forums, such as Parliament, made redundant. Those who challenge the so-called "national interest" are termed traitors who should be stripped of citizenship. Such intolerant policies breed a culture of intolerance. Yet that culture must be challenged if Pakistan is to become a vibrant state standing on its own inherent strengths. Policies of brinksmanship, calculated to bring in external props, need to stop. 
Governance, now in shambles, needs resurrection. Issues of governance play as much part in human development as resources. In modern management students are taught that the customer is always right. In modern statecraft, the realisation is still to come that the voter is always right. The determination of some Generals to reject the voter's view makes them part of the problem. 

The electoral process sets into motion the democratisation process. It focuses on issues of human rights, health and education. It builds the nation and takes it out of repression, defeat and humiliation. It is a necessary pre-requisite to nation building and economic welfare. 

Peace in South Asia can release enormous economic forces. Human development can turn South Asia into a bastion of economic activity. Pakistan today is in a strategic part of the world. This is hardly new. Each decade brought Pakistan an opportunity to play the strategic card. Yet, as decades slipped past, those opportunities barely translated into opportunities for the Pakistani people. 

Amazingly, several top military leaders made disastrously wrong predictions on military matters. In 1990, some Generals predicted Iraq would turn into America's Vietnam. This time round, they predicted the Americans would be caught by the Taliban when the ground war started. Two years back, they predicted the Kargil adventure would bring glory. 

The political leadership, untrained in military matters, was correct in warning the people that a superior military force would triumph over an inferior. This contrast between the predictions of some leading Generals and the political leadership on the three key issues of the 1990 Kuwait occupation, the 1999 Kargil fighting and the 2001 Kabul war are clear evidence of the need for political direction. History notes that War is too serious a business to be left to Generals. 

Today the ruling Generals may hope the West rewards their "good behaviour" by allowing the manipulation of the scheduled October 2002 elections. But for Pakistan to emerge in the region with the right political parameters for human rights and economic prosperity, that hope must not materialise. 
Pakistanis deserve a third option between a Western-backed and a Clerical-backed dictator. Part of the reason for Iran's Ayatollah-driven 1979 revolution was the lack of such a third option. For the Pakistani people, the road to political stability and economic recovery can start when the ruling Generals return to the barracks and accept that "the voter is always right". 

For Pakistan, and the Muslim world, regaining its lost heritage lies in reclaiming the principles of peace, freedom and human rights. Without these enduring values, the battle against terrorism in our region may be over but the war against state terror is still to be won.