Pakistan’s Misfortunes: Is There A South Asian Perspective? – Analysis


By Ravi Sundaralingam

The anger at the “unprovoked attack” by the NATO on its border posts and the death of more than a dozen soldiers, by the Pakistani political and military leadership seem real, perhaps realising the need to reflect the real anger felt by every Pakistani.

Unlike its usual rhetoric, there were “real actions”, which may have long-term implications in the strategic partnerships in the region.

They have stopped the US supply route, from its ports to the battle fields in Afghanistan “indefinitely”, which is used to transport 50% of military needs, and refused to be part of the Bonn meeting on Afghanistan. They are also sticking to the demand US vacated its aptly named Sham-si air base within 15 days, despite US requests to review the deadline.

The base has been in operation perhaps long before the Bin Laden saga, and used for the drone-attacks against Pakistani and Afghan militants.


Pakistanis aware of the recent Haqqani affair, its US ambassador to US replaced few days ago for offering all sorts of changes in Pakistani political and military organisations to accommodate the superpower’s wishes, may look at these official reactions with cynicism. Especially when they are aware that the present leadership itself was put together by the US, which saw Gen. Musharraff exit and Gen. Kayani and Ms. Bhutto come in.

Al-Qaeda of course, ensured that arrangements didn’t run smoothly and destroy them completely by ordering the murder of Ms. Bhutto. She was the only political leader to support the military operation against the Lal Masjid, the source of influence for Al-Qeada at the centre of power in Islamabad.

Beside they remember the last time when the US “caused a tragic accident” killing three Pakistani soldiers. Then it only took few days for the Pakistan’s rulers to reopen the supply route after much noise.

But this time, the questions in their minds and others in the region may be much more deep and dark than that.

Pakistan has been fiercely voicing its independence and sovereignty, against the drone-attacks inside its territory, yet these attacks may have been coming from the Shamsi base. Perhaps, there are other bases or facilities on its territory belonging to foreign powers that they are not aware of?

The US, unlike the last time when it took ten days of “investigation” and deliberation to deliver its apology, has spoken about the “tragic accident” and “the importance of their partnership” within two days of the attack.

However, influential members of its houses also voiced their disapproval at Pakistani reaction and reminded them about compliance and cooperation if they wanted continued financial support from the US.

We don’t believe the US policy makers and military leaders are complacent fools acting independently. They are aware of the political fallouts and that “every action has its reaction”, irrespective of their apology, compensation or the wait for the soothing of situations over a period.

They know, and as British we have experienced it, that friendly fires and tragic accidents do happen from the recent adventures in the Middle East and elsewhere. However, they are always under intense pressure and severe hostile fire, where the human-error and mistaken identity are probable inputs in any equation.

Were the attack on the Pakistani out-posts under such pressure? If there were any hostile forces present along side the Pak-soldiers could the Pakistani authorities are in a position to acknowledge it?

US has a very sophisticated chain of command that science and technology can facilitate, and the country’s democratic political structure and military demand.

It is therefore reasonable to assume that important military decisions are made in the Pentagon on every occasion.

Even during intense battles, those in Pentagon are at their monitors, watching the battle scenes develop in front of them, which allow them to intervene, to order and direct action and guide missiles to the targets from the instance it was released from the carriers.

Therefore, it is also reasonable to assume when the theatre of war is huge and, the enemy is more reliant on the terrain and weather and, IEDs and suicide bombers than sophisticated weaponry, firing missiles and bombs on the Pak-military checkpoint must have been a deliberated act, despite President Obama’s denial.

Al-Qeada’s Jihadis

Who is actually in control of these Pakistani frontier provinces has always been a question.

The Jihadis would like to think they are the real rulers, the rulers in Islamabad may consider the owners, and the US assumes to be the masters by superpower rights.

For Pakistani strategists blinkered by their desire for influence in Afghanistan the difference between ownership and control over the border territories is blurred, and not motivated to differentiate. It becomes an issue only when its friendly foreign powers insist.

The wars against the Jihadis in these areas by the Pakistani military, due to the US demands in return for its aid, and the many deals Pak-authorities have made with the Jihadis through intermediaries to end those wars are testaments to the confusion of the Pak-decision makers.

As for the US, its objectives are paramount than Pakistani desires, otherwise why would it restructure the Pakistani leadership time to time to suit its strategies, and force them do the things they naturally hate?

From US strategic point of view Pak-authorities using the presence of the Jihadis to gain strategic advantage that affect the “war on terrorism” is no longer acceptable.

Why should it pay the Pakistanis operate a porous border system that allows men and material for both combatants, thereby control the effectiveness of its war?

Perhaps, this is what the US military establishment has been hinting at when it remarked about Pak-complicity in attacks inside Afghanistan against US interests?

Both the West and Pakistan are responsible for the creation and arming of the various Islamic groups, including the Haqqaini network accused of attacks against US interests, with funding also coming from the Gulf states. However, the purpose of having them as proxies in the region has changed according to diverging interests. Meanwhile the groups themselves have gone through ideological and leadership changes, many of them now fitting into the wider framework of Al-Qeada lead Jihadis.

For many Arab volunteers there was no return to their country of birth at the end of Af-Soviet war as there were severe repression against their kind in the Arab world, which the West encouraged and supported.

For them it was a time to evaluate their “victory against the Soviets” in the context of a new era where the collapse of the communist world was imminent and the West becoming the only decision-making block, which was also controlled the real affairs at homes. Then engaging in a process of reflection and reformulation of the views of their Islamic world was the only proper alternative.

From the Jihadi perspective, the repression in their homes against their kind was so bad, even when a window of opportunity appeared through democratic process, which the West supposedly champions, they were shut tightly on their faces, as the murders, massacres in the mayhem in Algeria and other places clearly revealed.

Arab tyrants and autocratic families, who are now being discarded or forcefully turfed out when refused, as in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, and Tunisia were steadfastly following the Western strategic guidelines then.

Whether it was to check Iranian power and its influence among Shia communities or radical Sunni Islamic influence in the Arab world, they were in the frontline servicing Western needs. Later times they were even providing “Interrogation solutions” with torture-camps to hold Jihadis kidnapped elsewhere, allowing for the West’s claim of “clean pair of hands”.

Taking all these into consideration, and answering the questions of being a true Islamic person, ruler, and country, the radicalisation and the spread of the Jihadi ideology of the Al-Qeada type were inevitable at some point.

Af-Pak War Zone

Since the defeat of the Tailban in Afghanistan in 2001, Al-Qeada is said to be the most ideological and motivational force for the resurgence of the Taliban, and the Jihadis in Pakistan.

Though Al-Qeada is an Arab led organisation, its leaders and particularly its ideology, are well entrenched in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many Soviet-Afghan war veterans, who stayed behind are apparently the inspiration and symbol of resolve to revive the fortunes of the Taliban, and the source of financial resources to continue the war against the NATO.

The “war on terrorism” has further radicalised the Islamic communities in the region, which are militarised and polarised by centuries of conflicts. The injustice and humiliations at the hands of the West from the colonial times to today, not necessarily a particular experience for the Muslims but, shared by all the peoples in the developing world, have provided the base for Al-Queada to build its liberation theology for the Muslims, to collectivise all the Sunni communities in the world.

This collectivising of the struggles is used by the Al-Qeada as tactics to entrench itself in the region. It has been investing heavily for this purpose, trying to bring all the conflicts between the Muslims and non-Muslims under its ideology, and whenever possible, under a coordinated politico-military command. In doing so it was also able to show the benefits of pooling and sharing resources, including men and materials, and the experiences of the various battlefields.

Thus from strategic and security points of view, separating the Af-Pak-NATO, Kashmiri-India, Iraqi-West conflicts from Al-Queada’s ideology, and seeing purely as indigenous struggle against alien imperialistic or hegemonic powers has become virtually impossible. In part, they are battles for the liberation of all Muslims and an Islamic order of the world.

Men of Al-Qeada need not be of supreme intellect to realise the advantages of the Af-Pak region. Apart from the militarised radicalised communities at the ready, it also offers the most militarily difficult terrain that acted as armour and a few dozen battalions for a militant group when taking on the world’s only superpower and its allies. But, Pakistan and its military are another matter.

In order to securely maintain its assets in the region Al-Qeada needs to ensure it didn’t face the full force of a politically and strategically coordinated military offensive by Pakistan. To avoid this it has always played the Islamic card, and the influence it has build up over the period in Pakistan through its ideology.

Then trying to deepen the division between US and Pakistan, and creating doubts for the US about the nature of its strategic partnership with Pakistan are the main focal points of its strategy.

As its main objective is to win the war in Afghanistan, controlling the Pak-Frontier provinces is logistically very important, also useful to provoke the US against Pakistan.

These ideas were not lost on the thinkers in Washington, especially when failures against the Jihadis continued irrespective of the many NATO lead, Pakistani followed military operations on either side of the border.

As early as in 2008 US Envoy for the region Holbrooke tried to redefine the terms of the war, and the nature of the border between two countries by coining the word Af-Pak region. This questioned the validity of the border from strategic and even in diplomatic point of view.

The implication is either 1. Pakistan completely joined in and conducts any military operations as one unit or 2. leave the zone entirely for the NATO to deal with, and either way it should recognise the region as a single war zone.

It is alleged not being able to agree to this extent, the Pakistani authorities accepted a secret deal thrust upon them, after the recent visits to US by Pak-military Chief Gen. Kayani and President Zadari, which allowed for the US to operate on the Pakistani side of the border.

However, on the eastern side of the Durand Line US was allowed only Predator drone operations from the Pak-bases, and apparently restricted to the attacks on Jihadi leaders agreed to by both parties.

While these events are causing serious debates outrage within Pakistan how should India and others in South Asia view the development and possible scenarios? Should they have any concern? What are their real implications?

War on terrorism & human rights

1. Any victory for Al-Qeada or Al-Qeada lead Taliban would be unacceptable even for Pakistan.

2. However, a victory for Taliban minus the Al-Qeada may be acceptable to the US and, mistakenly perhaps also to Pakistan.

If condition demands US will always make deals that do not damage the prospects of its overall strategy.

Some may recall the talks in motels and low-grade hotels the US have had before it allowed the Talibans take over Afghanistan in 1996.

But, the whole world will recall the barbarism that ensued like a storm through Hindu Kush, masking the women behind veils and kitchens, men grow beard and prayed when instructed, allowing Al-Qeada to settle down to bring an ideological war between Middle Eastern religious cultures to the region, and blowing up the 1700 year old Buddhas of Bamiyan, representative of the indigenous thought process.

That was in pre-9/11, post Soviet era when an opportunity earned allowed the US to roll back the Russian Empire, and ensure the Sunni dominated former republics in the Caucasus and Central Asia did nothing untoward with nuclear weapons in their possession. Thus, the tribal, ideological differences of Islamic militants didn’t matter. There weren’t any other regional or global power to challenge its decisions in the region.

World’s only super power’s work is never done. Presently, its is behind the recycling of the leadership in the “Arab world” that bring forward many Jihadi groups with the militaries, making sure true democracy didn’t materialise and upset its friends in the region.

With the “Arab spring” West has gained an unearned opportunity that can help to bring about a fictitious equilibrium over the region covering Arab and Persian peninsulas and Syria and Turkey, to address some of the issues evolved since the creation of Israel.

Further, it can continue with the ‘modernising’ process of both the military and large sections of the Jihadis in North Africa, and disengage them from the Al-Qeada network by appearing to appease the Sunnis in other places.

Therefore, consigning Al-Qeada’s ideology and confining its activities to a region away from the changes in the “Arab world” would be preferable.

As for Pakistan, less war and influence in Afghanistan at any cost are preferable.

For the South and Central Asians this scenario if true, may mean the conflicts between Iran and the Gulf states, and Shia and Sunni sects in the Islamic world, becoming enmeshed in the region, sucking in their resources and human potential.

However, this development doesn’t cost the US much and will help it keep the balance of the fictitious equation until definite changes can be made in Iran or Saudi Arabia.

3. On the other hand, even if there was victory for US it has own different, but detrimental consequences for the region.

I. Militarisation and radicalisation of the communities have adverse consequences for all in Central and South Asia for a very long time, which US need not suffer.

II. It would have imposed a will of another that is different in race, culture and social organisation, which may not be beneficial to anyone in a region and beyond.

III. It would have go on to confirm the hierarchy of the value of human lives that is in practice in the world, since the colonisation of the 3rd world.

IV. On the process US would have, as it is already, set the precedent for devaluing an aspiring regional/global power even with nuclear arsenal.

Any war that militarise communities, destroys their livelihood, and allows for the entrenching of extremist groups like Al-Qeada should be a concern for all, not just Pakistan. Only fantasists would relate West’s objectives in the 3rd world with the welfare of the communities.

Singing the benefits without considering the damages caused to their societies and the cultures that evolved over thousands of years are now fashionable, which slowly but surely taking the humanity to the brink of its worst propositions.

We can only lament for not being able to draw fundamental conclusions about human values and rights the West places on the people in the 3rd world, and the nature of wars and global-economy. Our deepest sorrow is for the 3rd world’s inability to notice/learn from the regrets of those in the West, for the decisions they have made, whom they think are above them.

Meanwhile the protests by the disenfranchised in the West, and the drastic steps the states have taken to “recapitalise”, i.e. to re-redistribute the wealth to the ruling economic elite, tell a different story about the globalising world. Ironically the image of an obese white man, created by those believed in socio-economic justice long time ago, has now come to characterise of the present state of “greedy capitalism”.

The very idea that good values and practices can be imposed on others goes against the grain of the values themselves.

The consequences of imposing one value over another should be glaringly obvious to all of us in the religious wars that are around us due to the forceful conversion to Christianity and Islam of the 3rd world.

One should be deeply suspicious about any proposals to impose Western style democracy and the human rights regimes to tribally and feudally dependent socio-economic systems. When the history shows these attempts have gone astray, only to provide another corrupt alternative to the traditionally existing system, and the demand for them by the West is selective to say the least, one can understand why the calls are considered in sincere and a vehicle for Western neo-colonialism.

What perspective

If Pakistan came out of its partnership with the US it would mean a strategic victory for the Al-Qeada lead Jihadis, which will put all in the region at an edge.

At the same time an outright victory for the NATO would undermine every local and regional power, and work against the interests of the regions and, in the long run also of the US.

The worst is that the US leaves the region, which then descends into long-term low intensity wars.

India and Pakistan have to accept the assets have to be earned and built, not gained through deals with outside powers, which can be lost to another deal. Setting up proxies to do their worst neither the answer.

Many of what Pakistan seeks from foreign powers can be obtained through agreements with India.

However, the condition for such a situation is impossible if all the issues are lumped together and approached as India and Pakistan saddled with their past. Instead, every issue could be broken into specific categories, and further according to regions or zones, therefore approaches can be made from different premises, and separate solutions found without depending on the progress of another.

Some aspects of the deal they seek separately, can also be found together perhaps with a strategic partnership of a sort, with the super power consents.

In this respect, what we are suggesting is that strategic partnerships need not be between so-called friends, but also possible between competitors and misunderstood enemies as well, which is of course true in the corporate world.

Any strategic partnership, if not based on few fundamental principles would not be any use for those in the regions.

If it is only based on the principle, “my enemy’s enemy my friend”, it will end up in humiliation and deep anxiety as Pakistan is now experiencing.

Those principles cannot be about market shares or security agreements that violates the basic rights and the value of lives of their people. That doesn’t mean simply preventing the West’s manoeuvrings on human rights issues, while violating them with impunity.

It would mean having a set of human values agreed by all in the regions, such that they act against any violation by the locals as much as outsiders.

South Asia is much more diverse and complex than Europe, and not organised into nation states as Europe. It is partly developed, largely feudal and some bits tribal. It has many religions, some alien and many indigenous, with peculiar social defects such as casts and differentiating the masses as people and Adivasis.

It is under pressure from foreign powers, and corporate powers stem from within, neither has the respect for the people or their belongings. There is no better time than now for the South Asian societies and communities to have a charter on their rights and belongings for its individuals and peoples, the framework for South Asian Values and Rights.

It would indeed be wasted opportunity and self-evasive, self-defeating gesture if those with the best interests of all in the region fail to make serious conclusions from the events in Af-Pak region and the whole of South Asia, and make political and strategic decisions accordingly. If the decision makers particularly those in India were to view that Pakistan’s misfortunes are someway advantageous they would have been seriously mistaken.

(The author is the Academic Secretary of ASATiC- E-Address: [email protected])


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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