Half Measures or Paradigm Shift

Pakistan faces multiple challenges at home and abroad. There are indications that General Pervez Musharraf understands the risks. But is he prepared to bring his tactical moves in sync with his strategic perception? The answer to that question is likely to decide the future of Pakistan. At the moment, that answer is vague.

Like a good tactician, General Musharraf has changed course many times since he took over in October 1999. He began with his 7-point agenda. This was an after-thought to justify the coup d’état, but most Pakistanis were prepared to suspend disbelief and give him a chance. It was when he started to reconstruct the system, his main objective being to give the military a formal share in power, that this agenda was reduced to a mockery.

Initially, too, his rough foreign policy edges were fairly chiselled. His Agra overture to India, his decision on September 13, 2001, to ally with the United States, even his handling of the 10-month-long standoff with India were impressive. Recently, reports of his conversation with editors at Lahore’s Governor’s House indicate he also understands the growing risks facing Pakistan.

Relations with India remain low with that country taking full advantage of Pakistan’s troubles. The impending US war on Iraq is likely to have its domestic and regional fallout. The ghost of North Korea refuses to go away. The extremists remain a threat to the security and integrity of the country and the country’s image continues to plunge. But most importantly, like Pakistan’s Afghan policy, its India policy has been called into question because of developments since September 11.

This is more than any country with Pakistan’s size and resources would like to have on its plate. Of course, this list does not even begin to discuss the military’s domestic agenda, a major problem in and of itself and, in many ways, linked to what the country faces on the external front.

Having understood the risks, what is General Musharraf’s response? This is where the problem begins. General Musharraf has evinced the ability to appreciate problems, even to sidestep them deftly, but he has yet to demonstrate the ability to solve them as the situation demands. As a result, he is given to half-measures at every turn. Consider.

After he made Pakistan change tack on Afghanistan and turned the Mujahideen in Afghanistan into “terrorists,” he continued to call the ones in Kashmir “freedom fighters.” But the December 13 attack on India’s parliament house put paid to that. The issue is not whether the Mujahideen were or are “terrorists” or “freedom fighters”; this is neither a moral nor a semantic debate. This is a policy issue and relates to the logic of General Musharraf’s own course change. Has a certain policy run its course? If it has, what would be the cost of not changing it even as a new course would throw up its own costs? A general rule would be that the more delayed the response to a “bad” policy the higher the cost of not only running it but also of an ultimate change of course.

Change of course on Afghanistan was obviously to bring the Mujahideen into disrepute on both sides. But General Musharraf refused initially to heed the logic of his own September 13 about-face on the Afghan policy. He understood the risk in relation to continuing that policy, but misperceived the changed nature of the international environment that had rendered pursuit of Afghan/Kashmir policies dangerous. There is also the likelihood he thought he could put the heat on India more effectively while playing along with the US. He was clearly riled at the point, with reason, by India’s overt attempts to isolate Pakistan and take advantage of September 11 (hence his angry “lay-off India” remark).

Resultantly, there was no paradigm shift in relation to India. Stung by New Delhi’s somersault, he failed to see that the September 13 logic had to work both ways. There was also the internal dimension: changing course on Afghanistan meant less control over the militant groups. That in any case would have worked ultimately to Pakistan’s disadvantage. Partly the half measure is also owed to constraints of organizational behaviour.

As Scott Sagan has pointed out in relation to proliferation and deterrence, Organizations are often myopic: instead of surveying the entire environment for information, organization members undertake biased searches “often becom[ing] fixated on the operational means to the ends and lose focus on the overall objectives.”

Thus General Musharraf has not entirely been able to break free of the security culture that has evolved in Pakistan and whose evolution in many ways is owed to the military’s own appreciation of the world and the “security threats” to Pakistan. This is why while we have seen adjustments and calibrations, there is no paradigm shift in sight. Adjustments have meant lowering temperature, tightening screws, suspending operations, lying low etc. This has meant making commitments and then being unable to deliver on them—at least entirely. That in turn has meant less and less credibility.

Given General Musharraf’s own sense of the risks involved, it is surprising that he should have clung to the old paradigm. Indeed if the risks are as he has described them, nothing less than a complete shift in the security paradigm is called for. That would mean looking at security from a different perspective, developing and employing a new framework.

India will not make it easy for Pakistan, partly because it has no immediate reason to review its Pakistan policy and partly because it is undergoing internal changes that are likely to impact it and the region negatively and in many ways are responsible for its Pakistan policy. The important point for Pakistan—and this is the corollary of General Musharraf’s own correct “Pakistan-first” approach—is that it needs a new framework for its security: not only in terms of its perception of threats but also the responses to those threats. The logic of such a course emanates from within; it cannot be made hostage to external developments or their interpretation on the basis of perception-biases begotten of the old paradigm. The reference point for the shift has to be Pakistan itself.