It is impossible to effectively address Pakistanâ€™s myriad problems so long as security conditions continue to deteriorate. We are unable to control our own territory as armed militias and criminal gangs run amok in our cities, towns and villages.
Sectarian violence is growing unabated. Business is fearful and the economy in tatters. Many of those with resources are making plans to migrate. Meanwhile, terrorist organisations freely launch attacks at home and abroad, with the government unable to provide security even in the capital.
Since we have sunk to this point mostly during Gen Musharrafâ€™s nine years in power, it is time to re-examine the fundamental security strategy of Pakistan.
For decades the army has functioned under the increasingly questionable assumption that the greatest threat the country faces is a military confrontation with India. The armed services have accordingly consumed great proportions of Pakistanâ€™s tight budget ($4.4bn for fiscal year 2008-2009, a seven per cent increase over the previous year) in preparation and readiness for a conventional war that they cannot win. As part of the same strategic objective, in the hopes of keeping large numbers of Indian troops (close to 700,000 at last count) occupied in Indian-held Kashmir, the army allegedly trained fundamentalist militant groups and encouraged them to wage attacks there.
At the same time, it is alleged that our military and intelligence establishment trained and supported the Taliban in Afghanistan with the purpose of having a friendly government on the western border over which Pakistan could exercise its influence (all part of the dubious policy of â€˜strategic depthâ€™ in case of a war with India). Of course, the predictable blowback from these operations has resulted in the current state of near-complete lawlessness in large parts of the country, as well as every province being awash in weapons.
Have any strategic goals been reached? No. Is the Kashmir problem any closer to a solution? No. Do we have a friendly government on our western border? No. What we have achieved is an insecure and crumbling state that could well become a pariah in the international community.
We have already demonstrated we possess a credible nuclear deterrent and must realise that we hurt only ourselves by imagining India as an enemy hell-bent on our destruction. India is a fast-growing economic giant, focused on lifting itself out of poverty. It has little to gain from any attempts to capture Pakistani territory and everything to gain by having a stable and prosperous neighbour as a trading partner. The Kashmir issue can and should be resolved through diplomatic pressure and international support.
In any case, we must ask ourselves whether the well-being of 170 million Pakistanis can be forever held hostage to the fate and future of the Muslim community in Indian-held Kashmir, especially after more than 60 years of support has not improved the situation for them one jot, but has led to disastrous results for us.
The present danger to Pakistan comes from the lawlessness and terrorism in the country and the governmentâ€™s inability to effectively project authority and guarantee the safety of its citizens. Jihadist organisations with foreign funding appear to have joined hands with the Taliban and their sympathisers to wreak havoc in the country with their ultimate retrograde dream of creating a mediaeval society where a draconian interpretation of the Sharia is enforced, women kept as chattel and modernity and progress defeated.
Some of these groups are determined to attack and intimidate, if not eliminate, religious minorities. Then, we have the heavily armed militias affiliated with political parties. Finally, there are the criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking, kidnapping, carjacking, extortion, armed robbery and murder.
The idea that the army can somehow defend the country against this lawlessness is ludicrous. How can the armoured corps help fight sectarian car-bombings in Karachi? How will yet another squadron of F-16 aircraft defeat the drug smugglers in Lahore? How does the infantry do the detective work necessary to bring kidnappers and carjackers to justice? How can the army deal with the creators of mayhem that are thoroughly dispersed within our population, in every town and every city? It cannot. Yet the armed forces consume a hugely disproportionate share of Pakistanâ€™s federal budget.
So, here is my suggestion: reduce the size of the Pakistan armed forces by a third, and use the money saved to dramatically increase the police budget. Currently defence spending is 20 per cent of the federal budget, while slightly over one per cent is spent on policing. This move will allow at least a six- to seven-fold increase in the police budget. Give our brave police the salary, equipment, training and manpower they need to bring law and order back to our cities and towns. They are the ones paying the highest price in terms of lives, and they are the only ones with a chance of controlling the proliferation of weapons and our epidemic of crime and terrorism.
Explain the decision candidly to our neighbours, refuse to be drawn into a no-first-strike nuclear policy and make a security pact with the United States to deter any hostile actions by India. It is in both those nationsâ€™ interest that Pakistan be stable and well-policed. This will also have the salutary effect of significantly reducing corruption in the country, and will result in an atmosphere of security and justice in which healthcare and education can be delivered effectively, and business can start dealing with the challenges of the 21st century economy.