This week the United States placed Pakistan on list of countries ‘of particular concern’ on religious tolerance and freedom. The state department in a congressionally mandated report pushed Pakistan a notch down from the watch list to blacklist, completing the process that would require the administration to take measures to ensure the religious rights and freedom is guaranteed. The move places Pakistan alongside China, North Korea, Iran, Eriteria and others.
Interestingly the action is taken after Pakistan was seen to have taken steps to ease the pressure by acquitting Christian death row prisoner Aasia Bibi who was under detention for nine years on blasphemy charges and had moved to detain firebrand cleric Khadim Rizvi who is widely believed to have military’s support. Then why now?
The answer is simple. The US and the rest of the free world doesn’t see these measures as a fundamental shift in state’s (read military’s) policy of promoting, protecting, financing and harbouring extremists to achieve short-term and long-term goals at home and abroad. The relationship is too deep and intertwined. The fusion of military and mullah is embedded in a way that the line is often blurred and both actors are sometimes seen to act in each other’s interests. It didn’t start or end with Afghan Jihad as is often perceived. It has its roots that extends far back to the early days of military domination in the country that started in early 1950s. Whenever, military wanted to achieve its ill-conceived and botched foreign policy goals especially vis-à-vis India it used mullahs to do their bidding.
Afghan Jihad brought in heavy dose of dollars into the mix. And the relations moved from ideological and transactional to economic and permanent one. And here we are now trying to figure out how to untangle the two. It would be hard because now the mullah has become military and military has become mullah. Since the US always had a ring-side seat to this mullah-military pageant so what it would mean now to blacklist Pakistan and what, if any, goals it can achieve.
- A) It can certainly put pressure on Pakistan to refrain from toeing its old policy of using extremists against neighbours like India and Afghanistan.
- B) Sends out a strong message to military that the US is not looking the other way anymore and there would be even grave consequences
- C) Can provide a space to new Pakistani government and its military backers to act against the extremists and Jihadis with full force if it wants to
- D) Can hold the military and the civilian dispensation accountable if the state continues its old practices because the report binds the administration to make sure religious extremism is brought down
Now to the basic and fundamental question of whole debate. Would military as an institution be willing to cut its ties with Mullah cleanly and permanently. And the more vital question. Can it do it even if it wants to?
The answer to both the questions is NO. One, ever since Afghan Jihad, the military has regional geo-political designs. They see themselves as guardians of ideology of state which no one knows what it is but roughly it mandates a permanent subjugation of India and keeping Afghanistan as a client state. Though both goals are fool’s paradise but over the years these have become focal points where most of the institutional strength of military agrees. Also the policy in the past had given rich financial dividends in form of US dollars and Saudi Riyals so it would be very hard to convince the rank and file that it’s time to move on. As in the absence of these two objectives the entire foundation of military influence would be questioned both at home and abroad.
Two, Pakistani military policymakers are clearly divided on direction to take and on the basic founding principle of their reason to exist. If India is not enemy and Afghanistan can be a friendly trading partner then who would they run proxy wars against? What would be the reason for controlling the entire state and its finances and who would be the sponsor of new ideology, if any.
Three, the radicalization and extremism injected and spread in society by the military has grown into a monster now. It is not going back to its shell on beck and call. It can threaten its creator now. So the chance that they would listen to their masters against their own economic and political interests are very low.
Designating Pakistan on the blacklist is a right thing to do but it won’t bring any fundamental change. Because this is not how the state of Pakistan works. – Ends