Washington and the Generals
A Foreign Affairs roundtable discussion on the causes of instability in Pakistan and what, if anything, can be done about them.
||Stephen Philip Cohen is the author of numerous books on Indian and Pakistani security issues. Before joining the Brookings Institution in 1998 he was a Professor of Political Science and History at the University of Illinois and served in the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff from 1985 to 1987.
||C. Christine Fair is a Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation. She has authored and co-authored several books, including, most recently, The Madrassah Challenge: Militancy and Religious Education in Pakistan.
||Sumit Ganguly is a Professor of Political Science, holds the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations and is the Director of Research at the Center on American and Global Security at Indiana University at Bloomington. He most recently edited, with C. Christine Fair, Treading on Hallowed Ground: Counterinsurgency Operations in Sacred Places.
||Shaun Gregory is Director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at the University of Bradford. His latest book, Pakistan: Securing the Insecure State, will be published in 2009.
||Aqil Shah, a former Rhodes Scholar, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University.
||Ashley J. Tellis is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. From 2001 to 2003 he served as Senior Adviser at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, and in 2003, he also served on the National Security Council staff as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Strategic Planning and Southwest Asia.
Part I: Who Rules?
Who holds power in Pakistan today? What is the relationship among the government, the army, and the intelligence services?
March 31, 2009
Sumit Ganguly: Is there any doubt about that? The army, for all practical purposes, has been and remains in charge. It has steadily increased its power since the first military coup in 1958. The military has a veto over most critical decisions affecting both foreign and security policies, and during the Zia era, it expanded its reach into some areas of domestic politics as well, fomenting, and then containing, ethnic discord in the Sindh and pandering to religious zealots in social policy. Civilian governments in Pakistan are of transient significance. The military, the higher echelons of the civil service, and the intelligence services are the permanent features of the state. There is little or no evidence that the civilian government has any meaningful autonomy.
Shaun Gregory: I agree with Sumit on this. The civilian government is very weak. The Pakistani army retains de facto control of foreign policy, defense policy, internal security, and nuclear policy, and will defend its expanded economic interests — which mushroomed under Pervez Musharraf. On the relationship between the army and the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence]: in 2006, Musharraf told the London Times that the ISI “is a disciplined force . . . doing what the [military] government has been telling them.” I think we should accept his word. I don’t buy the idea that the ISI is a “state within a state,” or that it is always “rogue” elements doing various nefarious things. Broadly speaking, the ISI is under the control of the Pakistan military and serves as its instrument.
Ashley Tellis: Sumit has it dead-on. The army rules on all the critical issues important to it: the nuclear program, the budget, security policy, relations with key foreign partners. Although civilian governments have room to play in other areas, their choices are crowded out by prior military preferences. I think the view that the ISI implements military preferences is by and large correct. ISI can conduct activities that the GHQ [General Headquarters] may not be aware of, but I don’t believe that any such autonomous actions can ever be sustained if they are seen to be against military interests.
Aqil Shah: The military has withdrawn from exercising direct government power by passing the baton to elected civilians, as it has done several times in the past, but it would be naive to expect it to loosen its control over what it sees as its legitimate “structural” missions, including Afghanistan, India, and the nuclear weapons program. The intelligence services work directly under the command and control of the army chief of staff, even though the ISI is formally answerable to the prime minister. It is hard to determine the presence or extent of factionalization within the military-intelligence complex, but there is little credible evidence to suggest that the military does not operate as a coherent organization. Once the army chief signs off on a policy, the costs of disobedience can be prohibitively high.
Stephen Cohen: The ISI is part of the government, and especially the army, but it is not certain that either exercises sovereign control over all of Pakistan. The weakening of central authority would not be of much concern to outsiders, however, if some groups did not operate beyond Pakistani borders or threaten the fabric of Pakistan itself. In the long term, the weakening of the Pakistani state itself will be a problem, not just its loss of territory or control over radical elements. The army cannot govern Pakistan but won’t let anyone else govern it either. It’s a chicken-egg situation, worsened by the total collapse of the economy and the withering away of state institutions. Right after Musharraf took over (in a coup that I thought was necessary), I suggested to him that the best course for the military would be to reset the system, allowing the Pakistani people to decide who governs them. He obviously rejected this and other advice.
Aqil Shah: I disagree with Steve that the 1999 coup — or any past coup, for that matter — was “necessary.” There are two assumptions underlying this observation. One, that the military has the competence and the capacity to “reset” the system, and two, that military intervention is the default option when civilian governance falters. In fact, the military has neither such competence nor such capability, and coups are more often made by armed men who think they have the duty to “sort civilians out” whenever they deem it appropriate.
Sumit Ganguly: The military in Pakistan is bloated beyond all reason. Curbing its influence and inducing it to become a professional army focused on legitimate threats should not in any way compromise its viability. It is time that the United States use its still considerable leverage within Pakistan to trim the extraordinary privileges of the army, induce it to shed its extracurricular activities, and end its support to jihadis of every stripe.
Christine Fair: I am dubious about this posited U.S. leverage so long as Washington depends on Pakistan for help with the war in Afghanistan. Russia’s willingness to permit passage of nonlethal goods is a welcome development, but Russia doesn’t share a border with Afghanistan, and there are also lethal goods that need to be shipped into the theater. These supplies can be airlifted, but it’s costly. The bottom line is that the United States needs new regional partnerships to make its demands to Pakistan more persuasive. It also needs a new assistance paradigm that envisions the kind of Pakistan that is desired to emerge over the next 20 years and works to make that a reality. The United States and the international community need to invest in civilian capabilities in Pakistan. Domestic insurgencies are defeated by police forces with armies in support — not by armies themselves. Yet the U.S. approach has been to support the army while spending little on civilian institutions, which only perpetuates and exacerbates the problem.
Stephen Cohen: Christine raises a critical issue, that Pakistan controls two vital choke points: access to Afghanistan from the south and east, and intelligence cooperation regarding jihadis who commute between Pakistan and other places (notably Europe). Past administrations in Washington were unwilling to forego Pakistani cooperation on security issues, something that gave Islamabad powerful cards. Will the Obama administration be able to develop alternative routes to Afghanistan that make it less dependent on Pakistani cooperation? Not anytime soon.
Ashley Tellis: The cruel fact is that there are only two efficient supply routes into Afghanistan, through Pakistan and Iran. The northern routes are too long and convoluted and run through too many independent states.
Sumit Ganguly: I think the argument that Washington needs Pakistan to supply Afghanistan is wearing a little thin, even if it is technically true. Let’s face it: the Pakistani state is in hock. It cannot afford to give up the substantial rents that it earns from the supply routes. What would replace them? With global oil prices down, the Gulf states are hurting badly, so Saudi Arabia will not bail out Pakistan with any substantial infusion of cash. Nor is China likely to dole out huge sums of money.
Part II: The Military’s Worldview
What do the Pakistani security services want? How does supporting political violence and extremism fit into their agenda?
April 1, 2009
Shaun Gregory: The extent to which the army and ISI support terrorism is contentious. That they have done so in the past is beyond dispute. That they still support certain groups that serve their internal or regional interests is highly likely. That they support groups that threaten Pakistan’s territorial integrity is most unlikely. However, there is more than one actor stirring the terrorist/extremist pot here. Pakistan, having been through 1971, views territorial integrity with the utmost seriousness and is acutely sensitive to those countries — such as Iran and Afghanistan — that support subnational groups within Pakistan threatening secession. Anyone seeking greater stability in the region, or seeking to wean Pakistan off support for extremists and terrorists, has to address Pakistan’s legitimate security needs. This means working with neighboring countries to draw the sting of issues such as Kashmir and Baluchistan. Pakistan, for its part, must move to a fairer federal dispensation and take the opportunity for bilateral progress with India that the present context offers.
Sumit Ganguly: The security services and the military basically wish to preserve their prerogatives at the cost of the rest of Pakistan’s society. They have steadily aggrandized power and privilege and have come to construe their principal role as the guardians of the Pakistani state. They see the jihadi groups as their handmaidens and believe that the risks in using them are both controllable and calculable.
Aqil Shah: Any desire to deal firmly with cross-border militancy is trumped by the military’s perceived need to retain its ties to this or that militant group in order to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan. The army continues to fear that the United States could simply lose interest in Afghanistan once it captures the senior leadership of al Qaeda (as Washington did after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan), leaving Pakistan exposed to Indian (and Russian) “encirclement” — evidence of which it sees in New Delhi’s alleged support for the insurgency in Pakistan’s resource-rich Baluchistan province and Indian funding for a 135-mile road connecting Afghanistan’s Nimroz province with the Iranian port of Chabahar. Intelligence officials privately concede their mentoring of militant groups in the past, but say they have now escaped the military’s orbit — an assertion not fully consistent with the facts. There appears to be a pervasive belief in the army, among both mid-level and senior officers, that the United States and India are destabilizing FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and the rest of the country as a prelude to depriving Pakistan of its nuclear weapons. Officers who have served in FATA have told me that they face a U.S.-Indian combined offensive and that the local Taliban receive their funds from across the border. The army might inculcate such beliefs in order to motivate its soldiers, but they also connect to the military’s larger worldview. For the generals, the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal is proof of an evolving Indo-U.S., or even Indo-U.S.-Israeli, strategic alliance — not to mention American duplicity.
Stephen Cohen: Aqil has captured the essence of the Pakistani security establishment’s paranoia, but even paranoids have enemies, and no Pakistani soldier (or intelligence functionary) will soon forget that their country was cut in half by India. Most of them see things through an India-tinted lens, and have always feared that the United States might choose India over Pakistan — a fear confirmed by the US-Indian nuclear deal. Other Pakistanis have a more nuanced view of the world.
Sumit Ganguly: Aqil’s views on the Pakistani army’s paranoia about Indian involvement with the CIA in the FATA are fascinating. That said, it would be a marvel if the Indians were that competent with covert operations. Their flat-footedness in these matters simply does not convince me that they constitute a viable threat in the FATA, even if they would want to be one. I disagree with Steve, however, about the Pakistani army’s “memories” of the dismemberment of their country in 1971. Surely they have a glimmer of understanding about their own role in precipitating that crisis. India certainly played a major role in bringing about the genesis of Bangladesh. But the Pakistani army resists coming to terms with the flight of close to ten million individuals following the military crackdown there. The 1971 crisis is exploited to good effect for public-relations purposes and India-bashing, but we need not buy into this obfuscatory propaganda.
Aqil Shah: It would be reasonable to speculate that [India's] RAW [Research and Analysis Wing] is settling scores with the ISI in Afghanistan and perhaps Baluchistan. But so far, the Pakistani military establishment has produced little evidence of the “Indian hand,” and logically it doesn’t make sense for India to back groups that could instantly turn their guns on New Delhi, as many of the Pakistani Taliban promised to do in the wake of the recent Mumbai attacks. The trouble with Pakistan is that the specter of the unremitting “enemy” serves the parochial interests of the military. That is why the question of civil-military relations is critical to Pakistan’s external policies and behavior. When the entrenched organizational beliefs, biases, routines, and interests of the military become the primary drivers of a state’s decision-making for war and peace, it has trouble written all over it. Sumit is on the mark with the argument that the military believes it can still calibrate and control the “good” jihadis (those who fight in Indian-administered Kashmir or lend a helping hand in Afghanistan) from the “bad” ones (those who have turned on the Pakistani army, ostensibly with Indian prodding). In fact, the generals continue to see the “good” ones as the frontline in the military’s strategy of asymmetric warfare against a conventionally superior India. Senior military officials reportedly told a group of journalists in Islamabad after the Mumbai attacks that the militant commanders were “patriotic” Pakistanis, and that they had “no big issues with the militants in FATA,” “only some misunderstandings” that “could be removed through dialogue.”
Sumit Ganguly: The Pakistani military may well have legitimate concerns and indeed misgivings about India’s weapons purchases. That said, two issues immediately stand out. First, Pakistan has to decide on its own — or better, in conjunction with India — what constitutes an adequate level of weaponization to address its security needs. Second, we need to acknowledge that India has other threats that it faces, namely, from China. If we in the United States hedge against Russia, then we should concede that the Indians have every right to hedge against an uncertain future with China. But they also need to reassure the Pakistanis that they will not use their growing capabilities to intimidate or coerce Pakistan.
Shaun Gregory: It is increasingly clear to everyone except Pakistanis that Pakistan is no longer a regional equal of India, and nobody behaves any longer as though it is. Sumit is right: if Pakistan wants sensitivity to its legitimate interests, then it must acknowledge those of others, and that means recognizing India’s emergence as a great power and its legitimate concerns about China. Pakistan’s insistence on a bilateral calculus vis-à-vis India makes no sense anymore and is a patent obstacle to progress.
Christine Fair: I think it would be a mistake to completely disregard Pakistan’s regional perceptions due to doubts about Indian competence in executing covert operations. That misses the point entirely. And I think it is unfair to dismiss the notion that Pakistan’s apprehensions about Afghanistan stem in part from its security competition with India. Having visited the Indian mission in Zahedan, Iran, I can assure you they are not issuing visas as the main activity! Moreover, India has run 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 the border. Indian officials have told me privately that they are pumping money into Baluchistan. 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. Even if by some act of miraculous diplomacy the territorial issues were to be resolved, Pakistan would remain an insecure state. Given the realities of the subcontinent (e.g., India’s rise and its more effective foreign relations with all of Pakistan’s near and far neighbors), these fears are bound to grow, not lessen. This suggests that without some means of compelling Pakistan to abandon its reliance upon militancy, it will become ever more interested in using it — and the militants will likely continue to proliferate beyond Pakistan’s control.
Aqil Shah: Christine’s observations provide damning evidence of the games states play. The Indians seem to be saying, “The Pakistanis did it to us in Kashmir, so we will pay them back in Baluchistan and elsewhere.” So it should not be surprising that the Pakistani military continues to patronize groups it sees as useful in the regional race for influence, even if the costs to Pakistan’s political stability outweigh the benefits.
Sumit Ganguly: I never suggested that the Indians have purely humanitarian objectives in Afghanistan. That said, their vigorous attempts to limit Pakistan’s reach and influence there stem largely from being systematically bled in Kashmir. Their role in Afghanistan is a pincer movement designed to relieve pressure in Kashmir. Whether it will work remains an open question. Meanwhile, I know that the Indians have mucked around in Sind in retaliation for Pakistani involvement in the Punjab crisis. But as much as the Indians may boast about their putative pumping of funds into Baluchistan, why is the evidence for that so thin?
Ashley Tellis: What do key Pakistani actors want, especially the military? Obviously, they want security for Pakistan, along with the ability to protect their own interests inside it. Both objectives become problematic, unfortunately, when pursued in certain ways. The army is pursuing security for Pakistan in the east by combating India through a war of a thousand cuts and a rapidly expanding nuclear program, and in the west by a little imperial project in Afghanistan. There is a temptation to see the latter entirely through the lens of India-Pakistan competition. But Pakistan has interests in Afghanistan that transcend its problems with India. In fact, one of the crucial problems in both theaters is the exaggerated Pakistani fears of what it believes the Indians are up to. Aqil captures that paranoia quite well. I am not sure I buy Christine’s analysis of Indian activities in Pakistan’s west: this is a subject I followed very closely when I was in government, and suffice it to say, there is less there than meets the eye. That was certainly true for Afghanistan. Convincing Pakistanis of this, however, is a different story. I think Sumit and Shaun get the bottom line exactly right: Pakistan has to recognize that it simply cannot match India through whatever stratagem it chooses — it is bound to fail. The sensible thing, then, is for Pakistan to reach the best possible accommodation with India now, while it still can, and shift gears toward a grand strategy centered on economic integration in South Asia — one that would help Pakistan climb out of its morass and allow the army to maintain some modicum of privileges, at least for a while. The alternative is to preside over an increasingly hollow state.
Christine Fair: I am not trying to blow Indian activities in the region out of proportion, rather stressing the need to not dismiss the importance of Pakistani perceptions of those activities simply because one thinks they are exaggerated. These activities matter to some in the Pakistani elite and to a broader public that is fed a steady stream of information about them. Countless surveys demonstrate the Pakistani public’s peculiar view of the region and their country’s activities in it. Public opinion matters to the army, and it will not cooperate with the West’s desires unless such cooperation enjoys support among Pakistanis at large. Coercive measures against the army — which I tend to support to some extent — are at odds with attempts to persuade Pakistanis of the real nature of the threats their government has brought upon them and the need for immediate action in response. Regarding the formation of perceptions, Pakistan’s educational system is, of course, the font of these problems. Alas, Washington has focused entirely too many (wasted) resources on the so-called madrassah problem while failing to acknowledge the much larger problem of Pakistan’s public schools, which educate some 70 percent of the student population. (Private schools of varying quality educate another 30 percent of full-time students, with madrassah enrollments largely a rounding error.) Attitudinal surveys of older children in religious, private, and public schools show very different views on militancy, violence, minority rights, and the conflict with India. Private-school students have the most reassuring worldviews, suggesting that those schools, the vast majority of which are not elite, are doing something right. Surely, market incentives could be bolstered to encourage private-school expansion and utilization.
Part III: The Military’s Worldview
What are the most important U.S. interests in Pakistan, and how should Washington advance them?
April 2, 2009
Ashley Tellis: As far as the West is concerned, its principal objective is simply getting the Pakistanis to make good on their commitment to confront terrorism comprehensively. It is easy to understand why Pakistan won’t. It is harder to understand why Pakistan, even now, cannot appreciate the risks to itself in its chosen course. Three problems account for this in my opinion: first, simple inertia (what has been done for fifty years becomes the default course of action); second, a tendency to maximize short-term gains at the expense of long-term interests; and third, the vexed civil-military relationship in Islamabad. Unfortunately for Pakistan, the West is losing patience with its shortcomings — and while Pakistan may be slowly changing, the threats emerging from that country toward the rest of the world are increasing fast.
Christine Fair: As Ashley notes, the perplexing question is why Pakistan’s security elites do not recognize the problems their policies pose to Pakistan’s own security. They argue that militants are increasingly turning on them, not as “blowback” from their own past and current policies, but because of Pakistan’s alliance with the United States. Many have told me that once that alliance is shaken off, the Pakistani state will be able to restore good relations with the militants, who will continue to serve the security elites’ interests. And to date, the use of these militant groups has been almost cost-free, has it not?
Sumit Ganguly: Without some explicit benchmarks, further aid to the Pakistani army will be money down a rat hole. We have done this before, and not just with Musharraf. I distinctly recall that after several years of support to the Pakistani military during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan we discovered to our great horror that the bulk of our assistance had gone to those who had done the least fighting, such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his thugs. It is time we make it clear to the Pakistani army that it will not be business as usual.
Stephen Cohen: I strongly favor conditionality when it comes to a matter that is in Pakistan’s own vital interest, such as counterinsurgency. I don’t see why we should sell arms for other purposes. But the problem, of course, is that we want more things from Pakistan than they can probably deliver. We want them to be a democracy, clean up the madrassas, get along with India, be forthcoming on A. Q. Khan and their past nuclear program, have a world-class nuclear command and control system, be with us against al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and the Pakistani Taliban (including its Punjabi ideological soul mates). If you think that a threat to cut off military sales can make them do all of these things, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. We must decide what is most important.
Sumit Ganguly: Steve, we don’t need to ask the Pakistanis to do all those things simultaneously. That said, I see no reason why we cannot approach such a list sequentially. This will entail a serious discussion in Washington about near- and medium-term priorities. At a bare minimum, we can ask Pakistan to end its ties with jihadi organizations. This is in the American interest, in the interests of India and Afghanistan, and ultimately in the interest of Pakistan itself. Cutting the umbilical cord between certain entities of the Pakistani state and these organizations will not be easy or simple, but unless concrete, tangible steps are taken toward that end, we may as well stop talking fatuously about how Pakistan is “a valuable ally in the war on terror.” The menace that was spawned on and unleashed from Pakistani soil threatens us all, and we need to be forthright about it.
Stephen Cohen: What if they stop their ties to jihadi organizations that affect us but not to those that are pointed at India? Is this our problem or India’s? And is al Qaeda a jihadi organization?
Sumit Ganguly: There cannot be neat distinctions between “good” and “bad” jihadis. The Pakistani army cannot guarantee that even ostensibly “anti-Indian” jihadi organizations will not turn their guns on us when it suits them. And yes, al Qaeda is a jihadi organization!
Christine Fair: I’d like to push police training. The [National Highways and] Motorway Police and the Lahore traffic police demonstrate that a good salary and absolute accountability can produce effective policing in Pakistan: police can be professional when the proper incentives are in place. U.S. assistance has not focused the resources it should have on civilian capacity building. While “Operation Clean-up” — in Karachi against the MQM [Muttahida Quami Movement] — had some pretty nasty and draconian elements, it did demonstrate the capacity of police and the rangers to put down serious insurrection when there is will to do so.
Shaun Gregory: For me, the top priority is Pakistan’s ongoing support for the Afghan Taliban. Any hope the Obama administration has of progress in Afghanistan is going to turn in large measure on persuading Pakistan to act on its side of the border. I’d argue that the nuclear issue can wait, that even al Qaeda can wait; it’s the tribal instability in the FATA/NWFP [North-West Frontier Province] and Pakistan’s impact in Afghanistan that have to be front and center. The question of why the Pakistani army does not see its embrace of terrorists as ultimately self-destructive is important. Is it arrogance that makes it believe it can somehow weather the storm, achieve its objectives in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere, and still control anti-state terrorism within its own borders? Or is there any merit in seeing this as driven by a pernicious mix of cultural and religious factors — the labyrinthine working through of shame-honor/power-challenge codes, Islamic fatalism, the notion of jihad within the army? Is Pakistan so cornered that it feels it has no other options, or does the army prefer to pull the house down on everyone’s heads, including their own, rather than accept a dispensation of regional weakness?
Aqil Shah: The United States has to pay more attention to the Kashmir conflict and be seen to be doing so. Kashmir shapes the Pakistani state’s worldview to a significant degree. It also plays a crucial role in legitimating the military’s virtually open-ended security mission and limits the prospects of reversing military power in domestic politics. Meanwhile, if Washington is backing civilian rule in Pakistan, as it says it does, U.S. officials should resist holding secret meetings with the Pakistani army leadership. These interactions undermine the authority of the civilian government and reinforce the generals’ exaggerated sense of importance. The military feels it can get away with murder in good measure because it believes that it is indispensable to Washington. As for the possibility that “religious fatalism” is part of the problem, I don’t think cultural or religious essentialism can help us understand the Pakistani military’s intransigence in the face of changing circumstances. Organizational beliefs and norms, which define the values and goals that are important to the group and are imparted to all new members in a highly structured environment, deeply influence military behavior. One deeply internalized assumption is that India is evil and anyone who abets or aids it in any way, or is seen as doing so, must also have evil designs on Pakistan. On FATA, as urgent as dealing with militancy is, there is a serious and long overdue need to reform the barbaric colonial-era rules and regulations under which Pakistan (mis)governs the area. The government, for example, is currently allowed to use fines, arrests, property seizures, and economic blockades to punish an entire tribe for crimes committed anywhere in its territory. Official decisions are not subject to appeal in a court of law. The people of FATA are deprived of basic political rights, and political parties are still banned from operating in the area (which is one reason the madrassah-based JUI-F dominates local politics). External actors need to lean on Pakistan to get serious about governance and economic reforms in FATA. The Pakistani state has washed its hands of its basic responsibility to govern FATA by blaming it on Pashtun traditions and culture. But FATA is misgoverned deliberately, not because of tribal resistance.
Stephen Cohen: I know and admire Aqil’s views, which have influenced me greatly. But achieving “Aqil’s Pakistan” requires a long-term strategy, and some agencies in Washington have pressing short-term goals. They would be willing, like previous U.S. administrations, to trade off dealing effectively with al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban now at the expense of helping Pakistanis construct a stable and, hopefully, democratic state over the long term. But the prospect of a truly rogue Pakistan several years down the road is frightening. As far as policy is concerned, the approach set out in the Biden-Lugar legislation changes the fundamental ground rules of our relationship with Islamabad and the Pakistani people. I support it wholly. I don’t think that the GOP understands this; Richard Holbrooke will have to make it clear to them that the old rules have changed, while convincing the rest of the Obama administration that a short-term policy must be accompanied by long-term policies as well. Finally, there must be active diplomacy with our friends and others so they can, if they choose, coordinate their diplomacy and aid packages with ours. Other relevant states also need to be engaged — not just India but also China, Europe, and Saudi Arabia, all of which want a stable Pakistan. All this will require leadership. There’s no guarantee that it will work, but looking at the fundamental trend lines in Pakistan, it is hard to be optimistic if things continue the way they are now.
Part IV: What Now?
Given all of the above, what are the implications of recent developments such as the Swat Valley deal and the Sharif–Zardari confrontation?
April 3, 2009
Sumit Ganguly: For me, recent events have only underscored the fragility of the Pakistani state and its institutions. They also reveal that the court system is firmly ensconced in the politics of the moment. It does not bode well for the country. Allowing sharia in Swat, regardless of its particular manifestations, constitutes an abnegation of state authority. This is deeply worrisome and cannot be sanitized. Even during the darkest days of the Punjab insurgency, the Indian state never ceded this sort of ground to the Khalistanis.
Shaun Gregory: What is depressing about the latest events in Pakistan is that they were completely predictable. It is like watching the unfolding of a bad tragedy one has seen a hundred times before. In my view, the issue of Sharia in Swat is less important than the nature of the people to whom the Pakistani authorities have ceded authority there. As for Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, this is a wholly unnecessary fight that diverts huge amounts of political energy from real priorities. They remind me of Holmes and Moriarty, so intent on the destruction of each other that they missed the point that they were standing on the edge of an abyss.
Aqil Shah: Recent events in Swat show only that the military-dominated Pakistani state is either unwilling or unable to perform its basic function: enforcing the legitimate monopoly over the means of coercion and administration in its own territory. Even if we concede that striking a cease-fire agreement with the Taliban was the only feasible option in the face of abject military failure and the rising human costs of the military campaign, how is the government going to make sure that the Taliban have made a credible commitment? What is to stop the Taliban from reneging on their promises? Press reports suggest that they have already violated the terms of the cease-fire agreement by attacking and kidnapping security personnel, just as they did in all of the previous “peace deals” in the FATA. The cease-fire agreement basically gives the Taliban a pass on their crimes against the state. They have terrorized the population, burnt down hundreds of girls’ schools in Swat, and murdered civilians and military personnel. As Shaun says, it’s déjà vu all over again.
Shaun Gregory: For U.S. and NATO policy, meanwhile, the fundamental challenges remain. Washington and NATO should partner with all those who can take Pakistan forward, wherever they are — in moderate political parties, civil society, the private sector, even Islamist parties that eschew violence. Efforts should shift from military aid to civilian aid and strive for economic, social, and political progress. Any and all military aid that continues should be strictly accounted for and subject to conditionality. Western dependence on Pakistan — in terms of logistics, intelligence, and so forth — should be reduced so Western leverage over the army and ISI can increase. Washington should explore containment strategies for the FATA that end the airstrikes, re-task the Pakistan military, suppress arms trafficking, limit the reach of the extremist message, and seek some accommodations with tribal groups. Meanwhile, the West needs to recognize that Pakistan has legitimate interests and concerns in Afghanistan, and in the region more broadly, and allow those interests to be addressed, or else the paranoia of the army and the intelligence services will continue to be fed. A regional diplomatic process, with Pakistan and Afghanistan at the center, can provide a political framework for progress. The combination of Obama, [Hillary] Clinton, Holbrooke, and [David] Petraeus provides the best shot at such a process we’re likely to see for a generation.
Aqil Shah: The transition to democracy has done little to change the dynamics of political power. The politicians appear too busy protecting their flanks to realize the gravity of the situation. Opinion polls show a sharp downslide in public confidence in the government’s performance. The Sharif-Zardari showdown may not have been unexpected, but it has certainly disappointed Pakistanis who perceived the 2008 elections and their results as a first step toward extricating Pakistan from its authoritarian trap. The political, economic, and security problems faced by the elected government are largely legacies of Musharraf’s military rule. But the PPP [Pakistan People's Party] government cannot hide behind that excuse to mask its own incompetence. Power in Pakistan, as in any other aspiring democracy, needs to be restrained by the rule of law. This, in turn, requires the supremacy of the constitution, enforced by an autonomous judiciary. But the PPP-led government has used paltry subterfuges to subvert judicial independence and has held over other anti-democratic measures from the Musharraf era, such as the presidential power to arbitrarily sack elected governments. The PPP and other parties may find it inconvenient to be restrained by constitutional checks and balances, but without them democracy is likely to remain feeble and vulnerable to authoritarian backsliding. If that happens, civilian politicians will have to share a good part of the blame for squandering the democratic gains of the last few years.
Sumit Ganguly: Sadly, I agree. Going back to a question we touched on earlier, do any of you think Pakistan’s political elites fully grasp the dimensions of the crises that confront the state? Or do they feel that they will somehow find a way to muddle through yet again? I think that the country faces unprecedented challenges to its political stability, public order, and economic growth, and that its past ability to cope with similar threats may not be a useful guide to what lies ahead.
Ashley Tellis: I think Pakistani elites understand the nature of their challenge but are victims of short-term necessities, just like our own politicians. The Sharif-Zardari fissure is a great example. Both ought to be strengthening the civilian regime vis-à-vis the army, but normal politics comes in the way, as it always does. Shaun’s recommendations for Western policy are very useful, but I’m pessimistic we can succeed. Washington will engage the civilians — as it does already — but is it realistic to imagine that it will “disempower” the Pakistani military so long as it is fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban? And Washington may shift the focus of aid to civilian ends, but civilian assistance may well be unfocused and wasted. There is strong pressure on the Obama administration to introduce conditionality on military aid to Pakistan, but I would be very surprised if it goes this route. Trying to offset the dependence on Pakistan through the northern routes makes sense, but I don’t think there is much prospect of good news there — for the foreseeable future, it’s the Khyber Pass. (And to be fair, the Pakistani record in transporting stuff is not at all bad, a few dramatic events notwithstanding.) The idea of a containment strategy is interesting, but can a Pakistan with multiple sovereignties survive? I don’t know. As for airstrikes and collateral damage, this has been more of an issue in Afghanistan than Pakistan, where the U.S. record on targeting bad guys has been remarkable. On Pakistan’s legitimate concerns, finally, the real issue here is not Islamabad but Kabul. How do you protect Pakistan’s interests when Afghanistan has a different conception of what those should entail? It is the security dilemma between Afghanistan and Pakistan that lies at the core of all else. I am personally skeptical about a regional approach as it is being defined now. I wish Holbrooke and his colleagues well, but you can’t fix deep-rooted security dilemmas instantaneously or through marginal policy changes. Sorry to be a wet blanket, but I am not optimistic. I think the best we can do is try to manage Afghanistan without Pakistan’s cooperation while slowly working with Islamabad to bring it around over the longer term.
Aqil Shah: This is a classic moral hazard problem. Military and civilian elites in Pakistan believe that they can pursue their notion of the national interest without serious repercussions because of the country’s strategic importance. And so far, the United States and others have done little to puncture that belief. Consider U.S. silence on Musharraf’s demolition of the higher judiciary, an issue that triggered civil-society mobilization against his regime and helped loosen his grip on power. The not unfounded perception of this in Pakistan was that U.S. acquiescence was a response to the Supreme Court’s efforts to apply Pakistani laws to illegally incarcerated terror suspects. To many Pakistanis, this was just another case of Washington’s expedient alliances with Pakistani military dictators. The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore demonstrates all too well the audacity and growing reach of Islamist militants into the “settled” areas of Pakistan. Much of Pakistan’s internal insecurity is linked to its perceived security dilemma, which is typically used by the establishment to pursue unaccountable security policies and to justify domestic repression. If the stabilization of Afghanistan and Pakistan is not addressed with all the diplomatic, economic, and political tools available, then the region is likely to go to hell in a handcart, with horrendous consequences.
Shaun Gregory: I’ve just been re-reading Tariq Ali’s (admittedly leftist) analysis of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, The Duel. The basic thesis is that since 1958 the major Western powers have put their own short-term interests first, propping up one military dictatorship after another and paying only lip service to support for democracy. If such a course had achieved U.S. and Western objectives, it could perhaps be countenanced. But it hasn’t. For decades, Washington and others have put the interests of the Pakistan army and the country’s tiny kleptocratic elite first while neglecting the Pakistani people. This is a basic error that cannot be repeated if Pakistan is to be turned around. I can’t help thinking that if the same resources and intellectual energy that have been put into the Pakistani military had been put into genuine support for democracy, social progress, and development, we’d be in a very different place today. Over the past ten years, Washington has spent almost six billion dollars on the FATA, 96 percent of them on military activity and just 1 percent on development. This is a sterile, failed policy, and there surely have to be other ideas worth trying. The Obama administration says it wants to change course. We’ll see if it does.