The “sound and fury” of U.S.-Pakistan ties (Part II)

March 20, 2011


I have (somewhat belatedly) got around to reading the full text of the statement made by Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani condemning last week’s drone strike in North Waziristan which killed more than 40 people. The strike has reignited tensions with Washington, and came only a day after Pakistan released Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis, after a bruising row with the United States. 

The Pakistani media has put forward many reasons as to why Kayani issued such a public condemnation, and indeed on why the United States chose to  launch such a lethal drone attack just as tempers were beginning to cool over the Davis row (for a must-read round up of the different views of officials and analysts in Peshawar, see Cyril Almeida at Dawn.)

One of the more interesting explanations lies in the statement itself (my italics):

“Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, strongly condemns the Predator Strike carried out today in North Waziristan Agency resulting into loss of innocent lives. It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens including elders of the area was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life. In complete violation of human rights, such acts of violence take us away from our objective of elimination of terrorism. It is imperative to understand that this critical objective can not be sacrificed for temporary tactical gains. Security of people of Pakistan, in any case, stands above all.”

His criticism of the United States putting tactical gains ahead of the longer-term needs of battling terrorism goes to the heart of the mismatch between U.S. and Pakistani priorities. The United States, keen to end the war in Afghanistan, needs Pakistan’s help quickly in fighting militants on its side of the border. Pakistan says it can’t fight all militant groups at once and that moving too fast would unleash fresh instability in Pakistan itself.

This ambivalence by Pakistan is often presented as evidence of duplicity, with the many critics of the country’s approach to militancy arguing that while it is allied to the United States, it continues to support militant groups that can be used against India. But then, read Kayani’s statement in conjunction with this WikiLeaks cable published by The Hindu to understand why none of this is as black-and-white as some would have you believe.

The cable is based on a November 2008 briefing by then National Intelligence Officer for South Asia Peter Lavoy to NATO Permanent Representatives. Although much of this ground has been covered before – notably on how the Pakistan Army’s approach is influenced by the perceived threat from India – I have not seen such detailed comments from a U.S. official on how far the military is also driven by a genuine fear of instability in Pakistan.

Among the highlights:

– Lavoy said there was a risk that Pakistan could “completely lose control of its Pashtun territories over the next few years”.  This risk came from a breakdown in traditional Pashtun tribal authority since the anti-Soviet jihad period, and from past neglect of the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan which left them suffering high levels of  illiteracy, unemployment, and disaffected youth. “Both of these situations play to the advantage of insurgent and extremist groups. ”

– He said that although “Pakistan now identifies both al-Qaeda and the Taliban as existential threats”, it continued to allow the Quetta shura Taliban to operate unfettered in Baluchistan province, while the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency provided intelligence and financial support to the Haqqani network in North Waziristan.  “PermReps questioned the rationality of Pakistan’s support for the Taliban, which Lavoy explained in three ways. First, Pakistan believes the Taliban will prevail in the long term, at least in the Pashtun belt most proximate to the Pakistani border. Second, Pakistan continues to define India as its number one threat, and insists that India plays an over-active role in Afghanistan. Finally, Pakistani officials think that if militant groups were not attacking in Afghanistan, they would seek out Pakistani targets.”

– “Lavoy said that after the storming of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in July 2007, the Pakistani government had tried to sever ties with insurgent groups that its government institutions had cultivated over three decades. When militants sought al-Qaida support and launched a wave of attacks against Pakistani government and security personnel, Pakistan realized it had lost control of these insurgent groups. Pakistan rapidly approached the various militant groups to reach domestic non-aggression deals. Lavoy claimed that the Pakistani Army’s current operations in the FATA’s Bajaur Agency are directed exclusively against insurgent groups that refused to cooperate, while the Haqqani network remains untouched and continues a policy of cross-border attacks. Urging militant groups to be outwardly focused, he said, is perceived by Pakistani officials as a method to safeguard internal security. In addition, Pakistan has (probably correctly) assessed that it is only capable of targeting several groups at a time, which leads to a policy of appeasement of other groups in the meantime.”

Now put these comments into the context of the strains in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.  The United States has a short-term priority – to end the war in Afghanistan and bring its troops home by 2014. Pakistan has a long-term challenge in rolling back militant groups — and the mindset that accompanies them — something that could take a generation to achieve. And while the U.S. focus is on Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army’s priority (at risk of stating the obvious) is stability in Pakistan.

With some care and attention, these two different but overlapping priorities, and two different but overlapping timescales, can in theory be reconciled. But the area of overlap is narrow – a bit like a Venn diagram which is also constantly moving, as it is buffeted by volatility of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and the unpredictability of events in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Imagined this way, you can see why — at least from Pakistan’s point of view – Kayani would argue that,  “this critical objective (of the fight against terrorism) can not be sacrificed for temporary tactical gains. Security of people of Pakistan, in any case, stands above all.”

(Picture of a protest in Islamabad against Raymond Davis’s release.Reuters/Mian Khursheed)


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Pakistan can take the step to ease its tensions with India. They can make an honest effort to open up diplomatic ties and people to people interactions to diffuse all paranoia. India has no interest in gobbling up Pakistan or dismembering it. No one wants to mess with a nuclear armed and radicalized Pakistan. Therefore they need to give up this existential threat perception which appears completely meaningless today. They have to realize that Pakistan cannot equate itself with India and try to drag itself to match up with India. If this perceived existential threat can be given up, then Pakistan can definitely focus on its internal stability. It wants to nurture many militant groups for a long term score settling with India. That is the main reason for the hesitation in taking them on. But the longer the US stays, the more difficult it is going to become for Pakistan to direct these elements against India. They have been created for outward offensive. But the US presence has prevented that from happening and the elements have started taking on Pakistan inwardly. Pakistan needs to work on putting off this internal fire and stop planning them for setting India on fire in the future. It will not happen. It is beginning to burn Pakistan internally. Blaming the Americans or Martians is not going to help. India is not the enemy anymore. It might have been in the past. This is a new India that wants to mind its own business.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

[…] The “sound and fury” of US-Pakistan ties (Part II)Reuters Blogs (blog)The strike has reignited tensions with Washington, and came only a day after Pakistan released Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis, after a bruising row with the United States. The Pakistani media has put forward many reasons …Pakistanis protest U.S. airstrikes, release of CIA contractor releaseWashington PostPak-US relations hit another rough patchThe HinduPakistan pulls out of talks with US on Afghan warLos Angeles -Daily Times -The Associated Pressall 1,443 news articles » […]

Posted by Sunraynews | Top US news | Report as abusive

“Security of people of Pakistan, in any case, stands above all.”

The problem with the above claim is that what Kayani claims to in the interests of “security of people of Pakistan” may not be in the interests of the “security of the peoples” of Afghanistan, India, Iran,USA, Russia, China, Tajikistan, rest of the world.

Unless Kayani thinks in either of the following:

(1) Kayani is entitled to decide what is in he interests of the “security of the peoples” of Afghanistan, India, Iran,USA, Russia, China, Tajikistan, rest of the world.


(2) the “security of the peoples” of Afghanistan, India, Iran,USA, Russia, China, Tajikistan, rest of the world is irrelevant, and is not a topic worthy of discussion.

Rest of the write-up attempts to bamboozle the reader, reiterating well known Pak positions.

Posted by netizen | Report as abusive

“Urging militant groups to be outwardly focused, he said, is perceived by Pakistani officials as a method to safeguard internal security.” by Mr.Peter Lavoy.

This statement addresses the nub of the matter.

Religious indoctrination, instilling hatred through public education so as to produce jihadi terrorists who would indulge in bombing buses, trains, temples, hijacking plane, attacking parliament in neighbouring countries WILL HAVE CONSEQUENCES internally.

External Jihad and Internal Peace are contradictory goals and have been unachievable by Pakistan. Because they are contradictory.

That’s why “Karachi project” which is supposed to burn down Mumbai and Delhi is actually burning down Karachi:

From Federal B area to Kharadar: Killers on motorcycles hit over 12 men in a day
By Faraz Khan
Published: March 21, 2011

KARACHI: There was a steady uptick in the body count on Sunday when at least one dozen men were killed in drive-by shootings.

“Well, they’re all at it, killing each other,” remarked Gulshan-e-Iqbal SHO Kanson Dean, adding that it was tit-for-tat violence. “We’re doing what we can.”

Posted by netizen | Report as abusive


When are you finalizing your Pakistani citizenship?

Have you ever written a piece that did NOT exclusively represent the ISI’s world view?

By definition, if a country sees a group or an entity as an “existential threat” it cannot support such groups. In other words, the above two positions are in fundamental conflict. Given that the latter position has been the enduring one, one can deduce that Pakistan really does NOT see Al Qaeda and like groups as an existential threat.

Posted by SilverSw0rd | Report as abusive

The Daily Times believes that the unprecedented protest by Gen Kayani was because the drone strike claimed a senior leader of the Haqqani network, not because civilians were killed:

It may signal that (1) the US has independent sources of intelligence about the “good” Taliban that the ISI wants to protect, and (2) is not afraid to ruffle Pakistani feathers to get at them.

Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive

When inaction needs to be justified call in existential threat. So while AQ and Taliban are ETs the Quetta Shura and Haqqani is to be supported for the cause of internal security.
Jihad against another country/countries needs to be justified – “Urging militant groups to be outwardly focused, he said, is perceived by Pakistani officials as a method to safeguard internal security”. In other words be an existential threat to others we love you for it.

That is mature foreign policy – heads I win tails you lose!

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Many western media sources are now claiming that most of those who died in the drone strike, were indeed militants. It’s hard to figure out the truth, these days.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

There are also sources that mention about Pak military killing civilians. There was an air strike by Pak air force a few months ago that killed many civilians. This is an unfortunate thing during wars where civilian populations are around war zones.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive