June 18, 2009Af-Pakal-qaedaForeign Affairsmilitary-jihadi complexPakistanTalibanterrorism

Kayani wins this round

But it’s likely to go downhill for him from here

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

One of the primary tasks Ashfaq Pervez Kayani set for himself when he took over from Pervez Musharraf as Pakistan’s army chief was to restore the image of the Pakistani army at home and abroad. It was in November 2007 when the popularity of the Pakistani army had hit rock bottom. Now, in May 2009, it is clear that General Kayani has succeeded in that objective. After the successful’ military offensive against the Mullah Fazlullah’s Taliban militia at Swat the army has regained a lot of the respect that it had lost in the final months of General Musharraf. The United States can’t be too unhappy either.

This has come due to, and at the cost of, the complete wrecking of the process of rapprochement with India—the attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul, the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai and its aftermath. But then, General Kayani never did say that good relations with India were part of his plans.

Today’s editorial in the Indian Express gets the score right:

Pakistan’s real power centre, the army, has turned hostile towards the peace process with India. By launching a new campaign against the Taliban in Swat and preparing for another in Waziristan, the Pakistan army is winning powerful friends in Washington and gaining empathy around the world. Put simply, the Pakistan army, the main supporter of anti-India terror groups, has emerged a winner at home and abroad since Mumbai. [IE]

Of course, this proves that those who argued in 2005-06 that the corporate interests of the Pakistani army have irrevocably become wedded to rapprochement with India were wrong. The interests of the Pakistani army are its own survival and primacy in Pakistan: peace processes or proxy wars with India are merely means to promote these interests.

Now, India did make General Kayani’s job more difficult by not escalating military tensions after 26/11. But not before the military establishment’s propaganda machine used it to turn public opinion against an Indian attack that never was, and against an avenging Indian hand’ that never existed. So much so that today, as Pamela Constable finds out, there is anger on the streets of Pakistan against the American, Israeli and Indian intelligence services, [who are accused] of supporting the Taliban in order to destabilize Pakistan and seize control of its nuclear arsenal.” As The Acorn predicted, General Kayani has revived the old al-Faida strategy again, although this time the stakes are much higher.

If General Kayani can justifiably fly a Mission Accomplished sortie on a F-16 fighter jet, it could go downhill for him from here. Why so?

Because it is difficult for the Pakistani army to sustain operations against the Taliban militants without running into cognitive dissonance. The routinely used and blatant lies—that the enemy the rank-and-file are shooting are American, Israeli or Indian agents—do not work beyond a certain point. It is therefore significant that General Kayani is now calling the Taliban misguided people”, implicitly admitting that they are Pakistanis and Muslims. But he cannot go beyond this minor concession to reality: it is difficult to convince a Islamised rank-and-file that the Taliban are enemies because they are radical Islamists. It is at this point that troops refuse to fight, surrender to the Taliban or worse, begin to get mutinous. The army cannot continue the fight beyond this point.

This is the reason why the history of the Pakistani army’s post 9/11 co-operation with the United States against the Taliban is a series of offensives’ followed by peace deals’. Even without considering that other parts of the military-jihadi complex are engaged in supporting the Taliban at other points, this history is indicative of the army’s inability to get into a long drawn fight.

Now unless the United States takes the pressure off General Kayani’s back—which looks unlikely within the next year—the Pakistan army will have to fight. How much will the Obama administration’s ostensibly civilian-focused financial aid reduce his ability to throw money at the problem? So watching how Washington disburses its assistance to Pakistan is important. But even with financial lubrication, the army’s internal organisational pressures are likely to weigh against an extended operation in the tribal areas.

So as we have previously argued:

Sooner or later, the Obama administration will come to realise that it has no way to make the Pakistani military establishment seriously fight and defeat the jihadi groups, which includes the Taliban, al-Qaeda and outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. When that moment comes, Barack Obama will need to choose between direct confrontation with the Pakistani military-jihadi complex and colossal strategic defeat—in the form of acceptance of a radical Islamist state with a well-developed nuclear weapons capability. It is in India’s interests that this point comes sooner rather than later. [The Acorn]

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