Isolation looms in pursuit of ‘strategic depth’

The anger in Pakistan over the deadly NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers is justified but in its wake it has led to some unwise decisions being taken by our government and military leadership. In the midst of conflicting claims by the US-led NATO forces and Pakistan in the shape of accusations and counter-accusations, Pakistan has refused to cooperate in the investigations. If the foreign troops provided wrong information about the area of operation to Pakistani officials, it must be thoroughly investigated by both sides why such a huge mistake was made in the first place. By refusing to cooperate, Pakistan is losing its chance to press its point. Not only that, the decision to not participate in the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan, whether advertently or inadvertently, our leadership is giving an impression that it does not want to settle the Afghan issue but might want to take it in another direction altogether. If the international community and regional stakeholders reach a decision at the Bonn Conference, though unlikely, it may turn out that they will not consider Pakistan to be a peace partner. In that case, Pakistan may come out looking like an enemy. There is already a perception that we are not part of the solution but rather part of the problem. Boycotting the Bonn Conference may well lead to solidifying this view. In the end, if this perception grows internationally, we will be tipped into isolation.

The Pakistan Army is already accused of supporting and backing the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. We may well be facing sanctions and aid cuts in the precarious position of being charged by the world community with supporting terrorism. Thus, Pakistan’s future looks bleak in such an eventuality. Instead of non-cooperation, here is our chance to present our side of the story to the world if our civilian leadership chooses to participate in the Bonn Conference. Granted that the civilian government is more or less helpless in stopping the military top brass from engaging in its disastrous strategic depth policy in Afghanistan, but it should not raise the risks by not being part of a discussion on Afghanistan’s future. Pakistan’s military also needs to get its act together and stop pretending that its policies have benefitted the country. Conquest by proxy wars must be ended if we are to survive as a nation. In their bid to bleed its archenemy, India, the military top brass has not only damaged Pakistan’s reputation but has led to senseless violence both in and outside the country. We must not forget that such policies are fraught with the threat of international isolation.

There is another worrying dimension to the NATO attack. The refusal to offer a concrete apology to Pakistan by the US administration shows that the Americans have lost patience and will not tolerate our double game any longer. It shows that the hardliners have seemingly won the debate in the US and also means that there could be more such deadly incursions in the future. In order to avoid such a confrontational attitude, Pakistan must think rationally and the Afghans must be allowed to determine their own future without having to constantly worry about Pakistan’s activities in their country. Peace can only prevail if we end our ‘games’ and scrap the strategic depth policy.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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