Maulana Azad predicted in a 1946 interview that “after the separation of East Pakistan, whenever it happens, West Pakistan will become the battleground of regional contradictions and disputes. The assertion of sub-national identities of Punjab, Sind, Frontier and Baluchistan will open the doors for outside interference”. There is indeed a high degree of separatism in every Pakistani province other than Punjab, the result of resentment against what amounts to internal colonization by Punjabis. Baluchistan, comprising 48 per cent of the land area, the only strategic port, and with a high concentration of valuable natural resources, has had its desire for autonomy and equity in development brutally suppressed by the only visible federal authority, the army, in a slow-motion genocide. Besides indigenous militant groups, it has become a centre for Taliban and al Qaida activity and a potential target for American drone attacks. In Sind, there is opposition, sometimes violent, to Punjabi settlers, Shias and mohajirs. In the frontier areas, home to Pashtun separatism, the tribes resist moving administratively closer to Islamabad. The 1979-89 Soviet presence in Afghanistan led to the increased power of clerics, but no change is possible without the consent of traditional tribal maliks, while there is ambiguity on where leadership actually rests after 30 years of turmoil. Tribal leaders are venal and they profit from all sides now as they did in the 1980s.
In Afghanistan itself, Pakistan is unpopular and distrusted, a hostility that goes back to the Durand Line, and Afghanistan was the only country in 1947 that opposed Pakistan’s joining the United Nations. Attempts by Pakistan to influence Kabul are designed to co-opt a neighbour to counter India to the east, although the ‘strategic depth’ that Pakistan craves makes no modern military sense and the Pakistanis failed to install a pliable government in Kabul even after the Russian withdrawal.
During the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, the strategy developed between the United States of America and Pakistan encouraged Islamist fervour and jihad as means of motivating the mujahideen against the Russians. Pakistan’s objectives in the tribal frontier were never fully congruent with those of the Americans, but Washington after 9/11, hampered by lack of local expertise, again turned to Islamabad and the Inter-Services Intelligence. Pervez Musharraf was ready to eliminate al Qaida, but drew a distinction between them and the Afghan Taliban, and a further distinction for Pakistani jihadist elements considered by the army and ISI as valuable irregulars to be used either on the eastern or western borders.
The Taliban and al Qaida appellations cover a disparate range of actors with often mutually hostile agendas. Negotiations with the Taliban, advocated by some North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries, will not succeed because neither the Afghan nor the Pakistani Taliban would be amenable except on their own terms; Afghan Taliban will not negotiate with the governments in Kabul or Islamabad, and its Pakistani counterpart rejects the legitimacy of the State which it opposes by force.
Pakistan’s army is discomfited by its failures in the tribal areas and in Swat, where the militants may have been degraded but hardly defeated. None of the agreements reached with local leaders and militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the North-West Frontier Province has succeeded. The politicians have cravenly transferred the problem to the army, but its deployment at the frontier meets widespread resistance, with the public at large opposing its efforts to tackle militancy amid allegations that Pakistan is waging ‘Washington’s war’. Sixty per cent of Pakistanis view the US as the main enemy according to Gallup; small wonder that the army shies away from operations in Haqqani-Taliban dominated North Waziristan.
The Pakistani army has undermined every attempt to introduce democracy. Its use of Kashmir, with the religious connotations, is to show India as the enemy in order to underline the army’s indispensability. The army decides matters in accordance with its own priorities, divorced from the national interest — and has never yielded control on foreign policy. After 9/11, it received massive assistance, including weapon systems having no relevance to the ‘war on terror’, and has been courted by the West because of its presumed expertise regarding militant factions. Saudi Arabia’s links with the ISI help the latter to resist civilian oversight, and no clarity has ever been available regarding how the Pakistani military spent the funds provided to it.
The army top brass is becoming increasingly doctrinaire, mullahs are creating self-made cults, new Islamist leaders have emerged in tribal areas, gruesome terrorist acts are still perceived by the majority of Pakistanis as part of the fight against imperialist US, and the safety of the nuclear arsenal is under threat. Yet Pakistanis — not the minority whose comforting columns appear in our newspapers but the vox populi — refuse to admit the blight that their army has perpetrated on their nation, and dismiss the idea of the country as a failed State, preferring to point instead to the failure of politicians. Pakistan is afflicted by three major crises — political, owing to the tottering presidency of Asif Ali Zardari, whose only achievement is that it has amazingly survived for two years, economic, since Pakistan is drip-fed on International Monetary Fund emergency loans and the controversial Kerry-Lugar aid package, and security, namely the religious extremism that poisons the whole country.
In every crisis, Pakistan has made Houdini-like escapes by cynically using other countries’ interests to keep itself going, despite the handicaps faced by its partners in having to deal with its culture of denial and double-speak, the paranoia-ridden army, and a barely democratic and frequently undemocratic praxis with feeble civilian institutions. The US, its current saviour, is in a particular dilemma with its reliance on Pakistan after on-off sanctions and policy u-turns that stoked anti-American sentiment, aggravated by the 700 civilians killed in 44 drone strikes in 2009. When the Afpak strategy fails and withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force follows, the Pakistani army will extort the highest price possible from its benefactor.
This culture of denial, so obvious after the terrorism in Mumbai, is embedded in the system; whether about the US military operations on Pakistani soil, the creation of and failure to control the Taliban, or active support to terrorists operating inside and beyond Pakistan’s borders. Politicians and army alike sponsor and support militant groups to serve their purposes. When Musharraf was forced to ban the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, they promptly reorganized under aliases because they constitute potential military assets, and gained prestige as leading philanthropic activists during the 2005 earthquake, when they were deliberately boosted by the ISI to appear more effective than other relief workers.
After Kargil, Musharraf was the first Pakistani leader to conclude that India could not be dislodged from Kashmir through militancy, but it has not yet dawned on the army that neither Indian resolve nor its rapid economic progress can be impeded by trans-border terrorism — though ISI control over all the terrorists infiltrated into India may not be absolute. The army’s ambition is to achieve an absurd parity by pulling us down, as pathetic as that objective may seem, and its stock-in-trade and raison d’être is therefore to create heightened tension with India.
The Indian attitude cannot be limited to schadenfreude and a lofty display of moral and economic superiority. Manmohan Singh has declared that the “destinies of India and Pakistan are linked”, but he seems unable to convince his colleagues that refusing to talk only strengthens the hands of the Pakistani army and fundamentalists. The one -point precondition of action against the Mumbai accomplices and minders is as sterile as the erstwhile one point of not discussing Kashmir. We cannot insist on bilateralism on the one hand and refuse to talk to Pakistan on the other. We are joined at the hip to Pakistan and we will not shake off the incubus by ignoring it.
The Pakistanis should revisit Maulana Azad’s warnings in the interview: “The question is when and where Islam provided for division of territories to settle populations on the basis of belief and unbelief. Does this find any sanction in the Quran or the traditions of the Holy Prophet? Who among the scholars of Islam has divided the dominion of God on this basis? If we accept this division in principle, how shall we reconcile it with Islam as a universal system? Pakistan, when it comes into existence, will face conflicts of religious nature. As far as I can see, the people who will hold the reins of power will cause serious damage to Islam.” But Pakistanis, like Old Testament Babylonians, cannot read the writing on the wall.