The scramble for arms
NOT content with shaming US diplomats, the Pakistani press this week, under the cover of the WikiLeaks scandal, dragged Indians into the mire too. News reports, which have since been retracted, cited fake leaked cables in which US diplomats described senior members of India's military as egotistical, geeky, and even genocidal, while Indian politicians were accused of maintaining ties with Hindu fundamentalists. The propagandistic use of the 'leaked cables' occurred at the expense of the local media's credibility, but in the publication of these false reports lies a vital reminder about Pakistani foreign policy.
Notably, reports about the fake cables were sourced to an Islamabad-based news agency that has been described in the international media as having close links to the Pakistani intelligence services. Writing in the Guardian , Declan Walsh rightly pointed out that the readiness of news organisations to publish the false reports without verifying their content indicates the Pakistan Army's continued influence over the supposedly free media landscape.
The fact that America's lowest moment in public diplomacy and international perception can be reoriented as a critique about India in the Pakistani public sphere is telling. The incident reiterates what the WikiLeaks made clear, and what we all already knew even before the document dump: the country's foreign policy - and the national conversation about it - is being carefully micromanaged by the army.
Few will have missed the fact that in addition to disparaging remarks, the fake anti-India cables are peppered with praise by US generals for Pakistani generals, implying a close, trusting relationship (which, ironically, the real WikiLeaks cables about nukes and ongoing military ties to terrorist groups made clear is severely strained).
This added flourish can only be understood as an attempt at damage control in the aftermath of the WikiLeaks during which Pakistan's relationship with the US has been widely panned - terms deployed to describe our country include ' lackey', ' client', ' stooge', ' banana republic', 'colony, ' satrapy', ' puppet', and those are the ones I can put in print. The reasons the security forces would want to mend the public perception of this relationship, and try and deflect some negativity across the eastern border, are known.
The Pakistan Army perpetuates the foreign policy narrative about the abiding threat next door, which is balanced by strategic ties elsewhere abroad for the advancement of its own interests. As an institution, the army prioritises modernisation, weapons procurement, and access to cutting-edge technology and training.
It remains invested in foreign policy issues because connections with western states are seen as a way for the army to fulfil these institutional goals. In the case of the Pakistan, as in other poorly governed countries where the military is entrusted with state survival, the army's institutional imperatives outweigh the demands of democracy, diplomacy, multilateralism and public participation. In the coming years, one can expect to see more heavy-handedness on the part of the security forces in response to regional military developments. The fact is, Pakistan finds itself in the most rapidly militarising neighbourhood of the world.
In 2010, Chinese year-onyear defence spending has risen 7.5 per cent; meanwhile, India's defence allocation has grown by almost four per cent. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China was the largest arms buyer over the five-year period from 2005-2009, importing nine per cent of the world's total; in the same period, India came in second with seven per cent of the global arms import.
China currently has the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile programme, and is heavily investing in anti-satellite weapons and surveillance technologies, and boosting its cyberattack capabilities. Working on the premise that the Indian Ocean is the Silk Road of the 21st century, China is also seeking to transform its navy from a 'green water' to 'blue water' force in an effort to secure maritime routes. The People's Liberation Army Navy has therefore invested in stealth submarines, anti-ship missiles and conventional warships.
For its part, India's military modernisation plan comprises a $100bn allocation for weapons procurement over 10 to 20 years. This includes $11bn for a 126unit medium, multi-role aircraft competition and $12bn to expand the Indian navy to 160 ships by 2022 in an effort to balance China's increased naval presence.
US responses to China's rising military might are expected to add further impetus to India's military modernisation plan (consider India's purchase of 10 cargo planes during President Barack Obama's visit to New Delhi in November). This plan faces a variety of problems, including corruption, entangled procurement protocols and a lack of vision and coordination so endemic that the Brookings Institution's Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta have described it as "arming without aiming". But no matter.
In an effort to balance the Indian Army's weapons procurement and growth, the Pakistan Army will seek to pursue and legitimise those foreign policies that yield the best real returns (read arms deals). The past week's fake cables saga heralds what shape that legitimisation process might take.
And so it is that regional military developments will exacerbate Pakistan's domestic political turmoil.
As the Pakistan Army's need to access to more weapons, technology, and training becomes urgent, the civil-military power struggle for control over politics, policymaking, and the public sphere's perception of these matters will intensify. The army knows that its institutional development depends on its foreign policy credentials and its political capacity to emerge as a guarantor of regional diplomacy.