Facing tough questions

Published: December 21, 2010
The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

An economically and politically fragile Pakistan faces very tough but fundamental questions, the most important of them being the quandary as to whether it can afford to hang on to a policy it had embraced in the late 1970s as a “guarantee to national security.”

This policy primarily revolved around, and relied on, non-state actors who were co-opted into the defence doctrine to serve as the first line of defence as well as to provide ‘strategic depth’ to the armed forces on the eastern and western borders. Some were prompted, promoted and protected in the name of “national interest in Kashmir” and some tolerated and assisted to watch our back on the western border.

Ironically, the doctrine of strategic depth was the brainchild of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the then head of Frontier Corps, Naseerullah Babar, had enlisted the services of about 1,333 Afghans — including Gulbudin Hekmetyar, Rabbani, Maulvi Khalis, Rasool Sayyaf. Youthful commandos trained at Cherat came in handy when General Ziaul Haq offered Pakistan as a bulwark against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The United States jumped at the offer and went on to spend almost a billion dollars which were funnelled through the ISI. All deluded themselves that they had defeated the evil communists and the Pakistanis decided to replicate this experience in Kashmir once Mikhail Gorbachev announced the withdrawal of his troops from Afghanistan by February 1989.

But the real rot began with the launch of the adventure in Kashmir through the JKLF (Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front), which was gradually overtaken by the Hizbul Mujahideen in 1990. In the years to come, not only did more outfits emerge but ‘guest organisations’ born during or after the Afghan jihad, also jumped into the fray. They not only adversely tainted Pakistan’s image but also weakened civil society vis-a-vis jihadi outfits which drew their strength from the intelligence apparatus. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) stood out as the darling for its support to the insurgency in Kashmir.

Little surprise, therefore, that the LeT even today stands at the centre of Indo-Pakistani tensions, not only for violence in Kashmir but also for the Mumbai carnage in November 2008 and the earlier attack on the Indian parliament in 2001. That is why India insists the ISI was complicit in the Mumbai attacks and continues to demand quick trial of people arrested in connection with them. It also wants conclusive action against the LeT.

Pakistan, on the other hand, offers its own reasons for the delays, thereby creating a situation that hardly helps both countries move forward and jointly take on the terrorists. Highly placed officials of the Musharraf era admit that until the general’s exit, the establishment treated Lashkar-e-Taiba and some Afghan groups as “strategic assets” — a hedge for circumstances arising out of an eventual western withdrawal from Afghanistan. Another consideration was to avoid being pushed into the corner by India, despite the commitment in January 2004 not to allow its soil to be used against India. This commitment fell victim to disagreements within the establishment, with one group saying “they are our strategic assets; the other saying no, they are also Pakistanis. So action against Lashkar-e-Taiba, for instance, remained wanting as far India was concerned.

Interviews, statements, and personal interactions in important capitals suggest that all those who matter in policymaking refuse to accept the Pakistani position on Kashmiri groups, including the LeT. They are also skeptical of Islamabad’s stand on the Haqqani network.

Pakistan is being increasingly viewed as a country whose inflexibility has brought crippling economic and political crisis upon it. Viewed against perceptions abroad and weighed against the current perilous circumstances, Pakistan’s civilian and military elite needs to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of its India and Afghan policies. These godzillas — born out of the anti-Soviet jihad mounted by the CIA and ISI together — are indeed now eating into the very vitals of the state of Pakistan. Sparing, or even tolerating, these godzillas for fear of backlash has only added to the perils of the country.

The expedience of the United States, the self-serving and indifferent policies of the military and civilian elite, and the mindless pursuit of a policy that centred on non-state actors has been fatal indeed.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2010.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • MilesToGo
    Dec 21, 2010 - 10:58PM

    When lalak Jan gives his life, he gets nishan-e-haider and when ajmal kasab gives his life, he gets lable-e-terrorist…

    There are no free lunches..Recommend

  • American
    Dec 22, 2010 - 12:32AM

    Pakistan is in danger of becoming another North Korea, ostracized by all nations.
    It is happening slooowwwly, and therefore not hitting people in the face.
    It is like boiling live frog or lobster placed in cold water.
    By the time you realize, it is too late…Recommend

  • faraz
    Dec 22, 2010 - 1:13AM

    The army thought it will secure strategic depth without firing a shot; religious parties, clerics and jihadi leadership enjoyed disproportionate political power; masses were taught the twisted version of jihad; and poor children were indoctrinated and used as cannon fodder. Such ruthless exploitation by state institutions has few parallels in modern history; even colonial powers used to take better care of locally recrutied troops. Recommend

  • Khurram
    Dec 22, 2010 - 2:02AM

    I do not think the GHQ will ever let go of these strategic assests and the doctrine of strategic depth any time soon. The political leadership of the country is too weak and very busy in lining up their pockets (can we blame them for this self-help no, they do not know how much time they have to loot the national exchequer before the army will elbow them out without any prior notice) to think what is good for the country and overide the generals in such matters, sadly the majority of citizens are gullible enough to be easily manipulated in the name of religion and ghairat. The country is going down the tubes but that is of a little or no concern because of our strategic position on the globe will save us, we can always depend upon time-tested friends who need us much more than we need them. Recommend

  • Dec 22, 2010 - 5:48AM

    A good examination of our current situation by Mr Imtiaz Gul. One can hope that our policy makers inside GHQ are reading this and will switch support.

    As for MilesToGo; buddy, What The Hell? You’re sentence doesn’t even make sense.Recommend

  • vasan
    Dec 22, 2010 - 6:30AM

    Yes Pakistan faces tough questions. But where are the answers. Hope they find the right answers which lead to peace and prosperity in pakistan. But till u admit the likes of Kasab as terrorists , I doubt you will find the right answers. More than that, the sponcers of Kasab need to be booked and punished.Recommend

  • Ayesha+Siddiqa
    Dec 22, 2010 - 10:45AM

    Imtiaz: a bit problematic and linear historiography. Until ZA Bhutto, whom you have tried to rope into the ‘strategic depth’ bandwagon, the issue was to keep pressure on Kabul that had once again insisted on drumming up the border issue with Pakistan. Thus, Islamabad providing support to some Afghan warlords who were culturally and religiously conservative. It did not naturally tantamount to creating the Taliban then. I would suggest you read the paper “The Gulf Crisis 1990”, a product of the fantastic imagination of Generals Hameed Gul, Mirza Aslam Beg and (I believe) Agha Masood. The basic conclusion was that the US will attack Iraq and will fail which will create a huge strategic vacuum to be filled by the only Muslim nuclear state that is Pakistan. Then, the paper built on strategic-defiance with the US and developing links with the Afghan who were to be looked upon as an additional infantry battalion of the Pakistan army to be deployed against India or whoever threatened the country. This was far more lethal and systematic than one imagined during the elder Bhutto days. The problem with linear presentation of historical facts is that it is disconnected from an analysis of the overall environment. Recommend

  • Dec 22, 2010 - 11:29AM

    Mumbai 26/11 was born out of a need to reduce the numbers leaving the LET to join the more happening outfits in Afghanistan. Headley (and why is there no article on this chap) disclosed that a stunning attack was needed against India to keep the fighters interested and within the LET fold.

    The obvious conclusion is that another Mumbai is inevitable if Pakistan does not act against the all-important, cold-blooded handlers of 26/11. Imagine these guys who urged hapless Kasab to kill and exhorted his mates in the Chabad house and Taj/Trident to demonstrate as much mayhem – all in the name of God – are probably buying groceries and going about their normal lives in Pakistan – only because the agencies will not act upon the voice samples and Headley’s confession. Recommend

  • parvez
    Dec 22, 2010 - 1:11PM

    Nice analysis of the position as it stands. We keep enforcing failure with failure.
    It requires wisdom coupled with vision and a strong sense of patriotism to pull us out of the mess we are in. All we have are self serving people with a ‘toad in the well’ world view. So where do we go from here ?? Recommend

  • Sarmad Ali
    Dec 22, 2010 - 2:13PM

    a wonderful article that flashed the mirror to nearly all the parties involved in the present state of affairs in pakistan. it talks about the so called mujahideen, pakistan’s state policy, strategic partnership of the us to carry these operations out against the soviets and then the defining of the strategic depth.

    @ Ayesha: nothing personal but i do not think this is a linear presentation of the historical facts and nor the writer tried to rope in the bhutto senior. you probably are trying to win some favor with the ppp and hence reacted in this way. otherwise, the article is anything but linear.

    also that general naseeruddin babar himself admitted, or rather confessed, in jawabdeh with iftikhar, a few years ago of bringing in these militant leaders when he headed the fc. this, according to him was a joint brainchild of pm za butto and himself along with a few other powerful military and civilian bureaucrats. ghulam ishaq khan was also probably engaged in this process for his strong credibility in the financial matters. after all, why would benazir bhutto award the prized interior minister to the old general otherwise?

    i would suggest you to kindly correct your historical facts right and let a spade be called a spade.Recommend

  • Rajat
    Dec 22, 2010 - 5:23PM


    MilesToGo is stating that two people who were sent on the same mission, but different times and different location had two very different fates waiting for them.Recommend

  • Anoop
    Dec 22, 2010 - 7:23PM

    The question to ask is ‘Can Pakistan destroy the Monster it created?’.

    I sincerely hope an all powerful Civilian Government can do it but is that EVER going to happen?Recommend

  • srinath
    Dec 22, 2010 - 11:17PM

    A cogent analysis on how Pakistan was dragged down into tar pit. Even if what Ayesha is contending is true, the civilian leadership was led up the garden path (or abyss). At least, it was guilty of aquiescing in misadventure. Whether it was meant to teach Kabul or New Delhi a lesson is a matter of detail. Unfortunately, even today the leadership lacks the will and means to chart an independent (of military) path to take Pakistan out of this rut. Kudos to Gul and ET for this brilliant piece. Recommend

  • Asfnadyar Wali
    Dec 23, 2010 - 1:57AM

    Dot on line Mr Imtiaz,but pray tell me what can one do about the existing state of affairs that has been begotten by a skewed civil-military equation. With a disfunctional ministry of defence, an effete Joint Staff Headquarters a suppressed forign office who is going to define the national priroties in the realm of security,foreign policy and economy. For far too long the tail has been wagging the dog. Let us not keep stewing in our juices perpetually without identifying the root cause of all that ails our national policy making i.e the complete domination of the military and the abject abdication of their role by the civilan leadership in the national security policy formulation. Recommend

  • khan
    Dec 23, 2010 - 2:14PM

    the problem with Pakistan army is that they do not trust Pakistan politicians and why will somebody trust them.keeping in mind the track record of our politicians if one is to point out a single person sincere and dedicated to the soil,one could see nobody.all of them are corrupt, all time busy in loot and plunder. i don’t know why people who consider themselves as expert in politics and governance consider democracy as vital for development and progress. this phenomenon has seriously failed in Pakistan and the people’s representatives could not deliver anything for a common man. the army itself is the custodian of the state and the only organization which is considered to be highly professional and sincere. i would advise to abolish this system of election altogether as we are not going to get anything from this system. and the selection of the representatives should be through the arbitrary council. the present setup is not going to bear good as all of them consider themselves above law and practice corruption openly.this is very dangerousRecommend

  • Aamir+Ali
    Dec 23, 2010 - 9:44PM

    I think Pakistani generals are too proud to learn from their mistakes.Recommend

  • G.Din
    Dec 24, 2010 - 3:49AM

    Harry Truman: where are you when we need you?Recommend

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