The Pakistan Military Proves its Mettle

Source: Institute of South Asian Studies, an autonomous research institute at the National University of Singapore

By Ishtiaq Ahmed[1]

It is argued in this brief that the recent London conference on the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan was a major success for the Pakistani military in convincing the international community that its cooperation is vital to resolving the crisis in Afghanistan. It was achieved in light of the fact that the Pakistani military effectively combated Taliban terrorism on its own soil. The Pakistani military has also come out against the Taliban domination of Afghanistan in case of an early United States (US) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troop pullout, because it would threaten Pakistani security and national interests.

Considerable attention has been given to the conference hosted by United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown at Lancaster House on 28-29 January 2010 in London in which nearly 70 countries, including the United Nations, backed a US$500 million Afghan government drive to tempt fighters to give up their weapons in exchange for jobs and other incentives. Before the conference took place, brisk diplomatic moves were underway in Istanbul and London to garner the support of important players such as China, Turkey, Iran and Russia. It was realised that Pakistan was the key player in any peace deal in Afghanistan.

It dawned upon the American and the British – the two major powers involved in fighting the Taliban – that only military action would not do. In recent years the Taliban, who are almost all from the Pukhtun ethnic group, have expanded their influence outside the traditional Pukhtun strongholds of eastern and southern Afghanistan. They are reportedly present in almost all parts of the country, though it does not mean they exercise real power in them. The US and Allied Forces troop surge that is to bring more than 35,000 soldiers has been qualified by President Obama’s statement  that the US will start pulling back its troops from the summer of 2011.

US top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, remarked recently that as a soldier he felt that it was time to find another way of dealing with the insurgency in Afghanistan.[2] The idea is that by mid-2011 the Afghan military and security forces should be large enough and trained properly to take over the responsibilities of maintaining the peace, and law and order. In any event, hectic consultations with President Hamid Karzai and other leaders had convinced the West that it was possible to strike a deal with sections of the Taliban who were not hardcore ideological fanatics.

The general understanding is that it is a major victory for Pakistan, as its point of view that not all Taliban were bad was accepted. Equally, it has been seen as a major setback to India, which had insisted all along that the Taliban as a whole had to be defeated because they were committed to an ideology that was rabidly militaristic and expansionist, and any concession to them would gravely threaten India’s security. Such India-Pakistan sabre rattling in Afghanistan is symptomatic of their zero-sum postures on almost all security matters. The reality, however, is always more complicated and complex than what meets the eye.

Now, doubts are being expressed about the wisdom of such optimism about striking a deal with the Taliban. The Taliban have not responded to President Karzai’s invitation to Taliban leaders to attend the traditional consultative assembly, the Loya Jirga. Karzai is travelling to Saudi Arabia to seek its influence in convincing the Taliban to attend the Loya Jirga. The Saudis are reportedly making it conditional to the Taliban openly declaring that they will part company with Al-Qaeda.

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani has stated, ‘Pakistan doesn’t want a “talibanised” Pakistan’.[3] Elaborating that point, he said that Pakistan did not want for Afghanistan what it did not want for itself. Further, he stated that his country had no intention of controlling Afghanistan. He offered Pakistan’s assistance and help in training the Afghan military. He also made the important point that Pakistan’s geostrategic location continues to be relevant in the post-Cold War and post-9/11 periods. He urged NATO to fully appreciate that objective reality.

Wahid Mujdah, a writer who served in the Afghan Foreign Ministry under the Taliban, has expressed his scepticism in the following words, ‘These efforts will not bear fruit. I do not see any change, because the Taliban are abiding by their old stance and I cannot see anything new on the part of Karzai either’.[4]

Another doubtful voice is that of Daniel Korski of the European Council on Foreign Relation. ‘Expectations stirred in London of a quick breakthrough in talks with senior militants are too rosy. The London conference was almost delusional in its optimism. Let’s reject the idea that negotiations will happen according to a timetable that we find convenient. Let’s reject the idea that 2010 is a make-or-break year. If the West and Karzai want the Taliban to negotiate, they will first need to score victories on the battlefield, improve the capabilities of the Afghan government and to weaken Taliban unity with well-run reintegration programmes’, said Korski.[5]

At any rate, Pakistan has demonstrated that it can defeat the Taliban terrorists and put them on the run. The Taliban have been expelled from Swat and South Waziristan. Since May 2009, General Kayani, has been demonstrating an unwavering resolve to defeat the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. The Pakistan military fought pitched battles with the Taliban. The latter retaliated by vicious suicide bombings and other acts of terror that have claimed 3,021 lives and caused injury to 7,334 people last year.[6] The fact remains that the Pakistan military would never allow the Taliban to capture power in Pakistan. General McChrystal admitted some weeks earlier that the trust deficit between the US and Pakistan had begun to diminish.[7]

It is also commonsense to recognise that breaking the power of the Taliban in Afghanistan can be more successful if Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan are properly recognised. It remains the paramount power in south-west Asia. President Obama has given Pakistan an additional US$0.5 billion increase in military aid.[8] This despite the fact that the Pakistani Army spokesperson Major General Athar Abbas announced some days ago that they will be no major offensive for the next six to 12 months.[9]

General Kayani also demonstrated another resolution that he adhered to with great consistency – to let the political process in Pakistan take its natural course. Sensational media reports and conspiracy theorists predicted a military coup that never took place.  Under the circumstances, the point seems to be that a strong military in Pakistan does not preclude per definition a civilian and democratic government. It is, of course, too soon to jump to any conclusions. The military is and will remain the most powerful institution in Pakistan – for both bad and good.

India has started to recover from the shock that its standpoint on the Taliban was ignored at the London Conference. “World Rejects India’s stand” wrote Ashis Ray of the Times of India.[10] Foreign Minister SM Krishna issued a statement that his country can do business with the Taliban provided they fulfil three preconditions: acceptance of the Afghan constitution, severing connections with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and renunciation of violence. ‘If the Taliban are accepted in the mainstream of Afghan politics and society, we could do business’, asserted Krishna.[11] President Karzai has all along been very appreciative of India’s help and assistance and India enjoyed considerable goodwill among the Northern Alliance old guard. Now, if the moderate Taliban return to the mainstream and are accommodated in the government it will mean reduced stature for India in Afghanistan.

It is the duty of the West to stay on as long as is needed to capture or eliminate Al-Qaeda and the hardcore Taliban leadership. Most Taliban would abandon their leaders and ideology only when it is demonstrated to them that they have no chance of prevailing in Afghanistan militarily. A premature exit could mean chaos and civil war in Afghanistan that can destabilise not only Pakistan but also India. The 35,000-plus troop surge will have to be used to inflict severe punishment and defeat on the Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership. If that is not achieved then the rational basis for beginning the troop pullout will be undermined.

It is also important that India and Pakistan show maturity and vision. It should be perfectly possible to accommodate India’s continuing participation in the reconstruction and developmental projects while Pakistan takes care of training the Afghan military. Pakistan’s centrality to facilitating peace and stability in Afghanistan need not be over-emphasised. A division of tasks between India and Pakistan would in no way hurt their vital interests in Afghanistan. They may also learn the vital lesson that they gain more from cooperation than confrontation.

[Related articles: India could do business with Taliban: FM  &   Afghan Civil Society Fears Taliban Talks Will Compromise Rights]

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[1]     Professor Ishtiaq Ahmed is a Visiting Research Professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies, an autonomous research institute at the National University of Singapore. He can be contacted at isasia@nus.edu.sg.

[2]    Financial Times, London, 24 January 2010.

[3]   Daily Times, Lahore, 2 February 2010.

[4]   Daily Times, Lahore, 2 February 2010.

[5]   Daily Times, Lahore, 2 February 2010.

[6]   Pakistan Security Report 2009, Islamabad: Pakistan Institute for Peace Research,  p. 4.

[7]   Daily Times, Lahore, 5 January 2010.

[8]   Daily Times, Lahore, 2 February 2010.

[9]   Dawn, Karachi, 22 January 2010.

[10]  The Times of India, New Delhi, 29 January 2010.

[11]  Daily Times, Lahore, 31 January 2010.

9 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Army, Democracy, India, Pakistan, Taliban, War On Terror

9 responses to “The Pakistan Military Proves its Mettle

  1. Midfield Dynaamo

    It is stupendous to conclude that the Pakistan Army has got the taliban on the run, it is a premature victory cry that reeks of arrogance, quite a reminder of Bush in a G-Suit on the aircraft carrier. You remember the US invasion of Afghanistan and the Soviets before that, it was a catwalk to begin, but how it ended in the case of the Soviets and the present state of affairs in the Coalition Forces. Let us take the case of the Pakistan Army fighting the insurgency in Baluchistan during the reign of ZAB.
    For how long and till when will the Pakistan Army maintain this aggressive posture, eventually like the super powers it will be bled white and succumb to the resilience of the insurgents. If we continue to think in terms of a taliban defeat and use phrases lke n the run, this day is not far, so redeem what you can while you can.

  2. Gabban

    The outcome of the Conference in London is shameful … the participating countries have again permitted the army of Pakistan to play the fool with them !

    The army of Pakistan has no achievement against the Taliban … the taliban have been shoo-ed from the region … have simply relocated !! … those killed are the ones that refused to obey the ISI.

    It is pathetic that the army of Pakistan is lauded for achievement when its Chief and Corp Commanders should be tried for crime of continuing to protect gangs that are hell bent to harvest poppy in Afghanistan ( thereby ruining the lives of millions ) and terrorise other several countries besides their own.

    There is no threat to Pakistan from India … ( this is rubbish from the army of Pakistan … it should be amply clear that since Pakistan is really not threatened, its army is needlessly indulgent upon abundantly financed for no apparent reason ) … therefore, there is no need for any ‘strategic depth’ into another country … therefore, the army of Pakistan does not require the amount of ( unaccounted ) money the USA is paying it … this should be actually opposed by the United Nations – remember the Anti Money Laundering Act ?? !!

    Instead, if the Conference was serious to find a solution to the situation in Afghanistan, should have decided to stop payments to the army of Pakistan, directing the Government of Pakistan to pay the salary to its army … if it is unable to do so, to cut size … lay off.

    It should be understood that Pakistan does not require an army of few lakhs against destitution and retardation of 200 millions in their own country and Afghanistan.

    The investment in and maintainence of the army of Pakistan is not a viable proposition for the country and others at the expense of the common people in their own countries/Pakistan/Afghanistan … this is ‘laanet’ for the army of Pakistan as it is solely responsible for depriving millions of peaceful and better lives …

    I wonder, what would Jinnah saheb have done with such an organisation …

  3. P Gill

    One way of looking at it is that US just wants to get out of Afghanistan. Declare victory (at least don’t admit heavy defeat ) and go home. Pakistan can help US by reining Taleban for a short while, so that US does not have to repeat Vietnam show.
    Key question is what will happen in post-US Afghanistan.
    Who will fund the reconstruction? Pakistan? China? So called international community will not fund anything.
    Other interested parties Iran, India, Russia may find it more convenient to fund local armies in Northern Afghanistan.
    An unstable Afghanistan will be more of a problem than strategic depth for Pakistan.
    Afghanistan can not be stabilized by US. A combined effort of Pakistan, Iran, and India could be helpful. But that can be no more than a dream at the moment.

  4. Ahmed Chowdhry

    Anybody who knows the terrain and the ferocity of the Taliban would know how great a victory Pak army achieved this summer. And more importantly, the gains have been consolidated and held despite outside help to the TTP.

    Compare this to the situation across the border – Much better equipped western armies have failed to show any military success.

    Success begets success. Now is the time to kill TTP once and for all.

  5. insight

    The West left the job half done and had to come back.

    They are leaving the job half done and will come back again; for their own sake.

    Solution to everything is to address the root cause. The root cause is Pakistan Army and ISI. It is terrorist organization accidentally labeled as a country.

    Shamelessly, Pakistan is offering its services to Afghanistan when Afghans of all ethnicity hate Pakistan.

    The first one to suffer will be Pakistan; Afghanistan is given and are used to for 30yrs.

  6. Ammar

    The London concept present the prospects of peace and uncertainty, the dynamics are different of Pakistan and Afghanistan as Pakistan needs to continue this cleanup operation and include the those elements who wish to participate in the existing system of governance.

  7. Majumdar

    Hopefully, Pak military will keep proving its mettle within its own borders not across its Eastern or Western borders.

    Regards

  8. Midfield Dynamo

    Some of the comments seem to be from the inside, well I can fully sympathize with them, for they are in the middle of the fight. It is for us sitting on the sidelines to provide them with a detached perspective, to show them their weaknesses and strengths. Take advice from the Soviet veterans, for whatever it is worth, would they vote for an annhilation of the TTP, and loose everything in the long run or build cultural/religious bridges?

  9. rex minor

    If Pakistan military were to reform and become a national army, i.e., every one at the age of 18 to serve 18 months in the military, the country would have no fear from the external enemy.
    The country is no longer in a position to maintain such a large army as well as the nuclear deterrant, simply to allow the Generals playing politics and becoming the vassals of foreign powers.
    The recent debacle of the Punjabi army in the Pashtoon area should is a nothing more than a farce.