Tag Archives | Pakistani army

The agitated minds of Pakistani army officers

The significance of General Kayani’s town-hall meeting with his officers.

It is extremely unusual for an army chief — especially of a semi-colonial Pakistan army, which draws its traditions from a pre-1947 British army —  to conduct a town-hall meeting with his officers, followed by a question-and-answer session. But this is precisely what Pakistan army chief, General Kayani did earlier this week with officers at Rawalpindi, Kharian and Sialkot garrisons (see ISPR Press Release). The last sentence of that release did attract this blogger’s attention: “At the end, COAS held a very frank Question/Answer session with the participants.” Very frank is a rather interesting turn of phrase for a gathering being addressed by the army chief, and is open to various interpretations.

This town-hall meeting was organised in the wake of the unilateral American military raid that eliminated Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. In routine course, an army chief would go and address a gathering of officers, either on ceremonial occasions in a formal manner or on momentous occasions, such as before going to war. As it was not a ceremonial event, the bin Laden killing, with its attendant after-effects, is thus an extremely significant incident for the army chief to warrant such an extraordinary step.

How could this have possibly played out? General Kayani, in all probability, would have been informed by his corps commanders or his GHQ staff that there is a huge amount of discontentment, bordering on outrage, among the middle- and junior-ranking officers. The Corps Commanders could have spoken to the officers but they perhaps feared that would not pacify the officers and it would be better if the army chief himself stepped in to calm the troubled waters. The Dawn report hints the same: Gen Kayani is reported to have engaged with the officers to address the questions that, a source said, “could have been agitating their minds”.

The explanation for the outrage among the junior- and middle-ranking officers is rather straight-forward. The current day Pakistan army draws its officer cadre from the middle and lower middle classes of Pakistani society. The changes in Pakistani society in the last 35 years have shaped the world-view, largely anti-US, of this lot of officers. As the Dawn reports, “The opinions shared with the army chief by his well-mannered officers, the source said, were quite frank and reflected the concerns among the masses.” It is to be noted that the opinions of the officers reflected the concerns among the masses.

The increasing radicalisation of the society and the emphasis on Pakistan army being an Islamic army during General Zia’s dictatorial reign has affected the officer class. Retired officers of the army have joined jehadi tanzeems, and undertaken terror strikes in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. In the Mumbai terror strike case of 2008, serving officers of the Pakistan army have been named as accused in the chargesheet in the Chicago court.

Moreover, Pakistan army and its officers thrive on a extreme sense of pride — some would say vanity — as the sole functional institution of a dysfunctional Pakistani state. Having been fed this diet of radical Islam and an anti-US world view — with the pride of being part of the spine holding Pakistan together — it would be extremely insulting for these officers to hear of the US daring to conduct an unilateral aid inside Pakistan and kill bin Laden. The dent in their public image, with all the jokes being circulated via the sms in the country, would have added to the feeling of humiliation.

Furthermore, the junior and middle ranks of the Pakistan army are also under strain due to the counterinsurgency operations being conducted by it against the bad Taliban. More than any other organisation, the senior leadership is under a harsher spotlight in the military. The thought captured in that immortal line by Paul Yingling — “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war” — would also be at the back of the mind of these officers after no action has been taken against any senior officer for the purported laxity, which led to a loss of Pakistani sovereignty.

What does all this mean? It clearly means one thing. For all the professionalism and discipline that the Pakistan army boasts off, its generals will find it extremely difficult to take the officer cadre along if they made any major concessions to Pakistan’s enemies — India (and even the US). There are a lot of Indian media personalities and analysts who suggest that India, like the US, should start dealing directly with General Kayani. The good General would then be able to turn his army around and make peace with India. This incident demonstratively negates that premise.

If one were to draw a larger lesson, it is about the nature of the Pakistan army. The real threat is not the fear of the jehadis defeating the Pakistan army. The graver danger comes from the radicalisation of the subordinate ranks and officers of the army.

Yes, Pakistan army will remain in control of its nuclear arsenal. But what kind of Pakistan army would that be — the army of a fundamentalist pan-Islamic state?

The signs are indeed ominous. They can be ignored by the comity of nations at its own peril.

Update (19/05) – WaPo: Anger simmers in Pakistani army over bin Laden raid

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What about Lashkar-e-Taiba?

US mustn’t ignore the threat posed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba .

In the off-the-record briefing of 20 selected Pakistani journalists by the Pakistan Army Chief, General Kayani and DG of ISI, Lieutenant General Pasha after the US forces killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan, General Pasha is reported to have stated this about Pakistan’s conflicting interests with the US.

Pasha said he had made clear to Washington that if the U.S. were deemed to be acting against Pakistan’s interests, “We’ll not help you — we’ll resist you.”[Time]

And these Pakistani interests are, as Stephen Tankel explains:

The Pakistan army views the Taliban and the Haqqani Network as the best, and perhaps only, tools for shaping a better outcome in Afghanistan, where it fears Indian influence will translate into encirclement. Notably, neither the Taliban nor the Haqqani Network is involved in the insurgency currently raging inside Pakistan, and the army is leery of action that could alter this reality.

In short, the army sees other countries reaping the benefits were it to act against these militants, while Pakistan would be left to deal with the costs (both domestic and geopolitical). No amount of money is likely to change that calculus in the near term and neither side [Pakistan or the US] should pretend otherwise.[Link]

Even if there is no congruence between US and Pakistani strategic interests, increased pressure in the aftermath of the Osama bin Laden killing means that Pakistan might, on the face of it, pretend to stop actively supporting — mind you, not act against — these two groups.  This school of thought will gain prominence among Western strategic analysts, as some analysts (perhaps with the good offices of US lobbying firm Locke Lord Strategies hired by Pakistan for $75,000 a month) start sprouting this theory. Anatol Lieven, who is supposedly very close to the Pakistani army, states it openly.

Hard as it may be to swallow, the United States must go on cooperating with the Pakistani state, military, and intelligence services against terrorism directed against the West and not allow this relationship to be destroyed by Pakistan’s sheltering of the Afghan Taliban. In fact, the United States should accept and even welcome continued Pakistani military links to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the terrorist group alleged to be behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, while holding to the absolute condition that the Pakistani military uses these connections successfully to prevent further LeT attacks on India and, above all, the United States.[FP]

Lieven further explains why the US should not ask the Pakistan Army to act against the LeT.

So far, however, LeT has not planned or carried out any attacks against the West, even as its activists have gone to help the Taliban in Afghanistan and killed Westerners as part of the group’s 2008 attack on Mumbai. …

The strategy of the Pakistani military seems largely responsible for LeT’s restraint. According to well-informed sources in Pakistan, the military has told LeT leaders that if they do not revolt against Pakistan and do not carry out terrorist attacks against India (for the moment at least) and above all the United States and Europe, then they are safe from arrest or extrajudicial execution. Incidentally, a leading JuD member told me in 2009 that despite its Islamist revolutionary ideology, the group would do nothing to destroy the Pakistani state “because then the Hindus would march in to rule over us.”[FP]

While the earlier quotes were from an essay written just before bin Laden’s death, Lieven goes on to add to his pet theory even in the post-Osama killing scenario.

These officials say that the Pakistani state and Army are now restraining Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other groups trained by the military to attack India, holding them back from future violence. However, this means that the state has to maintain contacts with these groups and refrain from cracking down on them, despite demands from India and the West. In addition, Pakistani officers say—and here I am afraid that they are right—the popularity of LeT in Pakistani society practically guarantees that cases against its members are dismissed by the courts. The only available measures against LeT are extrajudicial, which is dangerous considering the movement’s widespread acceptance.[Newsweek]

Irrespective of whether US agrees to the grotesque suggestions of Lieven or not,  LeT is one jehadi group whose position will remain secure in all Pakistani strategic calculations. Stephen Tankel lays out the reasons:

There are several reasons. First, Pakistan is facing a serious insurgency and LeT remains one of the few militant outfits whose policy is to refrain from launching attacks against the state. The security establishment has taken a triage approach, determining that to avoid additional instability it must not take any action that could draw LeT further into the insurgency.

Second, the Pakistan army and its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) have long considered LeT to be the country’s most reliable proxy against India and the group still provides utility in this regard. LeT also provides potential leverage at the negotiating table and so it is therefore unrealistic to assume support for the group will cease without a political payoff from India in return. As a result, the consensus among the Pakistani security establishment appears to be that, at least in the short-term, taking steps to dismantle the group would chiefly benefit India, while Pakistan would be left to deal with the costs.

Finally, LeT provides social services and relief aid via its above ground wing, Jamaat-ul-Dawa, and its activities in this sphere have led to a well of support among segments of the populace.[Link]

Furthermore, the belief that the army and the ISI, under US pressure, can successfully control the LeT is not accepted by Tankel.

The army and ISI are believed to be putting significant pressure on LeT’s leaders to refrain from overtly engaging in attacks on Western interests abroad. Unless Pakistan wants a showdown with the United States this is unlikely to change. However, this also presumes a level of organizational coherence and control that may be at odds with the ground reality. LeT militants are present on both sides of the Durand Line, meaning not all of them rely on safe haven in Pakistan. Furthermore, individuals or factions within LeT can utilize its infrastructure as well as transnational capabilities to pursue their own operations without the leadership’s consent. Enhanced organizational integration with other outfits heightens the opportunities for freelancing, with former LeT members acting as an important bridge to al-Qaeda as well as other militant outfits.[FP]

There is enough evidence around to show that the LeT remains a potent threat not only to India, but also for the Western targets (Gitmo files, Ilyas Kashmiri linkage, Chicago trials of Mumbai terror attackers). Tankel, again, explains how this could work in the future:

The current threat to Western interests comes from a conglomeration of actors in Pakistan who are working in concert. Thus, LeT need not take the lead role in an attack in order for its capabilities to be used against the U.S. homeland or its interests abroad. Notably, working as part of a consortium enables LeT to earn credit from its fellow militants while also providing it cover, since shared responsibility makes it easier for the group to conceal its fingerprints from the U.S. or other possible targets. Furthermore, the threat comes not only from LeT as a stand-alone organization or from its collaboration with other actors.

Rather, individuals or factions within LeT can utilize its domestic infrastructure as well as transnational capabilities to pursue their own operations. Enhanced organizational integration with other outfits heightens the opportunities for freelancing, thus increasing the chances that some of the group’s capabilities might be used for attacks without the leadership’s consent. Because members who leave do not necessarily cut ties with the group, or may bring elements within it with them, the threat also comes from LeT’s alumni network. Thus, when assessing the dangers of LeT’s expansion in terms of its intent in the medium-term as well as how it might respond in the near-term following bin Laden’s death, one must consider the capability of current and former members both to steer the organization in an increasingly internationalist direction as well as to leverage its infrastructure for these purposes whether or not the leadership approves.[Link]

West is not going to be safer because the US has eliminated bin Laden. Even if the West were to somehow completely destroy the al Qaeda and the Taliban (highly unlikely unless Pakistan stops its support to the Taliban), it will always be under threat from jehadi groups like the LeT. Thus the suggestion made by Lieven — and likely to be repeated by Pakistan army and ISI to the US — to ignore the LeT because the ISI will guarantee that the jehadi group doesn’t target the West, needs to be treated with the contempt that it deserves.

However that is unlikely to happen. Elizabeth Rubin at the NYRB blogs recounts:

In 2010, I had the chance to ask Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about the US relationship with Pakistan. He’d just been to the country to urge its generals to go after the jihadists, the Taliban, and the Haqqani network. I asked Gates how he could possibly consider Afshaq Kayani, the chief of the Pakistani army, an ally. “It’s frustrating,” Gates told me. I waited for more, but nothing came. Your silence says a lot, I said. “Well, I was very specific in a couple of my meetings in looking at them point-blank and saying, ‘Haqqani and his people are killing my troops. I’ve got a problem with that,’” Gates responded. And what did they say, I asked. Gates is all control, but he cracked a small smile as he said: “They listened.”

…Or as an advisor to Ambassador Holbrooke told me not long before Holbrooke died: “We see Pakistan as a flawed ally and the Afghan Taliban as our enemy. The truth is the reverse.”

…Of course at the heart of the problem lies Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. We’d rather our Pakistani army enemy controls it than our Pakistani Taliban enemy. But will we ever know who is who, and can we tell them apart? And so our policy in Pakistan has collided with the Lot equation: How many righteous men must there be for God to save Sodom and Gomorrah, asks Abraham. And when God says fifty, Abraham keeps lowering the number. What if there is just one? How many American, Afghan, Pakistani, European casualties are worth keeping this Catch-22 policy alive?[NYRB]

The US must remember one thing. Osama bin Laden is history now. Greater challenges of jehadi terror lie ahead in the future. The Pakistani military-jehadi complex lies at the heart of those terror threats. LeT, the most powerful and protected jehadi organisation today,  happens to be Pakistani state’s most reliable proxy. The US can afford to ignore the LeT — or its masters in Pakistan army — only at its own peril.

explains this further:

These officials say that the Pakistani state and Army are now restraining Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other groups trained by the military to attack India, holding them back from future violence. However, this means that the state has to maintain contacts with these groups and refrain from cracking down on them, despite demands from India and the West. In addition, Pakistani officers say—and here I am afraid that they are right—the popularity of LeT in Pakistani society practically guarantees that cases against its members are dismissed by the courts. The only available measures against LeT are extrajudicial, which is dangerous considering the movement’s widespread acceptance.[Newsweek]

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Why fight my Muslim brethren

The average Pakistani soldier has already psychologically crossed over to the Jehadi side. It is impossible to convince him to undertake military action against his co-religionist brethren.

New York Times eventually discovers, albeit belatedly, that the average Pakistani is not ready to believe that their home grown jehadis could be behind the recent spate of terror attacks in Pakistan. This explains the pressing need for the Pakistani government officials to fabricate evidence of an Indian hand in South Waziristan. It is another matter that Bill Roggio can easily disprove both the theory of an Indian hand and the purported evidence put forth by the Pakistani versions of Comical Ali.

While satisfying the popular opinion by producing such evidence may be a compulsion for the Pakistani political establishment, the challenge for the Pakistani Army is equally grave. How does the Pakistan army justify the action against fellow Muslim brethren to its troops, that too in an Islamic Republic, with a past history of associating closely with these Jehadis? Well, it has earlier resorted to claiming that the jehadis in Swat were actually Jewish.

There are many who believe that this is all a figment of fertile Indian imagination and a professional Pakistan army faces no such challenge. For those naysayers, here are a couple of slides from the presentation given by a Pakistan army officer, Major Ali Iqbar in a Workshop on Counterinsurgency Leaders held at US Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center, Fort Leavenworth from 27 to 29 October this year. Major Iqbar was the operations staff officer of 315 Brigade in Swat when the Pakistan army moved in there for Operation Rah-e-Haq in 2007.

Swat Slide 47

After identifying the crisis — of finding an explanation for the soldiers to act against those demanding Islamic Law in an Islamic state — Major Iqbar identifies the foremost challenge for the Pakistan army at the start of the operations.

Slide Swat 49

The good Major doesn’t venture further to explain how his brigade commander and unit commanders successfully overcame this challenge. Perhaps because they did nothing except blame it on a Indian-Zionist conspiracy to destabilise the only Muslim state with a nuclear bomb!

As long as the bones of military aid and equipment are bring thrown by the US, the dog that is the Pakistan army, will have to continue with this charade of acting against certain sections of not-so-friendly Taliban. However even against these so-called enemies of Pakistan, Pakistan army will have to continually invoke the bogey of an Indian hand to motivate its soldiers — drawn from a radically Islamised society — to undertake military operations. When the average Pakistani soldier has already crossed over to the jehadi side — not physically but psychologically — no goading by the brass can force the average trooper to lift his weapon against his own co-religionist brethren.

There is no better way to understand the psychological make-up of an average Pakistani soldier than by going through this anecdote by Londonstani at Abu Muqawama’s blog.

In terms of perception of religious observance and its role in public life, there seems to be a shift towards the more severe and less tolerant. This doesn’t necessarily translate always into practice, but more a shared understanding that more severe and more rigid must equal more righteous, and that those who are very severe (or even just look it) must be deferred to.

Now, where this gets scary is when you hear a conversation like:

Person 1: “The Taliban couldn’t have blown up the market in Peshawar because a Muslim wouldn’t do that.”

Person 2: “No, the Americans did it. But you know, the market that got blown up catered for women. And you know it’s haram for women to go out of the house.”

Person 1: “oh…..yeah”[AM]

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Focus on Pakistan, not Holbrooke

India must secure its interests, not carp over imagined grievances.

Richard Holbrooke, during his recent visit to Pakistan and India, has said all the right things: the US will not mediate on Kashmir, India is not a part of his mandate and Obama administration is looking at India to play a much wider regional role. None of this would have been music to Pakistani ears. And if reports about his meetings with the Pakistani establishment are to be believed, he did ruffle a few feathers in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Even then, many in the Indian media have taken offence to his visit to Delhi and projected his trip as some kind of snub to India or the rehyphenation of India with Pakistan and an insidious attempt to surreptitiously include India as a part of his mandate.

Forget Holbrooke and Mullen and forget Obama’s AfPak strategy. The US is doing or aspiring to do what is in its own interests. That mainly includes preventing another 9-11 kind of attack on the US homeland from AfPak. While it tries to create the Afghan National Army, the US — along with NATO forces — will operate against the al Qaeda and bad Taliban in Afghanistan. As far as Pakistan is concerned, the Obama administration believes that it can push — motivate, cajole or buy — the Pakistani army to tackle the jehadi menace in that country. The drone attacks on high value targets — mostly al Qaeda — inside Pakistani territory will continue, signifying a lack of trust on the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment.

There are doubts whether the Obama strategy in Pakistan will succeed. It will probably need a severe mid-course connection once the US realises that the association between the jehadis and the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment is not merely of the strategic asset type, but more of the umbilical religious-ideological variety. The strategic asset excuse, is now the more politically correct — or the less politically incorrect — version, which lures many in the Obama establishment to believe that a rational plan by the US will push the Pakistani army to take on the jehadis. As The Acorn points out, it is the Pakistani army that has already started throwing tantrums and will resist any moves to attach preconditions to its cooperation with the US moves in the region.

Like the US, India’s intent should be to do what is in its national interests. In the short term, it means keeping Pakistan under pressure so that it doesn’t unleash its jehadis in Kashmir or the Indian mainland for another 26-11 Mumbai type terror attack. In the medium term, it entails denuking Pakistan because it are these nukes that are protecting the Pakistani military-intelligence-jehadi complex. In the long-run, it is about restructuring the Pakistani state and army-intelligence combo, which can not happen without reforming the Pakistani society first.

It is in India’s interests to impress upon the US that the Indian and the US goals in AfPak are closely aligned. India must do all it can to ease the US pain so that Obama administration undertakes the hard option in Pakistan. Any delay in making the tough choice will make it more difficult for Obama to exercise that option later and entail heavy costs for India in the interim. The happenings in forests of Kupwara are only a prelude to what awaits India, if it doesn’t act quick enough to secure its own interests.

Delhi can begin by dispelling the fanciful notion that a version of the Marshall Plan will do the trick in Pakistan; the plan will have to be much closer to the MacArthur  plan for post-World War Japan. India — even during the national elections — must do what it can to goad US on that difficult, but inevitable path in Pakistan.

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What if…

Pakistan framed state policy based on public sentiment. And Pakistan army loses to the jehadis inside Pakistan.

Former journalist-turned-former diplomat Maleeha Lodhi has a eight-point wish list for Richard Holbrooke. It includes some very obvious ones — stopping the Predator raids and including Kashmir in the US agenda for the region. The other elements of Lodhi’s suggested approach vary from US aid to Pakistan without preconditions, differentiating between al Qaeeda and Taliban, and more military equipment to Pakistan army for COIN operations. And her rationale for such a policy by the Pakistani state–

…approach that is designed to reset ties with the US and align these with the sentiments of its own people. After all no policy is sustainable unless it has public support.

Talking of sentiments of own people, even someone vilified as General Shanti in Pakistan, the sacked NSA (is he sacked or not yet?) General Mahmud Durrani, says in the introduction to his book that till the mid-1970s, he also believed that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. The radicalisation of education and declining level of public discourse in Pakistan would suggest that such attitudes might have been further hardened over the years. If that be true, would Ms. Lodhi advocate exterminating Indians of all hues. National policies aren’t dictated by public sentiment or there wouldn’t be a nation on the face of this planet which wouldn’t have a new ruler every week.

The general feeling among the Pakistani analysts, which is widely held in Pakistani army circles as well, is that the US does not have the gumption to fight the al Qaeeda-Taliban combine in Afghanistan for long. The US army will soon quit the region and thus the hedging of strategic options by ISI and the Pakistan army in supporting the jehadis in the region continues unabated even today. Have these wishful thinkers in Pakistan ever contemplated the fallout of such support to the progenies of the mullah-military-ISI triumverate? This could lead to a scenario where the Pakistani security forces lose to the Taliban- al Qaeeda combine inside Pakistan well before the day the US army withdraws from Afghanistan as a loser. That is, if India, China, Russia and Iran allow the US army to lose militarily in Afghanistan.

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Anything to precipitate a military crisis

Having failed to evoke a military response from India after the terror attacks in Mumbai, the Pakistani army has not yet lost all hopes of provoking India. So, PTI quotes Pakistani media reports

Pakistan has moved fresh troops to the Line of Control in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and the international border with India to protect “vital points”, cancelled all leave for armed forces personnel and almost put a security alert into effect amidst escalating tensions in the region.

The Indian Prime Minister has already ruled out the military option. So are these military deployments in anticipation of a follow-up terrorist strike in India or a precursor to media reports about nukes being readied by the Pakistani army.

And they said that Musharraf was a gambler and Kiyani a thoughtful General. On the evidence at hand, it seems that he is more like a suicidal jehadi himself.

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After the war… an armistice

Only two parties seem to be keen on an aggressive Indian military response. One is of course the Pakistani army, which triggered it all for this very purpose. The other one, surprisingly, is a section of the Indian media.

For these people, a sobering anecdotal thought about the men and women who go to war comes courtesy Sir Martin Gilbert. This is from the First World War.

“What does an armistice mean?” a soldier in the British Eighth Division asked as the guns fell silent.

“Time to bury the dead,” replied another.

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The General’s silence

Why hasn’t General Kayani publicly renunciated the ties between the terrorists, Pakistani army and the ISI?

In its editorial, International Herald Tribune raises this pertinent question –

We also are waiting for a forceful public repudiation of the militant groups from the army chief of staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and his personal pledge that all ties between Pakistan’s military and the extremists will be severed. His silence is deafening.

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The pressure gauge

…and Pakistan Army’s calibration.

The US pressurises the Pakistani Army to do more in the GWOT. The past masters at calibrating their response retaliate through their friends — Militants in north-west Pakistan have hijacked 12 trucks carrying supplies for Western forces in Afghanistan.

Another episode in unending spectacle of the US and Pakistani Army lunging at each other’s throats. This would perhaps clarify to Obama’s gang that the Pakistan Army, and not Kashmir, lies at the bottom of Pakistani reluctance in devoting its military resources against the insurgents in tribal areas.

Update — The hijacked trucks also contained two Humvee armoured carriers. The insurgents and their mentors, the Pakistani Army and the ISI, may have just overplayed their hand this time around.

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