Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Few who follow South Asia could miss the symbolism of two separate developments in the past week – in one Pakistan was cosying up to the United States in a new “strategic dialogue”; in the other India was complaining to Washington about its failure to provide access to David Headley, the Chicago man accused of helping to plan the 2008 attack on Mumbai.
Ever since the London conference on Afghanistan in January signalled an exit strategy which could include reconciliation with the Taliban, it has been clear that Pakistan’s star has been rising in Washington while India’s has been falling.
If the United States wants to force the Taliban to the negotiating table, it needs Pakistan’s help. And Pakistan has shown by arresting Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar amongst others that it intends to keep control of any negotiations. In return for its cooperation, it expects Washington’s help in securing Pakistan’s own interests, including through a scaling back of India’s involvement in Afghanistan.
By contrast, the relationship between India and the United States which blossomed under the Bush administration has been fading as Washington looks to China and Pakistan to help meet respectively its economic and security needs. An initial outpouring of sympathy and international support for India following the Mumbai attack - which led to intense pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the assault – has dissipated over time.
So much for democracy. When Pakistan holds a “strategic dialogue” with the United States in Washington this week, there is little doubt that the leading player in the Pakistani delegation will be its army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani.
We have got so used to Americans dealing with the Pakistan Army in their efforts to end the stalemate in Afghanistan that it does not seem that surprising that the meeting between the United States and Pakistan would be dominated by the military. Nor indeed that Dawn columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee would describe Kayani as the most powerful man in Pakistan. Even the grudging admiration granted in this Times of India profile of Kayani by Indrani Baghchi is in keeping with the current mood.
Kamran Shafi has a column up at Dawn mocking Pakistan’s old strategy of seeking “strategic depth” - the idea that in the event of war with India its military would be able to operate from Afghanistan to offset its disadvantage as a small country compared to its much bigger neighbour:
“Let us presume that the Indians are foolish enough to get distracted from educating their people, some of whom go to some of the best centres of learning in the world. Let us assume that they are idiotic enough to opt for war instead of industrialising themselves and meeting their economic growth targets which are among the highest in the world. Let us imagine that they are cretinous enough to go to war with a nuclear-armed Pakistan and effectively put an immediate and complete end to their multi-million dollar tourism industry. Let us suppose that they lose all sense, all reason, and actually attack Pakistan and cut our country into half.
Brian Clougley is a South Asia defence analyst. Reuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.
When the Taliban insurrection in Pakistan began in earnest, in 2004, the Pakistan army did not have enough troops in North West Frontier Province to combat the growing menace. It was not possible for the army and the paramilitary Frontier Corps to conduct operations without considerable reinforcement. In any event, the role of the lightly-armed Frontier Corps has always been more akin to policing than to engaging in conventional military operations. Dealing with inter-tribe skirmishes and cross-border smugglers is very different to combating organised bands of fanatics whose objective is total destruction of the state.
Pakistan’s military offensive in South Waziristan appears to be showing considerably more success than earlier attempts to take control of the tribal region on the Afghan border, at least according to army accounts which are the only real source of information.
But will it turn the tide in Pakistan’s battle against Islamist militants? A few articles which have appeared over the last few days give pause for thought.
Pakistan’s militants have unleashed a guerrilla war in cities across the country in retaliation for a military offensive against them in their South Waziristan stronghold. But while they have seized all the attention with their massive bomb and gun attacks, what about the offensive itself in their mountain redoubt ?
Nearly two weeks into Operation Rah-e-Nijat, or Path of Salvation, it is hard to make a firm assessment of which way the war is going, given that information is hard to come by and this may yet be still the opening stages of a long and difficult campaign.
A week after suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents attacked the headquarters of the Pakistan Army, a suicide bomber killed six senior Revolutionary Guards commanders and 25 other people in Shi’ite Iran in one of the deadliest attacks in years on the country’s most powerful military institution.
Were these two events connected only by the loose network of Sunni insurgent groups based in and around Pakistan? Or are there other common threads that link the two?
Very roughly summarised, this 21st century version of the domino theory suggests that a victory for Islamist militants in Afghanistan would so embolden them that they might then overrun Pakistan – a far more dangerous proposition given its nuclear weapons.
An attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan Army in the city of Rawalpindi has highlighted the country’s vulnerability to a backlash from Islamist militants in the Pakistani Taliban as it prepares an offensive against their stronghold in South Waziristan. It follows a suicide bombing in Peshawar which prompted Interior Minister Rehman Malik to say that ”all roads are leading to South Waziristan.”
But what is perhaps more troubling about the attack is not so much the backlash from the Pakistani Taliban (the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP) holed up in the Waziristan tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but rather suggestions of growing co-operation between al Qaeda-linked groups there and those based in Punjab, the heartland of Pakistan.
U.S. plans to triple aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year appear to have run rather quickly afoul of the law of unintended consequences – by threatening to create tensions between the government and the army.
The Kerry-Lugar aid bill is meant to bolster Pakistan’s civilian democracy and help the country fight Islamist militants. But it also stipulates that U.S. military aid will cease if Pakistan does not help fight the militants; seeks Pakistani cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation and provides for an assessment of how effective the civilian government’s control is over the military.