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Will the jihadi tiger devour Pakistan?

April 12, 2012 21:01 IST

Pakistan has no alternative but to surgically eliminate its bonds with jihadi groups, cleanse its security establishments of jihadi patrons and focus on rebuilding the State on democratic lines, says Brigadier S K Chatterji (retd).

Before demitting office last year, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the United States chiefs of staff, told the US Senate Committee that the Pakistani government, army and Inter Services Intelligence have links with terrorist establishments.

This, predictably, created a furore in only one national capital -- Islamabad.

Such statements have come in thick for too long to evoke a greater response.

Pakistan's strategic partnership with the jihadi establishment has too often been touted as a necessary counterbalance to address its asymmetry with its traditional enemy -- India.

In effect, it has served a plethora of domestic, geopolitical and personal requirements of Pakistan leaders trying to cling to power, far more than countervailing Indian military threats.

General-turned-military ruler Zia-ul Haq is credited with initiating Pakistan's march to being global jihad's epicentre. His motives had far less to do with a military imbalance with India, as compared to projecting himself as an Islamic protagonist so that he could wrest support from the domestic fundamentalist constituency.

The Pakistani military establishment had barely any discernible radical influence then. Gradually, as the ISI grew in stature, radical influence increased within the army too.

Beyond military cantonments, the main drivers were the mushrooming madrassas; often the sole educational recourse for children from households at the periphery.

America's endeavours to evict the Russians from Afghanistan gave the army and ISI-jihadi combine a providential opportunity. The Afghan experience also provided the wherewithal to the ISI to refine the fielding of its strategic assets in Jammu and Kashmir.

The proxy war in Kashmir succeeded in creating, and sustaining, significant levels of violence. However, it failed to deliver its prime objectives at critical junctures.

When the Pakistani army occupied the Kargil heights in 1999, the jihadis failed, in tandem, to mobilise an anti-India mass movement in Kashmir. At the operational level, they failed to interfere with the Indian Army's supply lines through the Kashmir valley to create a logistics nightmare for the troops fighting the war.

In Afghanistan, Pakistan tries to doggedly position itself as the chief arbiter of its future.

The strategy involves reinstating or garnering decisive power for the Taliban, once the International Security Assistance Force withdraws.

However, this strategy assumes that the Afghan Taliban will continue to be pliable to ISI dictates, should it be able to usurp power in Kabul. This could prove to be a pipedream.

The strategic relationship with the jihadis has brought Pakistan to the brink of imploding. Of concern is its nuclear arsenal that the jihadis covet.

The support that the jihadi establishment enjoys in the army and the ISI, and the possibility of the Afghan battlefield extending eastwards, deeper into Pakistan, can also create an extremely fragile situation.

Pakistan has no alternative but to surgically eliminate its bonds with jihadi groups, cleanse its security establishments of jihadi patrons and focus on rebuilding the State on democratic lines.

Such a situation requires a policy decision at the top, followed by weeding out radicals in the armed forces, ISI and police forces, to start with. Operations to eliminate the terror groups need to be simultaneously accelerated.

It is also imperative to concurrently address the terror camps located on the Pakistani side of Line of Control with India.

Otherwise, the jihadi establishment under pressure in Pakistan's western region will only shift east along the LoC and strengthen their ilk already operational there.

They will also continue destabilising Pakistan.

Brigadier S K Chatterji (retd)