Is Pakistan A New Member of The Axis of Evil – Along With Iran-Iraq? Or is ‘Pakistan an Afghanistan in the making’

Gen. Tommy Franks couldn’t mention the country by name without provoking a collective case of gastric distress in the Bush administration.


Pakistan, not Iraq, was in the general’s crosshairs.


Pakistan: the New Afghanistan’ Arnaud de Borchgrave,

Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002


“Axis of Evil” is a vague definition, one day you’re a part of it and the other you’re a partner in a global coalition against terrorism. When President Khatami paid an official visit to Afghanistan the security forces protecting his person were comprised American Marines. The vagaries of global geopolitics have ensures that such paradoxes and shades of grey will continue to exist.


To call Pakistan the new Afghanistan makes a catchy headline and is a good story to evoke misgivings about the nature of the Pakistani state. It is plainly discernable however those who do so fail to grasp the ground realities.


The reason Pakistan is not Afghanistan or Iraq is because the historical circumstances differ. Afghanistan was a lawless buffer zone between British Indian and Imperial Russia for the last two centuries. Afghanistan primarily contribution to civilisation has been to deposit hordes of invading Turko-Iranian tribes upon the Indian sub-continent. This inherent tendency towards guns, mutual disagreements and lashkar (Holy War) is integral to Afghani Pashtun culture.


The tribal loyalties which inhibit nationalism, the paucity of functional institutions and lack of a federal security force has contributed to the dysfunctional character of Afghanistan must work on. “Warlordism” is not a new phenomenon and the invasion by the USSR was the last straw on the camel’s back that shattered any coherency Afghanistan might have had.


The Tajik & Hazaras, who speak Dari, with a significant proportioning harbouring sympathy for Shi’ite Iran, are diametrically opposed to the Pusthoons, whose puritan strain of Islam is akin to Wahabism. Not only does Afghanistan suffer from the ethno-linguistic divide it suffers from an ideological one as well!


Without national institutions Afghanistan is bereft of an affluent and intellectual elite, unhindered by parochial loyalties, which would bind these factions into a harmonious modus vivendi. Conversely the Pakistani national establishment are defenders of federalism and foments an artifice like Pakistan into a fledgling state.


To compare Pakistan with Afghanistan or Iraq is an absurdity that, under normal circumstance, would merit no retort however given its popular prevalence must be comprehensively answered.


One popular misconception is that the eventual disintegration of Pakistan will be followed by the seizure of its nuclear arsenal by Islamic terrorists. This belief is fundamentally flawed because Pakistan were to have ever collapsed as a nation state it would have been during 80’s when it took on the Soviet Empire and brought them to a halt. Despite overwhelming American aid and support the internal ramification rendered to Pakistani society by the Afghani war was cataclysmic nevertheless Pakistan survived and thrived. If it could successfully withstand an confrontation with the world’s largest emporium then that is a testament to its tenacity as a nation.


A failed nation could not have had halted the advance of the Soviet empire. A rogue military state with the exclusive agenda of implementing Islam would not have been to do that. Serious errors of judgement may have been made by the Western nations when propping Islamic extremism to serve as a counterweight to communism. However even a precursory glance at five decades of contemporary political history reveals that the defining moments have been when people have taken on the forces of evil and grounded their march to a halt. The forces of evil keep on changing colour, size, shape and ideology so does our axis of evil keeps on changing.


In spite of all this constant flux there are only two nations who have not changed their alliance with USA in the course of the last five decades, Israel and Pakistan. The close relationship between Pakistan and America was even further honed the day before yesterday when I was attending a reception at the London residence of the Pakistani ambassador to the US, the late Agha Hilaly. The excerpts of his diary being read out by his son gave us a poignant insight into the pivotal moments in history. In 1971 when he was ambassador to the States there is a particular photograph of Agha Hilaly sitting in the Oval Office chatting amiably with President Nixon. Overleaf was a personal handwritten letter by President Nixon addressed to the Ambassador showing us pictures with Nixon in the Oval Office but what surprised me the most was a note by Pres Nixon to Hilaly stating how appreciative the former was of the latter’s efforts beyond the call of duty. Nixon may have had an ignominious presidency however it was during his term that the US began the pivotal rapprochement with China through the use of Pakistan as a vital intermediary. The opening of China that has today made 120 million Chinese use telephones and allowed them access to the technology of Motorola and other global corporations however now the nation, which had a small role but a pivotal one nevertheless, who brought the Republicans into contact with Chou Enlai is now cast as the new Satan by self-professed pundits.


No Pakistan political democracy or military autocracy has even dream of undermining Pakistan’s alliance with the United States of America. That is the cornerstone policy of the Pakistani military and political leadership as well as that of America. Failed nations, or those teetering on the precipice of collapse, cannot evolve such fluid and flexible relations with greater powers.


America has a close friendship with Pakistan because it understands the nature of the Pakistani polity. The American army is famed for its use of military historians in interpreting current geopolitics. It has analysed the historical reasons for the disproportional size of Pakistan’s army. The region between the River Jhelum and Peshawar were the recruiting grounds for the British land forces during the British Raj. The British knew the inhabitants as the “martial races” and it was with armies comprised of these peoples that Col Nicholson in 1857 subdued the Sepoy mutiny in India.


The Sepoy rebellion occurred when Hindu-Muslim contingents soldier of Uhud, Jansi and Lucknow restored the Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zuffar, to the throne in Delhi. This was fundamentally a rebellion by India in response to British rule, which was put down by the ancestors of the modern Pakistanis, the Pathans and the Punjabis.


The manner in which they completed the conquest confirmed the historical discipline towards military ethics that had existed amongst these peoples since time immemorial. At the amazing speed of 27 miles a day this army reached Delhi, subdued it and suppressed the rebellion. Whose side were these proto-Pakistani troops were fighting but for the British Empire. There has always been a loyalty amongst the people of this region to the British Empire and especially to its army, a close affiliation that has exists today with the Pakistan remaining loyal to America.


There are fears of an Islamicisation of the army however even when General Zia was pursuing such a course he carefully cultivated relations with America. The history of the 13th Lancer division is a poignant reminder of the loyalty of these people to their allies rather than a pan-Islamic Ummah. This Pathan division was commanded by a British commander and fought the Ottoman Empire (which was considered the Islamic Caliphate) in the Holy Land. For the Pathan to defeat the Ottomans in Palestine is emblematic of the origins of the Pakistan army. The Guide cavalry, the Probyn Horse, Hobson horse, the Baluch tribesmen and Punjabi infantry have had the honour and distinction to serve in the 1st and 2nd World War. Thousands of them lay buried in Sommes, Gallipoli, Suez and these soldiers were cannon fodder for the British Empire and served with distinction.


The reason ‘Militarism’ became so deeply entrenched in Pakistan is that because the British never trusted the Indian south. They realised that Col Nicholson’s men and the martial races were the recruiting grounds for the Indian Union army. This is why the Muslims have had a disproportionately large representation in the British army with the consequences being that the Pakistani army has become a very hierarchical and secular organisation, which takes immense pride in its British past.


The global ramifications of this is that the mutiny of Pakistani army and a bullet through Musharraf head by dissenting general cannot and will not occur because of the pride the army takes in tracing its roots to discipline. With a single stroke of the pen Musharraf was able to dismiss hard-core generals such as Usmani, Mehmood and Aziz is indicative of his primacy as a leader. Colonels coup like in Libya or Iraq is a distant nonsense.


When General Zia and his entire army command were wiped out in a plane crash there was no coup in Pakistan army, for the next senior most general took over. A counter point can be found in Britain where there is an orderly transition of power between premiers and so conversely in Pakistan there is an orderly transference of power between army chiefs. Truly an army, which can face 700,000men over the border for the past 9 months, is indeed well structured.


One can denigrate Pakistan’s lack of democracy however it is incumbent to remember that it has more democracy than other Islamic nations. As an author I write articles in Pakistani newspapers vehemently countering any ominous growth of a theocratic sentiment or an infringement of the rights of citizens in Pakistan. The freedom in press is that something discernable to any resident or visitor of Pakistan. Most of the time in our press the condemnation of President Mussharaf is in the first pages. That is the strength of the dictator where you have a dictatorship without a muzzling of the press and that is a very unique arrangement unseen in neighbouring autocracies such as Iraq or Syria.


Indeed the freedoms of press are to such an extent in Pakistan that there was a recent conference held in Lahore, Pakistan to allow Indian literati to interact with their Pakistan counterparts. As I was informing Shekar Gupta and Arundthai Roy that one of the many reasons as to why India fails to connect with Pakistan is because it fundamentally misinterprets the internal dynamics of the Pakistani nation. Underestimating one’s enemy just to augment self-esteem amongst citizens is a direct path to national suicide. To entirely disregard the strengths of the enemy is the ultimate faux pas for any geopolitical strategist. And that is precisely what the foes of Pakistan and global media does it at its peril!


It is categorically flawed to infer any geopolitical analysis by relying on media coverage, for partisan journalists can cast distant nations in a certain light that will create an enduring impression.


Pakistan is a prime target for media scorn and condemnation for it has the all the ingredients that lend itself as an anathema to the guiding principles of Western civilisation. As a quintessential ideological state, founded for the Muslims of India, it unabashedly calls itself a bastion of Islam. Indeed in stark contrast to democratic India its history is littered with military coups and autocracy. The popular sentiment is that Pakistan, the “failed state”, must be given a thrashing to castrate it and render its national effectiveness to that of a eunuch.


However the significant question that remains is that if Pakistan is so pathetic & feeble why hasn’t India taken the necessary measures to vanquish it. The Indian nation with a vibrant democratic culture that has taken root over the past half-century and an economy to match, with reserved estimated at $60 billion. The Indian military par excellence has 700,000 men stationed on the Kashmir border to ward of the Pakistani threat but still despite all of this there has never been an outright annexation or occupation of Pakistani territory. Instead such a brilliant nation has been in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with Pakistan, a nation widely considered to be a failed state. 


From personal experience I know of the arrogance of occupation. The night prior to the invasion of Kuwait I was returning from Jahra road, which connects Iraq and Kuwait, at 2.00am from a party and there were no admonitions of future conflict. However at 8.30am the Iraqi soldiers just marched into Kuwait without any hesitation because of the overwhelming military supremacy.


If Pakistan is as weak as it’s made out to be then why


1.   Why didn’t India wrap up the Kashmir dilemma years ago by invading Azad Kashmir and wrench it from Pakistan?

2.   Prior to the introduction of the nuclear element into the equation, by India, would it not have been a relatively simple for India to eliminate every terrorist camp in Pakistani-held territory?


For instance when Afghani-based Arab terrorists, belonging to Al-Qaeeda, attacked America, the response was swift and firm due to the horrific nature of the terrorist act and the immense conventional advantage of the latter. A nation that is confident of its military prowess will think nothing of acting swiftly and resolutely on a legitimate “cassus belli” especially when it is insidious terrorism.


The December attacks on the Indian Parliament, the cradle of South Asian democracy, last year, were enough of a justification for India to exact a vengeance. The striking inability of the Indian strategic pundits to continue the hot pursuits of these terrorists into Pakistani territory would lead to the inductive conclusion that India either believes the terrorist attacks are of no import or is wary of violating Pakistan’s sovereignty for possible fear of retaliation.


Weak nations are intimidated into submission however Pakistan has remained steadfast in the face of the most heated threats by India. However a great nation is known by its enemies and it must be frustrating for India to be perennially entangled with Pakistan.


This hostile relationship between India and Pakistan is a by-product of South Asian history where for 700 years India was ruled ruthlessly and merciless by the Muslim invaders from the north. The fact that their descendants could be cordoned in Pakistan, the north of the Sub-continent, is a wonderful happenstance for India’s development. In my opinion it had a soothing effect on the Subcontinent for millions of Muslims were able to form a separate nation state without internally disrupting the development of an Indian nation.


Had there been no Pakistan, India would have had to contend with a 300million strong Muslim minority with a keen awareness of their imperial past. Already in Kashmir it requires 700,000 troops to subdue and pacify the regional population, which has not reconciled itself with an imposed Indian identity. Can one truly imagine the consequences of a 300 million strong disaffected minority?


However nations are able to transcend a mutually antagonistic history as France and Germany have done. Tensions are derived in part because of Pakistani-sponsored militants wreaking havoc in Indian territories. This does cause legitimate grounds for concerns however no one wants to highlight the fact that Kashmir’s struggle is primarily indigenous in nature. There is a fundamental axiom that must be observed by all nations; democracies cannot inhibit the quest for regional autonomy and political sovereignty by indigenous national minorities. Ultimately when India continues to repress the Kashmiris it impinges its democratic credentials and denigrates the accomplishments of Indian politicians such as Nehru who aspired for a democratic, secular and socialist India.


There is a clear delineation between the Kashmiri cause and the militant jihadi remnants of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan who have hijacked the struggle. For India must first address the issue in its entirety before it can expect a complete cessation of the struggle. At its own peril it shoves the UN resolutions, which call for the right of self-determination & votes for the Kashmiris, to the backburner and loudly condemns Pakistan for its involvement in Kashmir.


I am not defending the belligerence stance of Pakistan nor am I making a qualitative judgment on whether it is right or wrong. However one cannot deny that a nation, which is able to confront a neighbour & rival 5 times its size, has at least some merits and should be given credit for its achievements. The strategic pundits across the border are not failing to realise that there are certain geographical strengths in what we call Pakistan.


One can mentally envisage the geographic location and only marvel at the way Pakistan sits at the apex of the Crescent of Instability. It is at the confluence of 2.5 bn people and shares borders with Iran, China, Russia (CIS) and of course India. Can one give of an analogous nation which is at the core of such heavy weight nations, which constitute as civilisations in themselves.


There is of course one readily supplied answer and that of Afghanistan. To the north of Pakistan it disintegrated under pressure from neighboring nations and became a battlefield where rival nations could wage their proxy wars. Indeed it is doubtful whether even many Western nations would have been able to cope with the strain faced by Pakistan. An Indian army of nearly a million faces off Pakistan at the border and in the highlands of the Khyber Pass Pakistan is pitted against the vermins of the earth, the fanatical Islamic terrorist.


It is not a coincidence that Pakistan happens to take the right decisions when it is vital to cooperate with the global community. A successful nation will retain its pragmatism in the face of the global pressures and do its utmost to achieve global acceptance. A failed nation is the exact converse where the nation will retreat into a hostile insularity and elicit condemnation by the hegemonic powers. Thus it is plainly discernable as to why America is mentally and strategically gearing up to invade a friendless Iraq whilst Pakistan is considered a close ally by the Bush government.

The writer is in Paris, France.