What are we thinking? | Babar Sattar


It is not the rhetoric of our speeches but the substance of our policies manifested in actions that will prevent Pakistan from being pushed into isolation. The season in which we generously issue certificates of patriotism and treachery has arrived again. Every spat between India and Pakistan shrinks space for rational discourse and introspection. While in the zone of belligerence, anyone asking critical questions of the government is hastily labelled enemy agent. Patriotism becomes unconditional allegiance to existing state policies, however flawed.

Our national security policy is India-centric. It is with India that we have fought wars and it is the sanctity and security of our eastern border that keeps our security forces up at night. Even though we now have a generation of battle-hardened generals who have fought indigenous terror groups over the last decade, India remains the paramount enemy within our security mindset. Before we overcame our denial regarding the TTP, its identity and intentions post-APS, the dominant narrative was that the TTP and ilk are essentially Indian proxies.

Our nuclear policy is India-centric too. We have said to the world that we would support a nuclear weapons convention but cannot give up nukes so long as India has them. Our doctrine of nuclear deterrence rests on a first use policy – if India initiates a conventional war with us, we will be first to drop the bomb. As India began working on cold start, we got busy building tactical nuclear weapons. In other words, we are telling the world that even in case of a limited war we might end up using our smaller nuclear bombs.

Without getting into whether India conducted ‘surgical strikes’ in Kashmir, as it claims, what if it carries out strikes targeting JuD in Muridke or JeM in Bahawalpur? JuD and JeM are recognised as terror organisations around the world and are banned in Pakistan too. Will Pakistan drop a tactical nuclear bomb on India if India attacks a terror outfit in Pakistan that it alleges has perpetrated an attack in India? In war-gaming such scenarios, have we begun to forget how dangerously crazy the idea of using a nuke really is for Pakistan and its future?

Is it Indian pugnacity and our mutual hatred that prevents us from rationally analysing how harmful the continued existence of JuDs and JeMs is for Pakistan itself? Let us recall the OBL incident or the droning of Mullah Mansour. Did their presence on Pakistani soil help enhance our security? Did their being taken out by the US help augment our sovereignty? While India is no US, is it our considered view, purely from a security perspective, that the existence of JuD or JeM enhances our state security and promotes Pakistan’s interests?

What is our policy on Kashmir-focused jihadi groups? Are they state assets? If so, why is that? Is it because we think that perpetration of attacks by them in India will encourage India to liberate Kashmir? Let’s objectively analyse this from the state’s perspective? Will any number of terror attacks by Baloch separatists encourage our state to pay heed to their demands? The state’s response will always be to use force to crush such terrorists. If anything, cross-border jihadism is now hurting the Kashmir cause instead of helping it.

Do we think that using non-state actors to keep the Indian military engaged is a cost-effective and intelligent strategy to continue to bleed India? Let us think again. One, the age of non-state actors as assets is over. Non-state actors pose the foremost threat to the security of the most powerful states of the world and so nurturing or patronising them is now taboo. There now exists a global consensus against the employment of non-state actors to promote national security objectives, even if the idea was kosher at an earlier time.

And two, while our non-state actors might have bled India, they have bled us more. Other than loss of life, existence of non-state actors enables India to paint us black before the world. Our initial defence against accusations of being terror patrons was that the US conceived the idea in the 80s and installed jihadi factories in our backyard and now we are left holding the bag. When we agreed to help eradicate them as part of the US-led war on terror, the world was patient, till it thought that we were running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.

For the last few years our strongest argument has been that we are the biggest victims of terror and that, while we have started cleaning up our territory, draining out all swamps will take time. The world has shown patience for this argument too. But as with the first one, the accusation again is that we continue to distinguish between good and bad terrorists, protecting the good and killing the bad. This is our weak link. We have no compelling justification for why JuD and LeT and their top leadership is alive and well in Pakistan.

It is acceptable to the world when our prime minister stands up in the UNGA and proclaims Burhan Wani a martyr. But we are not arguing with the world that Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar are peaceful citizens who go about their business not harming anyone. The state of Pakistan has included JuD and LeJ in its list of proscribed organisations. Yet Hafiz Saeed remains a celebrity invited to TV shows and a prominent voice within the Dafa-e-Pakistan Council. Can anyone claim with a straight face that the state of Pakistan has been trying to curb Hafiz Saeed?

Masood Azhar’s JeM is also a proscribed organisation. Like Saeed after Mumbai, Azhar was taken into protective custody by Pakistan after the Pathankot attack. But life goes on in JeM’s sprawling establishment in Bahawalpur, which is not far from Pakistan Army’s XXXI Corps headquarter. While India has been trying to have Azhar designated a terrorist by the UN, it has failed so far as China placed a technical hold on consideration of the request for a second time last week. There are no points for guessing why China is going out on a limb to save Azhar.

The question is: why is Pakistan calling in favours for Azhar and what message does that send to the world? The more important question is: what will it take for us – our government and our security establishment – to undertake a cost-gain analysis of the existing policy toward non-state actors? We knew after Mumbai that, notwithstanding denial of state responsibility for actions of non-state actors, some liability would remain and Pakistan would be judged by the alacrity and transparency with which it conducted the trial of the accused plotters.

Pathankot highlighted that actions of non-state actors can trigger a full-scale war between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. Uri is establishing that it is non-state actors that are now in control of the fate and fortune of the Subcontinent and not the two states. It is time to snap out of our present state of insanity. Let us not allow India’s fighting words to prevent us from undertaking a Machiavellian appraisal of our national security doctrine and how we have transformed homebred non-state actors into the biggest threat to our security.

This nation has tremendous potential. Let it be un-leased as a constructive force. Cutting off the nose to spite the face isn’t wise. There were 101 theories on the utility of the TTP, on ways to control it better, on the expected blowback should it be taken down etc. And then APS happened. The ghastly tragedy did us one favour: it instilled clarity in an otherwise confused polity. Our present policy towards jihadi groups is also a train wreck waiting to happen. Let’s not wait for a disaster to break free from shackles of inertia. Let’s undertake course correction now.