Why Pakistan's military is gun shy By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The attack on Mumbai on November 26 by Pakistan-linked militants
opens a similar opportunity for India to what happened to Washington after the
September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The US was able to further
its regional designs with global support and was able to coerce Islamabad into
cracking down on its own strategic partner, the Taliban in Afghanistan.
New Delhi also now has the international community on its side, but Pakistan is
in a very different position from where it was seven years ago, and the new
political and military leaders are not in a
position to take similar steps to those of their predecessors.
In a new round of international pressure following the Mumbai attack, the
chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, arrived in
Pakistan this week to meet with senior Pakistani officials. The chief of
Interpol was also scheduled to visit Islamabad on Tuesday to discuss the
mechanism for the arrest and interrogation of wanted people such as Zakiur
Rahman, the chief of the Lashka-e-Toiba (LET), which was connected to the
militants who attacked Mumbai; Maulana Masood Azhar of the outlawed
Jaish-e-Mohammed and former Mumbai underworld kingpin Dawood Ibrahim.
India is reported to have mobilized forces near the Rajasthan-Sindh Pakistani
border areas and Pakistani intelligence sources have talked of possible
surgical strikes on militant bases in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and in
Lahore, at the central offices of the Jamaatut Dawa, which this month was
declared by the United Nations Security Council a front for the LET, which is
banned as a terror group. The Pakistan Air Force has been placed on red alert.
Earlier, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, both in public statements and
private meetings, urged Pakistan to understand the gravity of the current
situation and to take immediate steps to stop terrorists from using its soil
for attacking others. The US warned Pakistan that in the absence of appropriate
steps, it would be hard for the US to prevent Delhi from carrying out strikes
inside Pakistan in retaliation for the Mumbai attack in which 10 militants held
the city hostage for three days and killed 175 people, including top police
In a speech at Washington's Council on Foreign Relations, Rice said what
Pakistan had done so far to catch those responsible for the attacks in Mumbai
was not enough. "You need to deal with the terrorism problem," she said when
asked what her message was to Pakistan. "And it's not enough to say these are
non-state actors. If they’re operating from Pakistani territory, then they have
to be dealt with."
According to reports, Islamabad has assured Indian leaders and international
leaders such as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that it is ready to take
all steps demanded by the world community to avoid a war.
All the same, actions speak louder than words and the prevailing opinion in
Western capitals and in New Delhi is that Pakistan will not undertake any real
crackdown on militants.
This view is reinforced by the contradictory statements of Pakistani officials.
On December 7, Pakistani authorities issued a statement that Azhar, the founder
of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, had been placed under house arrested at his Bahawalpur
residence in Punjab. But on December 17, first the Pakistan envoy to New Delhi
and then Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stunned everybody by
saying that Azhar was at large and not in Pakistan.
Azhar, a firebrand orator in favor of jihad although he has never been a
combatant, was arrested in India in 1994 over his connections with the Kashmiri
separatist group Harkatul Mujahideen. In December 1999, Azhar was freed along
with separatist guerrillas Mushtaq Zargar and Omar Shiekh (the abductor of US
reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002) by the Indian government in exchange
for passengers on the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814 that was held hostage
in Kandahar, Afghanistan, under Taliban control.
In 2000, Azhar, claimed by Pakistan to have never entered Pakistan, announced
the formation of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, at a press briefing at the Karachi Press
Club, along with the now slain Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai. Jaish was banned in
2002 under US pressure, but Azhar remained close to the Pakistani
establishment, mainly because he refused to support al-Qaeda against the
Following the Mumbai attack, Delhi has demanded that Azhar, along with others
such as Dawood, be handed over. This was refused by Pakistan, which said Azhar
was a Pakistani national and had never been tried by Indian authorities. Then
came the surprise announcement that he was not even in Pakistan.
What complicates the situation is the lack of unity between the civilian
government in Islamabad and the military. The government managed to get the
international community to support it by having the Jamaatut Dawa declared a
front for the LET to justify a crackdown on the organization against the will
of the army. (See Pakistan's
military takes a big hit Asia Times Online, December 13.)
But the military establishment, which has been humiliated over the past seven
years, has good reasons not to back the government.
The problems started after September 11, when the US forced the then-military
government of president General Pervez Musharraf to abandon the Taliban. Up to
2001, Afghanistan had virtually been a fifth Pakistani province for which
Pakistan arranged day-to-day expenditures. Even the communications network was
run by the Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation Limited.
By 2003, Pakistan had been forced to send the army into the restive tribal
areas bordering Afghanistan to crack down on al-Qaeda and militants, in breach
of its agreements with the tribes.
In 2004, Pakistan was forced to shut militant camps in Pakistan-administered
Kashmir and to accept India's fencing of the Line of Control that separates the
two Kashmirs. As a result, militant operations into India-administered Kashmir
were badly interrupted.
When Pakistan changed its Afghan policy, Musharraf, who was also chief of army
staff, informed all jihadi organizations that the policy was necessary to
preserve Pakistan's interests in Kashmir. However, when the Kashmir policy
changed and operations started in the tribal areas, the jihadi organizations
By 2005, all the big names in the LET had left the Kashmiri camps and taken up
in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas. The same happened with Jaish
and other organizations. The most respected name of the Kashmiri struggle,
Maulana Ilyas Kashmiri, the commander of Harkatul Jihad al-Islami, also moved
This was the beginning of serious problems for Pakistan and also resulted in a
change in the dynamics of the Afghan war. Trained by Pakistan's Inter-Services
Intelligence's India cell, these disgruntled militants caused havoc in
Afghanistan and played a significant role in bringing the latest guerrilla
tactics to Afghanistan. They also introduced major changes in the fighting
techniques of the tribal militants against the Pakistani forces.
By 2006, the Taliban had regrouped and launched the spring offensive that paved
the way for significant advances over the next two years. At the same time,
militants escalated their activities in Pakistan and forced Pakistan into
virtual neutrality in the US-led "war on terror".
An unprecedented number of attacks were carried out on Pakistani security
forces in 2007 and by February 2008 suicide attacks in Pakistan outnumbered
those in Iraq. Militants carried out dozens of attacks on the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization's (NATO's) supply lines from Karachi, virtually bringing
them to a halt. According to Strategic Forecasting, a Texas-based private
intelligence entity: "Pakistan remains the single-most important logistics
route for the Afghan campaign. This is not by accident. It is by far the
quickest and most efficient overland route to the open ocean."
In this situation, the only peaceful place in Pakistan is Punjab, the largest
province and the seat of government. But this peace can only be ensured through
central Punjabi jihadi leaders like Hafiz Muhammad Saeed of the LET and
southern Punjabi jihadi leader Azhar. Azhar has influence in the jihadi
networks in Punjab and he convinced jihadis, after a wave of suicide attacks in
Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, to go to Afghanistan and spare Punjab.
The highly demoralized Pakistan army has failed in the tribal areas and in the
Swat Valley it has had to solicit peace accords. Opening up a new front in
Punjab, which could spread to the port city of Karachi - the
financial lifeline of the country - would be a disaster.
This explains the military's resistance to the government push to go full out
against militancy, a move that would also compromise NATO's lifeline to
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at email@example.com