Pax Indica: The call General Kayani cannot make

A pessimistic prognosis regarding Pakistan’s transformation

Imagine that General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani wakes up one fine morning and decides that the Talibanisation of his country now risked destroying the military establishment that nurtured it since 1947. The militant groups that the army had used to attack India and Afghanistan on the cheap were not only creating trouble for Pakistan around the world, but had wrecked Pakistani society and its economy. General Kayani can tolerate all that, but reckons he will soon have to choose be-tween cutting them down to size or joining their bandwagon, perhaps as their “amir-ul-momineen.” Imagine that he chooses the former option, if only to con-tinue enjoying the “al-Faida” that has come the Pakistani army’s way since 9/11.

“Get Pasha on the line,” he barks at his orderly. Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, chief of the Agency That Should Not Be Named, picks up the phone from his well-appointed office in the unmarked building near Islamabad’s Aabpara market.

“Pasha, shut them all down, and this is an order.” General Kayani doesn’t stop for pleasantries or preamble, fearing that the ever-reasonable Pasha will find ways to dissuade him.

“Sir, yes sir! And what then, sir?” Pasha asks. Kayani has known Pasha long enough to know this was not a rhetorical question.

How will the Pakistani government — which can’t even collect taxes, electric-ity and water bills from anyone who refuses to pay them — demobilise hundreds of thousands of functionally illiterate, violent, combat-hardened and thoroughly radi-calised young men? The civilian political leadership, bureaucracy and police sim-ply do not have the capacity, competence and power to put anyone other than low-ranking jihadi leaders under arrest, that too temporarily. The only institution that has the prerequisites necessary to take on the jihadi groups is the Pakistan army.

Those on the margins are likely to explore alternatives to martyrdom, but the hard core of the jihadi firmament won’t give in without a bloody fight.

***

Forty-year-old Brigadier Adnan, tasked to dismantle and neutralise a jihadi hub in South Punjab, tugs at his beard. He has deep misgivings about the mission he has been charged with, even as he gathers his officers for the operational brief-ing. As he explains how they will take out the militant headquarters and such, he sees that most of his subordinates have puzzled looks on their faces. Finally, the brigade-major, an energetic 25-year old infantryman, speaks up. “Sir, why are we targeting these boys?”

“Because, uh, they are putting Pakistan in danger.”

“How sir? They are only fighting against the Amrika, the Israel and the India. They are only doing what we should. They are doing it because our Crore Com-manders have decided that al-Faida is more important than the real mission. And sir, you do know that our men watch television.”

Brigadier Adnan gives his beard another tug. This was not going to be easy.

***

2000 militants surrendered in one week, and it fell to Colonel Bashir to deal with them. They had been lodged in a hurriedly erected camp outside the village for identification, debriefing and triage. If his job was not difficult enough, the bloody Americans wanted to poke their noses into his business. Their spies were everywhere. Yet he knew his problem was the easy one – the really wicked prob-lem would begin when these boys went home to their towns and villages and fig-ured out there was nothing for them to do there. Some would find ad hoc employ-ment with the local feudal landlord, who could use their special talents. Most, however, would do — what? Other than working the farm for the landlord, there was little to keep them occupied, much less employed.

Colonel Bashir was not even thinking about their minds. Would minds, once radicalised, ever shrink back to their original state?

***

Now you know why General Kayani will never give such an order in real life. The Pakistani state and its society simply does not have what it takes to dismantle, demobilise and de-radicalise the hundreds of thousands of militants that operate in that country.

In a 2007 study on militant recruitment in Pakistan, C Christine Fair, now as-sistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies notes: “Limited evidence suggests that both public school and madrasah students tend to support jihad, tanzeems, and war with India, and are more intolerant toward Pakistan’s minorities and women. Thus, if Ethan Bueno de Mesquita’s model is correct, creating educational and employment opportunities may not put an end to militancy because tanzeems can recruit from lower-quality groups. In the long term, however, interventions of this kind may diminish the quality of terror pro-duced, rendering tanzeems a mere nuisance rather than a menace to regional secu-rity. This would be a positive development.”

That would be a positive development, yes, but, as she points out in the very next sentence, “(the) problem with school reform and employment generation ef-forts is not only that they may be beyond Islamabad’s capability and resolve but also that there may be no feasible scope for U.S. or international efforts to per-suade Islamabad to make meaningful reforms on its own.”

That’s the bad news. The worse news is that this is going to get a whole lot worse, as the population grows, the education system continues to radicalise minds, the media reinforces prejudices and the military establishment exploits geo-political opportunities to stay on the same dangerous course.

In the face of this grim reality, the antics of the motley bunch of slick political operators that pass off as the Pakistani government are tragicomic. Politicians like Yusuf Raza Gilani and Shah Mahmood Qureshi mask their impotence by outrageous grandstanding intended to score points with the military-jihadi com-plex.

It is a good idea for India to engage the various players in Pakistan to manage — to the extent that it can be managed — the fallout of the turmoil across its north-western borders; so, too, to engage all of Pakistan’s external sponsors. Even so, neither India nor the rest of the world can escape the consequences of Pakistan’s transformation. Driven as much by strategy as by sentiment, Prime Minister Man-mohan Singh is genuinely committed to leaving a legacy of good relations with Pakistan. Don’t you feel sorry for him?

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Shouldn’t 86 million Taliban supporters make you lose some sleep?

Talibanisation doesn’t necessarily need a Pashtun Taliban commander to take over

In March, after Juan Cole argued that “a few thousand tribesmen can’t take over a country of 165 million with a large urban middle class that has a highly organized and professional army”, this blog pointed out that “‘Taliban takeover’ does not necessarily mean a regime that places Baitullah Mehsud…in power. It could well place the army chief or even a politician at the helm, leave the civil bureaucracy largely intact, but replace the tattered 1973 constitution with the sharia.”

The International Republican Institute’s public opinion survey, of a “national representative sample of adult residents in Pakistan”, conducted between March 7-30, 2009 support’s this blog’s case. (via The Washington Independent)

The survey suggests that (before the Pakistani army began its offensive against the Taliban in the Malakand region in late April) almost two-thirds of the respondents (72%) supported striking peace deals with the Taliban knowing that such deals with strengthen the Taliban movement. 80% of the respondents supported the government’s deal with the Taliban. That’s not all, 56% the respondents replied in the affirmative when asked if they would support a Taliban support for sharia in other parts of the country, like Karachi, Multan, Quetta or Lahore. Support for the Lashkar-e-Taiba is strong, with 43% viewing it favourably, (46% unfavourably, and 12% didn’t know/didn’t respond). And after the media, it is the army that Pakistanis look up to—with approval ratings back to around 80%.

Sure, surveys are inexact and things might have changed in the last two months, but they suggest that the risk of Talibanisation is not insignificant. Support for the Taliban is by no means unanimous, and the minority which opposes the Taliban might well triumph in the end (see this month’s Pragati) but to assert, like Prof Cole does with certitude, that this risk is overstated is negated by the IRI survey.

What is worse, the Pakistani acquiescence of Talibanisation is supported by its state of denial. If it were not so scary, it would be amusing to note that while a majority of Pakistanis believe that it would indeed be serious if the Taliban/Lashkar-e-Taiba were to mount attacks on India from Pakistani soil, they do not believe that this is already the case. A majority of the respondents believed that the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai were carried out by Indian intelligence, the United States or by unknown third parties—not the Lashkar-e-Taiba (78% did not agree that LET was responsible).

We don’t know what Prof Cole would say to these data. He is yet to comment on it on his blog, although he does cover a December 2008 Gallup poll that suggests nearly half of those surveyed view the Taliban’s influence as negative. The good professor’s comment perhaps, is selective informed.

So if the thought of a few thousand insurgents taking on the behemoth that is the Pakistan army doesn’t keep you awake at night, perhaps the thought that one in two of Pakistan’s 170 million people might support the Taliban’s call for sharia to be made the law of the land certainly should. Not least when they believe that it is India and the United States that do terrorism, not the Taliban and LET.

Current red lines

Reading the tense

US officials, we are told, “are continuing to press Pakistan to accept more American trainers, an issue likely to come up in the meetings next week.”

Pakistan has balked, American officials said, because it does not want a large American presence in its country.

“There’s a red line about our advisers and any foreign boots on the ground in Pakistan right now,” a senior administration official said. He said that the United States was “doing everything we can within the constraints that are currently placed on our engagement to be as helpful as we can.” [NYT, emphasis added]

That’s Richard Holbrooke, in all likelihood. In any case, the use of the time dimension with respect to those red lines is interesting.

Lahore on the road to Peshawar

…and Peshawar on the road to Swat

What is incongruent about the terrorist attack at the Manawan police training school outside Lahore is that, in the end, some of the attackers surrendered to the special forces who stormed the facility. Generally, the terrorists who attack targets in Pakistan do not leave a calling card, allowing conspiratorial fingers to be pointed at the pointer’s favourite bogey. In the Pakistani context, not claiming patrimony enhances the psychological aspect of the attack—and terrorism is mainly about the psychological aspect. (This is unlike in India, where they release manifestos and call television stations to claim that it was they, and not Pakistani terrorists, who did it.)

It remains to be seen who the terrorists were and why they allowed themselves to be taken alive. Even after the manner in which terrorists escaped unhurt after the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers, it was unlikely that the attackers could have expected to make it out of the Manawan complex alive.

The choice of a ‘hard’ target like a police academy is understandable when you place it in the context of Pakistan’s Talibanisation. In this phase of the process, the goal is to demonstrate that the apparatus of the state is not only unable to guarantee public security, but is also unable to protect itself. As the New York Times reports, one of the survivors “said the attack had destroyed his ambition to be a police officer. “I will not join the police, not after this,” he said. “I love my life.”” Peshawar is a little further down this road, and Swat is close to the end of it. One attack shouldn’t lead us to this conclusion, you say? Well, it’s the second this month, actually.

Pakistani security forces did a decent job in neutralising the terrorists. If this results in the Pakistani people understanding that the real threat is from the jihadi organisations, then there is some hope yet. Don’t count on it, though, because if it involves the military-jihadi complex, it is unlikely that the real culprits will be identified, less punished.

Tailpiece: Many of you caught the Acorn‘s coverage of the event on Twitter. For those who didn’t, please make a note to keep abreast of the latest at twitter.com/acorn.