Published on YaleGlobal Online Magazine (http://yaleglobal.yale.edu)
Home > The Battle for Pakistan

The Battle for Pakistan

Pakistan's conflicting policy of fighting Al Qaeda while supporting Islamist militants against India has boomeranged spectacularly. Former intelligence official Bruce Riedel, now senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in the Brookings Institution, discounts the notion that Pakistan is a failed state. It is a state under siege by the very radicals nurtured by elements of Pakistani military for launching attacks against rival India. Since the death of Osama bin Laden, the Pakistani military has fended off verbal attacks from the US and lethal ones from Al Qaeda. The extremism now hits close to home as the jihadists with ambition to take control of Pakistan and its nuclear weapons turn on their handlers. Negotiating swift end to Indian-Pakistani conflict would allow the Pakistani military to focus on eliminating an enemy that corrupts and divides the country from within, Riedel concludes. Winning the battle for control of Pakistan and its nuclear weapons is a global priority. – YaleGlobal

The Battle for Pakistan

Pakistani military's use of extremists to target India has backfired
Bruce Riedel
YaleGlobal, 2 June 2011
Playing with fire: Pakistan’s dalliance with extremists backfired with their attack on a naval base in Karachi (top); Pakistan’s former spy chief Gen. Nadeem Taj suspected of complicity (left) and slain journalist Syed Salman Shahzad

WASHINGTON: The struggle for control of Pakistan – soon to be the fifth most populous country in the world with the fifth largest nuclear arsenal – intensifies every day. The outcome is far from certain. The key player, Pakistan’s army, seems dangerously ambivalent about which side should prevail: the jihadist Frankenstein it created or the democratically elected civilian government it despises.

The American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2nd accelerated the struggle underway inside Pakistan to determine the country’s future. Contrary to some assessments, Pakistan is neither a failed state nor a failing state. It functions as effectively today as in decades past. Rather it is a state under siege from a radical syndicate of terror groups loosely aligned together with the goal of creating an extremist jihadist state in south Asia. They want to hijack Pakistan and its weapons.

Less than a hundred hours after the Abbottabad raid, Al Qaeda’s shura council, its command center, announced the group was declaring war on Pakistan and the “traitors and thieves” in the government who had betrayed the “martyr shaykh” bin Laden to the Americans. It was ironic since many Americans suspect the Pakistani army was actually complicit in abetting bin Laden’s successful evasion of the largest manhunt in human history for 10 years. That both Al Qaeda and America distrust the Pakistani army speaks volumes. 

Pakistan is neither a failed state nor a failing state. It is a state under siege from radical terror groups.

Since then Al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan have carried out their threat with a vengeance. Suicide bombings and other terror attacks have occurred across the country. The worst was an attack on a major Pakistani navy base in Karachi, a heavily guarded facility where both US and Chinese experts assist the navy. Two US-made P3 surveillance aircraft were destroyed in the attack. The assailants had insider knowledge of the base, and Pakistani security has arrested former naval personnel accused of helping the attackers.

The Karachi attack illustrates the essence of the battle for Pakistan today. The militants support Al Qaeda, but were members of its ally the Pakistani Taliban. Their goal was to humiliate the navy. The navy fought back, but is riddled with jihadist sympathizers who help the militants.

A Pakistani journalist, Syed Salman Shahzad, wrote an expose after the attack of the jihadist penetration of the military, especially the navy. He received threatening calls from the military’s intelligence service, the notorious Inter Services Intelligence directorate, telling him to stop reporting on the issue, and was murdered shortly afterward. 

The Pakistani army is genuinely at war with parts of the syndicate
of jihadi terror like Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The Pakistani army is genuinely at war with parts of the syndicate of jihadi terror in Pakistan like Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It has more than 140,000 troops engaged in operations against the militants along the Afghan border. Some 35,000 Pakistanis including several thousand soldiers have died in the fighting since 2001, the equivalent of a dozen 911s. Dozens of ISI men have died.

But the ISI is also still in bed with other parts of the syndicate like Lashkar e Tayyiba, the group that attacked Mumbai in 2008, and the Afghan Taliban that fights NATO. Despite years of American complaints, those partnerships are still intact. But the terrorists don’t stay in the lanes the ISI wants them to stay in. For example, both LeT and the Taliban eulogized bin Laden after his death and mourned the departure of a great “hero” of their movements.

The army’s ambivalence about the jihad flows from its deep obsession with India. Pakistan – with American help – created the jihad in the 1980s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. But from the start the ISI, commanded by then dictator Zia ul Huq and his brilliant ISI director general Akhtar Rahman, planed to use jihadi groups against India as well and build an international cadre of mujahedin to help fight India. Over the decades the “S” Department of ISI established close connections with scores of jihadi groups, becoming a state within ISI, which in turn is a state within the army. The army decides national-security policy with little or no input from the political establishment.

The army’s ambivalence about the jihad flows from its deep obsession with India.

General Nadeem Taj exemplifies the story. Taj was former dictator Pervez Musharraf’s right-hand man. They were together in 1999 when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif fired Musharraf as chief of army staff while he was returning by plane from a visit to Sri Lanka. Taj orchestrated the coup that put Musharraf in power from the plane and was rewarded with several key jobs including in 2006 command of the Kakul Military Academy in Abbottabad, Pakistan’s West Point or Sandhurst.It was on his watch as commandant of the academy that bin Laden moved into his hideout less than a mile away. Was Taj clueless or complicit?

In September 2007 Taj became DG/ISI replacing General Ashfaq Kayani who was promoted chief of army staff (COAS). Taj lasted less than a year before he was removed under intense pressure from Washington. The Bush administration had concluded that Taj’s ISI was directly involved in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008 and was undermining the new drone program to attack Al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan by warning the terrorists before attacks. Taj was regarded as either unable to rein in the S Department or complicit in its duplicity. 

Nonetheless, Taj was promoted to command a key corps in the army, the highest command level short of COAS. Now he has been accused of complicity in the planning of the Mumbai attack by several family members of the American victims of the terror rampage in a New York court case. It was on Taj’s watch as DG/ISI that the attack was carefully planned by the LeT and the targets, including the Chabad house where most of the Americans died, were selected. David Headley, an American of Pakistani origin, has testified that the ISI was directly involved in the plot, and the US Department of Justice has assembled an impressive body of emails and other evidence that backs up his claims.

The policies that would help wean the Pakistani army off its obsession with India and jihad are well known.

The jihadist penetrations of the army raise persistent questions about the security of Pakistan’s nukes. According to a WikiLeaked State Department cable, from September 2009, France’s national security adviser Jean-David Levitte told the American Embassy in Paris that France believes it is not secure. Levitte is one of the most astute diplomats in the world today, and he is almost certainly right.

The policies that would help wean the Pakistani army off its obsession with India and jihad are well known. A concerted effort to end the Indo-Pakistani conflict is essential. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, despite Mumbai, is trying to do just that. But it is a hard challenge. Talks to resolve the relatively simple issue of the disputed Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest war zone at the roof of the Himalayas, failed again in May. The harder issue, Kashmir, will probably take years to resolve at best.

But we don’t have years. Only a fortnight before the Abbottabad raid, General Kayani gave a speech at the military academy in the city, almost within earshot of bin Laden. In his remarks Kayani claimed the back of the militant syndicate in Pakistan had been broken and the army had triumphed. It is now clear he was badly mistaken. 
 

Bruce Riedel is a senior fellow at the Saban Center in the Brookings Institution and adjunct professor at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book, Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of the Global Jihad, came out in March. Click here to read an excerpt.
Rights:Copyright © 2011 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization

Comments on this Article

23 June 2011
The writer conveniently rides on the wave of anti-Pakistan and anti-Army attacks and deliver the image which lacks evidence and credibility. He has completely ignored the presence of Raymond Davis and similar military/CIA attaches that are operating in Pakistan for whom even the US President stooped to the lowest levels of disgrace by coming on National Television and lied to the whole world by declaring him a 'Diplomat'. Certainly, any sane person would have started doubting the credibility of CIA information from then onwards even if the world believed them after Iraq fiasco. It is hypocritical of the West in particular and India to accuse Pakistan of carrying anti-India sentiments when Indian elements like Bajrang Dal are also plotting against Pakistan. May be the write can also clarify the presence of RAW in Balochistan which is also trying to fund a separatist movement there like it did for decades in Sri Lanka through funding Tamil tigers. I would request the writer that instead of spreading propaganda, he should produce more hardened facts and also look at the possibility of at how many fronts Pakistan Army is fighting the war.
-Talha Siddiqui , Pakistan
21 June 2011
As a Pakistani, I am more saddened by the comments from my fellow countrymen and the kind of mentality these point towards. Yes, we are indeed sleep-walking to destruction, our consciousnesses lost in a fog of delusions.
-Salman Tarik Kureshi , Karachi, Pakistan
17 June 2011
What about leaving the tribal borderlands to the Pashtuns, something akin to a Pashtunistan, and letting Pakistan consolidate its heartland. Would this enhance the security situation?
-Huw , Beijing
12 June 2011
Pakistan is SLEEP WALKING towards self destruction.
-John Smith , LONDON UK
12 June 2011
Pakista is SLEEP WALKING towards self destruction.
-John Smith , LONDON UK
11 June 2011
It is v.sad to read negative remarks by indians/hindus against pakistan. We should not close our eyes to historical facts as to what india has been doing to dismember pakistan. T o bring peace in south asia disputes these two nuclear neighbours have to be resolved amicably . US must play its role for romoval of irritants if they are sincere. Indians should remember secure & stable pakistan is in the interest of both countries failing which indians shall also suffer much. The world cant ignore indian brutalities in held kashmir, babri mosque carnage and burning of pakistani pilgrims in smjahta express to mention a few incidents. P akistanis want peaceful resolution of all disputes.& saner elements raise their voice for peace with pakistan. Now is the time otherwise things might deteriorate .
-khalid farooq , lahore,pakistan
11 June 2011
Nuke Pakistan
-Alvaro Gomes , Lisbon PORTUGAL
9 June 2011
Does anyone remember the now defunct EAST Pakistan? 90,000 troops of Pakistan Army surrendered to India in December 1971 at DHAKA in what is now Bangladesh.Only Allah knows what fate awaits this ramshakel Pakistan.
-Mr. Inshallah , Brazil
9 June 2011
Pakistan has been in a mess ever since its birth by pursuing absolutely foolish policies towards its neighbours and the rest of the world. Generals who run the show there have no sense of history and complex nature of how human beings go about their daily grind.
if only Pakistanis have spent ten percent of their time to build the nation, it would have been quite different today.
I have a suggestion to sove some of the problems of Pakistan.
Let them pray 20% more than the usual 5 times a day. May someone up there in the Heavens, may take pity and give a helping hand.
-Rao , Canada
9 June 2011
Pakistan has been in a mess ever since its birth by pursuing absolutely foolish policies towards its neighbours and the rest of the world. Generals who run the show there have no sense of history and complex nature of how human beings go about their daily grind.
if only Pakistanis have spent ten percent of their time to build the nation, it would have been quite different today.
I have a suggestion to sove some of the problems of Pakistan.
Let them pray 20% more than the usual 5 times a day. May someone up there in the Heavens, may take pity and give a helping hand.
-Rao , Canada