For the first time since 9/11, American troops put “boots on ground” in Angoor Adda in South Waziristan on September 3, 2008, provoking a stern response from the army and outrage from the media and public. But this American raid was not unexpected. Senior American officials had earlier warned it was coming, in view of the intensity of cross border Al-Qaeda/Taliban attacks on American forces in Afghanistan from “safe havens” in Waziristan and increasing loss of American lives. In fact, the Americans had accused the ISI of not only being an “unreliable intelligence partner” but also of planning the Taliban attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7. The message was emphasised that the Pakistan army was not doing enough against Al-Qaeda/Taliban.
Senior Pakistani military officials knew as much two months ago. A Daily Times front page report on June 2 headlined “Pentagon planning ‘boots on ground’ in Waziristan” explained that “the mood in Washington is increasingly warlike and grim as the beleaguered Bush administration enters its final days.” Apparently President Bush also conveyed this message to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on July 28 in Washington.
Given the explosive consequences of this superpower intervention, Pakistan’s civil-military policy makers in Islamabad must explain why the American threat was not deflected by a suitable combination of political diplomacy and military policy in FATA, especially following a “constructive and focused” meeting between the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and the Pakistani COAS, General Ashfaq Kayani, aboard USS Abraham Lincoln on August 28, barely a week before the Angoor Adda incident. Unfortunately, the Pakistani civil-military authorities are now huffing and puffing to salvage wounded pride and self-respect instead of coming to grips with the problem. What is the issue?
It is the presence in Pakistan’s tribal areas of Al-Qaeda foreigners and Afghan Taliban who have dedicated their lives to waging jihad against America and its allies, including Pakistan, from the mountains of Afghanistan to the shores of America. Together, these two forces have spawned the Pakistani Taliban and facilitated group linkages with the various jihadi and sectarian organizations of Pakistan who also share the same anti-America anti-Pakistan worldview. There is only solution: crush it.
But this hasn’t happened for various reasons. One difficulty is the political, religious and physical “integration” of this terrorist network among the tribesmen of FATA which leads to unacceptably high levels of “collateral damage” during military attacks, which further alienates the tribesmen and compels them to shore up the network. Another difficulty flows from the erroneous policy of taking direct military action against some elements of the terrorist network alternating with direct but dysfunctional “peace deals” between the military authorities and other elements of the “network”. This knocked out the traditional political order of the tribal area revolving around the tribal jirga and political agent without replacing it with any alternative source of permanent functioning state power. The “network” has usurped this vacuum. Third, a “stop-go” military strategy based on two highly questionable strategic considerations: first, that the Americans will not stay and nation-build in Afghanistan, so Pakistan should only commit itself to a holding operation; second, that Pakistan’s traditional proxies in the Afghan Taliban must be helped to survive and fight so that they can be projected later to ring side seats in any future dispensation in Kabul. This has led to the tactical policy view that the Afghan Taliban (assets) must be separated from Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban (liabilities), which is counter-productive because it denies any autonomous belief and practice to the “network” and its various elements.
These errors have been compounded by the handing over of the formal “ownership” and responsibility of the war on terror by the Pakistani military to the civilian government without relinquishing the military’s effective control over national security policy. For instance, the military still sees India in the context of historical confrontation doctrines, while the mainstream civilian PPP and PMLN are talking of an irrevocable peace process based on common cultures, increased trade and interlinking economic dependencies between the two neighbours. In fact, it is the military’s strategic obsession with India as the “enemy” that is partly responsible for its Afghanistan policy.
It is, however, the paradigm shift in America’s approach to the Pakistan army that is likely to have the greatest impact on domestic and regional politics. Until now, every American administration in the last sixty years has regarded the Pakistan army as part of America’s solution rather than part of its problem. But that may be changing. Washington is currently targeting the ISI, the right arm of the army, and is leaning on the civilian government to “reform” this agency, which is another way of delinking the agency from the military and bringing the military under effective civilian control and authority.
Will Pakistan’s military leadership make a paradigm shift in strategic thinking in conformity with the demands of a new era? Or will it clutch at anti-American populism to undermine the civilian order, retain its primacy and bide its time for another intervention? The war against terrorism and religious extremism – in other words, the battle for Pakistan – will be won or lost in GHQ.