Thursday, 23 August 2012

General Kayani's dilemma

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Aug 12

A reluctant Pakistan Army is poised to crack down in the North Waziristan agency, the most jihad-poisoned corner of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on Pakistan’s northwestern frontier. Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, will be thanking the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the so-called Pakistani Taliban, which --- with its ill-judged fidayeen attack last week on the Pakistan Air Force’s vital Kamra base --- has given Kayani a pretext to move into North Waziristan in “the national interest” rather than in submission to Washington’s arm-twisting, which has now become irresistible.

But there remain serious concerns about further two-timing by Rawalpindi. The US wants the crackdown to focus on the Haqqani faction, which fights US forces in Afghanistan from its bases around the town of Miranshah. But will Kayani confront the Haqqanis, his most valuable proxies in Afghanistan? Or will the Pakistan Army merely feint against Miranshah, while reserving its firepower for Mir Ali, the nearby town that is headquarters for the TTP?

Kayani’s likely foray into North Waziristan will impact directly on the security situation in Afghanistan, and thence on Indian interests. We must understand, therefore, the game that the Pakistan Army will play. Decoding the intentions of that opaque institution is seldom easy, but General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi has done us a favour by briefing a columnist, the well-respected Cyril Almeida, whose recent column in Dawn newspaper bears all the telltale signs of a recent briefing from army decision-makers.

The column makes three points. Firstly it argues, using boilerplate Pakistan Army logic, that America is losing in Afghanistan because of the “dysfunctionality” with which it is prosecuting the war, not because of the safe refuges in North Waziristan from which the Haqqani faction operates.

This is pretty much standard Pakistani logic --- it’s not our fault, it’s yours! But the next point is an interesting one. The Pakistan Army, says Almeida, insists that the Haqqanis are not really dangerous; they only seem that way because of their high-profile attacks. In fact, the Haqqanis have no national ambitions in Afghanistan; they seek only to control the three border provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika. The US can easily wall them off inside these provinces, keeping the rest of Afghanistan a No Haqqani Zone.

With the Haqqanis ensconced in Khost, Paktia and Paktika, the Pakistan Army argues disingenuously that the US could deter attacks by the group on Kabul by threatening retaliation. Rawalpindi’s apparent objective is a tacit trade-off, in which the Haqqanis are handed over three Afghan provinces in exchange for a promise to leave Kabul alone. For GHQ, this is a win-win: it would be spared the embarrassment of having a soon-to-be-designated terrorist organisation operating from North Waziristan. More importantly, Haqqani control of those crucial border provinces would shift Pakistani leverage well into Afghanistan. That is exactly what strategic depth implies.

Almeida’s third point is that the Pakistan Army has never doubted that it would have to take on the jehadis in North Waziristan, especially pan-Islamic groups like the TTP that view Islamabad and the Pakistan Army as hurdles on the road to an ummah. GHQ knows that it must seal off the neighbouring tribal agencies and bring in more troops to ensure that FATA is brought into the Pakistani mainstream (such as it is). But what continues to hold Kayani back is the fear of “blowback” caused by a Pakistan Army offensive in North Waziristan. Successful retaliation by jehadis against “Pakistan proper” (the proper Pakistani way to refer to Punjab!) might make the generals look bumbling and inept. The Aam Pakistani might even begin to question the military’s special status.

Unsurprisingly, considering the mortality rate of Pakistani journalists who peer too deeply into the radicalization within that country’s army, Almeida cloaks that crucial question in silence. Blowback in “Pakistan proper” is far less troubling to the army brass than blowback within the army itself. The issue that must give Kayani persistent sleepless nights is: will his increasingly conservative, and in many cases radicalized, soldiers fight the Waziri militants who have long been lauded as a sword arm of Pakistan. After all, the jihad-intoxicated gunslingers who fight for the TTP are from the same stock as the tribal lashkars that were sent into Kashmir in 1947, a celebrated chapter in Pakistan’s history.

And the pan-Islamic ummah that the TTP seeks to impose on the world, including on Pakistan, would seem to many of Pakistan’s simple soldiers as only a logical extension of Pakistan’s founding belief that religion was the most important marker of identity. With Pakistan’s soldiery today drawn from exactly the same stock as Punjabi jehadis, it is inevitable that the Pakistan Army’s rank and file would share an ideological affinity with the militants they will now be asked to fight. The growing associations between the Pakistan military and the jehadis are increasingly apparent. Pakistani air force commanders have complained to US diplomats that airmen would sabotage F-16s before missions against militant targets. And the jehadi attacks on the Mehran naval base in 2011, and against Kamra last week, could never have been pulled off without insider help.

The question, therefore, is: will the Pakistan Army begin to crack? If massive firepower and US drone strikes quickly win the day and bring the TTP to the table, Pakistani face might yet be saved. But if, as I apprehend, North Waziristan turns into a bloody grind, the generals will face increasingly strident questions from the ranks to which they have no answers.


Anonymous said...

Intelligent speculations, but can you really strike at Mir Ali while feinting at Miranshah? The TTP biraders will simply hot foot it to Miranshah.

Unless the ISI supported Haqqanis decide to sell out the RAW supported TTP ;)

Rameez said...

Sir as u know i have been a admirer to your analysis,and i am being optimistic to see a through analysis on war crimes by army in kashmir from your desk.
Once please wear a hat of being a common man and write.

Anonymous said...

We must watch the situation in Pakistan with the utmost vigilance.Whenever the Pakistani elite,the army and their power brokers are boxed in,they find it very convenient to create a diversion either by provoking a flare up with India or by sponsoring terrorist attacks against India.The more desperate they become,the more serious such an incident may be.

Mr. RA said...

Pakistan666 is passing through internal civil war and heading towards its own collapse.

Anonymous said...

Let TTP take over... house of saud... hashemites... nahyans...

Anonymous said...

By labeling their conquest of Afghanistan as "strategic depth", aren't the Pakistanis being hypocritical of US/NATO being "with imperialistic ambitions"? What Pakistan is doing in Afghanistan, Kashmir is nothing but Imperlialistic Power play. "Proper" Pakistanis are the most bigoted people in our sub-continent. Their farce is being exposed by none other than USA. Pakistanis are behaving as the proxy of Saudi's on our sub-continent with ulterior motives. Such ambitions need to be eradicated before it becomes too late. Our leadership and so-called strategic-analysts are a confused lot and acting like dodo. The head of the serpent needs to be cutoff to avoid future calamity.

Anonymous said...

To Rameez
23 August 2012 13:20

Rameez, I don't see how the topic you took up came up for this post as it's got no link.

Further I have a concern, I understand there could be atrocities that a common man could have faced from the Army and much much more by the terrorists who posed themselves as fighting for the people, while have their own motives and only making the valley of Haven to hell.
Terming the complaints against the Army individuals in your own country( and you better start believing this for it's true and your own the whole of India, don't say you are not interested)as war crimes looks like a shame to me, you have the right to raise your voice against the issue with your army and Police as anyone in India could have faced, so it's not limited to Kashmir and the thinking of the common man needs to expand for your country not for the state or the religion but country men and you have more strength in the larger population.
Don't stand there saying you are alone and you don't have to wait for someone, the perspective will come all the better.

Anonymous said...

Well written, Col.Shukla.
The fact of the matter is that Gen.Kiyani and GHQ are caught between a rock and a hard place; hence will only indulge in some shadow-boxing and work behind the scenes and buy themselves some respite. Not much else.

Now your piece was written in August and we're getting into December. What has been the progress on the ground? May be its time for a "I told you so" kind of piece.