January 2002 News

After a 27-yr-old affair with jihad, breaking up is toughest part

4 January 2002
The Indian Express

New Delhi: Pakistan’s jihadi regime which supported a ‘holy war’ in Afghanistan and Kashmir lies buried in the ruins of New York and Kandahar, says AAMER AHMED KHAN. AS the US-led campaign against the Taliban nears an endgame, what has already been bombed out of existence is Pakistan’s 27-year-old Afghan policy. Never before has any Pakistani state policy exploded at such a global scale. As analysts launch into a post-mortem, it may take them months to unravel the exact implications of this policy failure. What is already clear, though, is that the collapse of the Afghan policy means a lot more for Pakistan than a mere end to its military establishment’s misguided search for strategic depth in Afghanistan. President Musharraf and the military dispensation he heads will now have to rethink the entire jihadi regime that was created inside Pakistan to sustain the Afghan policy and its most critical spin-off — the jihad in Kashmir. Their immediate task: to seek a viable formula for dismantling the jihadi regime before the US runs out of patience and takes the task upon itself. President Musharraf’s task will be no less wide ranging (albeit in a local context) than the one assumed by US president George Bush. Militarily, he would have to seek to put an end to his institution’s reliance on religious zealots for securing military objectives in Pakistan’s immediate neighbourhood. Politically, it would mean co-opting civilians in the sphere of strategic policy- making. And economically, it would require putting an end to the political uncertainty that has resulted primarily from excessive military influence in the civilian domain. However, warn analysts, while the agenda may be clear enough, carrying out such sweeping reforms is fraught with dangerous problems. Examine the military aspect of the equation first. ‘‘The success of the mujahideen’s guerrilla war in Afghanistan apparently convinced Pakistan’s military high command that they could employ the same strategy in Kashmir,’’ says a senior government officer. That was why, argues the analyst, Pakistan saw a mushroom growth in the number of jihadi organisations in the late ’80s and early ’90s. While Afghanistan proved to be an ideal training ground for militants who were to be dispatched to Kashmir, an extension of the Afghan jihad to Kashmir allowed the army the facility to not engage India directly in a declared war. It also helped Pakistan stunt the pro-independence elements in Kashmir’s indigenous movement. More recently, this policy carried to a ridiculous extreme resulted in Kargil. Meanwhile, in the bargain, the army’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI, became a state unto itself. Arming and training militants of all hues, it even earned the wrath of other intelligence outfits such as the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Military Intelligence (MI). Many analysts believe that the ISI’s role became so powerful during this period that it began operating independently of all institutional controls. At one point, the MI wrote to the government complaining against the ISI’s ‘training methods’. Among other things, the MI asked why the ISI was training militants to shoot from motorbikes given that motorbikes have never been the preferred mode of transportation for militants active inside Kashmir. Many senior army and police officers attribute sectarian attacks inside Pakistan to militants trained by the ISI. Despite the army high command’s visible displeasure at the Indian hijack crisis in December 1999, Maulana Masood Azhar, an ISI- trained militant was allowed to roam free in Pakistan after being released by the Indian authorities in exchange for the release of hostages abroad the hijacked jetliner. Throughout the year 2000 ISI operatives, who were perhaps wary of General Pervez Musharraf’s seemingly secular credentials, were even seen trying to plant defamatory stories against the general. The federal interior minister’s deweaponisation campaign, allege some senior government officials, was sabotaged by the ISI which feared that it may impact adversely upon jihadi organisations in Pakistan. In fact, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has even accused the ISI of seeking financial assistance from Osama bin Laden to overthrow her government in 1990 — a claim backed by former NATO Supreme Commander (Atlantic) and US General, John Sheehan. ‘‘Convincing the ISI to disengage itself from the jihadi regime may be General Musharraf’s toughest task,’’ says one analyst. While some argue that the task is complicated because of the presence of an unspecified number of ‘rogue officers’ who are committed to a pan-Islamic agenda and perceive the ISI to be the premier vehicle for the realisation of that agenda. Others dismiss this line of reasoning as simplistic. The real problem, argue some, is that of the ISI’s primacy in determining Pakistan’s nation security agenda. As long as the Foreign Office remains sidelined in identifying security concerns and articulating the government’s response to it, the ISI will remain a problem at an institutional level even if it housed no ‘rogue officers’. BUT if the ISI is indeed to be reigned in, what will replace it? ‘‘The only alternative to the ISI in the context of Pakistan’s foreign policy is the Foreign Officer,’’ says one analyst. ‘‘But the Foreign Office is not constituted to work under a military government.’’ For example, capping the ISI will prove to be inimical to the government’s current Kashmir policy. Former COAS Jehangir Karamat says that it is extremely difficult for the army to concede a position of military advantage — a position that the army believes it currently enjoys in Kashmir — for diplomatic gains that may lie some time in the future. What this means is replacing the military government’s decade-old reliance on militancy with a diplomatic offensive that is strong enough to convince the public that the Kashmir cause has not been sold down the line. And this may well be beyond the intellectual capabilities of the military high command. Pulling the ISI, therefore, may require a fundamental shift in the army’s attitude towards the political class. Leading Pakistani politicians argue that the post September 11 situation has made such a change inevitable. Bhutto, in fact, has shed her caution of the last two years to launch scathing criticism of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. During her high profile visit to India towards the end of November, she minced no words while describing foreign militants in Kashmir as terrorists. ‘‘She has probably sensed the fact that the West will find it extremely difficult to trust the Pakistan army in its efforts to dismantle the jihadi regime in this part of the world,’’ says one observer, ‘‘Hence the need to co-opt the civilian leadership in key decision-making areas.’’ For President Musharraf, this means a lot more than just calling an end to the current witch-hunt against opposition politicians. Not only does it mean sticking to the schedule announced for the return to democracy but also a transfer of power unlike any that Pakistan has seen since 1977. In 1985, and more importantly, 1998, it was the army that had set the agenda for a transfer of power over America’s reluctance to share the required information with Pakistan in its campaign against the Taliban. ‘‘While President Musharraf may have won the West’s admiration for his support to the US, there is a big difference between admiration and trust,’’ remarks one observer. Were the readjustments required only at the political level, few analysts doubt the army’s ability to come up with a superficial arrangement whereby it could still retain control of key national security concerns. But the economic opportunities that have risen in the wake of September 11 appear to have ensured that such adjustments cannot just be superficial. ‘‘Political stability is not a quantifiable entity,’’ explains a senior finance official. ‘‘In most cases, it is dependent on the dominant political strains in any society.’’ If these strains are religious in nature, says this official, which implies the possibility of the presence of some form of extremism, western investors will never feel comfortable. NATURALLY, then, Pakistan’s policy fiasco in Afghanistan goes far beyond a mere loss of the generally incomprehensible notion of strategic depth. Dealing with it requires a lot more than a well-intentioned president. Over the next few weeks, Pakistanis are likely to see the military government making some visible and noisy moves against what it perceives to be the strongholds of Islamic extremists. At the same time, there are no indications that the government may be planning a similar move against the plethora of militant organisations that dot the country’s political landscape. Whether it likes doing so or not, Pakistan’s military establishment is left with little choice but to concede that its 27-year-old jihad has come to an end.


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