Pakistan – a list too long

October 19, 2010

childPakistani journalist Mosharraf Zaidi had a good post up last week attempting to frame the many different challenges Pakistan faces in trying to deal with terrorism.  Definitely worth a read as a counter-balance to the vague “do more” mantra, and as a reminder of how little serious public debate there is out there about the exact nature of the threat posed to a nuclear-armed country of some 180 million people, whose collapse would destabilise the entire region and beyond.

Zaidi has divided the challenges into counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and counter-extremism.

Counter-insurgency is focused on targeting militants holed up in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on the border with Afghanistan, with attention directed most recently on U.S. pressure to tackle militant hideouts in North Waziristan.  Pakistan has resisted U.S. pressure to move faster in launching military operations in North Waziristan, in part because it says it needs time to consolidate gains made elsewhere in FATA — itself possible only if adequate governance can be introduced into areas cleared by the army.

“Thus far, Pakistan has fought the insurgency in FATA and earlier, last year, in Swat, using two instruments: negotiation, and conventional military warfare, including ground troops and aerial strikes. This is not how you fight an insurgency. That is how you fight India. To use a hackneyed and tired metaphor in Islamabad, you can’t keep using a jack hammer to try and kill agile, determined and poisonous flies. The approach to the FATA insurgency is all wrong,” writes Zaidi.

Counter-terrorism covers action to prevent attacks across Pakistan including in its heartland Punjab province. ”Repeated and sustained terrorist attacks in Pakistan suggest that the terrorist enterprise in Pakistan enjoys freedom of movement, freedom of procurement, freedom of training, freedom of information and communication, and, quite disturbingly, freedom from the course of law,” he says.

“The third challenge is an obvious and unchallenged problem of religious extremism. The epicentre of religious extremism is the institution of the political articulation of faith in Pakistan. This means that physically there is no epicentre here. Religious extremism is a national problem, transcending demographics, class and ethnicity. Of the three problems, religious extremism is the one that has been around the longest, the one that has the deepest roots in Pakistani culture, the one that has enjoyed the patronage of the state, the one that has the demonstrated ability to undermine linear and rational public policy, and the one that will – because of all the aforesaid factors, take the longest to unpack and resolve.”

Zaidi’s framework is a strong one to use when trying to understand what is going on in Pakistan.

And it also inspired me to write a list of the many different influences buffeting Pakistan, many of which either fit into these three categories or intersect with them. I should have done this years ago, but here are those I can think of so far:

- The international environment (war in Afghanistan, hostility with India) which has underpinned allegations, denied by Pakistan, that its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency continues to support militant groups it sees as strategic assets

- A perceived desire on the part of the ISI to play one group off against the other in order to keep them under control

- The role of poverty and/or unemployment in encouraging people to support militants (are the dynamics the same in FATA and Punjab?)

- The role of civilian casualties in FATA, particularly from U.S. drone bombings, in radicalising Pakistanis at home and in the diaspora

- A lack of empowerment whereby many people feel they have been unable to change their situation in any other way than through terrorism, because real democracy has been stifled by either military dictatorships or civilian rule dominated by the feudal elite

-  The role of the media and national discourse which tends to favour populist street rage and domestic political intrigue 

- Modern interpretations of Islam – heavily influenced by a shift in the balance of power towards Arab monarchies and dictatorships after the 1973 oil crisis, and by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran (both of which suppressed an tradition of “ijtehad” - very loosely translated as a spirit of inquiry)

- Radicalisation of some Muslims overseas, including in the Pakistani diaspora, and especially after 9/11, who contribute to a positive feedback loop between the militancy of those inside and outside Pakistan

- The history of Pakistan and the painful partition from British India which set it up as a new country without a clear identity or strong geography, a “moth-eaten” state divided between West and East Pakistan, deprived, as its early founders saw it, of the contiguous Muslim state of Kashmir

- The scars of the 1971 war with India which led to the creation of Bangladesh, deprived Pakistan of its identity as a homeland for South Asian Muslims, and has left its military in particular deeply anxious about the perceived threat from its much bigger neighbour

- The rise of hardline Islam as a reaction to colonial rule in British India.  (The original Deobandi madrasa was set up in response to the collapse of  Mughal rule after the 1857 Mutiny; Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, was equally very much a product of British India)

-Ethnic diversity in Pakistan – the military operations in FATA have challenged a traditional Pashtun identity; Baluch separatists complain about Punjabi dominance; Sindhis (the wellspring of support for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party) struggle to assert themselves on the national stage

OK. That’s enough for now (and I am sure there is more to add/refine -I haven’t even mentioned organised crime and drug trafficking). What I have realised in trying to write this list is how little serious research I have seen which gives a properly disciplined weighting to all the different issues confronting Pakistan, and how much people (myself included) look for simple answers by focusing on only one or two of them. If anyone can point to research which does so, please post the links.

And here is a thought to end with. Al Qaeda, or its affiliates, have been remarkably intelligent about analysing and exploiting the weaknesses of history, society and geography.  We have seen a certain method in the madness in the way bombings in Pakistan have challenged every minority or majority religious tradition which does not comply with the religious teachings of al Qaeda or its supporters.  It is also quite cleverly set up to damage Pakistan further by launching attacks overseas, either in the United States or India, which in turn could bring such retribution on Pakistan as to destabilise it completely.

Being scared of al Qaeda is silly in most countries where statistically you have more reason to worry about being killed in a road accident. Being scared of al Qaeda in Pakistan is also an insult to a country which is far more resilient than it is given credit for. But being stupid about the risks to Pakistan by thinking that all we need is one over-arching solution is well … just stupid.






I ask tough questions and u shying away. As long as you salute so called Kaafirs as well along with muslims for their bravery I am good with it. One should always respect bravery and good deeds irrespective of their religion or caste.

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive

Umair says:

“Had India not been hostile, Pakistan had no need to enter into alliance with the US.

Since Pakistan was once a part of (British) India, many of its problems are due to the past. Unfortunately that cannot be changed, and it will require a lot of effort to put the country back on track.”

–>You dxmb fxxken rxtxrd!

India was never, ever the hostile or aggressive one, get that through your propaganda grey matter, your history, at least some of it, is wrong and propagandized you, to use lies as a tool for national unity.

Every war 1965, 1971, 1980′s to current proxy war, Kargil, Red Fort, Mumbai.

Your Pakistani Army and Islamic Militant terrorists inflicted death and wars on India and rightfully so, India countered your aggression every time.

India’s aggression was always in response to Pakistani first fire on India. Just get that big fact through your fat head!.

India is not the enemy of Pakistan, it is the pindi boyz themselves and the militant frankenstein they created for their own ambitions.

So, suck it up princess, and deal with it!

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

@ Rex Minor

“Let us not cherry pick to justify the act of the brits or of the Kashmir maharaja?
The Maharaja or the Nizam of Hyderabad declared the allegance to Pakistan for his majority hindu state and was surprised to see the Indian military takeover as well.” Rex Minor

Look for heavens sake stop showing your total ignorance. Give me even one source that bears out your contention that the Nizam “declared allegiance for Pakistan”. You have no idea, not even the remotest, of history and you go on with your bombast. I am not here to educate you, dont have the time – don’t care. So find out for yourself what really happened in Hyderabad and come back here.Your ignorance is not even amusing any more.

Secondly, I am not cherry picking. I am responding directly to Myra on her statement made in this article. Why does that bother you? So how is that Cherry picking? Will you please clarify and not just go off again on some inconsequential, unrelated topic?

If you want to discuss Hyderabad, get your facts right and come back with authentic information.

“Pakistan military leaders were too timid at the time and were under the control of the brits., and hence the Pashtoon tribesmen were asked to save Islam in kashmir. ”

More baloney. Have you heard anything about a Stand To agreement? Who was it between and what was it? Stop showing off your ignorance. Who made Pakistan the guardian of Islam? It wasn’t even a country till 1947 and hey presto in 2 months it decided it was the sword arm of Islam?

“But today we are in the 21st century and very much involved with the people and no longer so much with so called countries or borders which in any way are becoming irrelevant.”

Which borders in which country are irrelevant? I have travelled through almost all Europe recently. Everywhere, whether air, train or road, I was checked at every border including your Germany. What does all this cliche ridden rhetoric pf yours have to do with what is being discussed here? It is not even tangentially connected. name one country which was ever not involved with people earlier? Your statement implies that it is something new – ‘very much involved with the people and no longer so much with so called countries or borders’ – more rubbish which means nothing.

Also, as Rehmat asks, not a peep from you anymore about the genocide and murder, loot and rapes of over a million in Bangladesh. According to you did it happen or are you still ignorant and surprised and in need of a break?

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Sorry, you are very emotional and probably a Nationalist.

I have nothing more to add to the topic.
The European borders are not free for non- europeans entering Europe. Once you are in a european country, other than the UK, you are not checked when you travel from one country to another.
I have answered Rehmat on Pakistan genocide. This was barbaric and does not even serve the interest of a nationalist. I have no intentions to find any excuse for merciless killing of the civilians bythe military and I really get sick when I read your fellow countrymen justifying or relatativising the actions of the Indian miolitary. The use of the military suppression against civilians in Russia and China was known to us, though not the details, but the use of military in a democratic sate is a novice and I am not prepared to reconcile with this reality. This is a curse and not permitted in any of the religions. I shall protest against this as long as I live and would also not accept tit for tat.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

Rex Minor,

After having nothing more to add to the topic you said a mouthful.

You have me genuinely confused by your “you are probably a nationalist”. What on earth does that imply???? What according to you is the meaning of nationalist. I maybe emotional, thats for others to judge. But what does that have to do with the contents of what I have said. So please spare me your condescension, it is of no concern to me. Why not discuss my comments. Why do you always run away and avoid the main issue?

I went with a German couple, our hosts, by road, we were all checked at the border. On return the same afternoon, to our great amusement, while my wife and I were not asked to show documents, the German couple were asked to provide theirs!! So much for your credibility and not being checked. In fact even the guard/security checker saw the humour of it eventually and was equally amused saying “I know why you smile now”.

” I really get sick when I read your fellow countrymen justifying or relatativising the actions of the Indian military.”

Again I profess ignorance. Please quote one Indian here who has condoned or jiustified any act of human right committed by the forces? What on earth is relativising?? To justify India’s right to kashmir is not to justify atrocities, but I am willing to be corrected by you. Provided they are actual quotes of people who have said so.

As for your last two sentences nobody has asked you to stop protesting or accept anything you don’t want to. Just justify your objections with concrete proof and examples. Do you know how many human right abuse cases have been investigated and how many have been punished. Believe me the figures will again come as a shock to you.

True to form you avoid direct answers as always. Like justifying and corroborating “Hyderabad declared the allegance to Pakistan for his majority hindu state……..”

One day when I have time and when you start giving reasonable answers or raise pertinent issues I will happily give you my take on your biased and incorrect opinion of issues in Kashmir. Till then have a good day or break or whatever it is you want.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

The 1985 schengen agreement stipulates the guaranteed free movement of persons in Europe. The signatary states have abolished all internal borders in lieu of a single external border. France, germany,Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands decided in 1985 to create a territory without internal borders. Your indian embassy could provide you with further deatails.

All this does not mean that the police cannot stop a suspicious car for checks.

If you consider the use of military against the civilian sikhs and the kashmiris in their own land does not violate the human rights, then we have different sets of principles and different sets of laws.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

Rex Minor,

“If you consider the use of military against the civilian sikhs and the kashmiris in their own land does not violate the human rights, then we have different sets of principles and different sets of laws.”

Now read this very carefully:

Tell me why have you made this statement. Are you implying that I said there are no human rights violations in Kashmir? Where have I said this??? I do not expect you to have the decency to apologise but just to prove to you how you twist facts, please read what I said to you again – this is it

“To justify India’s right to kashmir is not to justify atrocities,……….Do you know how many human right abuse cases have been investigated and how many have been punished. Believe me the figures will again come as a shock to you.”

Do you understand simple english or are you just acting stupid?

I have told you what I experienced on my trip. You don’t get it, is your problem not mine. You dont understand what I am saying – or pretend to anyway.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Please read your input and the answers you seek are contained in your paragraphs. If I now say that you are a rude person; you would raise again the question and deny it by stating that your english is rude not you in person. Perhaps the moderator could take the initiative and advise you to cut down your personal attacks and address the article.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

Rex Minor,

A meaningful and intelligent discussion with you is obviously impossible – flogging a dead horse. Period.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see