Needed - a truer war against terror post the killing of Osama Bin Laden
Srinivasan Ramani, Newsclick , May 8, 2011
Acres of news space has been devoted to the finding and the ultimate killing of wanted fugitive and global terrorist, Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad in Pakistan. Everywhere the same question is being asked - how did the Pakistan security apparatus manage to keep the most wanted terrorist in safe haven in an area close to its capital hoodwinking seekers from the United States for nearly a decade. But the more important question seems to be seldom asked - what on earth was the Pakistan security establishment's calculus in providing safe haven at all to the likes of Osama Bin Laden?
The quick answer however is not too hard to fathom. As security analyst Brahma Chellaney says in The Hindu, the penetration of jihadi elements in the Pakistani military establishment and the nation's espionage unit, the ISI has been to the extent of full entrenchment and it is to no surprise that even the hotly pursued terrorist and leader of the Al Qaeda was provided full backing in his hide and seek game. Chellaney also correctly points out to the supremacy of the military establishment in Pakistan to set strategic and foreign policy initiatives, effectively allowing it to be immune to civilian government's protestations - if they were any in any case. And he also finishes the story with the more important aspect - of the failure of the US' own "carrot and stick" policy vis-a-vis Pakistan; the cultivation of the Pakistani military as the main interlocutor in US-Pakistan relations and the refusal to allow breathing space to the civilian establishment when it attempted to make the ISI accountable to the government. That is a good quick answer. But it fails to answer the more "substantive" why. Why does the US, embroiled for more than a decade in the ideological "Clash of Civilisations" feel it necessary to provide enough carrots in its engagement with Pakistan? Why hasn't the civilian government denounced in clear and present terms - the very apparent jihadi role and presence in the Pakistani security apparatus? How has Osama Bin Laden managed to retain a degree of protection from the Pakistani security establishment despite it being engaged in a war of attrition against the Pakistani equivalent of the Taliban? And that too despite the multiple attacks from the "non-mainstream extremists" in Pakistan at the security establishment itself? And so on.Conventional tools of geopolitics do not look deeper into the larger manifestations of internal political dynamics in that country beyond rough constructions of the "good and the bad". Let me explain. From Chellaney and others, you will get a good picture of what short term interests guide American policy in Pakistan and why the calculus of this short term interest set determines why the US prefers to continue the status quo despite the Pakistan security establishment providing material support to its greatest adversary of the last decade. How the US needs to use Pakistan as a transit point for continuing its war in Afghanistan, use the country's resources to fight "terrorist" elements from within that country and continue its strong military-military relationship to answer its short term concerns in south and west Asia.
They would also quickly show you who the protagonists are from within the Pakistani ruling classes who prefer to continue this game of hoodwinking the US into providing them with enough carrots for a country that suffers from an abysmal tax to GDP ratio. And as to explaining the Pakistani strategic aims, they would tell you how the establishment would want to continue its policies of yester-decade in Afghanistan - using the influence it created through the Taliban to give it a permanent strategic heft in that otherwise barren but drug trade influenced economy nation. Or indeed as to how it is rational for the "Scotch-whisky sipping" Pakistani generals to puppeteer the "mullahs", effective as they are in giving Pakistan a geostrategic influence on Kashmir and in keeping intact its closeness with Wahabi Saudi Arabia and the sheikdoms of west Asia.
And therefore the solution they would offer from this "rut" would be to suggest a state based response - for the US to ramp up its "sticks" - "sanctions and stepped up drone attacks" as Chellaney calls them; for India to engage in a form of diplomacy that sharply delineates a difference between the civilian and the military establishment in Pakistan; for heightening a security response and readiness to the "Pakistan problem" and so on. I would argue that none of these would be very effective as the questions answered by the "geopolitical specialists" are too minimalistic as to explain the "problem".
Firstly, it is in the character of the US to want to pursue a set of strategic aims which despite nuantic differences, are basically from a similar mould across various kinds of executive presidencies in that country. It has always been in the US' strategic interest to kill nationalistic, secular, progressive regimes in countries with Muslim majority populations and replace them either with authoritarian, pro-imperialist lackeys (Suharto in Indonesia, the Shah in Iran, support for Hosni Mubarak and so on) or indeed "mainstream political Islamists" (of the Wahabbi kind in Saudi Arabia, lets say) or even "non-mainstream extremists" (support for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against communist rule which in one way created the Osama phenomenon; overt support for the Taliban as well for a point of time in Afghan war history and so on). For years, the US influence in Muslim dominated nations has been destabilising, regressive, anti-democratic but remarkably consistent with strategic goals that has suited the plutocrats who have circulated in power in that country representing the admixture of the highest stages of capitalism and military power.
It is therefore not surprising that short-term or long term, the US perceives the Pakistan ruling class to be a stable ally - irrespective of the problems that have cropped up vis-a-vis the "war on terror". How else would one explain the fact that the US launched a major war in Afghanistan against the then Taliban ruled nation, instituted regime change and embroiled that nation in a prolonged civil war, numerous civilian deaths, and so on on the pretext that the Taliban provided safe haven to Osama Bin Laden; but has merely limited its frustration and angst with Pakistan's harbouring of Osama Bin Laden to diplomatic undertones and loaded statements? Or that the US actually went to war with Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, attacked that country with pretexts based on lies and hyperbole, and destroyed that country's economy, let it mired in civilian strife for more than a decade despite no evidence of Al Qaeda having any link with ruling circles in that country. It serves the US ruling classes' interests to continue its business interests - Big Oil in particular, that of the military industry complex, the Israel-lobby dominated finance capital in that country to keep its ties with regimes in west Asia from chief strategic ally, Israel, to other partners such as the Saudi regime, Pakistan and others. This also explains the US' schizophrenic response to the popular pro-democracy uprisings in the Arab world - at one level, the US has supported efforts to control and even crush them in nations where the ruling classes are fervent allies of the US such as in Bahrain, while it has supported intervention to promote a somewhat dubious current from within such uprisings as seen in Libya.
As for the illusion that the civilian government in Pakistan could emerge as a stanchion for democratic voices against the military and the security establishment in that country; it is what it is - an illusion. As Ayesha Siddiqa would tell you, the deep nexus between business and the military in that country - what she calls, MILBUS provides the military establishment with a preponderant say in the running of Pakistan. The MILBUS itself managed to entrench itself by support from "political Islam", an alliance that was stitched with strong seams during Zia Ul Haq's rule. The civilian leadership at the same time, is dominated by political units scraped out of a deeply feudal structure. The best that this civilian leadership can do to counter the Islamist fundamentalist base that is actively encouraged by the MILBUS is to compromise. That was evident in the manner the civilian leadership reacted to the "blasphemy" issue, the assassinations of liberal political leaders, the attacks on minority institutions and places of worship and feeble responses to military schemes that have halted any move for making it accountable to the civilian leadership. At one level, there exists a seemingly conflictual relationship between the "political Islam" base that props up and is propped by the Pakistan military and US imperialism which is a strategic ally of the military establishment. And it results in conflagrations such as the Raymond Davis affair now and then. But the Pakistani military has found a way as it has in the past to hedge this conflictual relationship. At times, they seemed to draw a line between the anti-US and the anti-Indian jihadi forces (as if there remained such a distinction in the first place). But when such a line was too impossible to draw at all, the military has turned on a clear hoodwinking game, accepting US aid to arm itself against the purported threat of the Pakistani Taliban while providing enough support to the Quetta shura that hosts the Afghan Talibani leadership. And despite action against Osama Bin Laden, recent strategic moves from the US suggest a compromise with the Afghan Taliban - expressed in the "engage with the good Taliban" strategy that increasingly seems to have a resonance within NATO.
So what is it that can be done in the medium and long term to address this almost unsalvageable situation? For one, the onus is on the Pakistani public to emulate their counterparts in the Arab world in effecting systemic change in Pakistan's polity. A positive step was made when dictatorial rule by the Machiavellian Pervez Musharraf was brought to an end partly by peoples' praxis, seen in the pro-democratic lawyers' movement among others. But that step was never taken to the logical conclusion, even if baby steps towards addressing structural issues in Pakistan were brought about - better federalisation and decentralisation of power for example. The Gordian knot tying Islamism and governance, a legacy of the Zia Ul Haq past, however has never been untied or even attempted to being untied. Unless this happens, expecting any degree of shift in strategic policy and structure of the Pakistan security establishment is nearly futile. Howmuchsoever the Indian political establishment tries its utmost to engage with the civilian leadership, no substantive change is bound to happen unless the aforementioned structural changes are effected by democratic praxis. The secular progressive section of the Pakistani polity is however limited - the Left is practically decimated but still heroically tries to function in a hostile environment; the liberals are cut off from mass politics generally and conservatism generally rules the roost.
Expecting the US to alter its strategy vis-a-vis Pakistan thereby effecting a geopolitical shift against jihadi forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan is also quite futile. Irrespective of Osama's death, the Frankenstein monster that is jihadi terrorism which was watered and given life to by the US decades ago, is still sustained by the mis-steps of US imperialism and the US' geopolitical strategy in the west Asian and south Asian regions. A true "regionalisation of the region" - a getting together of all nations in the immediacy of south and west Asia, equally affected and threatened by jihadi terror in providing regional security and succour to war ravaged Afghanistan and an isolation of the military dominated establishment in Pakistan is the only way out. That would require at the formal level the getting together of India, China, Russia, the central Asian nations, Iran, in alliance with the progressive regimes that are bound to come to power in the Maghreb to act in cohesion against "non-mainstream extremism" represented by the likes of the Al Qaeda and "mainstream authoritarian political Islam" as articulated and seen in the GCC.
The expectations of such a getting together are founded on difficult assumptions - nations such as China and India would have to learn to develop a less conflictual strategic relationship - difficult as Indian foreign policy has tended to bandwagon with US interests in the region and has in a way attempted to "balance Chinese power", besides of course political differences because of longstanding border problems and the likes between these two most populous nations. China, has also irrationally decided to continue its not-a-fair-weather “strategic” friendship with the Pakistani military hegemonised leadership. It is therefore essential that individually within these nations themselves, a greater democratisation and progressivism involving greater agency from the people themselves need to be effected in tandem.
The long and short of it is that the true fight against "terror" is interlinked and entwined in the fight against authoritarianism, feudalism and most importantly, imperialism; both from without and from within. It is not as easy and simple formulaic as our "pragmatists" and “strategic experts” make it out to be.