AS the parliamentary debate on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security for resetting ties with the US finally gets under way, the Pakistani leadership — military, civilian, the government and opposition — has several important choices before it. What the parliamentary debate can do is set a new tone for a relationship that has stumbled badly and seemed on the verge of falling apart for much of the last year. The default option would be for each party’s parliamentary representatives to ritualistically beat up on the US for its sins of omission and commission, for its mistakes and arrogance and for its mistreatment of Pakistan over the last decade. Using criticism of the US to burnish political credentials inside Pakistan is an old tactic.
The smarter option would be to focus on the reality that time is running out on the US to find an orderly and dignified exit strategy in Afghanistan and the possibility that the US may be more willing to listen to well-intentioned and genuinely helpful advice from Pakistan. While the signs are that the US military is still resisting an accelerated drawdown and may even think the war is still winnable, the very different civil-military balance in the US means that it is more and more likely that good sense will prevail eventually. President Obama has no nation-building goals in Afghanistan and has resisted demands for extreme action against Pakistan. At the very least that offers some space for a sensible cooperative track between the US and Pakistan to be developed, even at this late stage.
Odd as it may sound, Pakistani policymakers may want to take a page from their American counterparts’ playbook. Here is the world’s only superpower headed for military defeat in a war it has accused Pakistan of helping undermine (something Pakistan denies). Here is also the world’s only superpower that has seen a major supply line to that war effort suspended for over three months by Pakistan. And yet the US administration has waited patiently for Pakistani policymakers to decide when they want to talk about how to reset ties with the US. Strategic patience, as the Americans refer to it, has been demonstrated because it is in the interests of the US to have a relationship with Pakistan. Pakistani policymakers should similarly try and put interests ahead of emotions in the days ahead
More schools destroyed
.WITH military claims that the battle against extremists in the northwest is meeting with success, certain optimistic circles think that militancy is being brought under control. This false sense of security should give way to a realistic view. The militants are very much present as evidenced in the coordinated attacks on schools at five different locations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Friday and Saturday. Explosive devices were set off at three boys’ schools in Dhoda and Zer Janu villages in Lakki Marwat district and in the Babozai area of Katlang tehsil in Mardan district; a government high school was destroyed in Khaddi village in Swabi district; and a primary school was blown up in the Kotangi Marchoongi area of Kohat district. While police have started investigation, the reality is that the extremists have been targeting educational institutions since the beginning of their campaign many years ago, and continue to do so.
The coordinated nature of the bombings demonstrates that despite security operations, the militant network remains strong. With the scope of their target increasing to include boys’ schools, the militants have proved that it is not merely girls’ education that they oppose, as some members of these outfits have claimed, but education — and development — in general. These attacks should constitute an urgent and renewed reminder to the administration that the threat posed by the militants is far from over. The military operations may have succeeded in clearing out certain pockets, but much more is needed to neutralise the whole network of militants. Meanwhile, the ANP-led administration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa must buttress the military’s efforts with an efficient civilian security apparatus. Attacks on ‘soft’ targets such as educational institutions are often opportunistic crimes (even though they fit into the militants’ overall strategy of terror and retrogression), which civilian forces such as the police with their knowledge of the area are better positioned to control. The only long-term solution lies in an effective civilian security network stepping in after the withdrawal of the military. Bringing a battle-hit area and populace back to normalcy is a complex and multifaceted task, but it must be undertaken urgently.
Indian defence budget
INDIA’S neighbours must be alarmed by yet another, sizeable rise in its defence budget — it has gone up to a whopping $38.6bn. Presenting the budget in parliament on Friday, Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the allocation was based “on the present needs” and that the government would meet any “further needs for the security of the nation”. The 17 per cent increase seeks to add to the nuclear and conventional military muscles of a country that already has one of the world’s largest armed forces. The budget allocates $17.5bn for capital expenditure, which is to go towards acquiring the most modern equipment for the three branches of the Indian military. Already having a nuclear triad, India is upgrading 51 Mirage 2000 fighter jets, is negotiating a $20bn deal with France for the purchase of 126 Rafale multi-role combat aircraft, working on a government-to-government agreement with the US for 145 ultra-light howitzers, and has ordered 49 new warships for the navy. Clearly, this phenomenal rise goes far beyond India’s legitimate security needs and adds to the neighbours’ concerns about New Delhi’s hegemonic ambitions.
India’s economic development should not make its policymakers oblivious to the needs of their people. Despite the rapid expansion of its middle class, India suffers from grinding poverty and has the world’s largest concentration of illiterate people. Besides, a very large number of its troops are bogged down in Kashmir because of New Delhi’s refusal to seek a peaceful solution to the problem. The hike in India’s military budget thus gives the wrong message to its neighbours and perpetuates tensions in South Asia. The neighbours’ concerns are not baseless, because India is not on the best of terms with them, and it has a history of military conflicts with Pakistan and China .