Normally, I avoid using verses to describe a grim political/military conflict because it sounds gimmicky and glib in a way that trivializes the subject at hand. But while reading the following passage in a New York Times story headlined ‘Pakistan Aids Insurgency in Afghanistan, Reports Assert’, a verse from a ghazal by noted Pakistani poet Khatir Ghazanvi popped up in my mind spontaneously.
The verse goes:
“Kuchch dushmani ka dhab hai, Na ab dosti ke taur
Donon ka ek rang hua tere shahar mein.”
There is neither any code in enmity nor etiquette in friendship here
In your world, the two merge indistinguishably
The passage in question is the following:
“The reports suggest, however, that the Pakistani military has acted as both ally and enemy, as its spy agency runs what American officials have long suspected is a double game — appeasing certain American demands for cooperation while angling to exert influence in Afghanistan through many of the same insurgent networks that the Americans are fighting to eliminate.
Behind the scenes, both Bush and Obama administration officials as well as top American commanders have confronted top Pakistani military officers with accusations of ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) complicity in attacks in Afghanistan, and even presented top Pakistani officials with lists of ISI and military operatives believed to be working with militants.”
The story is yet another deeply troublesome reminder, if any is still needed, how much the Pakistani state pushes the limits of acceptable international conduct and gets away with it. The NYT story seems to suggest that while the US is fully aware of the ISI entanglements with the Taliban, and perhaps even some elements of al-Qaeda, there is nothing much it can do to break that nexus. If there ever was a perfect example of the expression running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, this has to be it.
After reading/reporting/commenting on Pakistan for the better part of the last two decades, I am left with only one conclusion. There is an overt state and there is a covert state in Pakistan. The two operate with a vaguely defined compact where the activities of one cannot be directly traced to or linked with the other. A certain deniability is built into this compact whereby Pakistan’s political leadership can “legitimately” claim ignorance when confronted with evidence of all that the ISI and its affiliates do in the covert state. In that sense it is not that different from what the CIA or any other intelligence agencies do as a matter of routine. In Pakistan’s case though this incest ends up manifesting in the most vile and violent ways given the way the Taliban/al-Qaeda operate.
What is not left vague,however, is where the primacy in all important decision-making lies in Pakistan. It is the military-intelligence complex whose writ runs way beyond anything that the political leadership can do.
What I find fascinating is when Pakistan is confronted with any evidence about the activities of the covert state, its response can be distilled down to what to me sounds like ‘Up yours.’
PS: Khatir Ghazanvi was a widely read Urdu and Hindko author and poet who spoke Chinese, English, Malay and Urdu. He died in 2008 at age 83.