Obama wasn’t there. Kayani was.

Despite the Wikileaks documents, US policy on Pakistan is unlikely to change

The immediate response by President Barack Obama’s media managers to the release of thousands of war logs has been to blame the Bush administration. “The period of time covered in these documents (January 2004-December 2009)” the White House says “is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy.” As the latest release—and perhaps a more damning future one—by Wikileaks works its way through the US political system, Mr Obama will have to do a lot better than that. (Yes, yes, another speech full of high rhetoric is on the cards.)

However as my INI colleague pointed out this morning, that period includes General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s entire tenure as ISI chief. As Tunku Varadarajan writes in the Daily Beast

Much of the latest involvement in the Afghan insurgency by the ISI—Pakistan’s military intelligence—happened on Gen. Kayani’s watch, when he was the head of the ISI. That very same man, Kayani, whose agency lovingly breastfed the Taliban, and who was later elevated to chief of army staff, has just been granted a three-year extension by Pakistan’s civilian government. It boggles the mind that this duplicitous underminer of the U.S. war effort is now General David Petraeus’ direct interlocutor. Petraeus will need to navigate a labyrinth of misinformation and half-truths, accompanied by typically unctuous protestations that Pakistan is doing everything it can to help us in the war against al Qaeda. [Daily Beast]

This is not really news. But now that the ISI’s skulduggery has the international media’s attention, it will be much harder for US officials to pretend that Gen Kayani smells of roses. Here’s something to think about—what if Wikileaks had delivered their scoop before his term was extended? Here’s something else to think about—there was time until November this year to announce the extension of his term.

Who killed Benazir Bhutto?

Quite likely, the same people who perverted the investigation

The UN investigative commission enquiring into the Benazir Bhutto assassination has—given the context—shown some cojones. Not only did it put into writing what the United States likes to hide under a rug of diplomatese, it also refused the allow the Pakistani government to bury the report under one pretext or the other. Note how the UN commission organised a press conference and made the report public after it appeared that the Pakistani government might not.

The commissioners don’t explicitly say who ordered the assassination—which is fair, given the lack of evidence—but leave the reader with the unmistakable impression that the military establishment is culpable. You don’t need to be an Erast Fandorin to conclude this, but precisely because the Pakistani government (of President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani) can’t even complete an investigation into the killing of one of Pakistan’s most popular leaders, it is pointless to expect it to deliver anything in terms of arresting the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.

That silly game of dossiers-and-lawsuits is pointless and ought to stop. Other than making the Indian government look stupid, powerless and incompetent in front of its own people, this absurd routine achieves nothing.

Back to the UN commissions report: you should read it for its decent attempt to describe what the Pakistani ‘Establishment’ is, for its bald assessment that the ISI covered up its tracks and for a good account of the methods it used. The UN commission squarely puts the military establishment in the dock. But because General Kayani has masterfully turned public opinion around in favour of the army, it’s unlikely that the report will amount to anything.

Surrendering Swat

Pakistan’s strategic retreat will be irreversible…unless the military establishment is transformed

First the facts: the Pakistani government has struck a deal with Maulana Sufi Mohammed, who heads an organisation called the Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) to impose Nizam-e-Adl regulations, which are based on Sharia law, in the Malakand Division of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). This region consists of Swat and a few other districts where the Pakistani army has been unable and unwilling to take on the Islamist militants who have effective control. But it is not Mr Sufi Mohammed’s TNSM that holds sway—rather, it is his Maulana Fazlullah’s militia, including the Shaheen Commando Force, affiliated to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that has imposed a reign of terror in Swat. And to spice up this Frontier version of Santa Barbara, Mr Fazlullah is Mr Sufi Mohammed’s son-in-law.

It is the third time in the last year that the the Pakistani government is attempting to strike a deal with the father-in-law in order to get the son-in-law to cease violence. It has failed twice—because Mr Fazlullah and Swat are pieces on a larger chessboard that also includes, among others, Baitullah Mehsud and Waziristan. These two militant leaders have been able to whipsaw the half-hearted attempts by the Pakistani state machinery into submission.

And a little background: The erstwhile princely state of Swat, headed by the Wali, had a traditional justice system based on an admixture of tribal and Islamic laws. This was abolished when Swat was integrated into Pakistan in 1969—and was replaced by a corrupt, tardy and unpopular bureaucratic system under the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) regulations. General Zia-ul Haq’s Islamisation project and the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan got mixed up with the popular resentment against a failed judicial-administrative system. Mr Sufi Mohammed’s TNSM began as protest movement against the PATA regulations, which naturally took the shape of a call for Sharia. In 1993, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled against the PATA regulations. You would think that some other system came into effect. But it didn’t. A judicial vacuum followed—nobody bothered with trifling matters like a proper judicial system for the people of Swat and its neighbouring districts.

There have been previous announcements of the imposition of Nizam-e-Adl in Swat, but it is unclear if the people’s need for a justice system, any justice system, was met. But the issue of a justice system is distinct from what Mr Fazlullah & Co are trying to establish. The Taliban agenda is to set up an Islamic state on the lines of Mullah Omar’s erstwhile regime in Kabul. Going by their electoral preference—for the secular Awami National Party—it is clear that the people of Swat don’t want that. But now that the Pakistani state has abandoned them, that’s likely to be what they are going to get. [Update: See Sepoy’s post]

Where does all this take us? Well, the fact that the Pakistani government had to settle for political realism within its boundaries suggests that it does not have the power to prevail over the TTP. The attempt to explain away its surrender as a tactical move is hogwash—unless the Pakistani military establishment undergoes a radical transformation, it is unlikely that the government will ever be able to reclaim the lost territories.

Strategically, the surrender will embolden the Taliban forces elsewhere. General Kayani was caught describing the Haqqani militia in Afghanistan as Pakistan’s “strategic assets”. As long as the military establishment continues to believe that the Taliban can be strategic assets it is only a matter of time before the Taliban hegemony crosses across the Indus into the Punjab province. K Subrahmanyam thinks that the Pakistani generals might not want to live under such a regime. But who knows what a combination of delusional thinking, radicalisation and political realism might lead to?

Tailpiece: It is touching to see an op-ed columnist describe Mr Sufi Mohammed as “a simple and peaceful man who does not preach violence except in the way of jihad against non- Muslims.”

Related Links: Swat in Pragati: Articles by Manan Ahmed & Ayesha Saeed

Taliban, Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex and the United States

Some Taliban are allied with Pakistan, against America. Other Taliban are against Pakistan because of America. None of them are ‘moderate’.

Choose your pick: aspirin or scotch. You’ll need help to cope with this week’s news from Pakistan.

First, there is Mullah Omar and his shura, all but openly operating out of Quetta in Balochistan, reliably with the connivance of Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex. Mullah Omar’s group is primarily interested in fighting Western troops in Afghanistan.

Second, there is the Pakistan Taliban, operating out of Bajaur and Swat, in Pakistan’s FATA region. Baitullah Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah are primarily interested in fighting Pakistani troops in Pakistan (although the converse is not entirely true). Even so, Messrs Mehsud and Fazlullah are patriotic Pakistanis, as the Pakistan’s military spokesman informed us after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, going to the extent of threatening to attack India in case of the latter declared war on Pakistan. Then again, they just threatened to kill the leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen, for not taking up arms against the Pakistani government.

Third, out of the blue, or rather out of the grave the Pakistani army presumably dug for him, comes Mustafa Abu-al Yazid, one of al-Qaeda’s ‘top leaders’, with a video threatening India with all sorts of dire consequences were it to go to war with Pakistan. The video is out of pattern with those released by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and could well have been the handiwork of the ISI’s psy-ops unit.

Confusing? Well, yes. But even so, it should be clear that other than Messrs Mehsud and Fazlullah (who form the core of the Pashtun militant groups that form the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) the Pakistani military establishment is comfortable with the other jihadi groups—whether it is Mullah Omar’s Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen and groups fighting in Afghanistan, like the Haqqani militia.

And if there is a problem between Mehsud & Fazlullah and the Pakistani government, it is largely due to the deployment of the Pakistani army in FATA. But to the extent that Pakistan’s military establishment complex finds it unacceptable for the Pashtun tribesmen to extend a Taliban-style regime over FATA and NWFP—which will happen if the army backs out completely—this creates trouble for both Pakistan’s civilian government and the military establishment. This is the big problem: and as K Subrahmanyam and M D Nalapat envisage in this month’s Pragati—the war to Talibanise or DeTalibanise Pakistan is inevitable.

If we take Hamid Mir’s word for it, the fact that the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen have come under the Pashtun Pakistan Taliban’s crosshairs validates the use of the term "military-jihadi complex", as the military and the jihadi establishments are joined at the hip. But if the Pakistan Taliban carry out their threat, can we expect the Lashkar-e-Taiba to direct its energies against the Mehsuds and the Falzullahs? Actually, it’s not a question of possibility—it ispossible. The more important question is what will it take?

Further, the alliance between Mullah Omar and the Pakistani military establishment may well have survived the Bush administration. But there are signs that under Barack Obama, the United States might attempt to crush the Quetta shura, despite Pakistan’s best attempts to convince it otherwise. In the event that the United States manages to sever this alliance then Mullah Omar might well make common cause with Messrs Mehsud and Fazlullah, thereby driving the Pakistan military establishment to side with the United States. Indeed, this is the outcome that Richard Holbrooke and General David Petraeus should be working towards.

What about al-Qaeda then? Whatever might happen to its relationships with the Taliban groups, the Pakistani military establishment has an enduring interest—beans, cats and skeletons being involved—in keeping Messrs bin Laden and Zawahiri out of US hands. Besides, it is al-Qaeda that helps Pakistan by providing ‘senior leaders’ who can be killed by UAV-fired missiles, and yes, occasionally by appearing in threatening videos.

An ISI chief and a liberal?

Not quite

In Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s now famous interview to Der Spiegel, he defends the Taliban’s right to "freedom of opinion" although the question itself related to Mullah Omar’s presence in Pakistan.

However, it is worth listening closely when the general explains why he too is unwilling to apprehend the Taliban leadership, even though many claim that Taliban leader Mullah Omar, for example, is in Quetta, a city where Pasha lived until a few years ago. "Shouldn’t they be allowed to think and say what they please? They believe that jihad is their obligation. Isn’t that freedom of opinion?" he asks, defending extremist rabble-rousers, who are sending more and more Koran school students to Afghanistan to fight in the war there. [Der Spiegel]

Now the ISI chief might have engaged in this sophistry to avoid answering the tough question regarding Mullah Omar’s current residential address. But it also shows that for all his sophistication and liberal pretensions, General Shuja Pasha’s doesn’t know what liberalism is about. He indulges in a common fallacy, or indeed a trick that illiberal types use: they forget (or are unaware) that even the standard bearers of liberalism argue that the one condition that constrains free speech is that it should cause no harm to others. Here’s old Mill:

That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. [John Stuart Mill/On Liberty]

A case of exploding myths

So what if Pakistan is misunderstood?

Commenting on Mohammed Hanif’s attempt to dispel ten myths about Pakistan, Dhruva Jaishankar writes (in an email):

Mohammed Hanif is clearly very smart, and his prose both entertaining and readable, but his attempt at overturning Indian myths of Pakistan also exposes some of the myths that Pakistanis—particularly upper-class, educated Pakistanis—have about their own country (for the record, I’m not suggesting that middle-class Indians aren’t sometimes similarly deluded).

It is absurd to think, as Hanif suggests, that the Pakistani establishment (I like your formulation—the “military-intelligence complex”) does not use terrorism, just because it is indeed fighting other terrorists on its northwestern frontier. That’s clearly a fallacious argument. Also, it’s not just Indian journalists that have reported terrorist training in major urban centres in Pakistan, as he claims (see Pearl, Daniel; Henry-Levi, Bernard; Coll, Steve). He also appears to admit, despite stating that it’s a myth, that Zardari doesn’t have the kind of control that Musharraf has. And while he’s right about India still being a poor country, that’s not the so-called myth that’s propagated—there are clearly marked differences between the natures of the two economies and consequently their overall healths during the global financial crisis. Finally, he cleverly equates R&AW with ISI, institutions that are clearly not analogous in terms of the power they hold in their respective countries and the resources to which they have access. All that said, he is right about Pakistan being a diverse country—something that is frequently overlooked—and the question of loose nukes, a threat which is often over-exaggerated in India, the United States and elsewhere. [TOI]

Dhruva is right on the ball. If Mr Hanif’s argument is that the Pakistani people are victims of a grand misunderstanding perpetrated by the media, then one wonders how he would explain public opinion rallying behind the military-jihadi complex at the drop of a hat—bringing the four year old ‘peace process’ down like a house of cards. Or is that a myth too?

That people in one part of the world nurture myths and stereotypes of other parts of the world is one of those facts of life. It need not become an international problem. What good people like Mr Hanif need to do is ask themselves, if not explain in op-ed columns, why a large number of their countrymen are so willing to condone, connive or be a party to a proxy war fought by their military-jihadi complex using terrorism for aggression and a nuclear arsenal for defence?

Tightening the screws on Pakistan

Four immediate steps

The Pakistani military-jihadi complex has, as expected, gone on a war footing. General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has pledged a “matching response” to Indian surgical strikes, “in no time”. The Pakistan Air Force was scrambled to fly sorties over major cities, scaring ordinary people. And the Jamaat-ud-Dawa organised a major pow-wow of religious parties—which included Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf—and issued a ten-point charter, which among other things called for India to be declared an enemy, and US & NATO’s supply route to be closed. As the Economist put it, it’s a heartwarming show of unity.

While all this might have whipped up passions among the Pakistani people (and distracted them from the economic crisis) , it must be frustrating for General Kayani to observe that no one outside Pakistan is quite taking the threat of an India-Pakistan war seriously. That’s because Indian strategists have realised that denying the Pakistani military-jihadi complex the war they desire is triumph by default. The Pakistani armed forces should be most welcome to burn what little fuel reserves they have (linkthanks RKG), or can afford, flying pointless sorties over their cities, moving tanks and heavy artillery around the country and suchlike. There are two risks: first, where General Kayani’s ability to control the proceedings falls short of the passion of his uniformed and non-uniformed troops. Second, where the frustrated Pakistani military leadership starts the war itself. These risks itself indicate that General Kayani’s moves are devoid of strategic wisdom. In either case, it is India that will have control over the escalation.

Yet, there are people and organisations in Pakistan—suddenly oblivious to the wretch their country has become—who believe that getting away with a terrorist attack without punishment demonstrates an “upper hand”. Since the support for jihadi terrorism comes from these sorts, it is necessary to disabuse them of this notion. For that reason, India must act, visibly and forcefully.

First, India must ensure that the Pakistan remains in the international doghouse until it does what is immediately necessary—the arrest and expatriation of jihadi leaders and the complete shutdown of the jihadi organisations. How? Well, it must use its “restraint” to get the United States and Pakistan’s international donors to hold back aid tranches until Pakistan produces the necessary results.

Second, India should use the opportunity to abandon some silly projects that were pursued in the name of the ‘peace process’—for instance, the Iran-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline. One this simian is off its back, India should pursue a deal to purchase the gas in the form of LNG. It should be easier to seal this agreement now that energy prices have fallen from their historic highs.

Third, international arms suppliers and their governments must be warned that selling arms to Pakistan will make it more difficult for them to penetrate the Indian market.

And finally, as we have been long arguing, India must engage the jihadi enemy not along its own frontiers, but in Afghanistan. India must support the military “surge” in Afghanistan that the US has planned. It could, for instance, arrange and secure the alternative supply route through the Iranian ports of Chahbahar and Bandar Abbas, and overland into Afghanistan. That’ll give the Americans the flexibility they need to secure co-operation from General Kayani.

Nuclear terrorism is already here

And Pakistan is at the centre of it

The world’s strategic analysts worry about the how the “intersection of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction” poses the biggest threat to international security. [See these reports]

The truth is that the intersection has already occurred. In Pakistan.

Much of the discourse linking terrorists and nuclear weapons revolves around the question of preventing weapons of mass destruction from falling into terrorists’ hands. A terrorist organisation can use a nuclear weapon for compellence—to force governments and people to yield to their demands—with or without actually using it first. Mercifully, by all accounts, this scenario is not upon us yet.

But terrorist organisations are already using nuclear weapons for deterrence—exploiting the nuclear umbrella to carry out attacks without the fear of punitive action by its adversaries. That nuclear umbrella is provided by Pakistan’s arsenal, which today protects both Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda leadership and the likes of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. And here’s the rub: the terrorists need not own it or even have their fingers on the trigger. There is enough to suggest that the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States and the November 26th attacks on Mumbai were both conducted with the knowledge and connivance of the Pakistani military establishment. But even if the Pakistani Army were less complicit, its provision of nuclear cover for terrorist organisation makes it part of the world’s terrorists-with-nukes problem. Why would it extend them protection were it not for the fact that such protection promotes its interests?

The Zardari government, as indeed the Pakistani people who elected it, must contemplate on whether they too wish to be part of the same problem. Antagonism against India and national pride are fine, but they should spare a care for their own future. It is impossible for the Pakistani people to escape the consequences of allowing the military-jihadi complex to engage in international nuclear blackmail in their name.

The world’s great powers have already seen how the military-jihadi complex turned against the United States, its former ally. So Pakistan’s current allies won’t, therefore, rest easy merely on the basis of the military-jihadi complex’s current, non-threatening intentions. It is the capability and the willingness to use that they will be concerned about.

Pakistan must nationalise the Jamaat-ud-Dawa

No, seriously

The Pakistani government is unable to raise fiscal resources by getting people and businesses to pay their taxes. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa can—it imposes a flat tax of 2.5% of annual savings on each family. It also raises resources through remittances from abroad. And its collection of hides of animals slaughtered for Eid-ul-Adha should bring a smile on the faces of public finance professors.

The Pakistani government is unable to provide basic public services like security, education and healthcare. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa, on the other hand, does so competently.

The Pakistani government has a problem—the Jamaat-ud-Dawa also engages in terrorism, and it will do the whole world a whole lot of good if it would give up this line of business. So why not nationalise the non-state actor? Doing so will not only inject transparency in the links between the Pakistani state and the jihadi establishment but also give the Pakistani government a shot in the arm.