By Ajai Sahni
Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management
By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
...if it weren't for nuclear weapons, Pakistan would be the Congo...
US State Department note published by Wikileaks
For far too long, Western powers – vigorously led by the US – have been party to a comprehensive cover-up, a pretence that has sought to minimize Pakistan’s role in the active sponsorship and export of terrorism, and an effort to distract international attention from the country’s failing institutions, to emphasise, instead, its acts of purported ‘cooperation’ with global counter-terrorism efforts.
This farce, and elements of the international community’s real appraisal of Pakistan and the many players in the country, lay fully exposed with the Wikileaks disclosure of US diplomatic correspondence and confidential assessments in 2010. These have fully confirmed the continuing complicity of the Pakistani establishment in terrorism in the South Asian region and beyond; the corruption and mendacity of its various institutions of Government; the country’s hurtling trajectory towards state failure; and the inescapable truth of the realities SAIR has repeatedly emphasized in the past.
In sharp contrast to frequent public declarations of faith in Pakistan’s capacities to tide over its rising crises, one leaked diplomatic post thus reads, "Although we do not believe Pakistan is a failed state, we nonetheless recognize that the challenges it confronts are dire... The government is losing more and more territory every day to foreign and domestic militant groups; deteriorating law and order in turn is undermining economic recovery. The bureaucracy is settling into third-world mediocrity, as demonstrated by some corruption and a limited capacity to implement or articulate policy." Worse, individual leaders were deeply compromised. President Asif Ali Zardari, Sir Jock Stirrup, the then British Chief of Defence Staff told US diplomats, was a "numbskull", even as other senior British officials described Pakistan’s President as incompetent and "highly corrupt". Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, is revealed to have plotted an ‘informal coup’ to dismiss the President. Hundreds of millions of dollars of US aid, earmarked for fighting militants, were being diverted. Crucially, then US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, warned that no amount of US aid would change the Pakistan army's covert support for four major terrorist formations, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani group, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s fighters, and the Lashkar-e-Toiba: "...there is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance... as sufficient compensation for abandoning support to these groups". Moreover, extremism was "no longer restricted to the border area", and fighters were increasingly being recruited from the Punjab province, even as "the phenomenon is spreading into northern Sindh as well." Another post notes, "The bad news is that the militants increasingly are setting the agenda." Moreover, "The government’s anti-terrorism strategy is based on ‘dialogue, deterrence and development’; however, it lacks the military capacity to deter militants and the financial resources to develop the FATA and NWFP. Its historic fallback has been to play for time by conducting negotiations with militants, a disastrous tactic that only has made the extremists stronger." The country was facing "pending economic catastrophe." Then Special Advisor on AfPak, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, in a May 29, 2009, note, observed that Pakistan was a centre for terrorist financing through Islamic charities. Despite a clear acceptance of these many aspects of the chaos that is Pakistan, the US remained helpless to counter these trends, since it saw itself as being trapped in a "co-dependent relationship" with Pakistan.
The Wikileaks revelations have now forced many of these issues out into the open, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, during a visit to India, stated unambiguously, on July 28, 2010, "We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that [Pakistan] is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world." Despite vociferous Pakistani protestations, he refused to withdraw or dilute his observations.
The limited decline in and shifting patterns of terrorism-related fatalities and incidents over the past year offer poor consolation against this backdrop. Total fatalities have certainly dropped from the unnatural peak of 11,585 in 2009, to 7,435 in 2010, but are still higher than any preceding year, including 2008, when the figure stood at 6,715 [all data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal database; the figures are likely to be gross underestimates, since reportage from areas of conflict is poor, as authorities deny access to reporters, international observers and other independent institutions]. Civilian fatalities registered a 22 per cent drop between 2009 and 2010, while militant and Security Force (SF) fatalities declined by 54 and 37.5 per cent, respectively, essentially indicating that some of indiscriminate slaughters that were being engineered in the name of counter-terrorism, what some of the US State Department correspondence described as "ham handed military tactics, which included indiscriminate artillery bombardment" and "blind artillery and F-16 bombardments" which had displaced millions of innocent civilians from their target areas, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), had been selectively scaled back in 2010.
Fatalities in Terrorist Violence in Pakistan: 2003- 2011
Security Forces (SFs)
* Data till February 20, 2011, Source: SATP
Significantly, KP accounts for the overwhelming proportion of the dramatic drop in fatalities and violence, essentially indicating active disengagement between the SFs and extremists in this Province, as the total killed declined from 5,497 in 2009 to 1,202 in 2010. Terrorism related fatalities also fell in the Punjab, from 441 to 316 over the same period. However, FATA saw 5,408 killed in 2010, as against 5,304 in 2009; in Balochistan, fatalities rose from 277 to 347; while Sindh saw an increase from 66 to 162.
FATA has acquired particular significance for Islamabad, since the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which threatens the country with massive internal destabilization, has now substantially concentrated its forces in this Province. Pakistan’s SFs have, consequently, focused overwhelming attention against this principal sanctuary of the TTP, even as they continue to studiously avoid any action against elements of the Afghan Taliban, the al Qaeda and the various India-directed groups that continue to be seen as serving the countries perceived ‘strategic interests’. The SFs launched major operations in FATA through 2009-10, accounting for the mounting casualties, though the gains of extended operations in the South Waziristan Agency (SWA) and Orakzai Agency have, at best, been cosmetic. Even the limited pressure exerted on the terrorists will quickly dissipate unless operations are taken forward into the North Waziristan Agency (NWA), resulting in further escalation in the hinterland, at a time when Islamabad is struggling to contain terrorism in its core areas of Punjab and Sindh.
Balochistan continued to witness overwhelming and relentless military repression, human rights violations and excesses by intelligence and security agencies, with fatalities rising from 277 to 347. The increase was essentially in the civilian category, and included an increasing number of unexplained ‘disappearances’ engineered by the Intelligence agencies and SFs operating in the Province. SF and militant fatalities declined from 88 and 37 in 2009, to 59 and 14 in 2010.
Civilians also bore the brunt of terrorist-related fatalities in Punjab, though fatalities even in this category fell from 293 in 2009 to 272 in 2010. Nevertheless, an index of the inherent instability of the system was provided by the assassination on January 4, 2011, of Salman Taseer, the Governor of the Province, by his own bodyguard, with the possible foreknowledge of his entire security detail. Taseer had spoken repeatedly against Pakistan’s oppressive and frequently abused blasphemy laws, and specifically against the death penalty on blasphemy charges awarded against a Christian woman, Asia Bibi. The unrepentant killer was greeted with widespread public applause and showered with rose petals on his first court appearance on January 5, 2011. The Taseer killing was also a worrying index of the growing religious extremism within the security establishment. On January 12, the Punjab Police recalled four Policemen from active duty and asked them to report to their respective District headquarters. Malik Mumtaz Qadri, Taseer’s assassin, had revealed during interrogation that the four held "extreme religious views" and could strike at any time. Significantly, no religious leader or Imam was willing to read a prayer at Taseer’s funeral, and a significant faction within the Pakistani Senate walked out during the Fateha (memorial prayer) for the slain Governor.
The Taseer assassination is only the latest and most dramatic manifestation of the passions and abuse that have flowed from Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Nevertheless, in the wake of the killing, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, under visible pressure from Islamist extremist parties, made it abundantly clear that the law would not be amended. Sherry Rehman, a former Information Minister, was pressured to withdraw a private member’s bill pending in Parliament, seeking reforms in the blasphemy law. Rehman angrily declared, "Appeasement of extremism is a policy that will have its blowback", and is presently under death threats from extremist groups.
The cumulative ‘blowback’ of pandering to extremism and, indeed, actively supporting and encouraging it, has long been more than visible across Pakistan. In 2010, suicide bombings acquired an unprecedented lethality, with just 49 such attacks inflicting 1,167 fatalities, as against 76 such attacks in 2009, with a total of 949 fatalities. Figures compiled by the Federal Ministry of Interior show that a total of 3,433 Pakistanis had been killed in 215 incidents of suicide attacks across Pakistan, between July 2007 and July 2010.
Nor was there any respite from sectarian strife. Though the number of incidents fell from 106 in 2009 to 57 in 2010, total fatalities rose from 190 to 509. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) remained the principal organisations responsible for the rise of sectarian violence, but it was their association with terrorist groups such as the TTP which has conferred increasing lethality on their operations..
Amidst growing radicalisation and rising terror, US pressure has increased along the borders with Afghanistan. US drone attacks have more than tripled since January 20, 2009, when Barack Obama took over the Presidency. A BBC report of July 24, 2010, indicated that there were 25 drone strikes between January 2008 and January 2009, in which slightly fewer than 200 people were killed. In the year 2010, SATP data recorded at least 90 attacks by US drones, killing more than 831 persons, as against 46 such attacks killing 536 in 2009. The annual report of the Conflict Monitoring Centre released on January 1, 2011 revealed that, while a total of 2,043 people, mostly civilians, were killed in US drone attacks during the preceding five years, 929 of those causalities were reported in FATA alone in 2010.
In reaction to the drone attacks as well as US backed military operations of Pakistan Army in tribal regions, the attacks on the NATO supply vehicles has increased from just eight in 2008 and 25 in 2009, to at least 99 in 2010. The most brazen among these was witnessed near the national capital, Islamabad, on June 8, 2010, when unidentified militants attacked and set ablaze a convoy of about 50 tankers and containers heading towards Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP, on the Motorway in the Sangjani area of Ternol. Four people were killed in the attack and another three were injured.
With cumulative evidence of Pakistani reluctance to act against major terrorist formations operating in Afghanistan, it is unsurprising that relations between Islamabad and Washington have come under increasing strain. On December 16, 2010, the Central Investigation Agency (CIA) station chief in Islamabad, Jonathan Banks, was forced to leave the country after his name was disclosed in a class-action lawsuit brought by Kareem Khan, a tribesman from the NWA, who sued the CIA over the deaths of his son and brother in a 2009 US missile strike. The diplomatic relation between the two countries fell to an all-time-low as it was suspected that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) leaked the CIA station chief’s name. It was no coincidence that the lawsuit against the CIA station chief occurred shortly after the head of Pakistan’s directorate, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, was accused in a civil lawsuit for alleged involvement in the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. The suit was brought in US District Court in Brooklyn by family members of the American rabbi killed alongside his wife in the 26/11 attacks.
The Raymond Davis episode has further strained US-Pakistan diplomatic relations. Davis, suspected to be an undercover spy, shot dead two persons on January 27, 2011, in Islamabad. Reports suggest that the two may have been ISI agents, though Davis claims he fired during an apparent robbery attempt. Pakistani officials have corroborated Davis’ version of events and, according to their preliminary report, Davis appears to have acted in self-defense. But the matter has become mired in politics and Pakistani public sentiment, and Pakistan is refusing to accept the US plea of diplomatic immunity for Davis. At the time of writing, there is rising pressure from Washington for Davis’ release, and indications that the US will use its massive financial aid to Pakistan as an irresistible lever in this case.
The Barack Obama’s administration has proposed to Congress a total of USD 3.1 billion in its budget for economic and security assistance and diplomatic operations in Pakistan, for the fiscal year 2012, beginning October 1, 2011. Earlier, on January 27, 2011, President Barack Obama discussed ways of achieving US goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan with his top security and foreign policy advisors. There seems to be growing uneasiness in the US over the status of its AfPak policy, which many believe has failed to generate any positive impact.
Indeed, the continuing farce of the US AfPak policy, and the war of imminent flight the ISAF is seen to be fighting in Afghanistan, can only destabilize the region – and Pakistan in particular – even further. Islamabad remains unwilling to act consistently against a wide spectrum of Islamist terrorists and extremists – with the exception of the TTP and factions that operate within the country, even as stranglehold of radicalism strengthens over the country’s institutions and chokes of the most incipient signs of reform. A significant proportion of foreign aid continues to be diverted to the extremist constituency in the country, even as this constituency continues to enjoy unfettered access to a wide range of independent financial sources. In December 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote, somewhat coyly, that "some ISI officials... continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organisations, in particular the Taliban, LeT and other extremist organizations." The persistent ambivalence about the role of state institutions in promoting terrorism sourced from Pakistan is now no longer sustainable. Regrettably, the world, and the US in particular, is yet to respond unambiguously to the continuing adventurism of a nation that should have been declared rogue more than two decades ago.
Source: South Asia Intelligence Review [SAIR]