The self-destruction of Pakistan

By Jonathan Power

Patience is wearing thin. “Pakistan be damned”, one influential British policy maker said to me. Professors Paul Kapur and Sumit Ganguly write this month in Harvard University’s “International Security”, that “The Pakistan-jihad nexus is as old as the Pakistani state. From its founding in 1947 to the present day Pakistan has used religiously motivated militant forces as strategic tools.” But now the policy has become “dangerous and potentially catastrophic”, they add.

Until recently the policy was an unmitigated success, putting India, the other claimant to the majority Moslem state of Kashmir, which Pakistan has long claimed, on the defensive. Later some of the same fighters that Pakistan sponsored in Kashmir joined the Taliban and other opposition militants in Afghanistan and later still were part of those who waged war on Indian soil including attacks on India’s parliament and a major Mumbai hotel.

This policy, often conducted by a wink and a nod from the Pakistani army with on many occasions the connivance of the government, has become counterproductive, alienating not just India, but the West and Russia. Pakistan will have to abandon the jihadists if it is to avoid catastrophe, even though that will lead to a showdown with Pakistan’s militant religious parties. (Although they win only about 5-7% of the vote they are capable of creating mayhem at home.)

During the war between Afghani militants and the Soviet Union following the Soviet invasion in 1979 the US and Saudi Arabia funelled large financial and military resources through Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) to the Afghani rebels including the Taliban. But a substantial amount was diverted to the Kashmiri insurgents. A preoccupied US under the presidency of Jimmy Carter turned a blind eye with devastating consequences for the long term interests of the West and Russia.

During the 1990s, tired of the inability of the Kashmiri groups to make progress, the ISI deployed non-Kashmiris including organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba (implicated in the 2008 Mumbai attack which killed over 200 people).

By 1994 Pakistan was supporting the Taliban. The Pakistani political party, Jamaat-e-Ulema-Islam, during the Soviet occupation, had set up many religious schools in Afghanistan out of which emerged the Taliban. Pakistan aided the Taliban’s ascent to power.

Not surprisingly, despite all the promises of total cooperation made to Washington in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks the ISI continued to help the Taliban and other movements such as the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, providing extensive logistical, financial, intelligence and help with training from seasoned Kashmiri-based fighters.

Time and time again the Pakistani government has promised to move against these organisations. But with exception of the period during the effort of President Pervez Musharraf to make peace with India the ISI has aided the militants substantially. So secure does Lashkar-e-Taiba feel it has organised large rallies at home. After the deadly attack on Mumbai the government promised to move decisively against the organisation. It didn’t.

These days the militants have slipped more and more out of Pakistan’s control. They are now sufficiently strong that they can make decisions independent of the ISI’s will.

Now organisations such as the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban have effectively seized large portions of Pakistan’s province of South Waziristan. This has provoked the Pakistani military to engage them in combat. But it has alienated the local people.

On a number of occasions militants attempted to assassinate President Musharraf and in recent times have attacked Pakistan’s military facilities. Thus the chickens have come home to roost and sympathising religious organisations increasingly infect the atmosphere inside Pakistan.

The sum of all this has provoked India to develop new military capabilities which will enable them to initiate large-scale attacks on Pakistan at short notice. India is increasing its offensive forces along its border with Pakistan. The danger of this leading to nuclear war is very real.

Pakistan must now realize the cost of supporting the jihadists is not worth the return. In particular it must stop aiding the Afghani Taliban. They will always pose a danger of entering Pakistan to pursue their agenda. Pakistan’s attempt to have it both ways – supporting the US and Nato but backing the militants can no longer work. However the government fears US and Nato withdrawal in 2014 which will leave Afghanistan exposed to Indian influence.

On the Indian side there must be a realization of the Pakistani government’s problem. It is not enough just to blame Pakistan and wring its hands. It must keep its eye on the main prize – making peace with Pakistan over Kashmir. Then the two governments can take on the militants together.

When president, Musharraf proposed a peace plan that incorporated the main Indian demands. The Indian government was foolish not to sign it whilst it was on offer. Musharraf, being head of the military as well as president, could have delivered peace.

Copyright: Jonathan Power

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