Tag Archives | MJC

A power-centric timeline of Pakistan

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

There have been some excellent books on various aspects of the Pakistan state in the last couple of years. However, I found one feature missing these books: a power-centric timeline of Pakistan.

By this, I mean listing all major events since Pakistan’s independence in conjunction with the occupants of the most important positions of power. Such a database can become a ready reckoner for researchers working on Pakistan. Further, it might help derive further insights about Pakistan. Since I didn’t come across such a timeline before, I decided to make my own. With the help of my colleague Puru Naidu, we have created this timeline which is open for access [access the google sheet here].

Essentially, we have created a timeline for Pakistan starting 1947 with a quarter-year as the unit of resolution. Then we’ve listed the occupants of four most important political positions in Pakistan throughout this time period. These positions are: the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief of Army Staff, and the Director-General of ISI. We chose these positions based on their historical and current relevance. Moreover, our contention is that the overly centralised power structure in Pakistan allows for reducing Pakistan’s political structure to these four positions. Finally, we are listing all major political events of international importance in independent Pakistan’s history through the time period.

A power-centric timeline of Pakistan

A power-centric timeline of Pakistan

 

Some points to be noted:

  1. This is a work in progress. Listing of historical events is an ongoing work.
  2. A reductionist exercise is a simplification, and might miss out some important details. For example, the DG-ISI position wasn’t an important one until the 1990s. In fact, as Hein Kiessling notes in his new book, the ISI was not even considered as the best intelligence unit within Pakistan for the first two decades after independence.

Comments and suggestions on this exercise are most welcome. Should we include any other political positions? Are we missing an important historical event? Let us know and we will make the additions. Hope this small exercise will help the growing literature on Pakistan.

[access the timeline google sheet here]

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

 

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What India’s surgical strike achieved, and what it didn’t?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Having introduced an uncertainty in its response, it is perhaps better for India to reduce the vulnerability of its military establishments.

In the wake of the attacks on the Indian army base in Nagrota, familiar uncomfortable questions have come to the fore: is it the lack of intelligence support that’s making such attacks recur? Has the fragile situation in the Kashmir valley helped rejuvenate terrorist networks? Or, are obsolete security mechanisms making military installations vulnerable to repeated attacks? Despite the recent spate of attacks on military infrastructure, these sticky, fly-papery questions still haven’t found responses that will make them dissolve away.

Nevertheless, the Nagrota attack throws up a completely new question: what did the “surgical strikes” of 29th September achieve — is there a need to replicate such strikes after the Nagrota attacks or should that option be dispensed with?

To answer this question, let’s assess what the surgical strikes achieved, from the lens of the three affected parties — the domestic Indian audience, the Pakistani military—jihadi complex, and the Pakistani civilian leadership.

For many Indians, a consciously coordinated action involving various parts of the administrative machinery — military, diplomatic, and political — was a signal that India will now respond to terrorism at strategic or operational levels, and not merely at a tactical level. Given that the earlier response — a carefully calibrated “strategic restraint” policy had failed to attenuate the attacks from Pakistan, a more forceful quid-pro-quo alternative became a cause of hope for some, and of aggressive chest-thumping for others. After the Nagrota attacks, some groups in this domestic constituency will demand similar strikes, with an aim of institutionalising this strategy.

Second, the Pakistani military—jihadi complex (MJC) was taken by surprise — it was anticipating a tactical response, but not a coordinated operational response. Moreover, the publicly declared cross-LoC Indian raids largely received a thumbs-up from the international community, weakening the complex’s narrative.  Within the complex, the jihadi node was specifically targetted. However, the shallow raids didn’t dent the terrorists’ capacity in any significant manner — there are no terrorist camps at such small distances from the LoC, merely a few launch pads to help terrorist squads in their transit. The operation also did not cause any major loss to the Pakistani army and hence it chose to deny the incident rather than escalate immediately. Overall, the surgical strikes served a signalling purpose against the MJC, rather than a concrete blow to its capacities; it flustered the MJC but hasn’t deterred it. It proved to the MJC that India is capable of maintaining a dynamic conventional threshold and that India is not just limited to the option of tactical retaliation.

Third, the Pakistani civilian leadership was able to utilise the surgical strikes against the dominance of the MJC. Unsurprisingly, a news report claiming that the civilian government has directed the military leadership to act against militants came out immediately after India’s raids. Meanwhile, the civilian leadership kept championing the anti-India rhetoric — such posturing continues to remain popular in Pakistan, regardless of who is in the driving seat. The army’s carefully cultivated image as the ultimate protector of Pakistan’s ideological and geographical frontiers took a dent, and the civilian leadership cashed in on the opportunity.

What will be the impact of another cross-border raid on the three affected parties?
Projected as a strong rejoinder to Pakistan’s use of terrorism, the Indian government will be able to garner domestic support from many quarters to a repeat strike. However, the border states of Punjab and J&K will have to bear the brunt of any further escalation, threatening livelihoods and economic prospects in these states.

The MJC and the Pakistani civilian establishment will now be better prepared in anticipation of another Indian strike. So, it will be very difficult for India to inflict any damage using the same level of deployment. Other options of this nature include using artillery against bunkers from a vantage point while avoiding collateral damage, or the use of air to surface strikes or using short-range cruise missiles to strike terrorist hideouts. But each of these alternatives is likely to result in significant escalation on both sides.

Having introduced an uncertainty in its response, it is perhaps better for India to reduce the vulnerability of its military establishments. Recommendations of the Lt Gen Philip Campose Committee, constituted after the Pathankot attacks, need to be implemented. There is clear indication that the MJC has altered its strategy over the last two years, focusing on high-value Indian military establishments rather than cause large-scale civilian damages. The sub-conventional warfare level, where terrorists operate, has clearly narrowed across the world. A conventional response to a terrorist attack having mass civilian casualties will now be seen as a necessity to curb terror. The surgical strikes have helped reinforced this viewpoint. A variant of the strikes can be used to target high-value terrorist infrastructure if Pakistan returns to its policy of causing mass casualties.

For now, it is better that India focuses on its defences. Ultimately, India is better off putting both — a grand rapprochement or a full-scale war — on the back burner, while expending available capacity to launch economic reforms, rendering Pakistan irrelevant.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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Thucydides Revisited-Indian Army’s Surgical Strike on September 29

The Indian resolve to strike at Pakistani terror camps as a fitting response to Uri attacks and call Pakistan’s bluff demonstrates clearly why Pakistan must learn from military history

The latest surgical strike by India across the Line of Control (LoC) has called off the ‘nuclear blackmail’ bluff by Pakistan. Ever since the Uri incident on September 18 in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed, the laundry list of responses that India had was met with the veiled threat of nuclear retaliation by Pakistan. The TV anchors on both sides of the border had effectively decided what their government strategies would be. It now emerges that the Indian government’s response to Uri attack was a well planned riposte to repeated sabre rattling by Pakistan in the form of aggressive posturing at the UN General Assembly. Had the Pakistani Military-Jihadi complex bothered to learn a little bit from military history, they would have realised how wrong they were.

In the ‘History of the Peloponnesian’ war, Thucydides succinctly brings out the nuances of negotiation between a strong and a weak power. In what is famously known as the Melian Dialogue, there are striking parallels in what happened over the past fortnight or so. Melians were the inhabitants of Melos, a much weaker power that went to war with Athens. They had a close ally in Sparta, a geographically distant power. All along the Melians thought that Athens would not dare attack because Sparta would help Melos. Athens would not be stupid enough to ruin itself by such a risky gambit and come to grief.

In the final dialogue between representatives of both the sides, the Athenians wanted to impress upon the dire consequences that could befall Melos if it persisted with its stubborn stand. The Melians as usual were recalcitrant and unrelenting in their pursuit. The parting shot of Athenian representative summed it all.

“……judging from this decision of yours, you seem to us quite unique in your ability to consider the future as something more certain than what is before your eyes, and to see uncertainties as realities, simply because you would like them to be.

Post the Uri attack, in the diplomatic confrontation between India and Pakistan, the US always lurked in the background of Pakistani mindset as the proverbial Sparta who would come to its aid. The Pakistani establishment seemed to carry a historical baggage when the US would come to its aid in the event of any confrontation with India. The same was buttressed recently when the US stopped short of naming Pakistan as a sponsor of terror. Little did Pakistan realise that it was the same US that did not hesitate to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to kill Osama Bin Laden in a top secret mission. India gave all the warnings and tell tale signs of a fitting retaliation that fell on deaf ears of Pakistani policymakers.

‘Any crossing of the LoC would be met with severe retaliation’ was the oft repeated cliche by Pakistan. To state that such a provocation would be a red line from which India could not retreat had gained currency across the spectrum of Pakistani political and military establishments. To call off such a bluff, the strike had been planned immediately after Uri attack. Every opportunity was given to Pakistan that always hid behind the oft repeated excuse of ‘non state actors.’ As the highly successful strike by the Indian army demonstrated, a threshold in confrontation was crossed. Not only this. Like an astute chess player, the Indian political, diplomatic and security establishments would surely have their strategy mapped out for the next twenty moves or so. India did not blink. Just like Athens did not when confronted with an obstinate Melos!

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow in Geostrategy programme at Takshashila Institution

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Book Review: Not War, Not Peace?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

[An edited version of this review first appeared in The Business Standard Newspaper on 4th October 2016]

A lucid and comprehensive account of India’s strategic predicament in countering Pakistan-backed terrorism

Not War, Not Peace? — Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross-Border Terrorism
Authors: George Perkovich and Toby Dalton
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Pages: 297
Price: INR 695

‘Prescient’ would be an underwhelming adjective to describe a book that claims to be “the first comprehensive assessment of the violent and non-violent options available to India for compelling Pakistan to take concrete steps towards curbing terrorism originating from its homeland”. The timing of this publication can perhaps be compared only to the timing of Virat Kohli’s strokeplay.

In this book, the authors George Perkovich and Toby Dalton (both from the DC based think tank — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) provide some much-needed clarity to questions such as: how should India respond to Pakistan’s usage of sub-conventional warfare? and what are the costs and benefits for each of India’s options?

As a piece of analytical writing, the book avoids the trap of a recency bias—excessive jingoism calling for retribution in response to terrorist attacks such as Uri can lead to an error in decision-making, hurting India in the long run. Instead, the authors identify four objectives for any response by the Indian side to an act of terror: one, satisfying the domestic political—psychological need to punish the perpetrators; two, motivating Pakistani authorities to prevent the next attack; three, deterring Pakistani authorities from escalating the conflict in reaction to India’s punitive moves; and four, ending the conflict in ways that doesn’t leave India worse off than it would have been, had it responded with less destructive means.

With these objectives as the backdrop, the authors describe five strategies: a proactive strategy not very different from the surgical strikes deployed in the aftermath of the Uri attacks, limited airborne strike on terrorist targets in Pakistan, covert operations to take out terrorists and their infrastructure, a change in India’s nuclear force posture allowing India to punish Pakistan in ways currently unfeasible, and finally, non-violent methods involving alliances with other states to inflict costs on Pakistan.

The book proceeds in a structured manner: each chapter picks up one strategy and then assesses what the likely next steps on the escalation ladder could be. Authors also identify the benefits and costs of each stage of escalation. To borrow a computer programming terminology, the book picks up an option and passes it through several “nested, if then else loops” systematically.

Some other highlights of the book. One, the book is severely damning of the “tendency in India, verging on standard operating procedure to announce or publicly discuss operational concepts or weapon systems before they actually exist.” We have seen glimpses of this tendency recently as well: whether it was the case of the PM raising Balochistan in the Independence Day speech, the case of a possible review of the Indus Water Treaty or DRDO’s claims on programmes such as ballistic missile defence systems. Premature sabre-rattling without credible capacity only motivates the irreconcilable entities in Pakistan, while India is caught off-guard when these forces retaliate.

Two, the book incriminates the below par performance of India’s military-industrial complex, saying that this lacuna constrains many of India’s military options. Three, the two authors’ assessment of the US role in Pakistan is also noteworthy. They accurately cite that even today, the US remains Pakistan’s biggest export market and a substantially large provider of economic and military aid. Getting the US to stop supporting Pakistan, financially and militarily, still remains an unfulfilled task.

A few sections in the book however, are based on long disproved assumptions. For instance, the first chapter derives that India’s position with respect to Pakistan is undermined, at least partly, due to a lack of “strategic culture”. The proof for this claim are statements by retired and serving defence officers, who place the blame on political leaderships through the years. In any case, this strategic culture fallacy doesn’t hold water. Just because India’s strategic aims were not Alexander-like in nature does not imply that there was no strategic culture. In fact, India’s strategic aim for long has been the consolidation of markets and states in the subcontinent. The chapter does make a redeeming point: the lack of a “defence economics” practice in India. Questions such as — how much and on what basis should be spent on its defence? Would the armed forces agree to a reduction in manpower in favour of better hardware? — still remained unasked and unanswered.

The authors are excessively charitable towards Pakistan when they criticise Pakistan for its “unwillingness or inability to prevent cross border terrorism against India”. After all, Pakistan has been directly involved in several cases of cross-border terrorism. The “rogue actor” model, often used to bury this unsettling fact can’t explain the following: how is it that there is a high substitutability of labour between the army and the jihadi groups, and between jihadi groups themselves? And what explains the fact that any efforts of peace talks between Pakistan and India are promptly followed by acts of violence, terror and intimidation from and within Pakistan?

Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two. The first is a putative state; currently represented by a civilian government. The second entity is not just the military, as it is generally held. Instead, it is the the military—jihadi complex (MJC): a dynamic syndicate of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures that pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance. Policies towards Pakistan will continue to be ineffective unless these two Pakistans are explicated and internalised.

The book also claims that “today and in the foreseeable future, the choice Indian leaders will face is between doing nothing and doing too much.” Perhaps, there is a space for a third option: Ignore Pakistan while building up defences, resolving the political issues in Jammu & Kashmir, and shaping international morality against states that support terrorism as a policy.

Finally, Not War, Not Peace is a must-read for anyone interested in the India—Pakistan protracted conflict. Long-time Pakistan watchers will enjoy the exhaustive nature of the analyses while new readers will find the language easy enough to grasp. One final regret: such a comprehensive and lucid assessment of India’s options was written first by experts in the US, and not in India.   

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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Look out for MJC’s reaction to India’s changed articulation on Balochistan

India must be prepared for two responses — one from the MJC and one from the putative state of Pakistan

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

For the first time in many years, focus of the India—Pakistan discussion has veered from the familiar topics—Kashmir and cross-border terrorism originating in Pakistan—to Balochistan. After PM Modi’s reference to “the people of Balochistan” in his 2016 Independence Day speech, two immediate effects are clearly observable: one, the Baloch nationalists dispersed across the world have received greater attention from a completely new set of audiences. This has added much-needed vigour to their waning campaign against the atrocities committed by the Pakistani state in Balochistan. On the other hand, the intensification of the rhetoric has been met with one of the most brutal crackdowns by the Pakistani establishment within Balochistan—67 were killed and over 150 were reported missing in August alone.

The idea behind this post is not to gauge the wisdom or the folly behind the PM’s statement on Balochistan for such an exercise is futile.  Given that the wheels have already been set into motion, it would be worthwhile to ask: how will Pakistan react to this escalation from India?

To understand Pakistan’s reaction, it is critical to note that there will be two different responses because Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two. The first is a putative state; currently represented by a civilian government and a civilian de-facto head of state, having its own flag and other paraphernalia that make it appear like a sovereign state. The competing entity is not just the military, as it is generally held. Instead, it is a dynamic syndicate of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures, which pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance: what we call the military—jihadi complex (MJC).

The MJC and the putative state of Pakistan, both will react differently to India, depending on their own capabilities and intentions. My colleague Nitin Pai explains this duality of response through this analogy:

So when New Delhi engages Pakistan, it is like one batsman against two bowlers bowling simultaneously. Just when you think you’ve played a great shot—a solid defensive one or a flashy hit over the bowler’s head—you realise that you’ve been bowled by the other bowler before you’ve finished your follow- through. The doppelgänger is always there, even if you declare you aren’t going to face him. Even if you ignore him. Even if, as it turns out, you accept that he is a part of the bowling team.

Thus, India must be prepared for two responses — one from the MJC and one from the putative state of Pakistan.

First, let’s see the response of the putative state: there are hardly any new tools in Nawaz Sharif’s retaliation bag. The first response will be: Kashmir. At international forums and at bilateral diplomatic meetings, the Pakistani state will try to make the Kashmir issue central to any discussion on India and Pakistan, once again. Internally, it might consider conceding some grounds to Baloch nationalist demands in order to negate the negative propaganda. CPEC will again be posed as a panacea for Balochistan’s problems. In what could be an indicator for times to come, a string of development projects were announced on 2nd September by Nawaz Sharif — a dam, Gwadar Free Zone, Business Complex and a University. 

The more interesting question is: how will the MJC react? the MJC will definitely see India’s act as a provocation and will be considering a retaliation to shift the focus off Balochistan, particularly when it is on the rampage there. The distraction can come in the form of: a terrorist attack on the lines of Gurdaspur and Pathankot. Or in the form of heightened infiltration attempts in the Kashmir valley. Internally, there will be a campaign to highlight that the discontent in Balochistan is a result of Indian intelligence agencies. One can also expect the MJC to bring Kulbhushan Jadhav back into the zeitgeist.

Regardless of the two reactions aimed against India, India’s pitch for the Baloch cause will have significant repercussions on the internal power play between MJC and the civilian leadership. And in the current scenario, the MJC will start with momentum in its favour. This is because a strong, shared culture is a cornerstone of the MJC—a powerful force that keeps the various nodes together. And perhaps the most important feature of this shared culture is a deep-seated antagonism towards India. With a wider set of options, covert and overt, available at hand, the MJC is always in a better position to project itself as the true protector against evil designs of the Indian state. 

The internal power struggle gets further convoluted when one brings into account the impending change of guard at the helm of the military, in two months time. While Nawaz Sharif would want to project that he’s in charge, the Indian angle in Balochistan will play to the advantage of the Pakistani military in particular. The next two months will help us gauge how the Balochistan issue affects civil-military relations in Pakistan.

Finally, a reaction there will be from the MJC. The question is, is the Indian government prepared to manage the consequences of MJC’s retaliation? Answering this question is critical for calculating the true costs or benefits of India’s escalation on Balochistan.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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Why Pakistan might not head for a coup in the near future?

In spite of all the indications of severe cracks in the civil-military relations, Pakistan may not have a coup simply because the army does not want it in the near future

Grave scenarios are being visualised in the present tumultuous conditions in Pakistan. The catalysing event was the suicide bomb attack on March 26 at a crowded park in Lahore. Reportedly, Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter group of Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast. The blast left 69 people dead and 300 people injured. The Pakistani military and security agencies quickly swung into action by taking over the counter-terror operations even before PM Nawaz Sharif could finish an emergency meeting with his ministers. He had to even cancel a visit to Washington.

The tensions between the army chief General Raheel Sharif and the PM have been see-sawing since Nawaz Sharif got elected in 2013. There were allegations of rigging by Nawaz Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League, PML (N). Coupled with charges of corruption against his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is the chief minister of Punjab, public sentiments culminated in an Azadi (freedom) march, a series of marches from August to December 2014.  A Muslim cleric, Tahirul Qadri also gave active support to Imran Khan, whose party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) organised these protests. Though Imran Khan asked the Pakistan army to stay neutral, the protests could not have taken place without the tacit support of the military-jihadi complex (MJC), which has a finger in every pie. Tahirul Qadri can be considered to be one of the cogs in MJC. Though, Raheel Sharif supported Nawaz Sharif publicly, there were certain undercurrents in their relationship.

The Pakistan Army launched operation Zarb-e-Azb after in June 2014 after an attack on Karachi airport by the jihadist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This operation was aimed at all jihadist elements in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), whether foreign or native. A retaliation to this was the attack on army public school in Peshawar by TTP on December 16, 2014. The importance of this attack on the institutions is gauged from the fact that the army took on itself the task of running the courts dealing with terror operations. In a way, this showed a lack of confidence in the judicial process in Pakistan.

Zarb-e-Azb has been claimed as a great success with over 2500 militants killed in 2014 and had support of political parties and people. As a result, Raheel Sharif is hugely popular army chief. With success of counter terror operations along with control over the judicial process against militants, he is in a very comfortable position. Nawaz Sharif is having the tough task of taking the brickbats for whatever wrong is happening. Based on the current events and lessons from past history, three possible scenarios can be forecast for the next six months or so.

First, sensing the rising discontent against Nawaz Sharif and massive corruption in public life, the army stages a coup. Sharif is jailed/exiled to Saudi Arabia and martial law is established. Raheel Sharif appoints himself as President. Second, the army stages a soft coup by installing Imran Khan as a caretaker PM and continues to hold the levers of power. Third, the army does nothing to upset the present political set up and plays wait-and-watch game. Of all the three, the third scenario seems most plausible due to a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that Raheel Sharif would want to ‘hang his boots’ on a high. He wouldn’t do anything to dilute the goodwill that the army has gained over the last two years. He hinted the same in a recent interview where he categorically stated that he won’t seek another extension on his tenure. Second, the army is in the best position by consolidating its hold over the security and foreign policies of the country. An indication of this was the appointment of General Nasir Khan Janjua as the National Security Advisor (NSA) in October 2015. Therefore, with its stranglehold over crucial levers of security, foreign policy and judicial process for jihadists, the military is firmly ensconced. Raheel Sharif will retire with his reputation intact and pursue golf. Pakistan will meander through remaining 2016. Nawaz Sharif is probably aware of this and he will do everything to reinforce his power before the new army chief is anointed in November this year.

 

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

Featured Image: Lahore Fort Badshahi mosque by Wasif Malik, licensed by creativecommons.org

 

 

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Well played!

Such meetings change the narrative of hostility between the two countries to one of engagement, only until the military—jihadi complex retaliates.

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

While analysts like me were following up on what transpired during PM Modi’s Afghanistan visit, we found ourselves taken over by the pace of events. PM Modi sent the media in a tizzy through a tweet, announcing that he would be stopping over at Lahore on his way back to Delhi.

To temper expectations and to get a realistic check on this event, here are six points worth noting:

  1. The meeting was a well kept secret, and not a surprise visit as some would like to claim (and believe). Such meetings are well planned in advance. Probably this was decided during the NSA meeting in Bangkok. Credit to both Pakistan and India that they managed to keep the secrecy element intact.
  2. The fact that secrecy was maintained in Pakistan also means that the Pakistan Army would have been taken on board. Had this not been the case, a few media houses in Pakistan tightly regulated by the Army would have leaked the possibility of the meeting, causing both sides to reconsider.
  3. This meeting would certainly infuriate a few elements within the Pakistani army that handle the anti-India jihadi networks. They would be on the look out for a chance to drown this excitement surrounding the talks soon.
  4. One cannot expect anything tangible to result from this meeting. But it does change the narrative of hostility between the two countries to one of engagement, at least until the military—jihadi complex retaliates.
  5. US will consider this meeting as a big win for its foreign policy as it has been consistently asking both the States to resume talks at all levels. Pakistan will find its positions vis-a-vis the civil nuclear agreement and economic package from US bolstered. What will India get in return is not so clear.

Interesting times. A bold move. And well played by both sides.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

 

 

 

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I know what you did last August feat. Military—Jihadi complex

Senator Mushahidullah Khan’s interview gives a sneak peek into the rumblings inside the Pakistani Military—Jihadi complex

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

This year’s August 14th was a day of mixed feelings for Pakistan. On one hand, it marked the 69th independence day of the nation-state. On the other, this day marked one year of the protest demonstrations by the PTI—PAT combine which threatened to push the country back into a state of anarchy and overt military control. The agitations formally ended on 17th December 2014, following a terrorist attack on Army School, Peshawar. The Nawaz Sharif government was back in (nominal) charge, after agreeing to a stringent set of “terms and conditions” determined by the military high command.

What has sparked a raging controversy in Pakistan, however, is a BBC Urdu interview of by PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan in which he directly blamed the then ISI chief Zaheerul Islam Abbasi of orchestrating these protests leading to an eventual coup.

As The Dawn reports:

He [Mushahidullah] alleged that former Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. Gen Zaheerul Islam Abbasi wanted to overthrow Pakistan’s civil and military leadership during last year’s sit-ins by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek.

In his interview, Mushahidullah alleged that during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on July 28, 2014, an audio tape was played in which Lt. Gen Zaheerul Islam could be heard giving orders to ransack the PM House and spread chaos.

On hearing the audio tape, Gen Raheel summoned the ISI chief to the meeting and played the tape in front of him, said Mushahidullah. When Zaheerul Islam confirmed that the voice was his own, the army chief asked him to leave.

As expected, these revelations did not go down well with either the military or the weakened civilian government. Nevertheless, these statements indicate the politics and the forces of repulsion within the Military—Jihadi complex(MJC). These indications can be summarised as below:

  1. Tensions within the complex have intensified. Some factions are not satisfied with the MJC’s covert control of the government. Such factions would rather prefer a direct control over decision-making. Doing so means that overthrowing a civilian government isn’t sufficient anymore. It should be accompanied with a coup in the MJC itself. Thus, we can expect further clashes within the military node of the MJC going ahead.
  2. The revelatory audio tape which finds mention in the interview was reported to have been obtained by officials of the civilian intelligence agency – Intelligence Bureau. This is the second point of fracture within the MJC. Afraid of the ISI’s proven record of causing internal disturbance, the civilian government and a few sections of the MJC are strengthening the IB as a bulwark. It will be interesting to see how the ISI gets back at the IB after this incident.
  3. This incident highlights how easy it is for the MJC to orchestrate a “civilian” protest. All political parties in Pakistan owe their existence to the military in one way or the other. Whenever the MJC or some factions within it desire to shakeup the civilian establishment, they have a long line-up of political parties who can front protests, dharnas and violence.
  4. Perhaps the most damning part of the interview was an acknowledgement that Zaheerul Islam Abbasi and his co-conspirators would not be tried for treason, as the civilian establishment has neither the credibility nor the capacity to anger elements of the MJC.

What happens next in this story will help us understand how the military—jihadi complex can be dismantled.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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Playing the Mullah Omar card

How is Mullah Omar’s reappearance (or the absence of it) likely to affect India?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

After the conclusion of the first official round of talks between the Taliban and Afghan unity government in the Pakistani resort town of Murree, Pakistan was desperately looking for a pat on the back. Pakistan’s wish was fulfilled, almost incredibly, when a message on the Taliban’s website, believed to be from Mullah Mohammed Omar, endorsed the peace talks process.

This message shifted the world’s attention to the enigma that is Mullah Omar. He’s not been seen since 2001 but recordings of his video messages, and his written statements make periodical appearances on the Taliban website. In fact, even the latest comment regarding the talks was made in a message that appears every Eid-ul-Fitr.

His previous online projection was in the form of a 5,000 word biography which appeared in April this year. Coinciding with the rise of Daesh, the purpose of this exercise was to emphasise that Mullah Omar is still the Amir-ul-Momineen, the unquestioned leader of the Taliban. Ahmed Rashid, who has written extensively on the Af-Pak region called this essay a ‘healing device for the reported divisions within the Taliban’ and an essay which ‘reasserts Mr Omar’s leadership and commands all Taliban to unite and obey him’. He goes on to say that the ‘essay suits the ISI and the moderate wing of the Taliban, which are keen to get peace talks started. To do that the agency needs to demonstrate that Mr Omar is alive and in command.’

Why should these unsubstantiated news reports be of concern? Because Mullah Omar’s presence can still rally the various Taliban factions together. The Taliban is no longer a monolith and has various streams of thoughts, each having a different plan of action. In such a scenario, the side that wins Omar’s support will have narrative dominance.

From an Indian perspective, Mullah Omar’s return, if that ever happens, will reassert ISI’s leadership in the talks. This is because Omar couldn’t have survived without the agency’s involvement. As a precedent, In what can be seen as a precedent, Taliban’s second-in-command Abdul Baradar was found in a comatose state after his individual overtures to the Karzai administration. The possibility that Omar will meet the same fate cannot be overruled.

There are two evidences supporting this hypothesis. One, the biography hailing him appeared to be an effort by Pakistan to ramp up pressure on the Taliban to engage with Kabul under Pakistan’s leadership. After prevailing on Akhtar Mansour to agree to talks, Pakistan was indicating that Mullah Omar continues to be relevant. Two, in the “endorsement” message for Murree talks, there is an explicit mention of how Taliban is not an agent of Pakistan. The fact that Taliban needed to clarify this message suggests something otherwise.

On the other hand, Mullah Omar’s physical absence is resulting in diminishing returns to the Taliban movement. Elements in the group are losing hope of his coming back. If the news of his death comes out, it would accelerate the pace of the divisions within Taliban. In such a case, it might be in India’s interests to open channels with at least a few factions which are not directly opposed to India.

The next round of talks is believed to be taking place on July 30th. Peace will remain elusive in the absence of agreement over Taliban’s core demands of a Sharia state, and US forces’ complete removal. Nevertheless, these talks will give interesting insights into the internal dynamics of Taliban.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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The devil is not in the detail

From an Indian standpoint, what matters is the big picture that emerges from the Seymour Hersh report controversy

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

A report by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest. Considering the speculative nature of the report, and the uncomfortable situation that it puts all the protagonists in, the report has received a lot of flak.

Diagram of Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, image courtesy: Mysid, Wikimedia Commons

The objective of this post is not to vouch for or to find holes in the report but to throw some light on the consequences of this controversy, particularly from an Indian standpoint.

  1. India stands to gain more with the report coming out than without it. The controversy surrounding the report gives credence to what India has always maintained: the complicity of the Pakistani state with terrorists. The fact that the epicentre of the controversy is US is even better, it will make future engagements with the Pakistan military establishment tougher.
  2. The controversy is good because it has enough and more in it to convince everyone about the existence of the Pakistani Military Jihadi Complex (MJC) — a dynamic network of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures that pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance. It is interesting to note that this entire episode which involved military action by one state in the heart of another country hardly features the civilian government of Pakistan. This is just one of the many indicators of the power that the MJC wields over decision-making in Pakistan.
  3. The episode also puts into perspective that this dynamic network can and does get unwieldy at times. On one hand, there are cohesive forces such as enmity towards India and the ideology of radical Islamism that bind the MJC. On the other, there are forces of repulsion caused by the underlying inconsistencies of the project and the confusion surrounding the objective of the Pakistani state. The balancing act is not an easy job and is bound to have its moments of failures.
  4. Overall, this episode is itself a result of exogenous forces which have moulded the MJC’s responses in disparate ways. First, a splurge of military aid in return of Pakistan’s partnership in the war or terror meant that it was in the MJC’s favour to keep the hunt for Osama Bin Laden going on for as long as possible. Then came the new forces: the Kerry-Lugar-Bergman legislation tightened the noose on military aid  and US increased drone strikes within the Pakistan territory. This increased the costs for the MJC in keeping the hunt for Osama going. Eventually, was it the diminishing marginal utility that caused the MJC to co-operate with the US in this operation still remains an unanswered question.
  5. How the MJC reacts to this clearly uncomfortable situation will serve as a test case to understand how strong the cohesive forces that unite it are. The Urdu media will play its part: there are already reports that project the ISI as a hero, claiming that Osama was already in ISI’s custody and the entire operation would have been impossible without the ‘help’ of the ‘generous’ Pakistani establishment. Given this narrative, the jihadi node of the MJC is bound to view the military with even more suspicion going ahead. 

India would do well to keep a close watch on the firefighting that happens going ahead in order to devise strategies that can dismantle the Pakistani military jihadi complex – an irreconcilable adversary.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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