Kayani wins this round

But it’s likely to go downhill for him from here

One of the primary tasks Ashfaq Pervez Kayani set for himself when he took over from Pervez Musharraf as Pakistan’s army chief was to restore the image of the Pakistani army at home and abroad. It was in November 2007 when the popularity of the Pakistani army had hit rock bottom. Now, in May 2009, it is clear that General Kayani has succeeded in that objective. After the ‘successful’ military offensive against the Mullah Fazlullah’s Taliban militia at Swat the army has regained a lot of the respect that it had lost in the final months of General Musharraf. The United States can’t be too unhappy either.

This has come due to, and at the cost of, the complete wrecking of the process of rapprochement with India—the attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul, the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai and its aftermath. But then, General Kayani never did say that good relations with India were part of his plans.

Today’s editorial in the Indian Express gets the score right:

Pakistan’s real power centre, the army, has turned hostile towards the peace process with India. By launching a new campaign against the Taliban in Swat and preparing for another in Waziristan, the Pakistan army is winning powerful friends in Washington and gaining empathy around the world. Put simply, the Pakistan army, the main supporter of anti-India terror groups, has emerged a winner at home and abroad since Mumbai. [IE]

Of course, this proves that those who argued in 2005-06 that the corporate interests of the Pakistani army have irrevocably become wedded to rapprochement with India were wrong. The interests of the Pakistani army are its own survival and primacy in Pakistan: peace processes or proxy wars with India are merely means to promote these interests.

Now, India did make General Kayani’s job more difficult by not escalating military tensions after 26/11. But not before the military establishment’s propaganda machine used it to turn public opinion against an Indian attack that never was, and against an avenging Indian ‘hand’ that never existed. So much so that today, as Pamela Constable finds out, there is anger on the streets of Pakistan “against the American, Israeli and Indian intelligence services, [who are accused] of supporting the Taliban in order to destabilize Pakistan and seize control of its nuclear arsenal.” As The Acorn predicted, General Kayani has revived the old al-Faida strategy again, although this time the stakes are much higher.

If General Kayani can justifiably fly a Mission Accomplished sortie on a F-16 fighter jet, it could go downhill for him from here. Why so?

Because it is difficult for the Pakistani army to sustain operations against the Taliban militants without running into cognitive dissonance. The routinely used and blatant lies—that the enemy the rank-and-file are shooting are American, Israeli or Indian agents—do not work beyond a certain point. It is therefore significant that General Kayani is now calling the Taliban “misguided people”, implicitly admitting that they are Pakistanis and Muslims. But he cannot go beyond this minor concession to reality: it is difficult to convince a Islamised rank-and-file that the Taliban are enemies because they are radical Islamists. It is at this point that troops refuse to fight, surrender to the Taliban or worse, begin to get mutinous. The army cannot continue the fight beyond this point.

This is the reason why the history of the Pakistani army’s post 9/11 co-operation with the United States against the Taliban is a series of ‘offensives’ followed by ‘peace deals’. Even without considering that other parts of the military-jihadi complex are engaged in supporting the Taliban at other points, this history is indicative of the army’s inability to get into a long drawn fight.

Now unless the United States takes the pressure off General Kayani’s back—which looks unlikely within the next year—the Pakistan army will have to fight. How much will the Obama administration’s ostensibly civilian-focused financial aid reduce his ability to throw money at the problem? So watching how Washington disburses its assistance to Pakistan is important. But even with financial lubrication, the army’s internal organisational pressures are likely to weigh against an extended operation in the tribal areas.

So as we have previously argued:

Sooner or later, the Obama administration will come to realise that it has no way to make the Pakistani military establishment seriously fight and defeat the jihadi groups, which includes the Taliban, al-Qaeda and outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. When that moment comes, Barack Obama will need to choose between direct confrontation with the Pakistani military-jihadi complex and colossal strategic defeat—in the form of acceptance of a radical Islamist state with a well-developed nuclear weapons capability. It is in India’s interests that this point comes sooner rather than later. [The Acorn]

5 thoughts on “Kayani wins this round”

  1. A possible outcome of pakistani military strike against terror outfits could be that these outfits would start recoganizing the pakistani army as unfriendly. It remains to be seen how the relations of army and T-outfits would be after these strikes are over. Particularly wrt to operations carried out in India.

    Another event to look for is would these strike be ever over (good for us if they aren’t). Just like US is strill struggling in Afganistan, is it possible that Pakistani army has opened an open front againt themselves?

  2. Has the Pak military really gone against the terrorists fully? Has there been any capture of high-value terrorists?
    Time only will tell..

  3. The Pakistani army *are* the terrorists, or at least, they are the most powerful terrorist group of the many myriad terrorist groups that operate in Pakistan. The Lashkar-e-Toiba is the official terrorist group of the ISI which in turn takes orders from Kayani and the Pakistani army. The Pakistani army trained a bunch of men to come into Mumbai and commit 26/11.

    “Did the army catch any terrorists?” Yes, they did, though all of them were subsequently released (The Pak. army probably saw no point imprisoning your own employees). In fact, the same terrorists were sometimes caught and released many times, just like the recent catch-and-release of Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-e-toiba, Electrical engineer and global terrorist.

  4. The US has made it amply clear it is not interested in the ostensibly India-specific jihadist assets (read the L-e-T and other Pakjab-Sindh based groups) and will not waste political capital and other leverage in pushing the Pak establishment to weaken these groups or rein them in in any way.

    The Taliban have no traction outside Pusthu lands and cannot seriously bring down the Pakjabi establishment from across the Indus. The Pak army meanwhile will indiscriminately kill as many and for as long as necessary to get this message across to the Talibs.

    Just my 2 cents.

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