Obama’s sleepless night over Pakistan

Obama's sleepless night over Pakistan

By Rajiv Dogra,  (served as India’s consul general in Karachi and as ambassador to Romania and Italy)

Actor George Clooney recalls in an interview in the December 2012 issue ofEsquire magazine: I talked with the president (Obama) at one of those fundraisers some months back, and I asked him, “What keeps you up at night?” And he said, “Everything. Everything that gets to my desk is a critical mass”. If it gets to my desk, then no one else could have handled it”. So I said, “So what’s the one that keeps you up at night?” He goes, “There are quite a few”. So I go, “What’s the one? Period”. And he says, “Pakistan”.

Do Indian leaders lose any sleep because of Pakistan? There is nothing in the public domain to suggest that they do. However, one thing is certain, and it is this that Indian leaders lose no opportunity in convincing the world at large that they have no ill will towards Pakistan, and that a prosperous and stable Pakistan is in India’s interest. They also go on to say that they would do all they can to help promote stability in Pakistan.

How exactly will they help, and what form India’s help would assume, is never clarified. Nor is the fact taken into consideration that help by India would be seen as the kiss of death for anyone in Pakistan who receives or agrees to receive such assistance, be it a political party or an individual.

Political scientist and economist Francis Fukuyama wrote in his book State Building, “Weak and failing states have become the single most important problem for international order”. Fukuyama may or may not have had Pakistan in view as the perfect model for his conclusion, but the vast body of international writing on Pakistan has consistently maintained that Pakistan is weak as a society and failing as a state.

There is no indication so far that Pakistan would, at any identifiable future date, be able to put in place a system that delivers efficiently and reasonably transparently. Nor is there any sign that the massive effort required to industrialise the country is about to begin in the immediate future. Without the necessary wherewithal of job creation, the large numbers of unemployed youth will take the only option available to them. And that is the path of terror. There is no antidote that India can provide to prevent that from happening.

In fact, India’s equanimity in the face of a very grim situation surprises observers. The US worries endlessly about a nuclear bomb that Iran is nowhere close to possessing. It fought two wars with Iraq on the suspicion that there were weapons of mass destruction in its basement. The US’ treatment of Libya bordered on impetuous brutality despite the fact that it had already forced Muammar Gaddafi to dismantle the nuclear process that was still in a nascent stage. And the US keeps worrying about the trigger-happy Pakistani generals and their arsenal of hundred-plus nuclear bombs. But the US sits thousands of kilometers away, well out of the reach of Pakistan’s nuclear delivery systems.

So, is Obama right to have sleepless nights over Pakistan? Given all the information at his disposal, he may have many reasons to be worried. A principal one could be the unpredictability of the Pakistani generals. No one is denying the fact that they are solid, professional army men. But if they can commit atrocities of the type they did in Bangladesh, and continue to do in Balochistan, and if they gloat over 9/11 and 26/11, who and what can stop an angry general from ordering a nuclear strike?

When a general decides to reach for the nuclear trigger he will not aim it towards the distant US, but at a convenient target nearby. Yet India sits comfortably. It has also given Pakistan the additional assurance of a no first strike. That’s good and that’s decent neighbourly behaviour. It is also one more way of making Pakistan feel safe and stable. But what if some extremist were to get hold of a nuclear weapon in Pakistan? Or, what if a general were to get very angry?

As former Pakistan ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani writes in his book Pakistan between Mosque and Military: “Of all the countries in the world where terror breeds, Pakistan is the only state that actively sponsors it as a long-term instrument of state policy, and as a matter of strategic choice. It is also the only such state that is nuclear armed and uses the threat of that weapon as a deterrent to support its terror activities”.

There, then, is a very real doomsday scenario, not so much for the rest of the world as for the easy-to-reach and a decidedly desirable target called India. Yet, the Indian leadership rests peacefully at night.

I remember a friend in Karachi recalling for me a conversation he had the previous evening on a flight from Islamabad. He was seated next to the foreign minister of Pakistan who happened to know him well. In the course of a long conversation he asked the minister what his greatest wish was during his ministerial tenure. The minister stretched both his hands in front of him, opened his palms facing skywards and said, “If God were to grant me a wish I would ask him to place a nuclear bomb each on my palms”. Then, with a satisfied smile, he turned his palms downwards and added, “One I would drop on Bombay, the other on Delhi”.