The South Asia Channel

The ultimate measure of success in this war is the security of the Pakistani people

The ultimate measure of success in this war is the security of the Pakistani people

Something strange is afoot among the Pakistani body politic and military establishment. If you’ve been reading reports and blogs, you would think the war was over, and that Afghanistan, India, and the U.S. lost (do I really need to spell out who won?). With a post-U.S. withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan looming, our strategic mavens seem to be on the road to securing what they conceive of as Pakistan’s national interests, and ensuring considerable leverage and influence in Afghanistan. It’s come to the point where Hamid Karzai, no friend of Pakistan, summed it up thus: "India is a close friend of Afghanistan but Pakistan is a brother of Afghanistan. Pakistan is a twin brother … we’re conjoined twins, there’s no separation." How times have changed.

This state of affairs has meant that we get unnamed sources within the military establishment saying things like "We hold all the cards," talking about securing a "strategic coup…against rising Indian influence in Afghanistan", all the while continuing to make territorial gains against the TTP in the tribal areas. All of this reflects a rising confidence and sense of satisfaction with the status quo and the trajectory of events in the region in the short and medium term.

While I would love to share this smugness, there’s a slight problem: you see, Pakistan keeps suffering terrorist attacks. To be sure, there are peaks (this past week, and the two month period of October-November 2009) and valleys (first two months of this year) in the levels of violence, but no sane, rational observer would say that the threat of indiscriminate violence against Pakistani citizens has dissipated in any meaningful way.

Ultimately, this is what matters most. The job of the political and military leadership is not to secure "Pakistan’s interests" — whatever they may be — in Afghanistan. Such language bears an uncanny resemblance to the neoimperialism that both our right and left so vociferously denounce when it originates from the West. No, the job of our political and military leadership is to ensure a robust, but by no means perfect, level of safety for its citizens, so that they can go about their daily lives. It’s pretty simple.

This does not mean, of course, that one should expect or hope for success in a day, week, or month. I don’t think any fair-minded reader could accuse me of impatience with our efforts in this war. This is a long, hard slog, and will remain so for a while, unfortunately. But my central gripe is what those efforts seem to be geared toward, rather than immediate-term success or failure of said efforts. I would submit that the Pakistani public has paid a fairly steep price for the last time our brilliant strategic minds devised their regional adventures. One hopes they have learned their lesson.

Ahsan Butt is a PhD student in political science at the University of Chicago and contributes to the blog Five Rupees, where this was originally published.