Will Pakistan Army look from East to West?
By Imtiaz Gul
Weekly Pulse May 07, 2009
More than a week before President Asif Ali Zardari landed in Washington,
President Barack Obama and his associates began upping the ante. On April 29
at a news conference marking his first 100 days in office, Obama was quite
ballistic about the weak and fragile civilian government. He was equally
concerned about the Pakistan nuclear weapons, and at the same time signaled
that the Pakistani army was falling in line:
`You're starting to see some recognition just in the last few days that the
obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided,
and that their biggest threat right now comes internally ....`We want to
continue to encourage Pakistan to move in that direction ...And we will
provide them all of the cooperation that we can.''
The day Zardari landed in Washington, Gen.James Jones, the national security
advisor, demanded certain guarantees of Pakistan about the safety of the
And Hillary Clinton told a House committee (April 23 ) that "I think we
cannot underscore [enough] the seriousness of the existential threat posed
to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances (of militants) … and the
nuclear-armed nation could also pose a "mortal threat" to the United States
and other countries. Clinton also went on to state that the Obama
administration is working to convince the Pakistani government that its
traditional focus on India as a threat has to shift to the Islamic
Holbrooke (told one of Pakistan’s private tv channel on April 25) said: “We
believe that Baitullah Mehsud, Fazlullah, Osama bin Laden, the leadership of
Taliban and Mulla Omer had mixed in the Pakistani society; they all are
against the ideology of Pakistan.” He, too, emphasized that
”Pakistan should not worry about India, but if India wanted to help
militants and extremists, it would be a very disastrous and dangerous situation.”
Advices from outsiders notwithstanding, the real issue at hand is whether
Pakistani security apparatus can respond to this situation as desired by its
Perhaps not because the dilemma that Pakistan's security establishment
currently confronts essentially revolves around the "perennial threat from
the east." Its enemy number one remains India which maintains half of its
strike corps either along the Line of Control, the international border or
close to it. Hence the bulk of Pakistani armed forces also remain deployed
on this side of the border. For this army, the creeping monster i.e.
religious radicalism currently stoking unrest in northern Pakistan does not
constitute a medium or long term threat. The "mortal risk" comes from the
East (India) and not the West or the Northwest. And hence the
establishment’s preoccupation with India as the enemy number one (because of
the massive Indian defense wherewithal and its perceived involvement with
Pakistani militants and separatists).
Outsiders look at, and interpret the situation altogether differently; for
them the Al Qaeda- inspired Talibanisation poses a mortal threat not only to
Pakistan but also to the rest of the world. It represents a common problem
which has rendered the entire region increasingly insecure in the face of a
phenomenon that radiates appeal and elicits support beyond geographical
boundaries of a particular country.
Primarily, the Indian superiority - whether in conventional armament or in
its international stature as the largest emerging economy and the largest
democracy – shapes Pakistani establishment’s responses. Some analysts also
point out that Al-Qaeda recognizes the value of exploiting Pakistan’s
concern with both India and Afghanistan.
Also, during a Foreign Affairs roundtable discussion involving people such
as Stephen P. Cohen, C. Christine Fair, Sumit Ganguly, Shaun Gregory, Aqil
Shah, Ashley J. Tellis (March 31st, 2009), the alleged Indian role in the
Balochistan insurgency also figured prominently.
Writer and analyst Christine Fair (Rand Corporation), picking up on
Pakistani apprehensions, suggested it would be “unfair to dismiss the notion
that Pakistan's apprehensions about Afghanistan stem in part from its
security competition with India.”
Based on his discussions with Indian officials in Afghanistan and Zahedan,
Iran, Fair insisted that India ran operations from its mission in Mazar
(through which it supported the Northern Alliance) and is likely doing so
from the other consulates it has reopened in Jalalabad and Qandahar along
“Indian officials have told me privately that they are pumping money into
Balochistan. Kabul has encouraged India to engage in provocative activities
such as using the Border Roads Organization to build sensitive parts of the
Ring Road and use the Indo-Tibetan police force for security. It is also
building schools on a sensitive part of the border in Kunar--across from
Bajaur. Kabul's motivations for encouraging these activities are as obvious
as India's interest in engaging in them.”
India’s over 1 billion dollar reconstruction and economic aid to
Afghanistan since the January 2002 Tokyo conference, its almost free
satellite services for the Afghan telecommunication and the information
apparatus (radio and TV) as well as the Indo-Afghan cooperation in areas
such as intelligence and special policing also raise alarm and evoke
apprehensions in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
The reason for these apprehensions lie in the past; if Pakistan did it to
India in Punjab (Khalistan) and Kashmir, it is quite logical for India to
pay them back inside Pakistan – wherever possible. And if the Pakistani
establishment remains seized with this “pay-back by Indian intelligence
agencies,” it would also try to stand behind some of militant groups it sees
as useful in the regional race for influence, even if the costs to
Pakistan's political stability outweigh the benefits.
A cursory looking at the events in the last decade or so makes it quite
clear that the cost has far outweighed the benefits. An extremely tainted
image in the world, stagnating economy, flight of capital and the vicious
spiral of violence have all combined to make Pakistan appear as a fragile
state on the threshold of implosion.
But as militants continue to project their power in the Malakand region
including Swat, Dir and Buner, discussions with important people within the
army entail the impression that, perhaps the security apparatus
still perceives this wave of militancy as “manageable,” unlike its view of
India, which continues to concentrate its tanks, fighter aircraft and huge
number of forces in areas facing Pakistan.
Pakistani military needs to redefine the threat perception. But for this, it
has to give them up as a possible foreign policy option and genuinely
embrace the idea of zero tolerance for anti-state jihadists and take them on
as a strategic existential threat, as enemies of modernity and democracy.
Perhaps the dozen or so Af-Pak Special Envoys - the United States, Canada,
Great Britain, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Spain, France, Australian,
Japan – and the European Union need to reassure Pakistan about its
external security by “neutralizing” the threat from the East. This requires
the United States to display greater transparency and fairness in its
diplomatic exchanges with Pakistan. It must also allay Pakistani fears of an
encirclement by the tripodal Indo-Afghan- American alliance ( something ex
US ambassadors and intellectuals such as Peter Tomson, James Dobbins, Lisa
Curtis and Barnett Rubin) have all been advocating.
Unless Washington can persuade Islamabad that the U.S. assistance to India is not a direct threat to Pakistan’s strategic security and that it would stand by it in case of
any ingress by India, it would be very difficult to turn India-centric
Pakistani establishment to counter the long-term strategic threat i.e. the
burgeoning monster of Al-Qaeda-led radicalization that will soon become
unmanageable and pose a real existential threat to Pakistan. Their desire
to preventing Pakistan from slipping into further chaos or from falling into
the hands of the hodgepodge of militants also translated in the 5.28 billion
dollar commitments at the April 17 Tokyo conference.
The Kerry-Lugar bill promising a tripling of US aid to Pakistan is another
indication of that international goodwill. But does Pakistan have the
capacity, and its leaders the vision to turn that goodwill to the benefit of
the people of Pakistan. This question is quite troubling.
(The author is Chairman, Centre for Research and Security Studies. email: email@example.com)