The Pakistani state and society simply do not have what it takes to dismantle, demobilise and de-radicalise the hundreds of thousands of militants that operate in that country.
This is an unedited draft of my Pax Indica column for Yahoo! (2010-2011)
Imagine General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani wakes up one fine morning and decides that the Talibanisation of his country now risked destroying the military establishment that nurtured it since 1947. The militant groups that the army had used to attack India and Afghanistan on the cheap were not only creating trouble for Pakistan around the world, but had wrecked the Pakistani society and economy. General Kayani can tolerate all that, but reckons that he would soon face a choice of having to either cut them down to size or join their bandwagon, perhaps as their “amir-ul-momineen.” Imagine he chooses the former, if only to continue enjoying the “al-Faida” that has come the Pakistani army’s way since 9/11.
“Get Pasha on the line” he barks at his orderly. Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, chief of the Agency That Should Not Be Named, picks up the phone from his well-appointed office at the unmarked building near Islamabad’s Aabpara market.
“Pasha, shut them all down, and this is an order.” General Kayani doesn’t stop for pleasantries or preamble, fearing that the ever reasonable Pasha would find ways to dissuade him.
“Sir, yes sir! And what then, sir?” Pasha asks. Kayani had known Pasha long enough to know that this was not a rhetorical question.
How would the Pakistani government — which can’t even collect taxes, electricity and water bills from anyone who refused to pay them — demobilise hundreds of thousands of functionally illiterate, violent, combat-hardened and thoroughly radicalised young men? The civilian political leadership, bureaucracy and police simply do not have the capacity, competence and power to put anyone other than low-ranking jihadi leaders under arrest, that too temporarily. The only institution that had the prerequisites necessary to take on the jihadi groups was the Pakistan army.
The “hard core” of the jihadi firmament won’t give in without a bloody fight. Those at the margin are likely to decide to explore alternatives to martyrdom.
Forty-year-old Brigadier Adnan, tasked to dismantle and neutralise a jihadi hub in South Punjab, tugs on his beard. He has deep misgivings on the mission he has been charged with even as he gathers his officers for the operational briefing. As he explains how they would take out the militant headquarters and suchlike, he sees that most of his subordinates have puzzled looks on their faces. Finally, the brigade-major, an energetic 25-year old infantryman, speaks up. “Sir, why are we targeting these boys?”
“Because, uh, they are putting Pakistan in danger.”
“How sir? They are only fighting against the Amrika, the Israel and the India. They are only doing what we should. They are doing it because our Crore Commanders have decided that al-Faida is more important than the real mission. And sir, you do know that our men watch television.”
Brigadier Adnan tugs at his beard. This was not going to be easy.
It fell upon Colonel Bashir to deal with the 2000 militants who surrendered that week. They had been lodged in a hurriedly erected camp outside the village for identification, debriefing and triage. If his job was not difficult enough, the bloody Americans wanted to poke their noses into his business. Their spies were everywhere. Yet he knew his problem was the easy one. The wicked problem would start when these boys went home to their towns and villages and figured out there was nothing for them to do. Some of them would find ad hoc employment with the local feudal landlord, who had some use for their skills. Most, however, would do…what? Other than working the farm for the landlord, there was little to keep them occupied, less employed.
Colonel Bashir was not even thinking about their minds. Would minds, once radicalised, ever shrink back to their original state?
Now you know why General Kayani won’t give such an order in real life. The Pakistani state and society simply do not have what it takes to dismantle, demobilise and de-radicalise the hundreds of thousands of militants that operate in that country.
In a 2007 study on militant recruitment in Pakistan, C Christine Fair, now assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies notes: “Limited evidence suggests that both public school and madrasah students tend to support jihad, tanzeems, and war with India, and are more intolerant toward Pakistan’s minorities and women. Thus, if Ethan Bueno de Mesquita’s model is correct, creating educational and employment opportunities may not put an end to militancy because tanzeems can recruit from lower-quality groups. In the long term, however, these kinds of interventions may diminish the quality of terror produced, rendering tanzeems a mere nuisance rather than a menace to regional security. This would be a positive development.”
That would be a positive development but, as she points out in the very next sentence, “(the) problem with school reform and employment generation efforts is not only that they may be beyond Islamabad’s capability and resolve but also that there may be no feasible scope for U.S. or international efforts to persuade Islamabad to make meaningful reforms on its own.”
That’s the bad news. The worse news is that this is going to get a whole lot worse, as the population grows, the education system continues radicalise minds, the media reinforces prejudices and the military establishment exploits geopolitical opportunities to stay on the same dangerous course.
In the face of this grim reality, the antics of the motley bunch of slick political operators that pass off as the Pakistani government are tragicomic. Politicians like Yusuf Raza Gilani and Shah Mahmood Qureshi mask their impotence by outrageous grandstanding and score points with the military-jihadi complex.
There are many more Pax Indica columns here
Now it is a good idea for India to engage the various players in Pakistan to manage — to the extent that it can be managed — the fallout of the turmoil across its north-western borders. So too, to engage all of Pakistan’s external sponsors. Even so, neither India nor the rest of the world can escape the consequences of Pakistan’s transformation. Driven as much by strategy as by sentiment, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is genuinely committed to leaving a legacy of good relations with Pakistan. Don’t you feel sorry for him?
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