( This is the final edited version of a chapter on Pakistan contributed by me at the request of the Brookings Institution of the US for an edited volume on Pakistan being brought out by them. The volume will have contributions from selected analysts in India,Pakistan and the US )
The religious extremism encouraged by the Pakistan army has turned into a double-edged sword. To some extent it did hurt the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s and India after 1989, but it now hurts Pakistan more than India.
The consolidation of the presence of al Qaeda and its associates; the deepening of the roots of the Afghan Taliban in Pakistani territory; the growth of the Pakistani Taliban, called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in Pakistani Punjab and the tribal belt; and the ideological Talibanization of India-specific terrorist organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba LeT(LET [au: or LeT, as below?]) and of growing sections of youth in the tribal belt and Punjab are the outcome of the army’s encouragement of religious extremism. The army used extremism as an operational asset to achieve its strategic objectives of forcing a change in the status quo in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), retaining the Pakistani presence and influence in Afghanistan and countering India’s presence and influence.
The growth of religious extremism has made Pakistan a state of great concern not only to India (as it has always been), but also to other countries of the world. Al Qaeda and its associates, which have global ambitions, have established de facto control over north Waziristan. The noticeable surge in strikes by U.S. drone aircraft since President Barack Obama came to office in January 2009 might have weakened al Qaeda and its associates to some extent—as claimed by the United States—but the weakening has not significantly affected their ability to operate globally. They may no longer be able to conduct a 9/11-style terrorist strike, but they are still in a position to operate in a larger geographical area than they could before 9/11, although on a smaller scale.
What al Qaeda and its associates have lost by way of well-motivated and well-trained Arab and other foreign cadres has been made good to some extent by the increase in the number of motivated cadres and capabilities of Pakistani organizations such as the LeT. In the past, the LeT was essentially an asset of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)—raised, motivated, trained, and armed for use against India and against Indian nationals and interests in Afghanistan. While continuing to play the India-focused role assigned to it by the ISI, the LeT has gravitated into an organization with global ambitions and a global reach capable of compensating for the weaknesses of al Qaeda and its associates.
The TTP, which started essentially as an organization indulging in reprisals against the Pakistani security forces following their raid of the Lal Masjid of Islamabad by Pakistani military commandoes in July 2007, has developed a larger agenda. It now assists the Afghan Taliban in its operations against NATO forces in Afghanistan and assists homegrown jihadis in the United States and other Western countries by training them in the areas its controls in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The Pakistan army’s policy of using the extremists and terrorists as operational assets where it can but countering them as adversaries where it should has created a dichotomy in its counterterrorism policy, thereby weakening the fight against terrorism emanating from Pakistani territory. While the Pakistan army can be expected to keep up its sporadic operations against the TTP, which poses an internal threat, it is unlikely to act effectively against the LET and other India-specific terrorist organizations and against the Afghan Taliban. It has been avoiding action against al Qaeda due to lack of confidence in its ability to eradicate the group and fear that al Qaeda might indulge in acts of reprisal terrorism in Pakistani territory.
The internal security situation in Pakistan, already very bad, has been made worse by the activities of Sunni extremist groups such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) against the Shias, who constitute about 20 per cent of the population, against non-Muslim minorities, and against the liberal elements in the Sunni majority. The latter have taken up the cause of the minorities and advocate changes in the blasphemy law in order to prevent its misuse against minorities.
The religious parties that campaign in elections generally receive less than 15 percent of polled votes. There is no reason to believe that their number has increased. What has happened is that the terrorism-prone elements in these organizations (as well as in the general population) have moved toward the terrorist organizations for various reasons, including anger over the commando raid at the Lal Masjid and civilian casualties from drone strikes. Since the terrorist organizations do not run candidates in elections, it is difficult to quantify the support that they enjoy in the general population. However, the fact that they continue to have a regular flow of volunteers for suicide terrorism would indicate significant support for them, particularly in Punjab and other areas such as the Khyber-Pakhtunkwa province and the FATA.
It would be incorrect to conclude from all this that there has been a radicalization of Pakistan as a state and society. What we are seeing is the radicalization of sizable sections of the population—particularly in certain areas of Punjab and the Pashtun belt—that have come under the influence of destabilizing ideas and are posing a threat to peace and security in Pakistan as well as the South Asia region and the rest of the world.
Despite pessimistic assessments by many analysts, I do not see any danger of radicalization of Pakistan as a state and a nation in the short and medium term. The army plays an important role in the governance of Pakistan—either directly, by taking over the reins of power, or indirectly, by having a say in matters concerning national security when duly elected political leaders are in power. There has been an increase in the number of radical elements in the army since the days of the late General Zia ul-Haq (1977–88). One finds an increasing number of students from the madrassas in the armed forces and other government departments. They are more prone to be influenced by radical ideas than students from nonreligious institutions.
Such radical elements are found mainly at the lower and middle ranks; the presence of radical elements at the higher command level is rare. However, there have been exceptions, the most prominent of them being General Zia himself, who was a devout Deobandi, and General Mohammed Aziz Khan, who retired some years ago. General Aziz Khan, who belongs to the Sudan tribe of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), was considered a hard-core fundamentalist, in thought and action. Since his retirement, there have been no votaries of radical or fundamentalist ideologies at the level of lieutenant-general and general
Despite the presence of radical elements at the lower and middle levels, the Pakistan army is not a radical institution in a religious sense. While the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, which consists largely of military officers, have no compunctions about using radical elements in society for achieving their strategic objectives, they have ensured that their institutions do not get infected with radical ideas at the senior level. During the war against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the ISI, in collaboration with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), used radical ideologies to motivate Afghan, Pakistani, and Arab volunteers to fight against Soviet troops. At the same time, it saw to it that those ideas did not affect the army as an institution. This is equally true in the case of the air force and the navy.
There are three destabilizing ideological influences in Pakistan: Wahabized Islamic extremism, trans-ummah pan-Islamism, and countrywide anti-Americanism. Wahabized Islamic extremism calls for the transformation of Pakistan into an Islamic State ruled according to sharia and the will of Allah, as interpreted by the clerics. It asserts that in an Islamic State, Allah will be sovereign, not the people . Trans-ummah pan-Islamism holds that the first loyalty of a Muslim should be to his religion and not to the state; that religious bonds are more important than cultural bonds; that Muslims do not recognize national frontiers and have a right and obligation to go to any country to wage a jihad in support of the local Muslims; and that Muslims have the religious right and obligation to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in order to protect their religion, if necessary. Anti-Americanism identifies the United States as the source of all evils afflicting the Islamic as well as the non-Islamic world. While religious anti-American elements look on the United States as anti-Islam, the nonreligious elements look on it as anti-people.
The geo-religious landscape in Pakistan is dominated by two kinds of organizations— fundamentalist parties and jihadi organizations. Fundamentalist parties have been in existence since Pakistan became independent in 1947 and have run candidates in elections although they are opposed to Western-style liberal democracy. Their total vote share has always been below 15 percent. They reached 11 percent in the 2002 elections, thanks to the machinations of the Pervez Musharraf government, which wanted to marginalize the influence of the nonreligious parties that opposed him, such as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) of Nawaz Sharif. In his overanxiety to cut Bhutto and Sharif down to size, Musharraf handed the tribal areas on a platter to the fundamentalists and the jihadis, thereby—more unwittingly than consciously—facilitating the resurgence of the neo-Taliban and al Qaeda.
So-called jihadi organizations misinterpret the concept of jihad and advocate its use against all perceived enemies of Islam—internal or external, non-Muslim or Muslim—wherever they are found. Their call for jihad has a domestic as well as an external agenda. The domestic agenda is to set up an Islamic Statedemocracy in Pakistan ruled according to sharia and the will of Allah. The external agenda is to “liberate” all so-called traditional Muslim lands from the “occupation” of non-Muslims and to eliminate the influence of the United States and the rest of the Western world from the ummah.
The jihadi organizations were brought into existence in the 1980s by the ISI and Saudi intelligence at the request instance of [au: meaning?] the CIA to be used against the troops of the Soviet Union and the pro-Soviet Afghan government. Their perceived success in bringing about the withdrawal of the Soviet troops and the collapse of the Najibullah government convinced the organizations that jihad, as waged by them, was a highly potent weapon that could be used with equal effectiveness to bring about the withdrawal of the Western presence from the ummah, to “liberate the traditional Muslim lands,” and to transform Pakistan into an Islamic fundamentalist state. The Pakistan army and the ISI, which were impressed by the motivation, determination, and fighting skills displayed by the jihadi organizations in Afghanistan, transformed them after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops into a new strategic weapon for use against India to annex J&K and in Afghanistan to achieve a Pakistani presence .
The aggravation of anti-U.S. feeling in the Islamic world after 9/11 has resulted in dual control of the Pakistani jihadi organizations. The ISI tried to use them for its national agenda against India and in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda used them for their global agenda against “the Crusaders and the Jewish people.” The jihadi organizations are now fighting on three fronts with equal ferocity—against India, as desired by the ISI; against the United States and Israel, as desired by al Qaeda; and against the Pakistani state itself, as dictated by their domestic agenda, to establish an Islamic state. The growing Talibanization of the FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP) and the Taliban’s spread outside the tribal areas are the result of their determined pursuit of their domestic agenda. The acts of jihadi terrorism in Spain and the United Kingdom; the thwarted acts of terrorism in the United Kingdom; the unearthing of numerous sleeper cells in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and other countries; and the resurgence of the neo-Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan are the result of their equally determined pursuit of their international agenda. Members of the Pakistani diaspora in the Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates[au: which one?] and the Western countries have been playing an increasingly active role in facilitating the pursuit of their international agenda.
The international community’s concern over the prevailing and developing situation in Pakistan has been further deepened by Pakistan’s status as a nuclear weapon state. The Pakistan army has repeatedly assured the United States and the rest of the international community that the security of its nuclear arsenal is strong and that there is no danger of its falling into the hands of the jihadi terrorists. Despite its reassurances, concern remains, due to various factors.
First, it is admitted even in Pakistan that extremist elements have infiltrated every section of the Pakistani state apparatus—the armed forces, the police, paramilitary forces, and the civilian bureaucracy. It is inconceivable, then, that Pakistan’s nuclear establishment would not have been penetrated.
Second, the fundamentalist and jihadi organizations are strong supporters of a military nuclear capability so that the ummah can counter Israel’s alleged nuclear capability. They consider Pakistan’s atomic bomb not merely a national asset but an Islamic asset. They describe it as an Islamic bomb, whose use should be available to the entire ummah, and so support Pakistan’s sharing its nuclear technology with other Muslim countries. In their eyes, A. Q. Khan, the so-called father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, committed no offense by sharing nuclear technology with Iran and Libya because both are Muslim states—or with North Korea as quid pro quo for its sharing its missile technology with Pakistan. They look on Pakistan’s sharing its nuclear technology and know-how with other Islamic states as an Islamic obligation and not as an illegal act of proliferation.
Third, while scientists may be prepared to share technology and know-how with other Muslim states, there has been no evidence of a similar willingness on their part to share them with Islamic nonstate actors such as al Qaeda. However, the dangers of such sharing with nonstate groups were highlighted by the unearthing of evidence by U.S. intelligence after 9/11 that at least two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists—Sultan Bashiruddin Chaudhury and Abdul Majid—had been in touch with Osama bin Laden after their retirement and had even visited him at Kandahar. After being taken into custody and questioned, they admitted their contacts with bin Laden but insisted that their dealings with him were in connection with a humanitarian relief organization that they had founded after their retirement. Many retired Pakistani military and intelligence officers have been helping the neo-Taliban and Pakistani jihadi organizations, the most well-known being Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, director-general of ISI during Benazir Bhutto’s first tenure as prime minister (1988–90). Are there other retired nuclear scientists who have been maintaining similar contacts with al Qaeda and other jihadi organizations?
The Pashtun belt on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border will continue to be under the de facto control of al Qaeda, the neo-Taliban, and Pakistani jihadi organizations. Neither the Pakistan army in Pakistani territory nor the U.S.-led NATO forces in the adjoining Afghan territory will be able to prevail over the terrorists in an enduring manner. NATO forces will not be able to prevail in Afghan territory unless and until the roots of jihadi terrorism in Pakistani territory are initially sterilized and ultimately destroyed. The Pakistan army has so far exhibited neither the willingness nor capability to undertake that task. Its lack of willingness arises from its perception that it will need its own jihadis for continued use against India and the neo-Taliban for retrieving the strategic ground that it lost in Afghanistan. Moreover, the army fears that any strong action that it takes against the jihadis operating in the Pashtun belt could lead to a major confrontation with tribal groups, which contribute a large number of soldiers to the army. Next to Punjab, the largest number of recruits in the Pakistan army comes from the KP and the FATA.
The army’s incapability arises from the fact that ever since Pakistan was born in 1947, the FATA has remained in a state of isolation and utter neglect, with no worthwhile development of its economy and infrastructure. It should be possible to root out the terrorist infrastructure in the area through NATO operations mounted from Afghan territory, but neither the current government nor any future democratically elected civilian government is likely to agree to that as it could aggravate anti-American feeling across the country and the entire political spectrum, discrediting the government in power at Islamabad. If the Pakistan government, including its military leadership, does not take vigorous action in time, there is the danger that jihadi extremism of the Taliban kind will spread from the tribal areas to the POK and to those areas of Punjab bordering the Pashtun belt. There are indications that it has already started to happen.
India and Afghanistan will continue to face the immediate impacts of the uncontrolled activities of extremists and jihadis in Pakistan’s territory. Jihadi terrorism in India’s territory will ebb and flow, depending on the effectiveness of India’s security forces and counterterrorism agencies in dealing with it. Occasional outbreaks of spectacular acts of terrorism will be followed by long spells of inactivity. In the first few years after terrorism broke out in J&K in 1989, it almost assumed the shape of a sustained insurgency. But the political, counterterrorism, and counter-infiltration measures (building of border fences) taken by Indian authorities have dented the terrorists’ ability to sustain a wave of attacks. The total elimination of sporadic acts will not be possible until the state of Pakistan gives up the use of terrorism as a strategic weapon.
There will be continuing instability in Afghanistan, with the danger of Afghanistan reverting to its pre-9/11 position. Narcotics control measures and all measures to dry up the flow of funds to different terrorist groups will remain ineffective. The flow of funds from the international community to Afghanistan will not result in any significant economic development or improvement in the people’s standard of living. On the other hand, there is some danger that those funds will leak into terrorist coffers through government sympathizers. The newly raised Afghan security forces and the civilian administration have been penetrated by the neo-Taliban.
The phenomenon of angry individuals in the Pakistani and other Muslim diasporas in the West taking to suicide terrorism and emulating al Qaeda’s modus operandi will continue. Strong measures taken by Western governments against their own Muslim population as well as Muslim visitors to their country will add to the feelings of alienation and anger in the Muslim diaspora. That will hamper the integration of Muslims and aggravate the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims. Acts of reprisal terrorism against Western nationals and interests will continue to take place. A repeat of 9/11 in the U.S. homeland cannot be ruled out, however strong the physical security measures. A vicious cycle—more terrorism followed by more physical security measures and restrictions against Muslims followed by more alienation and anger—will continue unbroken.
The fire of jihadi terrorism started in the Afghan-Pakistan region. It can be extinguished only through appropriate measures in the region where it started, particularly in Pakistan, where the heart of the fire is located. Doing so requires a mix of immediate and long-term measures. The immediate measures would include pressuring Pakistan to stop using terrorism as a strategic weapon, effectively putting an end to the terrorist infrastructure created by the ISI, and to arrest and prosecute the leaders of jihadi terrorist organizations. Although those measures would weaken the Pakistani jihadi organizations, they would not end al Qaeda. It could be neutralized only by joint international action. The international community has not been successful because of lack of cooperation from Pakistan, which must be made to cooperate through carrot-and-stick policies. Another immediate measure required is a change in the current overmilitarized counterterrorism methods of the United States, which are causing considerable collateral damage and driving more Muslims into the arms of al Qaeda.
Long-term measures must include heavy investment in education in Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to make modern education available to the poorer segments of society at an affordable price. The madrassa system also must be reformed in order to make the madrassas serve the genuine religious and spiritual needs of the people without seeking to make jihadi terrorists out of them. Western countries should seek to erase the perception in their Muslim populations that Muslims are a targeted community. To do that, they must improve the interactions of intelligence and security agencies with Muslims. How can they be firm without seeming to be harsh? How can they avoid creating feelings of humiliation in Muslims under questioning? These are questions that need attention, immediately and in the medium and long terms. Eradication of the roots of terrorism will be a long, drawn-out process. It needs to be handled with patience and understanding of the feelings of Muslims. The economic development of the tribal areas on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border also needs attention.
India must be a frontline state in the political and ideological campaign against extremism and terrorism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. The threat originating from this area will continue to confront India, Afghanistan, and the international community as a whole for at least another ten to fifteen years. It has to be gradually diluted and the terrorist organizations demotivated before one can hope to see jihadi fatigue set in. Demotivation of the terrorism-prone sections of the population should be the first objective. Better education, better medical care, better infrastructure, better governance, and greater economic prosperity are important factors in any effort to achieve demotivation.
Nonetheless, attention to those factors alone will not achieve the level of demotivation required to roll back the jihadi threat. It is equally important to work simultaneously to change the motives of Pakistan’s military leadership, whose reflexes are still largely influenced by memories of the defeat of the Pakistan army by the Indian army in 1971 and by fears of a possible repeat of 1971. The army’s reflexes are governed not only by feelings of insecurity arising from fear of what India might be up to but also by the conviction that Jammu and Kashmir belongs to Pakistan and needs to be wrested from Indian control. Fears of India regaining its past influence in Afghanistan are another strong influence.
There is no possibility that India will hand Jammu and Kashmir over to Pakistan. No amount of terrorism and no increase in the strength and capability of the Pakistan army can shake India’s control of J&K and its determination to fight for the territorial status quo. The recent attempts by Pakistan to bring China into Pakistan in a big way are an indication of its realization that it cannot achieve its strategic objectives against India through the use of terrorism alone. Pakistan also realizes that the United States is unlikely to help it achieve those objectives.
Having realized the likely futility of using either the jihadi card or the U.S. card against India, Pakistan is once again trying to use the China card by inviting Chinese troops into the POK and the Gilgit-Baltistan area and by encouraging China to diversify its economic and military stakes in Pakistan. China, which has been concerned over the implications for its status and security of the relationship between India and the United States, is showing greater willingness than before to let itself be used by Pakistan to buttress Pakistan’s feelings of security vis-à-vis India.
In this web of geopolitical complexities, what are the policy options before India? Should it keep adding to Pakistan’s feelings of insecurity and instability or take the initiative to lessen Pakistani concerns? Is it possible to lessen those concerns and help Pakistan rid itself of its anti-India reflexes without changing the status quo in J&K and without giving up India’s growing links with Afghanistan?
Any exercise to demotivate the Pakistani state and help it to rid itself of its fears—which are seen by its army as real and by India as imaginary—has to start with frequent and sustained interactions between the institutions of the two countries: political parties to political parties, parliament to parliament, army to army, intelligence agencies to intelligence agencies, Foreign Office to Foreign Office, and Home Ministry to Home Ministry. Increasing institutional contacts are is as important as increasing people-to-people contacts to dispel the two countries’ imaginary fears of each other.
How should India and Pakistan increase their institutional interactions with each other? That is the basic question to be addressed, and it should be addressed in the context of an overall vision statement agreed to by the two countries. The imaginary fears are more in Pakistan’s mind than in India’s mind. India’s prime minister should take the initiative by visiting Pakistan to set the ball rolling toward an agreed common vision.