Old adages have a lot of wisdom. There’s one which says the proof of one’s intelligence is that one learns from the mistakes of others. Ordinary people learn from their own mistakes. But, knaves and fools don’t learn even from their own mistakes.
Pakistan in its tortured history of a deeply divided nation has made some horrible mistakes but hardly learnt any lesson from any of them.
The most grievous national blunder was Pakistan’s truncation in 1971 that birthed Bangladesh as a sovereign state. The tragedy hit Pakistan because of its Bonapartes’ crass appetite to hog national fortunes by manipulating its ethnicity-based politics. The majority Bengalis were treated like pariahs. In the end, they hit back and turned the course of Pakistani history.
Another reason of Pakistan’s humiliating defeat in then East Pakistan, to the Indian Army, was that its military leadership had written off East Pakistan as “indefensible” because it had, in their myopic military sense, no strategic depth. It was argued with conviction by the then military geniuses that the defence of East Pakistan lay not there but in West Pakistan, where conventional battles could be fought on an equal turf and on a winnable terrain.
That same military wisdom was also hooked on the notion that West Pakistan—which came to be known as only Pakistan after 1971—needed the “strategic depth” that neighbouring Afghanistan amply provided to face off a more powerful and better resourced “enemy” India. The Pakistani Bonapartes’ infatuation with Afghanistan’s fabled “strategic depth” was the bedrock that induced Pakistan to nurture the Taliban. It’s conventional wisdom in Pakistan that the ISI was the mother goose that laid the eggs for the Afghan Taliban and then hatched them with care to ensure that once in power in Kabul they’d be all too hospitable to allow Pakistan its coveted “strategic depth” in spades against India.
A second string to the philosophy of strategic depth was husbanding militant armed factions—the Lashkar-e-Taiba and others of its ilk—to operate against India. The military genius of the era argued with conviction that it made all the military sense for terrorist groups of a few hundred armed men to tie down several Indian military divisions in Kashmir. It was deemed a stroke of brilliance—cheap and affordable and garnering handsome dividends in return.
But what the “military genius” hadn’t bargained for was the very distinct possibility that the monster created with canny wisdom could one day turn against its own inventor. And it did, on the heels of 9/11 and the American invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban there. The new monster of the Pakistani Taliban was spawned, virtually overnight and has been savaging Pakistan ever since, to devastating effect.
The Pakistani leadership, especially its military, is still wary of conceding that the horrendous wages of terrorism exacted by the Taliban in Pakistan—more than 50,000 civilians killed in wanton bloodletting, not to mention at least 7,000 soldiers and officers also killed—is a price that shouldn’t have been paid and was avoidable had there been better military sense prevailing.
That’s where the old adage of knaves not even learning from their own horrible mistakes sticks so aptly. And that’s also where friendly advice from someone knowing you so well becomes so relevant and appropriate.
Pakistanis of all stripes don’t tire of flaunting their decades-old “friendship” with the US. They aren’t wrong in their bragging; the two countries have been tied in military alliances since the early 1950s. So advice from an American “friend” ought to appeal to the Pakistanis. It should have all the more traction with them when the “friend” happens to be Hillary Clinton, who as Obama’s first secretary of state was globally known as the Face of America. She was a frequent traveller to Pakistan and was roundly admired there.
Talking to India’s NDTV, in the glow of media blitz kicked off by her recently published memoirs, Hard Choices, Hillary had some hard and harsh words for her Pakistani friends, and she refused to be diplomatic in dispensing them.
Hillary trashed Pakistan’s archaic doctrine of strategic depth and described it as all wrong. She minced no words in knocking the bottom off it. “Their idea”, talking of Pakistani leaders, “that they have these groups (terrorists) to provide strategic depth, as they like to say, vis-à-vis Afghanistan, or vis-à-vis India, I think if that were ever true, which I doubt, but if that were ever true, it no longer is,” she declared.
And since she has the inside knowledge of what havoc this purblind policy of nurturing forces of extreme radicalism within its fold has wreaked on Pakistan, she saw no reason to hold back on conveying sensible advice to her Pakistani friends by admonishing that “Pakistan should, once and for all, go after extremists, shut down their training camps, their safe havens, (and) madrassas that are incubating suicide bombing behaviour”. True friends offer advice without fear. Hillary sees herself as a friend no longer encumbered by the burden of her old office that could’ve kept her from speaking her mind. So, even at the risk of stepping on the tails of her Pakistani “friends” she drove her point straight to the nub of the problem, which is the banal hangover of the Pakistani Bonapartes, as most independent observers will vouch for, on spawning proxies to engage their “enemy” or “enemies” on more than one front. She savaged the pyrrhic concept of proxies to telling effect. “It’s like keeping poisonous snakes in your backyard expecting they will only bite your neighbour and what we are seeing now is the continuing threat to the State of Pakistan by these very same elements.”
The Pakistani intellectual terra has been excited since Hillary went after the movers and shakers with the scalpel of a surgeon. She, no doubt, zeroed in on the festering sore that has afflicted and brutalised Pakistan for so long. But her intended audience were the makers and wreckers of national fortunes. One wonders how they would react to her candid expose of their ruinous “strategic depth” syndrome. Any sage would tell them—as much as Hillary did—that long-term, real and viable, strategic depth can only come with peace with all your neighbours.
Knowing the minds of the Pakistani military “geniuses” one would’ve to be a gambler to wager on them lending an ear to Hillary, or anyone in her class for that matter. But there’s silver lining on the cloud; the incumbent political leaders of South Asia—PMs Modi and Nawaz—have a saner vision of their countries. They are for peace and harmony. They are listening.
Karamatullah K Ghori is a former Pakistani diplomat.