Pakistan must Stand Up for itself


"Reducing dependence on US and West is as critical as revamping its security and intelligence infrastructure: 
Tariq Osman Hyder 

Extremists and terrorists project the Pakistani armed forces as American surrogates to justify violence and generate sympathy. Civilians, who bear the brunt of such terrorist attacks, blame both the government and military for sacrificing them to its pro-US policy.
The American intrusion into Pakistani territory to kill Osama Bin Laden has created the internal consensus that Pakistan needs to put its house in order, improve internal security and manage relations with the US, India and Afghanistan while respecting public opinion.
The attack on the naval airbase in Karachi on Sunday — costing valuable lives and destroying vital defence assets — does not change these imperatives but underlines the fact that the security apparatus needs drastic improvement.
The American occupation of Afghanistan, their refrain that Pakistan do more in the war on terror, augmented drone strikes and avowals to repeat intrusions for high-value targets suspected to be in Pakistan, all erode support for the Pakistani government and the armed forces.
Extremists and terrorists project the Pakistani armed forces as American surrogates to justify violence and generate sympathy. Civilians, who bear the brunt of such terrorist attacks, blame both the government and military for sacrificing them to its pro-US policy.
India exacerbates the situation by demanding that Pakistan tackle terrorism more effectively while denying it the space to do so, with its military projecting aggressive doctrines and claiming an ability to mount incursions into Pakistan.
One hopes that America and India realise the counter-productivity of their attitudes and actions which clearly contradict their proclaimed objective of a stable Pakistan. However, Pakistan has to deal with the situation as it is, not as it should be.
Many steps should be taken on the security front. Escalating terrorist attacks on the armed and security forces aim to demoralise, discredit and destabilise. No doubt, foreign funding plays an important part. However, this does not absolve the government and its security institutions from taking radical action to reverse Pakistan's soft state image.
The management, control and data collection of people and money entering Pakistan and within Pakistan must be undertaken by utilising the existing National Database and Registration Authority infrastructure.
American and Afghan demands that infiltration from Pakistan be curtailed, which in fact has become a two-way process, need to be met by fencing the Pakistan-Afghan border. Terrorists and criminals should be dealt with by strictly controlling the limited road routes into Pakistan.
Intelligence agencies everywhere tend not to share information; but the time has come for the Pakistani intelligence agencies and police, which have the largest footprint, to work effectively together. The Bin Laden episode and naval base attack reflect a major failure not just of the military intelligence agencies, but also of the civilian intelligence establishment and police.
All of them should be equally built up as counterweights for better future results. Often intelligence agencies are used as sinecures for retirees. As in other developing countries, police recruitment is frequently used to satisfy political quotas.
This needs to be changed. The intelligence agencies should be staffed largely by civilian officers with ability and integrity, retained for the duration of their careers, to create a dedicated capability. This would result in the military agencies' backbone being composed of career civilians rather than short term military officers.
The physical perimeter of all important facilities should be increased wherever possible, and actual/electronic surveillance improved as was expected after the 2009 attack on Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Vulnerable facilities should be moved to less built-up areas as done elsewhere.
Apart from the need to revisit the entire security structure, there is the challenge for the government and the armed forces to take the people of Pakistan along. This requires revision of governance including foreign policy and economic assistance from abroad.
Without improving the economy through broadening the tax base, infrastructural development, better and widespread education and creating more jobs, growing popular discontent which feeds extremism and terrorism, will not be reversed.
As regards foreign policy, ‘leverage' is not all in American hands as long as they are in Afghanistan. While this factor should not be overestimated, the American, Nato and ISAF logistics supply chain goes largely overland through Pakistan and, what is forgotten, almost all air supplies use Pakistan's airspace. It is time that the air-transit facility was changed from block sanction to a flight-by-flight permission procedure as is done internationally.
Despite Pakistan's partial dependence on American military and economic assistance, a more independent position can be taken without confrontation. If the economy is improved, along with rising workers' remittances and higher wheat, rice and cotton harvests, Pakistan could wean itself away from American aid flows, likely to decline in any case due to the recession and renewed Congressional opposition; and from an IMF programme with restrictive conditions.
While combating terrorism, the government and the military should work in this direction, beyond institutional and party concerns. This is what Pakistanis expect and deserve.

By Tariq Osman Hyder, a retired Pakistani diplomat, Special to Gulf News.

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