Pakistan’s predicament continues to draw comment from all over the world; in the Western (and Westoxicated Eastern) Left, the narrative remains straightforward (to such a degree that one is tempted to share an essay by Trotsky that Tariq Ali may have missed): US imperialism is to blame. In this story, US imperialism “used” poor helpless clueless Pakistan for its own evil ends, then “abandoned” them (it’s very bad when the imperialists go into a third world country, it’s also very bad when they leave) and they have now returned to finish off the job. I have written in the past about my disagreements with this Euro- centric and softly racist narrative and have little to add to it. In any case, no one in authority in either the imperialist powers or Pakistan is paying too much attention to the Guardian or the further reaches of the Left. But even among those who matter (for better and for worse), there seems to be no agreement about what is going on and what comes next. Everyone has their theories, ranging from “let's attack Pakistan” to “let’s throw more money at them” and everything in between. I don’t know what comes next either, but I have been thinking for a few days about an outcome that many in the Pakistani pro-military webring think is around the corner: What if we win?
The fact that the US/NATO are in trouble in Afghanistan is no longer news. The fact that Pakistan is about to “win” may not be as obvious to many outsiders (or even to many Pakistanis). but “strategic victory” in Afghanistan is now taken for granted by the Paknationalists. And one should take them seriously, since their theories are not only a product of GHQ, they are also the basis GHQ’s own decision making. The circle goes like this: psyops operators create the theory in the morning. It’s taken up by the paknationalist media through the day and is on GEO TV by nightfall. The generals hear it on the evening news and excitedly call up their friends: did you see what everyone is saying!
What does it mean for Pakistan to “win” in Afghanistan?
Most of my Pakistani friends think it’s a zero-sum game: what is bad for the US is good for Pakistan. Though some analysts have attempted to warn that it may not be a glorious victory, but this kind of “negative thinking” is not the dominant mode in Pakistan. Even Pakistanis who expect some trouble are generally happy with the thought that the Americans will be escaping from the Kabul embassy hanging on to rope ladders. I disagree, and I disagree because I think that this defeat will not be fatal for the US, but it is very likely to be terrible for Pakistan. The US, while chastened and shocked (as after Vietnam?) will not be seriously wounded by defeat in Afghanistan; What happens to the economy at home will be far more critical than what happens in Afghanistan and Pakistan, neither of which have a big role in the economy, and the role they do have is entirely negative. The US will be better off getting out of Afghanistan. Pakistan will not escape that lightly.
First some clarifications: I am not talking about loss of US aid or the loss of vast sums of money that the US pays Pakistani contractors for supplying and sustaining their mission in Afghanistan. First of all, the US and NATO will need Pakistani help to get out safely and may pay more in defeat than they ever did in “victory”. And even when the taps are eventually turned off, the stoppage of US aid is not necessarily fatal. It’s a 200 billion dollar economy and while the poor may suffer some more as the upper classes squeeze them harder to make up for lost dollars, life is likely to go on. Severe sanctions are a more serious issue, but it’s possible that China can prevent those. There will, of course, be the inevitable military coup (most likely a "hidden” one, in which a civilian caretaker regime is installed by the army) and that will itself lead to a temporary improvement in administration in the core region; In short, all will not be doom and gloom if the Western tap does get turned off, especially if the turning off is gradual and if China can be convinced to help the upper classes out a little more. The real problems will lie elsewhere.
First of all, this "victory" will not lead to instant peace in Afghanistan. Even the paknationalists think Afghanistan will erupt in open civil war. Naturally, that’s a war they expect “their side” to win, but keep in mind that the Taliban, with full Pakistani support and little overt intervention on the other side, still could not conquer all of Afghanistan prior to 2001. After 10 years of western support, and with Iran, India and Russia already working on future scenarios, it is hard to see how the Taliban could easily roll back into Northern or Western Afghanistan. The civil war in Afghanistan will not be brief or decisive, and it will suck Pakistan into all kinds of trouble. Even in the best case scenario, it will be very tough. In the worst case scenario, Pakistan may collapse before the last American takes off from the embassy roof. The risks in case of "victory" are enormous.
Secondly, the jihadis will want their peace dividend within Pakistan too. Imran Khan and his admirers are waiting for the day when the Americans leave and we can talk to “our people” as brothers, but the brothers are not just fighting for America to leave.
They had an agenda before America arrived in 2001 and they have not given up on it. Neither have their friends in the security services. The jihadi faction of the deep state did not train half a million jihadis just to needle India. Pakistan itself will have to be cleansed of undesirables. The first in line will excite little sympathy; Zardari’s cronies, ANP diehards and Baloch nationalists will be “sorted out” soon after the coup, to cheers from Imran Khan supporters wearing Microsoft T-shirts. Neither will the Ahmedis get much sympathy. But the Salafists will not spare Shias and that will mean problems with Iran and with the remaining Shia population within Pakistan. Next the westernised elite will be asked to join the glorious Islamic revolution. Most will choose to accept and may even think that the jihadis are only looking for public expressions of piety, but they will soon find out that the Jihadis are serious. And that they had no idea what was cooking under the radar in half a million madrasas and an impoverished, disenfranchised and much abused population of desperately poor people. While the burger-jihadis are working on their Microsoft certification and jerking off to Imran Khan and Shahid Afridi speeches on youtube, the rest of the country has neither water, not electricity nor basic law and order. The revolution will not stop at public piety. Until one day, the red death will reach the innermost sanctum: GHQ itself will be invited to reform. At that point, as defence housing society plots are redistributed, the victory will become very bittersweet indeed.
Does this mean that the ruling elite in Pakistan will in fact bite the bullet and help the US out just to save themselves? After all, the US intervention did provide the elite with a chance to give up their dangerous jihadi policy and switch to some alternative route to capitalism. But in spite of Chinese hints that they may be better off taking this road, the “Indian threat” meme has overwhelmed all other considerations and they do not seem to possess the vocabulary to try anything different. Revising their strategic doctrine may have seemed logical, but that logic has not made it past their mental defences. This is a genuine mess. The kind where nobody is sure what will happen next.
A joke from the nineties (originally a Khalsa joke, but recycled and put to many uses since then) suddenly seems prescient; Prime minister Nawaz Sharif in those days was portrayed as something of a simpleton, getting by on the advice of his shrewd father (Abba ji). Here is the joke:
Nawaz Sharif: Abba ji, the economy is in terrible shape and nothing is working. What can we do now?
Abba ji: Son, there is only one solution. Start a war with America. They will bomb the country and utterly destroy it. Then they will occupy us and launch a Marshall plan and we will be rebuilt with their money. Look how rich Japan and Germany have become after losing a war to America.
Nawaz Sharif: But Abba ji, what if we win?
But maybe I am underestimating the corrupt but shrewd ruling elite. Maybe they have enough self-awareness to sneak out of this one? Notice that Pakistan is opening up trade with India. We delayed an American victory in Afghanistan for 10 years because we don’t want Indian influence in Afghanistan. We don’t want Indian influence in Afghanistan because the Indians are our eternal enemies. Now the Americans are threatening us, so we are going to make peace with India to relieve pressure on the economy. When we are friends with India, will we still need to deny them "influence" in Afghanistan? Enquiring minds want to know...
These thoughts about the possible shrewdness of the corrupt elite were rudely interrupted by the following post on the paknationalist webring. This is not a conspiracy site in some basement in Louisiana. This is the site closest to the mindset of our esteemed military elite and the "scientist" being quoted is one of Pakistan's "nuclear heroes". Hope may be premature.