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The Rediff Special/ Brahma Chellaney
Pakistan has reversed neither its slide toward anarchy nor its international isolation a year after the world's first ever military coup in a nuclear state. Rather, military rule has scared away foreign investors and has served as one more negative label for a country that conjures up images of fanaticism, terrorism and gun-toting mullahs.
The Pakistan military has been on the political saddle for half of that country's existence. So the bloodless coup last October 12 was hardly a surprise. What was a surprise was the muted international reaction, with military rule being seen by Western governments as Pakistan's "last option" from becoming the world's first failed nuclear state.
That approach in not pushing the military regime too hard has clearly gone wrong, as it has made Pakistan's condition worse without slowing the movement of drugs and extremists to other parts of the world. Those who expected the military to help clear up the mess should have known that Pakistan's problems are largely the legacy of the various generals who have been at its helm.
The only beneficiary of the coup has been the military itself, which has thrived even as the nation has continued to sink. Military rule has reinforced Pakistan's 'failing state' image, with many viewing the country as a Colombia with nuclear weapons and Islamic fundamentalism.
The radicalization of the Pakistan military since the late 1970s has progressed to the extent that its generals are increasingly beginning to appear like mullahs in uniform. The current junta is headed by a general who masterminded last year's invasion of the Kargil area of Indian Kashmir, employing Pakistan's nuclear arsenal as a shield for reckless adventurism.
If the West wants, it can still use Pakistan's deep economic vulnerability to ensure the junta frees itself from the grip of narco-fundamentalist forces and its own bellicose rhetoric toward India. The junta's self-styled 'chief executive' Pervez Musharraf, behind his moderate facade, connived in the hijack of the Indian jetliner last December, stepped up aid to militants in Indian Kashmir, and continues to prop up the thuggish Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. The junta has shied away from cracking down on radical bands within Pakistan that are exporting terrorism.
Economically, Pakistan has become a basket case under military rule, begging for IMF debt-relief assistance. Most of the junta's domestic financial initiatives have turned out to be barren, except for tax-collection overhaul. The economy currently is growing only at the same rate as population, while external debt has ballooned to $ 35.5 billion, or half of its GDP. With four-fifths of the national budget being used for defense and debt servicing, hardly any development is taking place.
Not only has Pakistan become a haven for terrorists and home to the world's largest population of heroin addicts, there appears little hope for its future. Its military, however, can flourish only as long as the state survives. Therefore, the military will do everything to keep Pakistan from disintegrating, even if it means ratcheting up hostility with India and engaging in further adventurism.
A sinking Pakistan will insist on sinking India too. Its role since last year in Kargil, Kashmir and the hijacking of the Indian plane to Kandahar, Taliban's headquarters, is a stark reminder of that.
However, myths abound in India. One myth is that Pakistan is making itself bankrupt by bleeding India in Kashmir. Pakistan is perched on the edge of bankruptcy, not because of its surrogate war in Kashmir, but because of its political and economic disorder and its search for military parity with India that results in unsustainably high defense spending.
Proxy war, in fact, is a highly cost-effective strategy that Pakistan can carry on indefinitely as it consumes a tiny proportion of its defense expenditure but inflicts disproportionately high costs on India -- costs that a conventional military strategy cannot impose. The failure of conventional aggression, even when it is covert, as in Kargil, has further increased the attractiveness of proxy war for the Pakistan military. The low-cost tool of surrogate war was perfected by Pakistan in a decade of declining fortunes, with unemployment doubling and poverty increasing 41 per cent during the 1990s.
If Pakistan continues to sink, its military will increasingly take recourse to its economical tool of proxy war to keep India mired in internal-security problems. The "war of a thousand cuts" that the Pakistan military says it is presently waging could become a war of ten thousand cuts. It doesn't take much for a strong-willed state to murder, maim and menace the innocent through surrogate agents.
Many Indians view Islamabad's compulsive belligerence toward their country as a path to Pakistan's eventual self-destruction. But for the Pakistan military, that antagonism is the essential glue to hold Pakistan together and provides the raison d'etre for its strong political influence over the state.
It should be obvious to Indian policy-makers that Pakistan's dire travails increase, rather than decrease, the risks to India. For India, the cumulative costs of the proxy war in Kashmir have already been higher than all the conventional conflicts it has fought. Those costs could sharply escalate if a decaying Pakistan becomes an extension of the Islamic ruins of Afghanistan.
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