Pakistan’s Security Inertia and the legacy of CENTRO

The son of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has called for decisive action against the militants operating within Pakistan’s borders, particularly the Taliban. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari claims that attempts to negotiate a peaceful compromise with the militants have been exhausted.

Pakistan’s internal security has been an important global issue in the 21st century. Having sheltered Osama Bin Laden (knowingly or not) and continued to provide a safe haven for a variety of anti-Western militants and terrorists that operate across the Afghan border, the South Asian nation remains under constant scrutiny.

Pakistan is home to a variety of militant and terrorist groups
Pakistan is home to a variety of militant and terrorist groups

Many Pakistanis have, in recent months, decried American drone strikes against militants within their borders and national politicians continue to insist that Pakistan can take care of its own security without its sovereignty being violated. This, however, has proven impossible. Pakistani officials and military leaders are either unwilling or unable to secure their country and, by extension, help securitise the region.

The wariness felt by many Pakistanis towards the West partly has its roots in the Cold War era. In 1955, the Turco-Iraqi Pact (later the Baghdad Pact) was signed as a form of mutual protection in the Middle East, the main threat being perceived as from the Soviets. Britain and Iran also signed the deal and were keen for Pakistan to do likewise.

Even at this early stage of its country’s existence, Pakistan’s government showed hesitancy at involving themselves in a multilateral security arrangement with ‘outsiders’. Before signing the pact they insisted it contain a Letter of Reservation outlining two conditions:

1) The military liabilities of signatory states may be invoked under the Pact only in the event of unprovoked attack on any of the signatory countries of the Middle East

2) The extent of military assistance to be invoked in an eventuality invisaged in the foregoing clause shall insofar as Pakistan is concerned depend on:

a) the size of armed forces and other military logistic resources available to Pakistan at that time

b) the general military and international situation which may be existing at that time and after taking into consideration the forces required for the security of Pakistan in regard to any possible threats of aggression which may result from conditions then prevailing.

This vague reticence testified to the Pakistani government’s concern over committing to a pact that, in theory, would benefit the security of its country. Britain, for one, could not understand the hesitation in Karachi signing the deal yet recognised the strategic importance of Pakistan with regards to Middle Eastern security during the Cold War. They acquiesced to the reservations.

Britain recognised the important role Pakistan could play in creating a bulwark against Soviet incursion into the Middle East
Britain recognised the important role Pakistan could play in creating a bulwark against Soviet incursion into the Middle East

When Iraq left the pact in 1958, it became known as the Central Treaty Organization (CENTRO) and it was effectively useless, ultimately realising Pakistani misgivings.

CENTRO failed to prevent its own signatories facing off by proxy during the Arab-Israeli conflicts, stood by as Turkey invaded Cyprus and steered clear of the warring between India and Pakistan. Despite claiming to be a mutual protection pact if the threat wasn’t Soviet, it seemingly didn’t matter.

CENTRO was worthless when it came to Pakistani concerns over India
CENTRO was worthless when it came to Pakistani concerns over India

The Iranian Revolution and the Shah’s overthrow proved the final straw and CENTRO formally capitulated.

It would be no surprise if CENTRO’s failure fuelled Pakistani mistrust towards the West. Furthermore, it perhaps reinforced the worrying reality that, despite delusional claims that they could secure their own borders, the Pakistan government was sadly reliant on the dubious and unpredictable intervention capabilities of foreign powers for its security.

Caught between forging a strong multilateral alliance with its Western security partners and the desire to show a fortified indigenous stance against vicious militant groups, Pakistan is stuck. It craves and fears abandonment by the West.

It has created a dangerous inertia that is being exploited by the Taliban and others; an inertia the young Bhutto demands an end to.

Another Dire Warning of Pakistan’s Instability: the Peshawar Church Bombing

It has been another miserable week in the history of Pakistan. At least 328 people have been killed in an earthquake in the province of Balochistan, just days after a suicide bomb attack led to 85 fatalities at a Christian church in Peshawar.

Carnage at a church which had stood peacefully since 1883
Carnage at a church which had stood peacefully since 1883

Whilst the earthquakes, landslides and floods that have plagued Pakistan in the past few years are an unfortunate consequence of natural forces, the mass violence that is perpetuated in every Pakistani province on a weekly basis is a testament to the uncontrolled forces of destruction that reside in the country.

The bombing of the Christian church was particularly unsavoury and worryingly a possible sign of things to come. Christians make up almost 2% of Pakistan’s population, a sizable minority, and believers show a devotion to their faith uncommon in many nominally Christian countries.

The relative infancy of Pakistani Christianity inspires enthusiastic devotion
The relative infancy of Pakistani Christianity inspires enthusiastic devotion

This might be attributed to the fact that Christianity in Pakistan is relatively young. It arrived with colonists when Pakistan was part of the British Raj. Unlike with China and Japan, which had been visited by prominent Jesuit missionaries from Italy, Portugal and Spain as early as the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and have long since reneged their Christian association, Christianity in Pakistan is vibrant and equally split between Catholic and Protestant denominations.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the Peshawar atrocity. This is unsurprising given the barbaric and repressive interpretation of Islam practiced by its members. Yet what is so astonishing is that leading Taliban operatives are currently being freed from Pakistani jails by the Islamabad government.

There is an argument, supported by some quarters in the US, that the release of Taliban ‘officials’ is a necessary precursor to securing peace talks in Afghanistan. Yet others have argued that convicted terrorists are being released straight back to their former cells where they can once more carry out atrocities such as the Peshawar bombing.

Violent deaths, generally through terrorist bombings, are commonplace in Pakistan and are not exclusively reserved for attacks against non-Muslims. The amount of sectarian and factional violence that occurs in the country is astonishing.

Having said that, despite frequent reports of atrocities, there appears to be a genuine malaise towards Pakistan by the rest of the world. The Peshawar church bombing, whilst causing initial outrage, has quickly been forgotten by the Western media. A similar scenario exists with Iraq where terrorism and bloodshed are so frequent that they are no longer newsworthy.

Iraqi car bombings are so frequent that they usually receive little extraordinary attention abroad
Iraqi car bombings are so frequent that they usually receive little extraordinary attention abroad

Whilst Iraq is acknowledged as a failed state, Pakistan does not seem to fall into that category. Despite harbouring Osama Bin Laden – probably with the help of the security forces -, providing a base from which the Taliban can operate into Afghanistan, and being home to a raft of terrorist cells, the instability of Pakistan is severely downplayed by the West.

There is a delusion amongst policymakers that Pakistani internal affairs must be left alone if terrorism is to be defeated in the region and peace is to come to Afghanistan. Yet America is happy enough to conduct frequent drone attacks against the tribal provinces bordering Afghanistan, eliminating Al-Qaeda operatives whilst simultaneously slaughtering innocent civilians. One could not ask for a more obvious interference with national sovereignty.

It is concerning that a country of such violent instability is commonly seen as a key diplomatic player in solving the region’s problems, particularly terrorism. A weak government is just as dangerous as a fanatical one. But events like the Peshawar bombing continually happen without a suggestion of a solution from foreign powers, often so quick to intervene in other states or pressurise indigenous governments.

Ignoring these all-too-frequent warnings is not a wise policy and the relatively youthful history of Christianity in Pakistan may all too soon be wiped out.