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Pakistan: Beginning of the Endgame?

P.K. Upadhyay was a Consultant with Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses for its Pakistan Project.
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  • June 17, 2011

    The study on Pakistan brought out by the ‘Pakistan Project’ team of the IDSA in mid-2010 ('Whither Pakistan? The Growing Instability and Implications for India’) had argued that Pakistan’s vexed ethnic, regional and economic fault-lines had gotten deeper and that, in addition, the rising tide of Deobandi sectarian zeal was tearing apart the national fabric. The militant Deobandi zealots, raised encouraged and nurtured by the Pakistani establishment (i.e. the Army and the ISI), were almost out of control in pursuit of their agenda of setting-up a Deobandi Islamic order in the country by supplanting the existing social and political edifice. The one chance that Pakistan had in averting this scenario was for the Army to succeed in quelling the Deobandi Islamists, as it was the last surviving national institution with the capability to overturn the rising tide of religious radicalism. There were, however, question marks over the Army’s desire and motivation to take on the Islamists.

    Events in the past few weeks suggest that there could now be serious doubts about the Army’s will and commitment to confront the Islamists due to the penetration of its own rank and file by the latter. Ironically this demon of radicalism springs out of the Pakistan Army’s continued espousal of the Zia-era doctrine of ‘total Jihadist wars’ that treated militant groups like Al Qaeda as its allies in the continuing and inevitable conflict between Dar-ul Islam and Dar-ul Harb. Osama-bin Laden and the Taliban leaders were part of Dar-ul Islam and even though the Pakistan Army had to be tactically aligned with the forces of Dar-ul Harb (i.e. USA and other western powers) for the present, links with OBL and his allies were being maintained in the hope that one day the jihad would eventually triumph. Therefore, hiding Osama and other Taliban leaders in safe sanctuaries and havens within Pakistani territory, even while operating with USA against them, was an acceptable and understandable contradiction. However, what has clearly been beyond comprehension for many in Pakistan’s civil and military establishments was the tacit help extended to the Americans in liquidating OBL.

    Many in the Pakistan Army appear to view this as a sell-out by senior Commanders and that they have to pay for it. There are indications that such sentiments are very high and many middle level officers of the ranks of Colonel and others are openly confronting their superiors with these questions. The situation is serious enough to have forced General Kayani and other senior Corps Commanders to visit various units and try and assuage ruffled Islamic sentiments of the rank and file by declaring that they shared the latter’s sense of humiliation over the Abbottabad raid by US commandos, though now was no time to jettison ties with the US. Kayani is reported to have told senior officers last week (139th Corps Commanders’ Conference, Islamabad, June 9, 2011) that the Army was “drastically cutting” the number of US troops stationed in Pakistan and that US military aid to Pakistan should be diverted to civilian use as it was no longer essential for the Army. He also declared that US drone strikes in FATA were “not acceptable under any circumstances”.

    The tone and tenor of the Army leadership’s statements and the wide media publicity they have been given is indicative of not just the extent of the feeling of hurt and betrayal that pervades Pakistan’s civil and military structures but also the alarm it seems to have set-off among the top-brass. Coming in the aftermath of attack on Mehran Naval Aviation Base in Karachi, the military’s statement is a tacit admission of the significant extent to which radical sentiments seem to have penetrated inside the Pakistani military establishment and the preparedness of these elements to openly challenge the military hierarchy and structures. One could be pardoned if one hears echoes of Anwar Sadat’s assassination in Egypt in recent (past few weeks) armed attacks on Pakistani military establishments from within its own ranks. It may be recalled that Sadat’s assassination showed that just a handful of religiously fired military men were enough to nearly bring down an established regime. In Pakistan this phenomenon had been there for past many years and, if any thing, elements that attacked Musharraf, the Karachi Corps Commander and Musharraf’s Prime Minister designate Shaukat Aziz, have only become stronger and bolder.

    If these incidents and developments suggest a weakening of the Pakistani military structure, it could be the beginning of the endgame in Pakistan’s troubled polity. If the Army withers away then a fragmentation of Pakistan into a ‘Lebanonized’ state would become inevitable. The next two to three years are very crucial for Pakistan.

    Is India prepared to deal with this scenario? India should read the writing on the wall and be prepared for the inevitable. The Government must try and build up a broad national consensus on how to deal with the fast evolving situation in the north-west of the sub-continent. Any uncertainty and indecision in this regard could have grave security and other implications for India. It is, perhaps, time for India to engage with Pakistan’s diverse communities and ethnic groups so that their actions do not come as a surprise.