An Un-Pakistan-Like Pakistan

So, while a ‘hue and cry’ is being raised in Kashmir by ‘a few’ who chose not to go to their places of work or business or ply their trade on the day various ‘separatist parties’ had called for a shutdown over the issue of ‘Composite Townships’ across the Line of (no) Control, there has been a most peculiar development.

Pakistan has stopped behaving like Pakistan.

In the most surprising of events in the recent, chequered, and often violent, history of Pakistan, the State of Pakistan decided to remain ‘Neutral,’ in a regional conflict in the Middle East, despite being badgered into sending, ‘warships, planes, and soldiers,’ to Saudi Arabia for the ‘protection of the territorial integrity of the Kingdom.’ It turned down the request. Pakistan, which has a history of being involved in Middle East conflicts at the behest of the rulers, decided to think clearly for the first time in decades, and take a strong stand. After a long while, the representatives of Pakistan have given the long-term, strategic interests of Pakistan a fillip. Pakistan will no longer be the mercenary of the Middle East, fighting wars which it has no business fighting.

The factors driving the request for Pakistani troops are easy to understand. The Pakistani Army, along with sections of the United States Army, is the most battle-hardened military in the world today. It has effectively been in a state of alert since 1999, and more so since 2001, in the aftermath of the Parliament Attack in Delhi. It has been at war since 2003, when it began operations to prevent the entry of retreating Taliban from Afghanistan. and it has seen the worst fighting since June 2014, when operations to end Taliban (TTP) militancy began in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. The Army has learnt fighting techniques in the rugged mountain terrain of the Hindu Kush, the deserts of Baluchistan, the urban sprawl of Karachi, and the fields of Punjab. Thoroughly professional, with a recently-acquired air of ruthlessness about it, the Pakistan Army has been fighting for self-preservation, and the survival of Pakistan itself. It would the greatest asset to any nation to have soldiers of this Army fight its wars – and that’s what the Saudi-led coalition wanted – but could not get.

Rightly so. Since the end of Saddam Hussein’s rule, there is no buffer state to prevent the spread of Iranian influence, sometimes negative, in the Middle East. Propped up by the US and funded by the Gulf States until the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq, had acted as a bulwark to prevent expansionist Iran from retaking the holy Shia sites in Southern Iraq. All that changed in 2003. Iraq has collapsed. And it has taken with it Syria, Lebanon, Libya, and now Yemen – all areas where the Shias and the Sunnis had lived together for centuries, carrying only occasional grudges, but are now in open mutual hostility. Saudi Arabia needs the balance to be corrected, or risks an uprising in its Shia-dominated provinces in the East. But getting involved in a conflict that is bound to become sectarian in the future is not in Pakistan’s interest. It would be its doom.

For the first time in years, Pakistan has a friendly regime in Kabul, maintains some cordiality with India, and is on good terms with Iran – a state of temporary peaceful terms with its immediate neighbours. Involvement in the Yemen conflict would sap its Army, bring schisms to its population, and downgrade its relations with Iran, which, in turn, would have serious repercussions in Afghanistan. Pakistan could implode.

The Pakistani media, civil society, government, and the Army have found a rare, common position – that Pakistan will not fight a sectarian war. And the manner in which this decision was arrived at, by debates on TV, the print media, in the Parliament, and by a visible, international effort to attempt to broker a deal in Yemen, is exemplary. If such foresight becomes more common in Pakistan, its future is likely to be brighter than its past.