PAKISTAN: ON A TREADMILL TO NOWHERE

Canberra, 05 December 2014

The real target and intention of the terrorist attack at the Wagah border crossing point with India on 2 November 2014 that killed 60 people and injured more than 100 will perhaps remain unclear for ever. Who were the perpetrators? Was the target selected to send a message to the Pakistan Government, or was it a random act? The answers to these two questions will provide an indication of the path that Pakistan will traverse in the next 12 months and beyond. In combination, they will also be a pointer to the intent of the terrorist groups operating inside the country as well as providing the identity of the supporters of these groups. However, obtaining the correct answers will not be an easy task, and may even be impossible in the current circumstances. Pakistan functions under a veil of opaque secrecy at the best of times and now it seems to have withdrawn further into the proverbial space where all activities that are too hard to handle and where answers are uncomfortable for the ruling elite to acknowledge are swept under the carpet of national security.

The terrorist narrative is long and distinct in Pakistan. The current account can perhaps be traced back to the on-going military operation (code name Zarb-e-Azb) that was launched in June 2014 into North Waziristan province to root out the terrorists who had made the area into an unfettered safe haven. In fact the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) continues to be the de facto headquarters of the terrorist organisations that function in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan. The Pakistan Army now claims to have unearthed and ‘destroyed’ the extensive infrastructure that the terrorists had built in the FATA to support their activities. The retaliation to the military action that was expected materialised only after seven months of military operations—the attack in Wagah.

Three separate terrorist groups have claimed responsibility for the action of a solitary suicide bomber. This in itself is nothing new, terrorist organisations tend to claim responsibility for all kinds of incidents in order to bolster their profile and attract fresh recruits to their flags. However, what is surprising is that a spokesman for one of the organisations claiming credit used language that was eerily similar to the language used by the Islamic State (IS) in their propaganda. Even if this can be dismissed as pure copycat syndrome, the overbearing influence of the IS on the various terrorist organisations in Pakistan, and some connection, even if tenuous, cannot be denied any longer.

In sharp contrast to this situation on the ground, the Pakistan Government, its military, and even the scanty opposition parties seem to be oblivious and nonchalant regarding the spread of the Islamic State’s influence in the country. The Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) and a host of smaller groups have declared their allegiance to the ‘Caliphate’ being proclaimed by the IS. There is undeniable evidence of the growing footprint of the IS inside Pakistan in an eerie reminder of the manner in which the Taliban entrenched itself in the country. In the mid-1990s, when the Taliban was establishing their stranglehold on the society, nobody imagined that they would become so large and entrenched. More important is the manner in which the Taliban was able to capture the mind space of the normal people. The IS is carefully replicating the same process.

The challenge facing Pakistan was succinctly summed up in an article titled the ‘Wagah Attack’ in the newspaper Dawn on 3 November 2014. It stated, ‘The country clearly continues to be stalked by a complex, overlapping, dizzyingly varied militant threat. If internal security – peace stability and the conditions for economic [and] social progress – is elusive it is because the state—the sum total of the civilian government and army-led security establishment—has an inadequate approach. Pakistan will not overnight become internally stable and secure. Operation Zarb-i-Azb has been treated as some kind of panacea in certain quarters, when, without supporting anti-militancy narrative, it can only amount to surgery on a limb of a body with many afflictions’. While the sentiment expressed is laudable, one cannot but point out the odd manner in which the State has been portrayed. The statement portrays, either consciously or as a remark that is inherently believed in the subconscious, the civilian authority and the security establishment as two separate entities that come together to form the State. This is indicative of one of the fundamental malaise that festers in Pakistan—the inability of the elected civilian government to control the military establishment.

Pakistan is today facing in the diametrically opposite direction to where it should be heading. Since the nation has lurched from crisis to crisis in the past six decades, it is relatively easy to point out the steps that the government must undertake to turn the nation around so that it faces the right direction. Whether it will take even faltering steps in that direction is another question. The use of force to contain the insurgent and terrorist forces operating at will across the country is only one of a long list of initiatives necessary to eliminate terrorism and the slide to chaos. This is true even if the official reports regarding the success of the military operations in the FATA are implicitly believed. Given the past record of the Pakistan Army’s reportage of success it is hard to believe that the operation has been an unqualified success, as is being put across to the media. Further, the Islamic fundamentalist infiltration of the Pakistan Army makes these reports somewhat less than trustworthy.

The list of non-military measures that must be undertaken on a war footing to curb the descent into anarchy is long. The more serious ones are listed: the military must be brought fully under the control of the civilian government and made accountable to the parliament; the large population of young people below the age of 35 must be educated against the propaganda of the fundamentalist religious teachers; religious institutions that support extremism and preach a fundamental version of Islam should be banned and shut down; the quality of governance should be improved in a transparent manner to ensure that the general public recovers its faith in the rule of law; and a complete revamp of the foreign policy that now only has one nation, India, at its core must be undertaken. This author is well aware that none of these foundational changes are likely to be even initiated, let alone brought to successful fruition. However, it is also believed that it is time for these to be at least publically listed.

The elephant in the room remains the fraught India-Pakistan relationship. The shared history of animosity between the two nations is also replete with failed initiatives aimed at normalising the relationship. From the 1990s India has been promoting dialogue with Pakistan, especially with successive civilian governments. The reason for the lack of progress of these talks lies precisely in this attempt to hold the conversation with the civilian administration while not simultaneously also engaging the military. Pakistan is gripped from deep inside its core by the military establishment which directly controls the foreign policy. It is unfortunate that till now in its independent history there has been no civilian government able to face up to the military and take control. Even the current tit-for-tat diplomatic spat in which India cancelled Secretary-level talks because of border violations have not affected the military. The border incursions were the acts of commission by the military, probably even without the agreement of the civilian authorities who bore the brunt of the diplomatic repercussions. It is even possible that the military initiated these border skirmished to discomfiture the civil government. The military thrives on tensions with India being on the boil at all times. In any case the diplomatic actions are likely to hold back any strategic efforts to move the relation forward constructively.

Will Pakistan Break Up?

On its current track, Pakistan is moving closer to collapse. Three fault lines are becoming increasingly visible as days go by while the Government blithely sits on its hands. First is the ethnic divide—the Punjabis against the Baloch and the Sindhis; the Mohajirs cast into a group of their own; and of late, the Pashtun dominated Taliban against the existing State authority. Second, the never-ending sectarian conflict of the Sunnis against the Shias. Third, the calculated military moves being made to perpetuate their position as a state within a state and avoid even a vestige of civilian control at all costs. The impulses for these three fault lines to become breaking points will be the Punjabi domination of the nation, which makes the other ethnicities want to separate; the international pressure on the Government to stamp out the export of terrorism and stop nuclear proliferation; and the inability of the military to hold the nation together as an entity, which is gradually becoming obvious. A break up of Pakistan, an implosion catalysed by the points enumerated above, will create smaller and perhaps unviable units and diminish the power of the military.

The Kashmir issue, the leitmotif of Pakistan’s foreign policy, does not evoke much international interest anymore, furthering Pakistan’s inherent fear of being sidelined. The military has used the Kashmir issue as a perennial rallying point to incite domestic angst against India and to recruit jihadi elements to create mischief across the border in Indian territory. More importantly, the powerful ISI within the military will be left without a mission if the Kashmir issue gets sidelined, a situation they will not permit to develop. Terrorism has now become an accepted tool in the foreign policy armoury of Pakistan. When this self-created monster turns on the State, as is happening now, the State is bound to fracture. The writing on the wall cannot now be erased.

India so far has maintained an arm’s length approach to the developing situation. For India, a failed nuclear state with which it has a long common border will be a nightmare security scenario. In this context it is interesting that the Wagah suicide attack brought out some surprising reactions from within India. There is a somewhat vociferous section of the intelligentsia in the society who want to be seen as ‘peace lovers’ and berate the rest of the public at the slightest opportunity to become more Pakistan-friendly. These are apologists for Pakistan with highfaluting notions of normalising relations through constructive dialogue. They forget that this is the path that India has trodden for over four decades with nothing other than increasing Pakistan-sponsored terrorism within India to show for it. Even considering that in extremis a dialogue was to be held, Pakistan does not have a central entity at the moment with whom any meaningful conversation can be held and which will then be able to deliver its side of the bargain, if a rapprochement becomes possible. The talks producing any tangible results is not even worth examining, for nothing will come of it.

The Indian apologists also claim, vehemently, that a Pakistani break up will be bad for India. This is once again scare mongering to push India into a one-way path to the resumption of meaningless and non-reciprocal dialogue. The implosion of Pakistan, not if but when it occurs, will not bring on the doomsday scenario that is being predicted by this apologist mob. Yes, there will be instability, but India will be able to contain the instability that will occur in the Border States from such a development. The society and polity of Pakistan has been brainwashed to hate India and Hindus. This is demonstrated by the simple fact—corroborated by a large number of recorded interviews and opinion-pieces in newspapers—that a large number of every-day Pakistanis believe that Lashkar-e-Taiba, an internationally designated terrorist organisation focused on carrying out terrorist activities in India, is a philanthropic organisation. If this is not delusional, what is?

Reconciliation? A quote from the poem Some Future Day by Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861) says it all, ‘Some future day when what is now is not,/When all old faults and follies are forgot,/…’ Till then…

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2014]
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About Sanu kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS)

5 Responses to “PAKISTAN: ON A TREADMILL TO NOWHERE”

  1. Comprehensive analysis. You have made it clear that in the given circumstances apologists’s views have no place. What then should be India’s policy in dealing with its neighbour whom it can not ignore? Should it be ‘Wait and watch’ until that country becomes a failed state, since no Indian initiatives have borne fruits?

  2. Sanu,
    Nice take …you have chosen to leave out the role of the US / Western powers in reaching Pakistan to this sorry state..the myth of ” frontier state ” during the Cold War era and the unaccounted arms arsenal provided to various terrorist organizations enabled , to a large extent , the country’ s slide into presnt day near anarchy..the biggest culprit , of course is the Army / ISI combine whose perennial wish to “bleed India by a thousand cuts” would ultimately break up the country for the good of the rest of the world.. Even as i write , the latest terrorist attack in J&K launched from across the border, is playing out..
    The predictions of strategic pundits for the past decade at least , that an implosion of Pakistan was inevitable, are surely going to ring true in the near term, complicated as it is by the insidious impact of the IS phenomenon..
    Thanks for a balanced piece..
    Best,
    Murali

  3. Hi,
    It was nice reading your post.
    My brief take on the militant attack on Jammu & Kashmir, that happened on Dec 5, 2014- http://leelaulsr.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/jammu-kashmir-terror-attacks-pakistan-what-do-you-want/

  4. Good analyses Sanu.
    We need to understand the historical perspective which has shaped basic psyche of the people living in Pak Punjab n the northern areas of Pakistan. Historical events of over 1000 yrs hav shaped the people of this area(earlier a combination of Hindus, Muslims n Sikhs) for dominance over their enemies. Division of sub continent has not changed anything for better. Dominance of Punjab area and the military will continue in Pakistan and change in anti India stance not likely to happen in the near future.
    As a key state in the play out of “The Great Game” and subsequent rise of the area as an Epicenter of terrorism has given Pakistan the confidence to use it as State policy specially against India.
    However the economics of such a policy may not hold out and the State, as predicted, could break up in the future. India can certainly handle that much better. Even in that eventuality Punjab as Pakistan is likely to be at loggerheads with India.
    Strong detterance and tough action both in diplomacy to border violations is the perhaps a better way to handle Pakistan while doors of reconciliation always remaining open.

    Thanks for some good inputs on the subject
    Warm regards
    Paj

  5. Hi Sanu,
    A nice article or our neighbour Pakistan. Informative, contemporary and pretty useful.
    However, I may not agree with your assessment of Pakistan implosion as seen by a vast majority of security analysts in India and a few abroad.
    The reasons, which I can put forward is as follows: –
    • Pakistan is very similar to India in almost all aspects.
    • It is a large country 7th largest in terms of population and 36th in terms of geographical area.
    • It’s a young country with 55% of population (total population is close to 19.6 crore)
    • It is compares with India is almost all the indices be it HDI, economic growth and the like. They may be behind on the issue of technological development, foreign trade, mines & minerals.
    The following websites give an insight. Of course one is a Paki site
    http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/compare/India/Pakistan/Economy
    http://houseofdebt.org/2014/03/22/india-pakistan-and-growth-part-i.html
    • The security environment in Pakistan is fairly bad, but we have our share of problems with Maoist insurgency (home grown), NE and Kashmir.
    • The Press in Pakistan draws its inspiration from India and is reasonably free, despite some random killings.
    • The higher judiciary in Pakistan is also fairly free like in India. Though we can pick holes selectively into this.
    • The urbanization and middle class in India is larger but is growing in Pakistan.
    • In terms of Comprehensive National Strength, India would be 3-4 times larger than Pakistan.(The ration between China & India would be higher between 4 -6)
    • Apart from above, it is also a nuclear power.
    The Kashmir issue is driven mainly by the Pakistan Army, by which it perpetrates itself in power. Zia and his cohorts has been credited with radicalizing them. They are also suffering in the bargain.
    Being an eternal optimist, I am positive things will be better. By when, is anybody’s guess?
    We could discuss…
    Regards.
    Brajesh
    +91 9103 10212

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