By B. Raman
Religious extremism encouraged by the Pakistan Army has turned into a double-edged sword. It did hurt the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s and India post-1989 to some extent, but it has started hurting Pakistan more than it has been hurting India.
The consolidation of the presence of Al Qaeda and its associates and the deepening of the roots of the Afghan Taliban in Pakistani territory, the growth of the Pakistani Taliban called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Pakistani Punjab and the tribal belt and the ideological Talibanisation of India-specific terrorist organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and of growing sections of the youth in the tribal belt and Punjab have been the outcome of the encouragement of religious extremism by the Army. The Army has been using it as an operational asset to achieve its strategic objectives of forcing a change of the status quo in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) , retaining the Pakistani presence and influence in Afghanistan and countering the Indian presence and influence there.
The growth of religious extremism has made Pakistan a state of great concern not only to India as it has always been, but also to other countries of the world. Al Qaeda and its associates, which have global ambitions, have established de facto control over North Waziristan. The noticeable surge in the strikes by the Drone aircraft (pilotless planes) of the US since Mr.Barack Obama came to office in January 2009 might have weakened Al Qaeda and its associates to some extent as claimed by the US, but the weakening has not significantly affected their ability to operate globally. They may no longer be able to do a repeat of the 9/11-style terrorist strikes, but they are still in a position to operate on a smaller scale, but in a larger geographical area as compared to the period before 9/11.
What Al Qaeda and its associates have lost by way of well-motivated and well-trained Arab and other foreign cadres has been made good to some extent by the increase in the number of motivated cadres and capabilities of Pakistani organizations such as the LET. In the past, the LET was essentially an asset of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) raised, motivated, trained and armed for use against India and against Indian nationals and interests in Afghanistan. While continuing to play the India-focused role assigned to it by the ISI, the LET has gravitated into an organization with global ambitions and a global reach capable of making good the weaknesses of Al Qaeda and its associates.
The TTP, which started essentially as an organization indulging in acts of reprisal against the Pakistani security forces following the raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad by the Pakistani military commandoes in July,2007, has developed a larger agenda of assisting the Afghan Taliban in its operations against the NATO forces in Afghanistan and assisting home-grown jihadis in the US and other Western countries by training them in the areas under its control in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The Pakistan Army’s policy of using the extremists and terrorists as operational assets where it can and countering them as adversaries where it should has created a dichotomy in its counter-terrorism policy, thereby weakening the fight against terrorism emanating from Pakistani territory. While the Pakistan Army can be expected to keep up its sporadic operations against the TTP which poses an internal threat, it is unlikely to act effectively against the LET and other India-specific terrorist organizations and against the Afghan Taliban. It has been avoiding action against Al Qaeda due to a lack of confidence in its ability to eradicate it and due to a fear that Al Qaeda might indulge in acts of reprisal terrorism in Pakistani territory.
The internal security situation in Pakistan, already very bad, has been made worse by the activities of Sunni extremist groups such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) against the Shias, who constitute about 20 per cent of the population, the non-Muslim minorities and the liberal elements in the Sunni majority who take up the cause of the minorities and advocate changes in the blasphemy law in order to prevent its misuse against the minorities.
The religious parties, which contest in the elections, generally receive less than 15 per cent of the votes polled. There is no reason to believe that their number has increased. What has been happening is the gravitation of the terrorism-prone elements in these organizations as well as in the general population towards the terrorist organizations due to various reasons such as anger over the commando raid into the Lal Masjid and the civilian casualties due to the Drone strikes etc. Since the terrorist organizations do not contest the elections, it will be difficult to quantify the support enjoyed by them in the general population. However, the fact that they continue to have a regular flow of volunteers for suicide terrorism would indicate the existence of well-motivated support for them—particularly in Punjab and other areas.
From all this, it would be incorrect to assess that there has been a radicalization of Pakistan as a State and society. What we are seeing is a radicalisation of sizable sections of the population—particularly in certain areas of Punjab and the Pashtun belt— who have come under the influence of destabilising radical ideas and are posing a threat to peace and security in Pakistan as well as in the region and the rest of the world.
Despite pessimistic assessments by many analysts, I do not see any danger of a radicalisation of Pakistan as a State and a nation in the short and medium terms. The Army plays an important role in the governance of Pakistan—-either directly by taking over the reins of power or indirectly when a duly elected political leadership is in power by having a say in matters concerning national security. There has been an increase in the number of radical elements in the Army since the days of the late Gen. Zia-ul-Haq (1977-88). One finds an increasing number of students from the madrasas in the Armed Forces and other Government departments. They are more prone to be influenced by radical ideas than the products of non-religious institutions.
Such radical elements are found mainly at the lower and middle levels. The presence of radical elements at the higher command level is rare. However, exceptions have been there—-the most prominent of them being Gen. Zia himself, who was a devout Deobandi and Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan, who retired some years ago. Gen. Aziz Khan belongs to the Sudan tribe of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and was considered a hard-core fundamentalist in his thinking and actions. After his retirement, there are no votaries of radical or fundamentalist ideologies at the level of Lt. Generals and Generals
Despite the presence of such radical elements at the lower and middle levels, the Pakistan Army is not a radical institution in the religious sense. While the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, which consists largely of military officers, have no compunctions about using radical elements in the society for achieving their strategic objectives, they have ensured that their institutions do not get infected with radical ideas at the senior levels. During the war against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the ISI, in collaboration with the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), used radical ideologies for motivating the Afghan, Pakistani and Arab volunteers to fight against the Soviet troops. At the same time, it saw to it that these ideas did not affect the Army as an institution. This was equally true in the case of the Air Force and the Navy too.
There are three destabilizing ideological influences in Pakistan—- the Wahabised Islamic extremism, the trans-Ummah pan-Islamism and the country-wide anti-Americanism. The Wahabised Islamic extremism calls for the transformation of Pakistan into an Islamic democracy ruled according to the Sharia and the will of Allah, as interpreted by the clerics. It says that in an Islamic democracy, Allah will be sovereign and not the people. The trans-Ummah pan-Islamism holds that the first loyalty of a Muslim should be to his religion and not to the State, that religious bonds are more important than cultural bonds, that Muslims do not recognize national frontiers and have a right and obligation to go to any country to wage a jihad in support of the local Muslims and that the Muslims have the religious right and obligation to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in order to protect their religion, if necessary. The anti-Americanism projects the US as the source of all evils afflicting the Islamic as well as the non-Islamic world. The religious elements look upon the US as anti-Islam. The non-religious elements look upon it as anti-people.
The geo-religious landscape in Pakistan is dominated by two kinds of organizations—–the fundamentalist parties and the jihadi organizations. The fundamentalist parties have been in existence since Pakistan became independent in 1947 and have been contesting the elections though they are opposed to Western-style liberal democracy. Their total vote share has always been below 15 per cent. They reached the figure of 11 per cent in the 2002 elections, thanks to the machinations of the Pervez Musharraf Government, which wanted to marginalize the influence of the non-religious parties opposed to him such as the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) of Mr.Nawaz Sharif. In his over-anxiety to cut Mrs.Bhutto and Mr.Nawaz down to size, Musharraf handed over the tribal areas on a platter to the fundamentalists and the jihadis, thereby —- more unwittingly than consciously — facilitating the resurgence of the Neo Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The jihadi organizations are so called because they misinterpret the concept of jihad and advocate its use against all perceived enemies of Islam—-internal or external, non-Muslims or Muslims—- wherever they are found. Their call for jihad has a domestic as well as an external agenda. The domestic agenda is the setting up of an Islamic democracy in Pakistan ruled according to the Sharia and the will of Allah. The external agenda is to “liberate” all so-called traditional Muslim lands from the “occupation” of non-Muslims and to eliminate the influence of the US and the rest of the Western world from the Ummah.
The jihadi organizations were brought into existence in the 1980s by the ISI and the Saudi intelligence at the instance of the CIA for being used against the troops of the USSR and the pro-Soviet Afghan Government in Afghanistan. Their perceived success in bringing about the withdrawal of the Soviet troops and the collapse of the Najibullah Government has convinced them that the jihad as waged by them is a highly potent weapon, which could be used with equal effectiveness to bring about the withdrawal of the Western presence from the Ummah, to “liberate the traditional Muslim lands” and to transform Pakistan into an Islamic fundamentalist State. The Pakistani Army and the ISI, which were impressed by the motivation, determination and fighting skills displayed by the jihadi organizations in Afghanistan, transformed them, after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, into a new strategic weapon for use against India to annex J&K and in Afghanistan to achieve a strategic depth.
The aggravation of the anti-US feelings in the Islamic world post-9/11 has resulted in a dual control over the Pakistani jihadi organizations. The ISI has been trying to use them for its national agenda against India and in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden has been using them for his global agenda against “the Crusaders and the Jewish people”. The jihadi organizations are now fighting on three fronts with equal ferocity—-against India as desired by the ISI, against the US and Israel as desired by Al Qaeda and against the Pakistani State itself as dictated by their domestic agenda of an Islamic State ruled according to the Sharia and the will of Allah. The growing Talibanisation of the tribal areas in the FATA and the Khyber Pakhtoonkwa province (KP) and its spread outside the tribal areas are the outcome of their determined pursuit of their domestic agenda. The acts of jihadi terrorism in Spain and the UK, the thwarted acts of terrorism in the UK and the unearthing of numerous sleeper cells in the UK, the USA, Canada and other countries and the resurgence of the Neo Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan are the outcome of their equally determined pursuit of their international agenda. Members of the Pakistani diaspora in the Gulf and the Western countries have been playing an increasingly active role in facilitating the pursuit of their international agenda.
The international community’s concern over the prevailing and developing situation in Pakistan has been further deepened by the status of Pakistan as a nuclear weapon State. The Pakistan Army has been repeatedly assuring the US and the rest of the international community that the security of its nuclear arsenal is strong and that there is no danger of its falling into the hands of the jihadi terrorists. Despite this, the concerns remain. This is due to various factors.
Firstly, it is admitted even in Pakistan that there has been an infiltration of extremist elements into every section of the Pakistani State apparatus—- the Armed Forces, the Police, the Para-military forces and the civilian bureaucracy. When that is so, it is inconceivable that there would not be a similar penetration of Pakistan’s nuclear establishment.
Secondly, the fundamentalist and jihadi organizations are strong supporters of a military nuclear capability for the Ummah to counter the alleged nuclear capability of Israel. They project Pakistan’s atomic bomb not as a mere national asset, but as an Islamic asset. They describe it as an Islamic bomb, whose use should be available to the entire Ummah. They also support Pakistan sharing its nuclear technology with other Muslim countries. In their eyes, A.Q.Khan, the so-called father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, committed no offence by sharing the nuclear technology with Iran and Libya because both are Muslim States or with North Korea as a quid pro quo for its sharing its missile technology with Pakistan. They look upon Pakistan’s sharing its nuclear technology and know-how with other Islamic States as an Islamic obligation and not as an illegal act of proliferation.
Thirdly, while serving scientists may be prepared to share the technology and know-how with other Muslim States, there has been no evidence of a similar willingness on their part to share them with Islamic non-State actors such as Al Qaeda. However, the dangers of such a sharing of know-how with the non-State actors were highlighted by the unearthing of evidence by the US intelligence after 9/11 that at least two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists —-Sultan Bashiruddin Chaudhury and Abdul Majid—were in touch with Osama bin Laden after their retirement and had even visited him at Kandahar. They were taken into custody and questioned. They admitted their contacts with bin Laden, but insisted that those were in connection with the work of a humanitarian relief organization, which they had founded after their retirement. Many retired Pakistani military and intelligence officers have been helping the Neo Taliban and the Pakistani jihadi organizations. The most well-known example is that of Lt.Gen.Hamid Gul, who was the Director-General of the ISI during Mrs.Benazir’s first tenure as the Prime Minister (1988-90). Are there retired nuclear scientists, who have been maintaining similar contacts with Al Qaeda and other jihadi organizations?
The Pashtun belt on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border would continue to be under the de facto control of Al Qaeda, the Neo Taliban and the Pakistani jihadi organizations with neither the Pakistani Army in Pakistani territory nor the US-led NATO forces in the adjoining Afghan territory being able to prevail over the terrorists in an enduring manner. The NATO forces will not be able to prevail in the Afghan territory unless and until the roots of the jihadi terrorism in the Pakistani territory are initially sterilized and ultimately destroyed. The Pakistani Army has so far not exhibited either awillingness or the capability to undertake this task. The lack of willingness arises from its perception that it will need its own jihadis for continued use against India and the Neo Taliban for retrieving the strategic ground lost by it in Afghanistan. Moreover, the Army fears that any strong action by it against the jihadis operating in the Pashtun belt could lead to a major confrontation between the Army and the tribals, who contribute a large number of soldiers to the Pakistan Army. Next to Punjab, the largest number of soldier-recruits to the Pakistan Army comes from the KP and the FATA.
Its incapability arises from the fact that ever since Pakistan was born in 1947, the FATA has remained in a state of isolation and utter neglect with no worthwhile development of its economy and infrastructure. It should be possible to root out the terrorist infrastructure in this area through operations mounted by the NATO forces from the Afghan territory, but neither the present Government nor any future democratically elected civilian Government might be in a position to agree to this as this could aggravate anti-American feelings right across the political spectrum and the country as a whole and discredit the Government in power at Islamabad. If the Pakistan Government, including its military leadership do not act vigorously in time, there is a danger of the spread of jihadi extremism of the Taliban kind from the tribal areas to the POK and to those areas of Pakistani Punjab bordering the Pashtun belt. There are indications of this having already started.
India and Afghanistan will continue to face the immediate impact of the uncontrolled activities of the extremists and jihadis in Pakistani territory. Jihadi terrorism in the Indian territory will ebb and flow depending on the effectiveness of the Indian security forces and counter-terrorism agencies in dealing with it. Occasional outbreaks of spectacular acts of terrorism will be followed by long spells of inactivity. In the first few years after terrorism broke out in J&K in 1989, it almost assumed the shape of a sustained insurgency. But, the political, counter-infiltration (building of border fences) and counter-terrorism measures taken by the Indian authorities have dented the capability of the terrorists to maintain a sustained wave of terrorist attacks. The total elimination of these sporadic acts would not be possible till the Pakistani State gives up its use of terrorism as a strategic weapon.
There will be continuing instability in Afghanistan with the danger of Afghanistan reverting back to the pre-9/11 position. Narcotics control measures and all measures to dry up the flow of funds to different terrorist groups will remain ineffective. The flow of funds from the international community to Afghanistan will not result in any significant economic development and in an improvement in the standard of living of the people. On the other hand, there would be a danger of some of these funds leaking into the coffers of the terrorists through their sympathizers in the Government. There has been a penetration of the newly-raised Afghan security forces and the civilian administration by the Neo Taliban.
The phenomenon of angry individual Muslims in the Pakistani and other Muslim diaspora in the West taking to suicide terrorism and emulating Al Qaeda even if they do not agree with its objectives will continue. The strong measures taken by the Western Governments against their own Muslim population as well as Muslim visitors to their country will add to the feelings of alienation and anger in the Muslim diaspora. This will come in the way of their integration and aggravate the divide between the Muslims and non-Muslims. Instances of acts of reprisal terrorism against Western nationals and interests will continue to take place. A repeat of 9/11 in the US homeland cannot be ruled out however strong the physical security measures. The vicious cycle of More terrorism—More physical security and restrictive measures against Muslims—More alienation and Anger—More Terrorism will continue unbroken.
The fire of jihadi terrorism started in the Af-Pak region. It can be extinguished only through appropriate measures in the region from which it started—–particularly in Pakistan where the heart of the fire is located. A mix of immediate and long-term measures is required. The immediate measures would include pressurizing Pakistan to stop the use of terrorism as a strategic weapon, effectively put an end to the terrorist infrastructure created by the ISI and arrest and prosecute the leaders of the jihadi terrorist organizations. These measures would weaken the Pakistani jihadi organizations, but would not end Al Qaeda. It could be neutralized only by joint international action. The international community has not been successful presently because of a lack of co-operation from Pakistan. It must be made to co-operate through a carrot and stick policy. Another immediate measure required is a change in the present over-militarised counter-terrorism methods of the US, which are causing considerable collateral damage and driving more Muslims into the arms of Al Qaeda.
The long-term measures would include heavy investments in education in Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to make modern education available to the poorer sections of the society at an affordable price and reform of the madrasa system in order to make the madrasas serve the genuine religious and spiritual needs of the people without seeking to make jihadi terrorists out of them. The Western countries should seek to remove the feelings in the minds of their Muslim population that they are a targeted community. For this, there is a need for an improvement in the quality of the interactions of the intelligence and security agencies with the Muslims. How to be firm without seeming to be harsh and how to avoid creating feelings of humiliation in the minds of the Muslims under questioning? These are questions, which need attention—-immediately as well as in the medium and long terms. Eradication of the roots of terrorism would be a long drawn-out process. It needs to be handled with patience and understanding of the feelings of the Muslims. The economic development of the tribal areas on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border also needs attention.
India has to be a front-line State in the political and ideological campaign against extremism and terrorism in the Af-Pak region. The threats originating from these areas will continue to confront India, Afghanistan and the international community as a whole for at least another 10 to 15 years to come. It has to be gradually diluted and the terrorist organizations demotivated before one could hope to see jihadi fatigue set in. Demotivation of the terrorism-prone sections of the population should be the first objective. Better education, better medicare, better infrastructure, better governance and greater economic prosperity would be important factors in any exercise to achieve demotivation.
Attention to these factors alone would not be adequate to achieve the required level of demotivation which would enable a roll-back of the jihadi threat. It is equally important to work simultaneously for a demotivation of the Pakistani military leadership, whose reflexes are still largely influenced by memories of the defeat of the Pakistan Army by the Indian Army in 1971 and by fears of a possible repeat of 1971. The reflexes of the Pakistan Army are governed not only by its feelings of insecurity arising from its perception of what India could be up to, but also by its conviction that Jammu & Kashmir belongs to Pakistan and needs to be wrested from Indian control. Fears of India regaining its past influence in Afghanistan are another strong motivating factor.
The question of India handing over J&K to Pakistan does not arise. No amount of terrorism and no increase in the strength and capabilities of the Pakistan Army can shake India’s control over J&K and its determination to fight for the territorial status quo.The recent attempts of Pakistan to bring in China in a big way into Pakistan are an indicator of its realization that it cannot achieve its strategic objectives against India through the use of terrorism alone. It is also realizing that the US is unlikely to help Islamabad in achieving its objective vis-à-vis India.
Having realized the likely futility of the jihadi card and the US card, it is once again trying to use the China card against India by inviting Chinese troops into the POK and the Gilgit-Baltistan area and by encouraging China to diversify its economic and military stakes in Pakistan. China, which has been concerned over the likely implications to its status and security by the coming together of India and the US, is showing a greater willingness than hitherto to let itself be used by Pakistan to buttress its feelings of security vis-à-vis India.
In this web of geopolitical complexities, what are the policy options before India—– keep adding to Pakistan’s feelings of insecurity and instability or taking the initiative to lessen Pakistani concerns? Is it possible to lessen Pakistani concerns and help Pakistan rid itself of its anti-India reflexes without changing the status quo in J&K and without giving up India’s growing links with Afghanistan?
Any exercise to demotivate the Pakistani state and help it to rid itself of its fears—which are seen by its army as real and by India as imaginary— has to start with frequent and sustained interactions between the institutions of the two countries—- political parties to political parties, parliament to parliament, army to army, intelligence to intelligence, Foreign Office to Foreign Office and Home Ministry to Home Ministry. Increasing institutional contacts is as important as increasing people to people contacts to remove imaginary fears of each other.
How to achieve this increase in institutional interactions between India and Pakistan.? That should be the basic question to be addressed. It should be addressed in the context of an over-all vision statement between the two countries. The imaginary fears are more in Pakistan’s mind than in our mind. The Indian Prime Minister should take the initiative for visiting Pakistan to set the ball rolling towards an agreed common vision.
(“Paper prepared at the request of Prof. Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution, US, for inclusion in an edited volume on Pakistan being brought out by him. The volume, which is proposed to be published from India, Pakistan and the US, would include papers on Pakistan contributed by scholars in the three countries plus from the UK and Norway)