An Observation – I

As a departure from regular programming, here is a note: Pakistan is overplaying its hand.

As a background, It is customary for Pakistan’s “establishment” to react vehemently when one of three things happen:

1. The establishment perceives that their relevance and power in Pakistan (in relation to the civvies) is being eroded: The last time this happened was when the US, in a not so subtle way, tried to set up a framework for strengthening the civilian set-up by tying the aid money under the Kerry-Lugar bill to conditions such as (i) Not having coups (ii) Transparency in disbursement and expenditure (iii) Progress along the democracy front etc. The KL bill was greeted by shrill debates in the media, manufactured outrage and public mobilized through the usual “establishment channels” to make the displeasure of the establishment known.

2. Vital surrogates in Afghanistan are attacked: An example of this was when NATO helicopters attacked terrorists of the Haqqani faction in the Kurram agency. Pakistan perceives that the Haqqani faction best serves its interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s desire to control Afghanistan is a primary national security objective – even though it is cloaked in the “acceptable” language of keeping India out, the fact remains that the gravest threat to Pakistan’s territorial integrity arises from Pashtun nationalism, which is a far greater threat to the unity of Pakistan than even the unrest in Balochistan. Ofcourse Pashtun nationalism in border areas could easily be exploited by India which could strike grand bargain with the Pashuns along the lines of Bangladesh-Mukti Bahini. Pakistan retaliated to the attacks in Kurram by blocking NATO convoys and subsequent attacks on the tankers with tens of tankers set on fire.

3. Vital surrogates fighting India are attacked: The latest Raymond Davis spat arose due to CIA’s unilateral expansion of its activities to include the surveillance and penetration of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. This CIA action is most likely due to a realization of three things (i) Western cities are just as vulnerable as Mumbai to commando-style attacks. This problem would be much worse if there are multiple commando-style attacks* (ii) The full extent of the complicity of official agencies in the funding and training of LeT has become apparent due to the confession of David Headley (Dawood Gilani). The CIA probably realizes that Pakistan’s security apparatus will not move against the LeT (iii) LeT is increasingly becoming a potent threat in Afghanistan, with the attacks on Indian embassy in Kabul traced to LeT operatives. Pakistan retaliated by arresting Davis, and demanding the withdrawal of CIA operatives in Pakistan whose primary brief is to keep tabs on “other” terrorist organizations.

Pakistan’s strategy seems to be three fold. It is a mixture of (1) Drastic and audacious steps such as blocking NATO convoys and arresting CIA agents. This is done for short term advantages and signaling to the Pakistani public that the Army/ISI do and can stand up to the US. Pakistan’s assessment is that these drastic steps would work due to American compulsions in fighting the Afghan war (2) Gaining the initiative in the civilian discourse by whipping up passions through shrill TV anchors and columnists. This was evident in the KL bill, where swathes of protestors had no idea or were misinformed as to what the real issues were! As part of this strategy, Pakistan is increasingly trying to convert the LeT into a Hezbollah-type organization with charity and political wings thereby deeply embedded into the civil society itself (3) Vastly expanding the nuclear arsenal to guarantee that American drone attacks (and other intensive attacks like air-strikes and cruise missile strikes) do not happen in the heartland against Army and Army-surrogate establishments.

The danger** in these assessments and strategy is two fold

1. Pakistan has no short-term and definitely no long-term leverage against the US: Pakistani economy is unviable. This gives rise to several pressure-points that the Americans can exploit vis-à-vis IMF an the world bank. Combined with the unrest in the middle east and sluggish economy in Europe and the natural disaster in Japan, Pakistan has very few allies to turn to. Even China is short of cash after increasing social spending. In any case Chinese money will come with far greater cost (and social unrest like the recent Reko Diq fiasco) than American money. In the best case scenario, Americans will meddle increasingly in the political and economic setup of Pakistan, trying to install a pliant civilian and army leadership. In the worst case, Americans will assassinate key Army and political figures. If one thinks this is a fantastic proposition, one needs to take a fresh look at the Zia case.

2. Pakistan usually misreads democratic governments with disastrous effect: This happened with India in 1965 (where Shastri was considered to be a “short dark man in a dhoti with no will to fight”) in 1971 where obliviousness to popular displeasure against Pakistan in Bangladesh was followed by a thorough misreading of US & Chinese support and Indian will to fight, in 1998 where International mood and Indian will to fight in Kargil was misread. Many more examples come to mind. In the current context, Pakistan has misread American domestic compulsions. The greatest danger to Pakistan today is a terror attack in the US being traced to Pakistani soil***. A successful attempt will drive the American public opinion against Pakistan and to prevent democrats from looking weak on national security Obama will be forced to retaliate militarily.

Frequent spats such as the spat over Raymond Davis is not winning Pakistan any friends among the US public in a time when Obama is due for re-election. Terror attacks originating from Pakistan certainly will not win any. In any case, the Afghanistan and Pakistan “problem” is due for a thorough “examination” in the upcoming presidential debates preceding the elections in 2012.  Pakistan should also realize that the Americans are innovative as well. The drone attacks have started primarily as a result of Pakistan’s unwillingness or inability to take on militants in the border areas. This is deeply embarrassing to Pakistan and a far bigger headache than joint operations in the region. Last but not least, Pakistan seems to forget that the money, media and muscle available with the Americans is far in excess of what Pakistan and her allies have and it is best to not test American patience and goodwill or to stretch Pakistan’s luck till the next terror attack on US soil.

*Spectacular terror attacks against India are invariably replicated in the west. This includes the IC 814 hijack where the very same people were connected to the 9/11 hijack as well.

**I will not go into the dangers of the society getting radicalized as exemplified by the recent Salman Taseer and Bhatti case. That is a separate thread.

***This nearly happened with the failed times-square bombing attempt of Faisal Shahzad (the son of an Air Vice Marshal!!)

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9 thoughts on “An Observation – I

  1. Well done pal. Thanks for putting Pakistan’s security risk from Pashtuns in perspective. I always felt Pakistan’s claim of Indian encirclement in Afghanistan was the product of a creative mind and that this was really sheer nonsense. What’s the percentage of Pashtuns in the Pakistan military, and in special units, such as the US trained SSG? Is there any information on this?. I’m sure reliable public estimates are out there.

    By the way, why did Pakistan’s ISI decide to hold on to OBL and let go of the smaller fries? The smaller fries for cash and a show of cooperation, and to scare the larger fries into adhering to the ISI agenda? In this case, what would the ISI agenda be? Propaganda value to attract mercenaries to fight India?

  2. What exactly can the Amriki government do Major when it comes to retaliating militarilly? Bomb Muridkay, perhaps? Or even some random seminary in southern Punjab? In the way I see it, bombing targets in main land Pakistan directly will force the Pakistan army to retaliate too. And that is where the problem rises. Somewhere down the line, Pakistan army, and the Pakistani population backing it up, extremes from Pakistani side are entirely possible. And that is where the whole argument of Amriki attack seems not so plausible.

    Probably brutal sanctions that will destroy the economy and an international boycott like that of North Korea seems to me more plausible.

  3. If anyone wanted to militarily attack Pakistan, it would have happened a thousand times by now. Nasty as the attitude is, the nukes have indeed saved Pakistan’s skin from attack (or perhaps no one wanted to, to begin with) and will continue to do so unless the country seems a nuclear risk either way kind of scenario.

    The risk is on three fronts not mentioned here.

    1. The first is the world doing an “India”, where there is no war, no peace, a few lukewarm interactions which dry out at the drop of a hat, and no real engagement. This can prove economically disastrous to Pakistan.

    2. Various actors on the world stage running increasing covert and non-war actions mainly to disable Pakistan’s nukes and get crucial info on the terrorist structure. It will be essential, particularly for “prime targets” like India, Israel and US as Pakistan gets increasingly unpredictable and loses what little touch with rationality remains.

    3. This will probably be the worst. Pakistani Nationals outside Pakistan are likely to face increased security scrutiny which may reach dysfunctional levels the more Pakistan seems out of control.Social discrimination and racism may increase making it difficult for Pakistanis to work.

    This article brings up quite a few important points that the government and the society at large need to consider.

  4. The short-term leverage Pakistan has over the US is the need for the US troops in Afghanistan for supplies.

    The long-term leverage Pakistan has over the US is as a possible nuclear proliferator.

  5. Here’s the puzzle-Ahmed Rashid reportedly wrote in his book Descent to Chaos that in 1988, the Afghan govt offered to recognize the Durand Line and that the Pak Army REFUSED.

    That (along with the ongoing devastation of FATA) leads one to suspect that Pak Army’s imperative is ideological(at least of some very influential faction in it ).

  6. OK, here is the proper reference/quote:
    http://www.hinduonnet.com/2009/03/26/stories/2009032654650900.htm
    The way out of the Afghan quagmire

    Chinmaya R. Gharekhan

    Ahmed Rashid, whose book Descent into Chaos has deservedly been widely acclaimed, reveals that in 1988 Pakistan could have extracted a recognition of the Durand Line as part of the agreement that ended the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, but that it never raised the issue, despite considerable prodding by the United Nations. After 9/11, says Mr. Rashid, many Pakistanis maintained that if only Afghan President Hamid Karzai had recognised the Durand Line, he would have appeased Islamabad sufficiently to halt its military support to the Taliban. Yet the military refrained from insisting on Afghanistan recognising the Durand Line — despite several opportunities to do so. Neither the Afghan mujahideen government in 1992 nor the subsequent Taliban regime — which depended on Islamabad’s support — was asked to recognise the Line.

    Mr. Rashid cites Sahebzada Yaqub Khan, who was Pakistan’s Foreign Minister during a period of the 1980s, as admitting that the military deliberately never asked for an Afghan recognition of the Line. At that time, President Zia-ul-Haq passionately worked toward creating a pro-Pakistan Islamic government in Kabul, to be followed by the Islamisation of Central Asia. This was, according to Mr. Rashid, part of Pakistan’s strategy to secure ‘strategic depth’ in relation to India. General Zia’s vision depended on an undefined border with Afghanistan, so that the army could justify any future interference in that country and beyond. The logic, according to Mr. Rashid, was that as long as there was no recognised border there could be no international law to break if Pakistan forces were to support surrogate Afghan regimes such as the one led by the Taliban.

  7. Sobering assessment! In its short and bloody history, Pakistan’s military leaders have repeatedly misread relationships with other countries, with devastating results. This is clearly a fundamental flaw in the military mind; which is secure in the belief of its omnipotence due to its simplistic hierarchy. Unlike the failure in Vietnam, which quickly laid to rest the flawed domino theory that was the basis for the war, failure in Afghanistan will return the existential threat to the US that earlier caused 9-11. This, to the Americans, is absolutely untenable and they will respond, as they have historically done, with the ruthlessness that makes them the sole super power today. Pakistan’s generals have been lulled too long by the non-response (misread as cowardice) of the lumbering elephant next door to realize that, with the US, they are playing with fire that will utterly destroy their nation. This is a modern day Greek tragedy that is unfolding; which is entirely due to the choices (all bad) made by Pakistan’s military, and their stubborn refusal to learn from history.

  8. The problem lies at the top

    From the Beginning Pakistan’s Generals have been busy servicing the nation in more than one way….

    Read this about the glorious Yahya Khan

    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1070327/asp/opinion/story_7567695.asp

    Take a look at this

    Look at his “Chicken kabab with imported Whisky” face, Imagine how much sacrifice Hamid Gul made for the country.

    In his youth he consumed as much free liquor and women as he could, he personally skimmed off the Afghan money and now he roams around in a BMW and lives in a palatial house,

    All to ensure that other ordinary soldiers do not get corrupted by evil western influence…

    Fight on common soldiers….General Zia’s holy vision commands you to sacrifice your lives for the greater cause… carry on…. I will provide support but err just a minute… lets me finish this glass of Whisky first.

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