Pakistan’s choices By Shahid M. Amin - Thursday 28th April 2011

NATIONS, like individuals, often have to make choices. When the choice is between good and evil, the decision is easy to make. Unfortunately, quite often, the choice is between two bad alternatives. The sensible thing then is to opt for the lesser evil.
There are many people in Pakistan who want the country to change the present course of its foreign policy, more precisely, by moving away from the US `war against terror`, the codeword for the current US and Nato fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Pakistan has been a key ally in this war since 9/11. It has a large number of troops engaged in fighting the extremists in its tribal areas and elsewhere; and Pakistan is also providing a vital logistical link for the supplies needed by the US and Nato forces deployed in Afghanistan. Delinking Pakistan from the war against terror would probably mean putting an end to both kinds of help.
Sections of the Pakistani media and some populist politicians have been seeking to project Pakistan as being exploited by the US, which is seen as both selfish and anti-Islam. It is argued that Pakistan has lost $40bn or more due to its involvement in the US-sponsored war. The breakdown in law and order is also a direct consequence of the war.
However, let us visualise what will happen in the scenario in which Pakistan changes course and stops its alignment in the war against terror. The immediate result would be that Al Qaeda and the Taliban would get a free hand to operate, particularly in our tribal areas. Its international consequences can be predicted. The US and Nato forces would come under more attacks in Afghanistan, and the possibility of more 9/11-like incidents would increase.
Under the circumstances, the US and Nato would probably resort to bigger operations against the militants based in Pakistani territory. There will be not only more drone attacks but also unilateral military strikes including landing by troops. Pakistan would come under severe criticism for allowing the terrorists to operate from its soil.
Economic and military aid to Pakistan would be immediately curtailed perhaps even totally ended. International bodies like the IMF where the US has considerable influence would also become less receptive to Pakistan`s needs.
Internally, the religious extremists would be emboldened and increase their violent activities all over Pakistan. The Talibanisation of Pakistan would gain momentum. There is no secret as to what would happen if the Taliban gain power. They will do exactly what they did in Afghanistan from 1994 to 2001 and in Swat, Dir and Malakand two years ago.
Women will be confined to their homes and will not able to hold jobs. There will be no education for women and they will be required to wear the shuttlecock burka. There will be no television or films, no music, no freedom of thought, association or assembly and no political parties and no independent judiciary. Religious extremism of this kind poses an existential threat to the Pakistani state and society. It is in our own interest to fight such extremists.
We must do what is good for Pakistan. Foreign policy decisions must be based on a hard calculation of national interests and a realistic assessment of the ground realities. Emotionalism and illusions can only lead to disastrous consequences. In our present situation, it makes little sense to jump from the frying pan into the fire.
The writer is a former ambassador.

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