Pakistan ponders the price for peace By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The growth of insurgency in Pakistan over the past year of the United
States-backed civilian coalition government in Islamabad has been far quicker
than that of Afghanistan's insurgency.
This is so much so that Australian David Kilcullen, a former adviser to top US
military commander General David Petraeus and best known as an expert on
counter-insurgency, said in the US media this week that Pakistan could collapse
months in the face of the snowballing unrest.
Pakistan is 173 million
people, 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than the US Army, and al-Qaeda
headquarters sitting right there in the two-thirds of the country that the
government doesn't control. The Pakistani military and police and intelligence
service don't follow the civilian government; they are essentially a rogue
state within a state. We're now reaching the point where within one to six
months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state.
similar vein, a recent report by a task force of the Atlantic Council in the
United led by former senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Senator John Kerry of
Massachusetts stated, "We are running out of time to help Pakistan change its
present course toward increasing economic and political instability, and even
ultimate failure." The report, released in February, gave the Pakistani
government six to 12 months before things went from bad to dangerous.
Petraeus, the Central Command chief responsible for the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, echoed these sentiments when he told US Congress last week that
the insurgency could take down Pakistan.
These warnings are highlighted by recent events in the country, with militants
challenging the writ of the state in broad daylight. Attacks include those on
the Sri Lankan team in Lahore last month, on a police academy in the same city
this month and on a security forces camp in Islamabad this week. Scores of
people have been killed.
Analysts believe that under immense American pressure, tough military
operations - including Predator drone attacks - against militants, helped by US
intelligence, have caused a disconnect between Pakistani jihadi circles and the
military establishment. This, it is claimed, is a major reason for the
On Tuesday, the inspector general of Sindh province, Salahuddin Babar Khattack,
warned in a statement that there was credible intelligence to suggest that
militants had entered the southern port city of Karachi and planned major
sabotage activities. These could include an oil refinery complex and power
Pakistani Senator Mashahid Hussain Sayed commented to a television station on
Tuesday, "All intelligence agencies of the world keep connections with various
elements, including the CIA [US Central Intelligence Agency]. This is essential
for information-gathering and I don't think anybody should have any objections
when the ISI [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence] keeps such contacts with
militants. After all, Israel's Mossad talks to [Lebanon's] Hezbollah and
[Palestine's] Hamas despite them being bitter enemies."
In 2001, the US compelled Islamabad to make a u-turn on its Afghan policy and
withdraw support for the Taliban. Pakistan, however, convinced jihadi circles
that all the steps it was taking in line with US policy were superficial and
Despite much hostility between al-Qaeda and then-president General Pervez
Musharraf, the situation remained mostly under control until 2006, only because
there was still some trust between the militants and the army.
This trust was completely shattered in July 2007 when Musharraf sent troops
into the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, which had strong links
to militants. The Pakistan army tried to mend fences after Musharraf stepped
down as army chief in late 2007, but under immense US pressure the army was
forced in 2008 to undertake Operation Lion Heart against militants in Bajaur
The peace deal signed this February in the Swat area of Pakistan between
militants and the army after two years of fighting saved some face for the
military. But the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had reservations as
all the peace would do, in its eyes, would be to allow militants to regroup for
bigger and more extensive offensives in Afghanistan.
For Pakistan, though, it has to play games for its survival. The recent
establishment of the Ittahad-e-Shura-e-Mujahideen (United Front of the
Mujahideen) was one game brokered through legendary Afghan mujahideen leader
Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin. The new forum, which includes
hardline Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, said it would fight only in
Afghanistan and would abide by a ceasefire in Pakistan.
But at the same time, Pakistan spied on Baitullah and provided information to
US intelligence. As a result, Predator drones attacked his area in South
Waziristan. He survived, but then unleashed attacks on the Pakistani security
This indicates that the only way for Pakistan to maintain any semblance of calm
is through peace deals. One example is southwestern Balochistan province, which
is home to more Taliban than there are in North-West Frontier Province, yet
there is no Taliban-led insurgency because of peace deals.
Pakistan realizes this, but apart from any political pressure from the US, it
also receives extensive monetary aid from Washington. The time has come,
though, that mere money might not be enough.
As Senator Mashahid commented, "What monetary aid? [Pakistan] gets US$1.5
billion per year for a five-year period. Just compare this with the $200
billion in aid the US has spent on Afghanistan and the $700 billion it has
spent on Iraq. We should consider at what price we are prepared to sacrifice
our national interests."
For Pakistan, the path to peace means directing the militancy westwards towards
Afghanistan. Yet if NATO troops in Afghanistan are to get peace, they have to
send the militants eastwards towards Pakistan.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org