May 17, 2011Pax Indicageopolitics

We still need to think about how we can contain the military-jihadi complex without destroying the putative Pakistani state. But treating them as two different things will inject a clarity in the way we approach the problem.

The double trouble of dealing with Pakistan

This is from my Pax Indica column for Yahoo! (2010-2011)

Last month I described how a distinct military-jihadi complex has captured the Pakistani state and how it uses its nuclear arsenal as a shield to pursue its interests through the use of militancy and terrorism. While Pakistan’s use of Islamist militancy as an instrument of policy towards India dates back to 1947 (see Praveen Swami’s excellent account of this secret jihad”) the military-jihadi complex’s ascent to power can be traced back to the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan.

You should read George Crile’s Charlie Wilson’s War or perhaps watch the Hollywood adaptation of the book. Realpolitik brought US resources, Saudi money, Afghan guerillas, radical Islamists from around the world and a wily Pakistani military establishment together against their respective enemies. The US got the Soviets out, the Saudis pre-empted the spread of the Shia revolution, Afghan factions ousted their rivals from Kabul, the Islamists triumphed over unbelievers and the Pakistani military establishment got the keys to its own client state. The war left behind the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), al Qaeda and the military-jihadi complex. BCCI was the first to go, crashing in the early 1990s. Al Qaeda itself was contained in the years following its big hit against the United States. After Osama bin Laden, it is more likely to live on as an inspiration for radical Islamists than as the organisation it once was.

The military-jihadi complex has done better than its cousins, not least because it has nuclear weapons. It possesses the Pakistani state, but has its own interests. The putative Pakistani state is too weak, too feeble, too divided and too damaged to be able to unseat the military-jihadi complex, leave alone expel or dismantle it. It’s like a computer that has been affected by a virus that is so pervasive that it has taken over the operating system. The malware is sophisticated enough to allow anti-virus programmes to be run in virtual processes that it controls. It plays on the users’ psychology to make them believe that this is the way their computer ought to run, and that vendors of anti-virus software are bad people out to destroy their CPU. It fools some computer security professionals, scares others…okay, okay, I won’t stretch this analogy anymore.

What this means for the rest of the world is that it is a challenge to implement policies that distinguish between the military-jihadi complex and the putative Pakistani state. This is because the effects of policy are fungible between the two. When the international community imposed sanctions on Pakistan after it conducted nuclear tests in 1998, the average Pakistani suffered more than the average military officer and the average jihadi militant. The military-jihadi complex was able to externalise the punishment. But when the international community rewarded Pakistan for agreeing to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the average Pakistani benefited less than the soldier and the militant. The military-jihadi complex cornered the goodies. Not only are the effects of external actors transferable, they are controllable by the military-jihadi complex.

This is the crux of the problem. Of course, the policies adopted by New Delhi and Washington do not show that they have even registered this. They do sometimes distinguish between the civilians and the military, arguing that the former have to be strengthened relative to the latter. Grief awaits those who follow this script, because the military-jihadi complex has both civilian and military manifestations. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, for instance, are marching to a different band, compared to Interior Minister Rehman Malik and President Asif Ali Zardari.

Many observers hoped that Pakistan’s civilian government would use the Abbottabad incident to go one up over the military establishment. Instead, Prime Minister Gilani stoutly defended the ISI and shook his fist at the United States. Civilians vs military” does not explain this as much military-jihadi complex vs putative Pakistani state”. It makes sense if you look under the civilian attire and realise that Mr Gilani has been the military’s man from the time Mr Zardari became president.

As the United States enters a fresh phase in its relationship with Pakistan, it is all the more important to get the game and the players right. It’s not only about strengthening the civilian government, but really about bolstering the putative Pakistani state. It is not only about giving money to the civilian government but making sure that the civilian government itself is not comprised of people batting for the military-jihadi complex. It’s not only about punishing the military establishment, but making sure that the military establishment does not transfer the blow to the putative Pakistani state. Unfortunately, the Pakistani elite cannot be relied upon to play a constructive role in this process: they are more likely to bandwagon onto the military-jihadi complex in order to preserve the predatory nature of the status quo system.

There are many more Pax Indica columns here

Of course, it’s not easy. We still need to think about how we can contain the military-jihadi complex without snuffing the life out of the putative Pakistani state. But treating them as two different things will inject a clarity in the way we approach the problem.

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