Mil­i­tary dic­ta­tion on for­eign pol­icy

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - Za­far Hi­laly

Some of the most hon­ourable and brave men in Pak­istan wear the uni­form of the armed forces. Their brav­ery, skill and their cease­less sac­ri­fices have kept Pak­istan safe. How­ever, what they can­not and must not do is to think that they have a mo­nop­oly of wis­dom and there­fore know best

Pak­istan does not re­ally have a for­eign pol­icy. It has a de­fence pol­icy of which the for­eign pol­icy is an ad­junct, an off­shoot. Hence, as the mil­i­tary shapes de­fence pol­icy, it also has a com­mand­ing role in for­eign pol­icy. But that has not been enough, so on oc­ca­sions it has also sought a hand in its im­ple­men­ta­tion. Gen­er­als, ad­mi­rals and air mar­shals have held key am­bas­sado­rial ap­point­ments and a gen­eral has even been the for­eign min­is­ter.

Ac­cord­ing to those in the know, the con­trol ex­er­cised by the Gen­eral Head­quar­ters (GHQ) over for­eign pol­icy is greater to­day than in the past. So much so that the ini­tia­tive for dis­patch­ing notes, ver­bal de­marches and pol­icy an­nounce­ments orig­i­nate from the GHQ. One in­for­mant won­dered whether ma­jors and colonels do the ac­tual draft­ing.

It has been com­mon fare to have sol­diers sound­ing off on for­eign af­fairs with the con­fi­dence and the aban­don of sea­soned di­plo­mats. In the past when lis­ten­ing to their so­lil­o­quies the adage 'one who knows noth­ing, doubts noth­ing' of­ten came to mind. And some of them were not es­pe­cially well read. One high flier did not know who came first, the Greeks or the Ro­mans. Fol­low­ing an im­promptu lec­ture on the ' vi­tal im­por­tance' of Cen­tral Asia to Pak­istan, I re­call Be­nazir Bhutto re­mark­ing, sotto voce, "It is re­mark­able what com­fort ig­no­rance brings." To be­lieve that any­body can be a for­eign min­is­ter or an am­bas­sador or that sol­diers know best is harm­less enough; it is when it gets re­flected in pol­icy that we need worry.

The judge­ments of the mil­i­tary and the For­eign Of­fice (FO) have of­ten clashed in our vexed his­tory, some­times with dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences for the nation.

The be­lief that East Pak­istan could be re­trieved from Sheikh Mu­jibur Rehman and the au­ton­omy sought by the Awami League by force, and that while this was un­der­way the world and In­dia would stand by idle, is one ex­am­ple.

A very se­nior am­bas­sador, re­flect­ing at the time what was the gen­eral view of his col­leagues, con­cluded his re­port on the mil­i­tary's take of the sit­u­a­tion thus: "I will not be worth the salt of my coun­try, Mr Pres­i­dent, if I do not re­port - that what you are do­ing in East Pak­istan is wrong and - that there is no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion to a po­lit­i­cal prob­lem." He was sacked and re­placed by a gen­eral.

An­other con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional of the for­eign of­fice, de­spite be­ing warned against speak­ing his mind to Ayub Khan, told him in 1965 that ini­ti­at­ing hos­til­i­ties in Kash­mir would al­most in­evitably lead to an In­dian at­tack on Pak­istan across the in­ter­na­tional border. Ayub Khan, Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto and some non-FO ad­vis­ers were of a con­trary opin­ion. They ig­nored the ad­vice and the rest is his­tory.

The mil­i­tary and its cho­sen politi­cians made out that Be­nazir Bhutto was about to sur­ren­der Kash­mir to In­dia on the oc­ca­sion of Ra­jiv Gandhi's visit to Is­lam­abad in 1989. The FO on the other hand felt that it was a his­toric op­por­tu­nity to mend re­la­tions with In­dia. Ra­jiv came to Is­lam­abad, Be­nazir did not sell out on Kash­mir, and a much-needed agree­ment was signed for a mu­tual pullout from Si­achen - on which In­dia sub­se­quently re­neged.

Again it was the mil­i­tary that thwarted ev­ery at­tempt over the past two decades to ar­rive at an agree­ment with Iran over the con­struc­tion of a gas and oil pipe­line to Pak­istan from Iran with the pos­si­bil­ity that it would even­tu­ally ex­tend to In­dia. The very same project that it presently sup­ports but which, alas, seems a non-starter to­day. We could have had the pipe­line many years ago and ben­e­fited im­mea­sur­ably had the FO view pre­vailed.

Con­trary to re­peated cau­tions in the mid-90s to tread cau­tiously and to care­fully weigh the grave con­se­quences and the huge dam­age to Pak­istan's se­cu­rity and im­age be­fore iden­ti­fy­ing Pak­istan with the cause of the Tal­iban in Afghanistan, the regime in power rushed in heed­less, fol­low­ing bul­ly­ing by the mil­i­tary. Our sup­port en­sured that a move­ment com­pris­ing of men of a me­dieval mind­set and per­haps the worst advertisement for Is­lam in mod­ern times gained con­trol of Afghanistan. They, and the vi­cious ilk that they have spawned, now pose an ex­is­ten­tial threat to Pak­istan ar­guably greater than that posed by In­dia. In the process we earned the abid­ing hos­til­ity of our neigh­bour Iran, the scorn of pro­gres­sive Mus­lim states, and raised the hack­les of our ally China. The west ex­co­ri­ated us and our im­age suf­fered a re­verse from which it has never re­cov­ered.

Kargil, of course, was yet an­other dis­as­ter over which the mil­i­tary con­sulted no one, not even its own, what to speak of the FO.

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