By Ayesha Siddiqa
THE all-party conference on national security held recently in Islamabad has issued a firm resolution to deal with the situation after the attacks in Mumbai.
While sympathising with the victims of the attack, the leadership of the various political parties expressed concern at the Indian allegations and denied Pakistan's involvement in the attacks. The resolution is certainly the first step towards consolidating the state and bridging the gap between state and society as it is for meeting the threat of external pressure. However, the backdrop of the APC has raised more questions than what the political leadership was prepared for.
This is in reference to a report that quoted a military official at a press briefing as saying that from Baitullah Mehsud and Fazlullah to Jalaluddin Haqqani, the Taliban were in fact patriotic, and the problems that existed between these Taliban and the Pakistani state were actually based on miscommunication and misunderstanding. Had the concerned official studied diplomacy and international politics in greater depth, he would have realised that such a statement could be interpreted in numerous ways. Furthermore, the statement from the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) swearing allegiance to the Pakistani state that followed the official's observation is likely to raise greater suspicion in the international community.
And hadn't we been informed earlier that all these 'patriotic' warriors were in fact murdering Pakistan's people and its brave soldiers? Wasn't the popular perception in Pakistan that the military was now fighting the Taliban because they were being paid by the Indians and the American intelligence agencies? Or maybe we missed something.
Is there a possibility that these militants have suddenly changed their minds as a result of the jingoism of the Indian government and media in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks? How come we could not get them to change their minds earlier? These statements will certainly encourage India to abandon the bilateral negotiations route and make the Mumbai issue a multilateral affair in which case Pakistan is likely to face greater hardship than what the leadership attending the APC could have envisioned.
We could cry ourselves hoarse about a foreign conspiracy to finish Pakistan but it would not change the fact that Pakistan faces the threat of being internationally ostracised unless it begins to look inwards and institutionalises decision-making. In fact, the inward approach will not happen at all unless certain institutions are created and others strengthened.
This is not to suggest that Pakistan is admitting to some covert involvement in the Mumbai attacks but once its functionaries make statements that are sympathetic to elements fomenting trouble in Pakistan, people in the region, in fact worldwide, are bound to ask questions and point an accusing finger. Perhaps, the world also realises that arm-twisting client states works, especially if the patron does it. For instance, the Musharraf government capitulated to American pressure very fast after 9/11 despite the fact that none of the suicide bombers had anything to do with Pakistan.
Maybe the policymakers would like to consider the advice that the mounting pressure on Pakistan is linked to the absence of institutionalised decision-making. The political government takes decisions without consulting other political stakeholders, the intelligence agencies hold press conferences possibly without consulting the government, and the rest of Pakistan is unsure about what is happening.
Institutionalising national security decision-making does not require a national security council. But it does mean strengthening the cabinet committee for defence, empowering the defence ministry and civilianising it, and creating a national security advisory board. In the days after the Mumbai tragedy, the leaders of the two largest parties have listened to analysts with an array of perspectives.
It would also help the government to have an advisory board for national security on the pattern of the one in India. This would mean co-opting academics and experts from different fields to deliberate on issues, formulate advice and communicate the latter to the government. In India, for instance, the national security advisory board is comprised of committees looking at the nuclear proliferation issue, the environment and many other matters.
The purpose of such entities is to make government decision-making more informed. Various experts get together, debate an issue and come up with suggestions that the government can accept or reject after deliberations. This formula would allow all kinds of views and opinions of various stakeholders to be included in a process that would eventually result in a decision that could then be owned by most if not everyone. Institutionalising input in decision-making would help bridge the gaps that we find in Pakistan at the moment.
The absence of an institutionalised policymaking structure has not only resulted in mistakes by the new government in terms of not taking stakeholders on board, it has also exposed the elected government to a greater threat of internal instability. The gap between civil and military, which everyone wanted to ignore, has begun to resurface. In fact, the political government's eagerness to cooperate with Delhi is in stark contrast to the military's position. Both sides can be accused of not taking the other into total confidence.
Irrespective of the APC and the general public's resolve to fight external pressure, the fact of the matter is that the government would have to deal with greater force from outside. In the coming days, the world might not be too impressed with a position where Islamabad could redirect its forces from the western to the eastern border, especially if the GHQ and the TTP continue to show their fondness for each other.
The threat that Pakistan is facing after Mumbai is twofold: external and internal. Externally, there will be mounting pressure because such statements and India's position will make the world more suspicious of Pakistan's inclinations. There is already a perception that the country possibly lacks the will, capacity and intent to fight terrorism. More importantly, if the political government does not give some thought to its style of decision-making and governance, there is a possibility that various anti-democracy forces could win once again. Internally, we stand more exposed and vulnerable than ever before.
(Source: The Dawn, December 5, 2008)
The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.