- Feb 23, 2009
Pakistan has an India problem.
Never mind the thousands of civilians dead, displaced, and dispossessed by militancy and its backlash. Never mind that a politician who was set to capture a significant percentage of votes was assassinated by a terrorist organisation based not in India, but on Pakistan’s own territory. Never mind that hundreds of armed soldiers and security guards have been kidnapped, beheaded, and blown up by groups claiming a hard-line Islamic ideology.
The idea of a “pro-Pakistan,” Taliban regime in Afghanistan makes us grin. A pro-India regime in Afghanistan makes us queasy. Sixty years on, Pakistan (still) has an India problem.
In Washington DC, an understanding of Pakistan’s regional strategy in Afghanistan is defined by what they call the country’s ‘national security calculus’ – in other words, ‘Pakistan’s India problem.’ The story goes as follows: the Pakistan Army fomented insurgency in the 1980s with the help of the CIA, mostly because it wanted to hedge its bets against a hostile India by having a favourable regime in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, it continued its campaign of using militants in Kashmir as low-level irritants against the Indian Army.
In recent years, intelligence agencies have found their network amongst militants to be disassembling. Meanwhile, army officials have been targeted by the same militants they once cultivated, and the Frontier Corps have faced high casualties. As a result, the strategy has “switched” from one of FOIN (fomenting insurgency) to one of all-out COIN (counter insurgency).
The Pakistan Army now realises that the Pakistani Taliban are part of the national security threat, which is why there has been a “paradigm shift,” in the words of strategic analyst Haider Mullick of the Joint Special Operations University in Florida. Mullick’s new book, Pakistan’s Security Paradox, provides insights into what has been the cornerstone of the Pakistan Army’s strategic outlook for the last 30 years.
The powers that be remain reluctant about owning up to the Pakistan Army’s dealings with militant groups. But assuming a FOIN strategy exists, what would it look like? Mullick describes FOIN in great detail: for the numerically weaker Pakistan Army, “friendly” militants in Kashmir provided “plausible desirability.” That is, they did not operate on domestic soil and therefore posed no immediate threat to the country. They were a cheap tool against the Indian forces in Kashmir and acted as a force multiplier. After all, says Mullick, the Indian Army had more guns pointed at militants than it did at the Pakistani force in Kashmir.
Of course, even while fostering militancy, the Pakistan Army simultaneously conducted its own brand of counter-insurgency. Secessionist movements from Bangladesh to Baluchistan have faced the full force of the army. The picture is complicated when, between 2002 and 2008, the army seemingly increased domestic COIN tactics even while refusing to go after those groups it had carefully cultivated over the years. It is only in recent weeks, with the capture and killing of several high-level militant figures, that the army has shown that it can have its cake and eat it too.
The question persists, though: why does the Pakistan Army single-handedly continue to define national security, despite the installation of a democratically elected government at the centre? If analysts such as Mullick are correct, then the army has outwitted fate – by creating a problem and then solving it. Secondly, such an argument claims that it is perfectly reasonable to expect Pakistan to have national security concerns against India and deal with them in any way it sees appropriate, while simultaneously fighting terrorists that have killed thousands of Pakistani civilians.
It doesn’t take a military strategist to understand that what has happened in the Pakistan Army’s calculus is not a “paradigm shift,” but a “selective readjustment.” India is still the number one enemy, and militants are still the best resource for the Pakistan Army to maintain its influence in the region.
Although Pakistanis do not like the US government telling us our army harbours militants, we are not ready to admit that, at some level, our national security concerns are driven entirely by the “Indian threat.” Some seek solace in the fantasy that perhaps India is behind the terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil. Many among the public are willing to believe that Islamic hard-liners in Waziristan and Punjab take orders from Hindu agents, rather than admit the obvious.
In any other country in the world, it makes perfect sense to deal strategically with an army, and diplomatically with a civilian government. The underlying assumption is that the civilian government defines a country’s overarching goals while the army deploys the best possible strategy to fulfil those goals. In Pakistan, the army has had the privilege of being able to define national security goals and see them to their end. The civilian government, meanwhile, particularly in recent decades, has taken cues from the army and not the other way around.
Today, Washington puzzles over why the Pakistan Army is successfully “clearing” swathes of militant territory, but has not been able to “hold” it. The answer, any analyst will tell you, is that there is a complete lack of engagement of political parties when it comes to military strategy: they don’t understand it and are therefore justifiably left out of decision-making processes on the issue.
America would do well to realise that a long-term settlement of the tribal regions must involve political parties such as the Awami National Party and other vote-seeking, representative groups. Far more crucially, this is an excellent time for us to realise that there is something inherently dangerous and self-destructive about leaving the process of defining a nation’s goal to its brute force.
We in Pakistan like to think that as long as our army is strong, no external force can touch us. This is absurd logic for people whose house is on fire. Part of the army’s strength as the country’s “most efficient and stable institution” derives from our blinkered faith in, and support for, its policies, regardless of how disastrous they are for the country in the long run. Consequently, neither the Pakistan Army, nor the decision makers in Washington want to seriously engage with politicians.
Allowing the army to make decisions on our behalf is a comfortable way out of having to make hard decisions about the country’s ideology and national security. For instance, it is time we asked why India continues to be our biggest national security threat?
The fact is, engagement with politicians is the only long-term solution to Pakistan’s security problems. Political parties need to be given the encouragement and support they need to define national security goals. And they certainly need to be at the dead centre of any solution in the tribal areas. Anything else is a stop-gap measure.