Wednesday, December 24, 2008




    After seven years of close cooperation in the War on Terror with the Pakistanis, the Bush administration has finally understood that unless Pakistan ends its double-speak and double-game on the issue of Islamic terror groups, Pakistan's own survival as a modern nation state will become impossible. In an interview to Financial Times, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has acknowledged that if the Pakistani state fails to take on the extremism and terrorism in that country, it will be consumed by these forces.

The problem however is that wisdom has dawned on Ms Rice a little too late in the day. Quite expectedly, no one in Pakistan is paying any attention to observations being made by an official of a lame-duck administration. What is worse, it is highly unlikely if the incoming Obama administration will derive any benefit from the wisdom which Bush administration has gained at so much cost. Chances are that like every new Indian prime minister who imagines going down in history as the man who made peace with Pakistan, the Obama Presidency will make all the mistakes of the Bush administration, plus their own, by taking a benign view of Pakistan's perfidy and buying the spurious logic of adopting a 'regional strategy' that seeks concessions from India on a range of issues including Kashmir to appease Pakistan.

Of course, this woolly-headed approach is not going to do anything to stop Pakistan's from coming under the sway of the Taliban. Already the Pakistani state looks helpless before the jihadist militias, who in collaboration with elements in the security services, are effectively able to sabotage the stated policy of the state both on the Western front with Afghanistan and Eastern front with India. Equally, if not more, serious is the steady wresting of control over large tracts of territory within Pakistan. Until the Mumbai terror attacks, it was the loss of territory to Taliban in the trans-Indus Pakistan – namely, the Pakhtun dominated Tribal Areas and the NWFP – that manifested the growing influence of the Islamists. But post-Mumbai, the utter inability and unwillingness of the state authorities to crack down hard on terror groups like Jamaatud Dawa, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Harkatul Mujahedin in Punjab and Sindh should set alarms bells ringing all over the world.

Clearly, the apologetically cosmetic nature of the curbs that have been imposed on the Jamaatud Dawa, and that too after the UN mandated such action, stand testimony to the immense power and influence that the so-called non-state actors wield inside Pakistan. Many Pakistanis are candid enough in admitting that the fear of retaliation by the Jihadist organizations prevents the state from taking any action against them. They say that the authorities in Islamabad don't want to open a second front in Punjab against the jihadists, especially when the state forces are unable to make any headway against the Islamist insurgents in NWFP and FATA. The magnitude of the problem facing the formal state structure in Pakistan gets further amplified by the fact that these non-state actors are virtually running a parallel state structure, not only in terms of the fire-power at their disposal but also in terms of their deep penetration in replacing the official state in providing social goods like education, health and even justice to the people. The official state has become so completely dysfunctional that the coercive apparatus of the state rather than serving a law and order function, operates as nothing more than an extortion racket.

    There is then little doubt that the capability and capacity of the Pakistani state in taking on the jihadists has been severely compromised, and to a large extent the state is afraid of precipitating its own collapse by initiating action against the jihadists. But clearly, inaction is not going to defeat the jihadists, much less isolate or marginalise them. In fact, every minute that action is delayed, it strengthens the non-state actors and makes it even more difficult for the state to restore its writ by purging these militias.

The trouble is that the Pakistani state and society is still unable to decide who the real enemy is – India or the Islamists? If Pakistan's enemy are the radical Islamist groups, then why is Pakistan defying the world by protecting jihadists responsible for the Mumbai carnage, so much so that it is willing to risk military confrontation with India for the sake of these terrorists? And if the enemy is India, then who and what is Pakistan fighting in Bajaur, Swat, Waziristan and rest of the Pakhtun belt?

Ideally, if Pakistan was serious about fighting the Taliban, then it should have done everything possible to ward off any possible threat from India in order to concentrate on the war on its western borderlands. Pakistan should have gone into an over-drive to satisfy India and the world on its commitments to not allow any terror group to operate on Pakistani territory. Instead of brazen denials of the Pakistani origins of the sole surviving terrorist, which seem to raise suspicions of the complicity of the current government or state agencies in the Mumbai terror attacks, Pakistani authorities would have initiated its own investigation into the charges being levelled by India. Using its own national means and agencies, Pakistan could have easily cooperated with the civilized world to get to the bottom of the mass murder that was committed in Mumbai, and punished its perpetrators and planners.


But Pakistan's threat to disengage in the west to fight in the east against India obviously means that it does not see the Islamists as an existential threat to the Pakistani state. The certificates of patriotism that the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, has given to terrorists like Baitullah Mehsud, and the readiness of Baitullah to fight India on the side of the Pakistan army reveal the reality of the 'phony war' being fought between the Pakistan army and the Pakistani Taliban. That the Pakistan army doesn't take the danger posed by the Taliban seriously suggests that it is fighting the 'phony war' only to keep on the right side of the Americans and ensure that the flow of funds from the US doesn't stop.

    Pakistan has probably gone too far down the jihadist road to now make a U-turn and set its house in order. It is now only a matter of time before the control of the Pakistani state passes from the pseudo-Islamists (which include the military, the mullahs and the politicians) into the hands of the hardcore Islamists. Nothing, not even massive doses of US aid, is going to prevent this from happening. US aid will come with strings attached. If this means that Pakistan has to end the 'phony war' and show results against the Taliban, then Pakistan will face a civil war, which the Islamists will win with the help of the Islamised sections of the army. On the other hand, if the Americans accept a role for the Taliban, then the Islamists will simply slide into power in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Therefore, rather than waste time on ensuring compliance from a 'failing' state, India needs to invest all its energies and national power to put in place military systems and security alliances that insulate and protect Indian citizens from a 'failed' Pakistan on its borders. Any complacency or wishful thinking on this count will be disastrous for India, which will face the brunt of the fallout of a nuclear failed state on its borders.


    <1250 Words>                    24th December, 2008



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