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Pakistan: Living in Denial

Pakistanlink, News analysis, Ahmad Faruqui, PhD Posted: May 31, 2009

During a long appearance on the Fareed Zakaria show, General Pervez Musharraf proffered his analysis of the war against the Taliban. While conceding that the threat posed by the Taliban to national security was real, he blamed the problem exclusively on the situation in Afghanistan.

He contended that the Taliban were using drug money obtained by the cultivation of poppies to finance the purchase of advanced weapons with which they were making war against the poorly equipped Frontier Corps. The implication was very obvious.

If the Taliban in Pakistan did not have advanced weaponry, they would not be making inroads in Swat and coming within sixty miles of Islamabad. In Musharrafs narrative, the surge of the Taliban in Pakistan can be traced to the failure of the US to subdue the Taliban in Afghanistan. Ergo, if the US knew how to fight a war, the problem would go away.

That bit of revisionist history caught the usually unflappable Zakaria off guard. Musharraf, even though he no longer holds any office in Pakistan, likes to speak as if he still runs the country. And he is as pugnacious as ever.

One has to assume that the generals increasingly frequent appearances on the US lecture circuit, which he admits most military officers cannot even dream about, have the widespread support of the army. In Pavlovian fashion, the army blames its failures on someone else.

Those who have read the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report know that General Yahya Khan blamed the armys defeat in 1971 on the treachery of the Indians. And, in his first address to the nation in October 1999, Musharraf said that the army had never let the nation down.

Musharraf knows that without the support of the army, the fledgling Taliban regime that took over Kabul in the mid-nineties could not have survived. Indeed, the Taliban were provided extensive financial and military aid by the army and the ISI. Without such nurturing, the Taliban would be dead.

It is also well known why the army went down this misguided path. A deeply Indo-centric mindset had caused it to embark upon a deliberate strategy of fending off an Indian invasion by creating strategic depth for itself in Afghanistan.

In this tiresome narrative, all threats ultimately can be traced back to New Delhi. Today, it is being argued in GHQ, India is out to encircle Pakistan. As evidence we are told that India is setting up a ring of consulates in Afghanistan from which mercenaries are being recruited and sent out to undertake missions in Pakistan.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan made the armys support of the Taliban untenable. But doubts remained. Many analysts, and not just those in the US, felt that the army was still supporting the Taliban. The only difference was that the support was now being provided clandestinely.

How else could it be that a military establishment that counted a million active and reserve troops in its strength, and one that was equipped with sophisticated air weaponry, would not be able to take out a rag-tag group of militants who were being pummeled into oblivion by the Americans?

When Zakaria asked the general to opine on whether influential voices in the armys high command were indirectly supporting the Taliban, Musharraf flinched. He said that anyone who distrusts the ISI and the army i.e., does not take them at their word does not know much about Pakistan.

Zakaria then gave the general an opportunity to hit a sixer. He asked whether the recent surge of the Taliban was due to the weak leadership being exercised by the new civilian government. Given that opportunity, the general hit the ball out of the park. He said that for months the civilian government had dithered on how to deal with the Taliban and had provided no direction to the army. He went on to say that now that clear direction had been provided to the army, the problem would be taken care of.

At that point, Zakaria should have asked the general about the direction, clear or otherwise, that he had given to the army during his nine years in power when there was no doubt as to who was in charge. Perhaps the only benefit of military rule is unity of command.

Despite this unity, the army failed to subdue the Taliban. In all probability, the generals were divided on whether the Taliban were a friend or a foe. More fundamentally, the high command pre-occupied with running the country forgot that that the war was largely an ideological one and only secondarily a military one.

It was being waged in mosques all along the border with Afghanistan where illiterate preachers who knew little about how the world worked dished out a hate-laden gospel. They convinced an entire generation of Pashtuns that the troops which had invaded Afghanistan were carrying out Satans mission while Osama bin Laden was carrying out Gods mission. Most continued to deny that he had anything to do with 9/11.

But they did not stop there. They went on to accuse all those who had a different interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah as being agents of Satan and made their followers the good Muslims duty-bound to take out the bad Muslims.

Musharraf and his military regime did little to contain this cancerous doctrine. It was only a question of time before it would jump over the Indus River and lodge itself into the mosques of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

The battle for the soul of Pakistan was lost when these hate-loving preachers were given a free rein in the Pakistani heartland. It was not lost because the Taliban got their advanced weaponry from across the border.

For the war to be won, a lot more will have to be done than to simply take away that weaponry. The time has come for the nations security establishment, which continues to be dominated by the army, to look inward and engage in self-criticism.

What good is it to say, as Musharraf did on the Zakaria show, that the army continually engages in threat analysis and knows how to balance the threat coming from India in the east and the threat coming from Taliban in the west? If it did, a nation of 170 million would not be under siege by a few thousand Taliban fighters.


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