Pakistan army and the Afghanistan war 


          Shaun Gregory, 25 November 2008        
Pakistan’s military and intelligence services are involved in a
different power-play to that of their ostensible United States and Nato
allies. The implications for western strategy are grave, says Shaun

Pakistan's internal turmoil and conflict
continues, even if much current external media coverage of the country is
filtered through the lens of the transfixing global financial crisis and United
States election. Both these events indeed reverberate in a Pakistan desperately
short of funds
and more hesitant than much of the rest of the world about its
prospects under a Barack Obama presidency. But the country's crisis
will not be salved by an emergency loan or a new figure in the White
House: indeed, it is being reinforced under the influence of Pakistan's
key institutional actors.

Shaun Gregory is professor in the department of peace
studies at the University of Bradford, northern England, and head of the 
Security Research Unit there. He is the author of Pakistan: Securing the 
Insecure State (Routledge, 2008)

Also by Shaun Gregory in openDemocracy:

"Pakistan on
edge" (25
September 2006)

"Pakistan: farewell to democracy" (29 October 2007)

"Musharraf: the
fateful moment"
(16 November 2007)

political turmoil: Musharraf and beyond" (27 August 2008)

The heart of Pakistan's conflict is the
violence in Pakistan's tribal areas, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas
(FATA) and North West Frontier Province (NWFP); this in turn has a key impact
on the United States-led war in Afghanistan. To understand what is happening,
it is necessary to distinguish between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan
Taliban; and to grasp the relationship of each to the Pakistan military and
Pakistan's lead intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence

A state of

The Pakistan army and the ISI supported the
Afghan Taliban in the movement's rise to power in Afghanistan between 1992 and
1996. Pakistan was one of only three states (the others being Saudi Arabia and
the United Arab Emirates) to offer diplomatic recognition to the Taliban regime
under Mullah Omar (see Ahmed Rashid, Taliban:
Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia [Yale University Press, 
2000]). The Taliban
offered Pakistan stability in Afghanistan after the chaos of the post-Soviet
years and, more importantly, a pro-Pakistani leadership in Kabul that denied
India influence in Afghanistan. After 9/11 Pakistan was given no choice other
than to support the US war in Afghanistan; but Pakistan stayed loyal to the
Afghan Taliban, providing Mullah Omar and his leading commanders with sanctuary
in Pakistan's Pashtun-dominated tribal areas and in northern Balochistan (see 
Rashid, Descent
into Chaos [Penguin, 2008]).  

Pakistan opposes the post-Taliban Afghan
leadership of Hamid Karzai because Karzai is antipathetic to Islamabad and is
permissive of Indian influence in Afghanistan (evidenced by, for example, the 
proliferation of Indian "consulates" across Afghanistan).
Pakistan also opposes the presence of the US and Nato in the Afghan theatre -
in part because the west props up Karzai and thus colludes in Indian influence,
in part because the west complicates Pakistan's regional calculus, and in part
because the US and Nato war continues to destabilise Pakistan (see the analyses 
of the Pakistan Security Research Unit [PSRU]).   

The the Afghan Taliban may no longer be as
subject to Pakistani influence as in the past, but they continue to serve
Pakistani interests - as the instrument most likely to force Hamid Karzai from
power, India out of Afghanistan, and the US and Nato out of the region. Thus
the Pakistan army and the ISI have either turned a blind eye to Afghan Taliban
activity on Pakistani territory after 9/11 or (to a more cynical eye) actively
supported the Afghan Taliban in its resurgence; in any event, the
result is that the movement now exercises a permanent presence in more than
half of Afghanistan (see "Stumbling into Chaos:
Afghanistan on the Brink", Senlis Council,
November 2007).  

While Pakistan's apologists may contest this
analysis, there is no doubt that under the presidency of Pervez Musharraf - the
supposed darling of Washington - no move was made against Mullah Omar or
against other Afghan proxies such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaludin

A boomerang war

The US-led war in Afghanistan has however also
radicalised tens of thousands of Pakistanis, including many amongst the Pashtun
tribal groups in the FATA and NWFP. It is these groups which have grown
stronger in recent years and which have come together to form the Pakistani
Taliban, the core of which is Baitullah Mehsud's Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan 
(TTP) based in Waziristan but with strong following across the
FATA not least in Bajaur agency; affiliates such as Maulana Fazlullah's 
Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM)
based in Swat; and Mangal Bagh Afridi's Lashkar-e-Islami
(LI), based in the Khyber Agency. These groups have the Pakistani state in
their sights - fired by the intention of overthrowing the pro-western
leadership of Pakistan and establishing a sharia-based
state (see Jayshree Bajoria, "Pakistan's New Generation of Terrorists", Council 
for Foreign Relations, February

Among openDemocracy's many articles on Pakistan:

Ehsan Masood, "Pakistan: the
army as the state" (12 April 2007)

Ayesha Siddiqa, ""Pakistan's permanent crisis" (15 May 2007)

Anatol Lieven, "At the Red Mosque in Islamabad"
(4 June 2007)

Maruf Khwaja, "The war for
Pakistan"  (24 July 2007)

Irfan Husain, ""Pervez
Musharraf's desperate gamble"
(5 November 2007)

Ayesha Siddiqa, "Pakistan after Benazir Bhutto" (28 December 2007)

Fred Halliday, "The assassin's age: Pakistan in
the world" (28 December 2007)

Maruf Khwaja, "Pakistan:
dynasty vs democracy" (9 January 2008)

Irfan Husain, ""Pakistan's judgment day" (22 February 2008)

Irfan Husain. "Pervez Musharraf:
the commando who couldn't" (19 August 2008)

Paul Rogers, "Pakistan: the
new frontline"
(18 September 2008)

Ayesha Siddiqa, "Pakistan: a
country on fire" (24 September 2008)

The Pakistan army tried to negotiate with
these groups, even bribing them into curbing their violence against the state.
A series of "peace" deals in 2005 and 2006 appeared to have achieved a degree
of stability, but since 2007 it has become clear that these deals - and the
money handed over - only empowered the TTP and TNSM - which have since launched
an unprecedented campaign of violence and suicide-attacks against the Pakistan
state. The targets have included many members of Pakistani security forces,
leading Pakistani officials, the Marriott hotel, and - many suspect -
the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 (see Ayesha Siddiqa, 
"Pakistan: a country on fire", 24 September 2008).

The ferocity of this violence has finally
provoked the Pakistan military under General Musharraf's successor, General
Ashfaq Kiyani, to take the fight directly into the tribal areas with a
sustained campaign in Bajaur agency in particular. This has
allowed Kiyani and Pakistan's new civilian administration, which takes the
international political flak but is not in control of Pakistan's military
operations, to claim that a new era of Pakistani realism about the terrorist
threat now obtains. The Pakistan army is taking heavy
casualties in its war with the TTP, TNSM and affiliated tribal militants -
and is trying to hang on to its remaining "peace deals" with other Pakistani
militant groups - but it and the ISI are still making no moves
against the Afghan Taliban who continue their rise in Afghanistan from safe
havens in Pakistan. 

This Pakistani duplicity and its implications
for the faltering war in Afghanistan seemed at last, in July 2008, to have 
on the US military and the CIA. The straw that broke the camel's back appears
to have been evidence which linked the ISI, through the Pakistan-backed
Jalaludin/Sirajuddin Haqqani network, to the bombing of the Indian embassy in
Kabul (see Kanchan Lakshman, "India in Afghanistan: a presence
under pressure", 11 July 2008).
Pakistani denials of involvement notwithstanding, the bombing undercut the
Pakistan army's supporters in Washington by demonstrating Islamabad's continued
commitment to terrorism as an instrument of state policy and the tensions
between the US's and Pakistan's objectives in Afghanistan. 

>From July 2008 the George W Bush
administration articulated a new strategy for Pakistan's
tribal areas which included stepping up cross-border air-strikes ever deeper
into Pakistan against Afghan Taliban targets and escalating cross-border US
ground incursions into Pakistan, the latter of which have been met with gunfire 
from the Pakistan army. At the
same time the US has stepped up the hunt for the al-Qaida leadership in
Pakistan's tribal areas amid continued rumours of ISI and Pakistan army
involvement in their protection (see Syed Saleem Shazad, "US Strikes Deeper in 
Pakistan", Asia
Times, 20 November 2008). 

The ground beneath

The United States-Pakistan relationship is
consequently under extreme strain. This will present president-elect Barack
Obama, who takes office on 20 January 2009, with one of his most difficult and
pressing foreign-policy challenges. Washington has recently sought to put the
Pakistani army and the ISI under intense pressure through military aid in 
and Obama had spoken about getting tough with Pakistan; the Pakistanis have 
by reminding the US and Nato that more than 80% of the logistics for the war in
Afghanistan pass through Pakistanis ports and have to make a long and perilous
journey across Pakistan through the tribal areas (see Paul Rogers, "A Pakistani 
dilemma", 15 November 2008). 

The Pakistan army thus has its thumb on Nato's
jugular. As US-led air-strikes continue to escalate inside Pakistan so too do
Taliban attacks on Nato logistics convoys. 
Pakistan knows that the war in Afghanistan is not going well for the west, and 
that domestic political pressure is building in some western states for a Nato 
The Pakistan army and the ISI are therefore calculating that they need only
bear the current pressure from the west and keep the Pakistani Taliban under
control, for their objectives in Afghanistan to be eventually realised. 

The US and Nato for their part find themselves
in the invidious position of fighting a faltering and grinding war in
Afghanistan from a position of unavoidable dependency on a dangerously 
if nominally allied, state. It will not be lost on the US or Nato that the
ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu - widely read at both West Point and
Sandhurst -  argued that the army which
does not fight on firm ground is lost. 


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