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Countering Militancy and Terrorism in Pakistan: The Civil-Military Nexus

Based on interviews with civil and military officials and politicians, this report details the poor governance and imbalance of power in Pakistan and offers key recommendations for the military, civilian institutions, parliament, and civil society to achieve the goals and objectives outlined in Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP). The need for an assessment of the National Internal Security Policy and subsequent NAP became evident as the heightened military action under Operation Zarb-e-Azb entered its second year. Much remains unclear due to the lack of transparency in operations of both civil and military institutions and the absence of active parliamentary oversight.


  • Pakistan resides in an unsettled and hostile neighborhood and faces an existential challenge from domestic forces of sectarian and ethnic militancy and terrorism.
  • Many of Pakistan’s domestic problems are related to poor governance and the imbalance of power and operational ability between civil institutions and the military.
  • Shortsighted policies of successive civil and military governments and a dynastic political system have hobbled efforts to develop a strong, stable polity and economy.
  • Civil and political institutions remain weak and dysfunctional; a well-organized and disciplined military continues to dominate key strategic sectors related to foreign policy and security and currently retains control over the Afghan border region.
  • Recent military operations to clear the northern border regions abutting Afghanistan of terrorist bases have had some success, but the effort inside Pakistan remains unfinished.
  • A well-defined objective and longer-term timetable are needed for the use of the paramilitary Rangers in Punjab and Sindh. Karachi may be the test for these efforts.
  • Governance would be strengthened with better coordination and collaboration between civil institutions and the military.
  • Greater willingness by the military to bring civilians into their military campaign planning processes and to train and assist civil institutions (particularly the police force) in growing into their roles and responsibilities would bolster security.
  • The central government should establish a clearer vision and a process for decision making related to antiterrorism and antimilitancy efforts; devote more resources to its security institutions; and better organize its relationships with individual provinces.
  • Parliament should play a more active role in defining and measuring the success of efforts to counter terrorism and militancy.
  • Civil society must play a more active and informed role in this process.

About the Report

The need for an assessment of the National Internal Security Policy and subsequent National Action Plan of the government of Pakistan became evident as the heightened military action under Operation Zarb-e-Azb entered its second year. This report is based on conversations with civil and military officials and politicians inside Pakistan and on focus group sessions with leading civil and military thinkers, including retired officials, members of the media, and members of the police force. Much remains unclear due to the lack of transparency in operations of both civil and military institutions and the absence of active parliamentary oversight or questioning of operations. A key element of the review was the ability of the military and the civil government to work together effectively at both the federal and provincial levels. As a corollary to this, it was important to see the opportunity for the central government to assert its supremacy. This report focuses on the civil-military nexus, especially in the context of the Apex Committees at the provincial level, and identifies areas that demand attention if the National Action Plan is to succeed.

About the Author

Shuja Nawaz is a Pakistani-born strategic analyst based in Washington, DC. He was the founding director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council, where he is now a distinguished fellow. He writes for leading newspapers, journals, and websites and speaks on current issues before civic groups, at think tanks, and on radio and television worldwide. He has also advised and briefed senior government and military officials and parliamentarians in the United States, Europe, and Pakistan.

Flashpoint South Asia: Opportunity knocks

As President-elect Donald Trump finalizes his cabinet and receives his intelligence briefings, among other things, he will be told about the potential for a nuclear conflagration in South Asia. This populous region with its age-old religious and sectarian rivalries has posed a challenge to US policy makers. Other than a departure plan for an unfinished engagement with Afghanistan, we still do not have a clear or comprehensive regional policy for this volatile yet critical part of the emerging global order. For too long, we have adopted a band-aid approach and single-country policy or at best hyphenated pairs of countries in this region (as in the Af-Pak odd couple). We now have the capacity to craft a broader approach and thus sustain peace and stability in Greater South Asia while opening up larger markets for US goods and services. We need to create relationships that will endure. This demands a regional overview, one that will save the US taxpayers expenditures on fighting wars and US exports and influence in Greater South Asia.

An effective regional policy for Greater South Asia has to include more than India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal; Afghanistan and Iran have ancient cultural, economic, and religious ties to the region. Indeed, for example, more Pakhtuns live in what is now Pakistan than do in Afghanistan. And Pakistan has a Shia population that exceeds 40 million, and more Shia live in India and Pakistan than the total population of Iran.

When previous US piecemeal policy failed, our government abandoned the region in frustration. For much of the post-World War II period, the US and India were not in the same camp. Today, they are. For the first time in recent history, the United States has developed relations with all the countries of the Greater South Asia region, one that contains around 1.7 billion people and perhaps the largest agglomeration of the Middle Class in the world. South Asia may well be the engine of growth and stability of Asia as a whole in the 21st Century and provide a counter balance to the growth of China.

The United States now has an opportunity to help knit together this region to foster trade within South Asia, between South Asia and the Pacific region, and between Central Asia and China. South Asia already has powerful economic ties to the Middle East, providing much of the expatriate labor force that has built up the Gulf States and Arabian Peninsula economies. According to the World Bank, in 2015 more than $116 billion of the total $581.6 billion of remittances from the Middle East flow to geographic South Asia. The slowdown of the Middle Eastern economies following the drop in oil prices will likely have serious consequences for the region. Further, as the Economist Intelligence Unit states “The expected raising of US Federal Reserve policy interest rates from 2017 will also add to downward pressure on the [Indian] rupee and, to a lesser extent, on those of its smaller neighbours.” Creating a regional market, with US help, could help the countries of the region and the United States.

India’s huge trade of nearly $100 billion a year with China rivals that with the United States. This economic codependency may help keep these powerful nuclear neighbors from pursuing the path of conflict. Similarly, Pakistan and India have the potential to increase their trade from the current paltry $2.6 billion that favors India to five times that number in the short run, and eventually a high approaching $100 billion a year, helping cement economic ties and shifting the focus away from conflict. The United States needs a game plan to assist in these directions and away from conflict. China is working with Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan to establish closer trade routes and economic ties. Its One Road, One Belt policy hopes to knit economic ties with Central Asia and other neighboring areas. This fits in nicely with the United States’ New Silk Road initiative, as former Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman recently argued. And both initiatives could tie the China Pakistan Economic Corridor into trade routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan and Central Asia and the Gulf.

The US, with its European partners, should be crafting policies that will assist the creation of a thriving regional economic network in Greater South Asia, based on infrastructure and development of human capital. Helping Afghanistan will be key. Pushing for an extension of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement to India should be among these objectives. This will assist the United States in developing economic and political ties to the people of these countries rather than with status-quo elites or military clients alone.

As a start, President Trump should drop the outmoded Af-Pak model. Reviving and revivifying a Central and South Asia Bureau in State and a reorientation of countries in two regional commands, PACOM and CENTCOM, in the Pentagon, to bring all of South Asia into the same orbit would be important changes to consider. This would allow, among other things, for the Indian and Pakistani navies to work together to protect the sea-lanes of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. Despite the rhetoric of collaboration across the Pentagon’s regional commands, the walls between them are too high and impervious.

A big challenge will be to help Pakistan transform itself from what was once termed an “Ally from Hell” to a partner in creating regional growth and stability. Helping Pakistan effectively fight terrorism and militancy inside its own borders, opening up South Asia trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia, and allowing Pakistan to benefit from access to Iranian gas and oil as a first step to linking Iran’s oil pipelines to India’s refineries should be high on the priority list. Further securing its nuclear weapons from radical groups would involve building on the already well-established ties between its nuclear community and that of the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Pakistan also needs help in transforming its anachronistic educational system laden with radical Islamist dogma to an open-minded curriculum. The British government is concentrating on rebuilding the education sector. The US could ride in the British wake. Greater communications and cooperation between India and Pakistan on the nuclear front and on water and glacier management, especially in disaster management planning and control are also areas where the United States’ research and experience can play a key role.

If countries in the region are willing to benefit from this enhanced US engagement, economic and financial assistance and advice could then be provided via the International Financial Institutions where the United States has a powerful voice and vote. Afghanistan will need such aid for many years to come. Pakistan has just graduated from an International Monetary Fund program but is not out of the Bretton Woods yet. It relies heavily on World Bank project lending and grants and credits from its subsidized lending programs via the International Development Association. India is not an IMF borrower but still has World Bank and IDA loans and grants on its books. However, it could benefit from advice, as needed, as does Iran.

All these are opportunities waiting for a strong and clear-headed policy leadership in Washington. This will involve taking a harder position with countries that demand US assistance so that they take greater ownership of their projects and programs and set attainable benchmarks for success. The US aid program should not be taken for granted or as an entitlement, as was the case with Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past. Further, we need to work more directly and closely with grass roots and civil society groups so we can empower them rather than the often corrupt elites in the capitals of aid recipient countries. And we must forge a partnership that spends aid money in the countries rather than siphon it off back to consultants inside the Beltway or allows aid to be spirited to offshre accounts of ruling elites. Results-based budgeting in this process is a must. This will help us get out of the trap of cash-for-hiring local partners that has characterized our lending and grant making for decades.

A clearly enunciated regional policy for South Asia will help remove the doubts surrounding an impending pell mell withdrawal from the region. Afghanistan must not be left in the lurch again, as we did in the 1990s. Engagement is also critical with the other countries of the region. A stable and growing South Asia would not only be good for the region but will also help the United States fulfill its global obligations as a leader and friend of democratic forces and expand the market for our own exports. Delay in addressing the needs of South Asia will add to the list of potential flashpoints around the world and detract from President Trump’s ability to tackle the emerging issues at home. Opportunity is knocking.

Shuja Nawaz is Distinguished Fellow at the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council in Washington DC and author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within, (Oxford 2008) which he is now updating to the current period.

Obama Needs to Look to the Future

As President Barack Obama prepares to address the Muslim World from Cairo on Thursday this week, he would do well not to dwell on the past but to look to the future. His speech should be the first salvo in a battle to meet the expectations of a world dominated by youth. He should not revive memories of past conflicts. He needs to keep certain facts in mind, many of them intuitively clear to him no doubt from his own exposure to parts of the Muslim World and to his early personal friendships with young Muslims.

First, Muslims, who comprise between one-fifth and one-quarter of the world’s population, are a diverse lot. Speaking politically or socially of the “Muslim World” as a bloc would be a mistake, as much as speaking of left-handed persons in the world as a bloc. Second, their population is rising rapidly, close to 2 per cent a year worldwide. In the last century the world’s Muslim population rose from 150 million to over 1.2 billion.

Most important, President Obama will be addressing a population with a huge “youth bulge”: In the Middle East, for example, 60 per cent of the population is below 25 years. Research indicates that some 60 of the 67 countries with a youth bulge are embroiled in internal conflicts today. In 62 countries of the world, two-thirds of the population is below 30. Countries like Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are included in this group. Over half of the population of Iran is below 30 years.

Muslim youth were excited by Obama’s election and it is this group that he should address when he speaks from Cairo on June 4, for they, not the aging autocrats or obscurantist clerics, will control the future of the Muslim World. And they are increasingly connected with the world at large through the internet, radio, and television.

What is the message they wish to hear?

  • The US will match its deeds to its words. It will no longer talk of democracy while supporting and propping up autocrats in the Muslim World;
  • It will help open up societies, using moral suasion, new technologies, and by aligning itself with the forces of moderation and progress;
  • It will help create jobs by investing in the infrastructure of the Muslim World, while laying the foundation for the future with aid for education rather than military hardware; and
  • It understands the angst and the anger of the youth of the Muslim World and supports them in their quest to stay true to their Muslim roots while reaching for the fruits of democracy and progress that youth around the globe seek.

If President Obama connects with Muslim youth this week he will be investing in the future by drawing them away from the blandishments of the radical Mullahs. If he bends his message to maintaining ties with the antiquated feudal and dynastic leaders of the Muslim World, the opportunity will be lost to build a better world for all of us.

This also appeared on The Huffingotn Post and

Wariness in Pakistan

February 22, 2009

PROVINCIAL authorities in the Swat Valley in northwestern Pakistan struck a peace deal with local Taliban franchisees this week, and in it the government agreed to extend Islamic law in the area. Since then, commentators around the world have pretended to know what the agreement means. Some suspect a "hidden hand," whether it be the intelligence agencies or the United States. In a conspiracy-prone Pakistan, some even talk of an inside deal between the army and the militants – even as they ignore the hundreds of casualties that the army suffered in Swat. Never mind that facts may interfere with these pet theories.

In reality, only the locals know what the deal really means. I recently received the following account from a young woman from the area:

"For months and months the military has been trying to quell the militants. Two days ago their failure was accepted when the provincial government of the North-West Frontier Province went into talks with Mullah Sufi Mohammad and accepted some things. We don’t yet know what those things are but the first promise is peace. Peace on what grounds? We don’t know.

"Today the party of the Mullah announced that ‘democracy’ is un-Islamic. It is too late. We have lost the battle against the militants. We have seen day by day how government and army have [been] weakened, how they have finally been reduced to talk and to deal. Nobody is accountable for the thousands killed, for the closure of schools, for the beheadings of men and women. Nobody. Someone said to me the other day – ‘Don’t complain, because the one you complain to will be your enemy.’

"We no longer can turn [to anyone] here to complain. We now have to think about how to survive this. We now have to give up much of what many of us believe in – tolerance, peace, educated women, and freedom."

She believes the North-West Frontier Province is lost. And she questioned whether President Obama understands the extremists. "He seems to think that these people can be contained within their land, or [any] land. He thinks there is a meeting point, a dialogue possibility. Those who think that giving the militants their haven will contain them – well, the rest of the country and the world will see what this will lead to. This is not the end, it is only the beginning."

I can see her point. We seem to be reviving a deal that fell apart last year, a deal that the army opposed at that time. It fell apart in a matter of days, and the first army sortie resulted in some 18 dead soldiers. Will the army want to re-enter the fray if this deal falls apart? Who will claim responsibility for the inevitable failure?

Recall that in 1994 Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government agreed with the same militant leader, Mullah Sufi Mohammad, to allow him to run some districts of Swat and Malakand according to his convoluted view of Islamic law. He thus got legitimacy and grew into a force that now has brought a new government to the table.

Pakistan’s constitution already contains provisions protecting against un-Islamic laws. Why then does the country need an agreement with violent extremists to ensure Islamic laws? And who will pronounce on these laws? The militants? And if the army is to remain in a "reactive" mode, as a government minister explained, will they stand by and watch Taliban justice being meted out to people?

Who will ensure that girls’ schools will be rebuilt? Who will protect those who refuse to wear a beard or a burqa? Who will disarm the militants? Certainly not the Taliban.

The Swat deal gives territory in Pakistan proper to a militant minority, against the wishes of the majority of Muslims in what was once a valley of peace and quiet. If the militants gain this foothold, the stain of extremism will spread further into Pakistan. My young correspondent may be right: This is not the end, it is only the beginning.

Shuja Nawaz, author of "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within," is director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council.

© 2009 The New York Times Company

Published by The Boston Globe

What Pakistan Doesn’t Need From America

During the tumult of 2008, the talk in Washington and in Islamabad turned to the need for the United States to have a relationship with the people of Pakistan rather than with any single leader or party. Indeed, only by garnering the support of a majority of Pakistanis can the United States leap over the yawning mistrust between these two countries and help Pakistan’s government become stable.

Two months into 2009, we are waiting for that change to occur. President Obama has rightly focused attention on Pakistan, sending his powerful and highly favored representative Ambassador Richard Holbrooke to take on the difficult job of resolving regional differences and restoring stability to an embattled country. Ambassador Holbrooke will need help from both Washington and Islamabad to get to the roots of regional problems.

As our forthcoming Atlantic Council Task Force Report on Pakistan stresses, Washington needs to find a way to provide a healthy dose of financial aid to Pakistan, based on a thorough discussion and agreement with Pakistan on how that aid will be used to improve the lives of people across the country and not just in the borderland near Afghanistan. Call it conditionality or "tough love", it is important to be clear about the objectives of such aid, for the financial climate in the United States will not allow any more blank checks to be issued. On its side, Pakistan has already taken many steps to assure the international financial community that it is ready to get its economic house in order. But much more needs to be done: Improving the tax administration, broadening the tax net to capture agricultural income and capital gains, strengthening the legal system to provide cover for investors, especially from abroad, and removing corruption from the highest levels of government. Too many ministerial appointments to its cabinet (which now has 83 members) are seen by the coalition’s multifarious member parties as cash cows for their party coffers.

Pakistan could also end the current "cash-for-hire" scheme under which its army was sent into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The U.S. promised to reimburse its "non-NATO ally" for the costs of making this move, and the more than $10 billion in aid given for this purpose is often used as a political stick to beat Pakistan during any discussion of aid to that country. But the U.S. reimbursement scheme barely covers the marginal costs of the army’s entry into FATA, and the political costs for Pakistan have been very high, creating a huge backlash among the population of the region as well in the rest of Pakistan. Inside the Pakistan army there is simmering resentment at all levels about the manner in which the military aid and reimbursements are handled. It would in the interest of both countries to end this scheme, and for Pakistan to truly take on the war against militancy as its own war. Then, if the U.S. is serious about helping Pakistan, it would do so by meeting Pakistan’s needs for financial aid and equipment (including helicopters and training). Let Pakistan do its own job, for its own sake, not because the U.S. pays it to do so.

U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan are a source of great unhappiness inside Pakistan. The United States needs to find a practicable way of allowing Pakistan to manage the drone operations and to take the lead in identifying and attacking militant targets inside its borders. Fears about transferring sensitive technology to Pakistan could be addressed by joint operations of drones from Pakistani bases. U.S. and Pakistani handlers could "fly" the drones carrying Pakistani markings and be responsible jointly for their upkeep. If Pakistanis call the shots on final actions against foreign militants and eliminate or limit collateral civilian damage, then they will truly be fighting their own war and not "America’s War."

On the regional level, Pakistan can and should play a greater role in helping Afghanistan rebuild its military institutions. Increasing collaboration between the two armies would lead to joint operations against the insurgents, while removing the mistrust that has kept Afghans and Pakistanis from working with each other. For example, Afghanistan needs to rebuild its air force something that Pakistan has experience with: it has helped launch a number of air forces in the region. It could become a partner of the United States in speeding up the re-creation of the Afghan air force. Not only would the training be faster and cheaper than with US help alone but also the longer-term effects of close cooperation could lead to mutually understood practices and combined operations. Over time even Indian involvement in this effort could become feasible; both India and Pakistan once assisted Sri Lanka, during the early days of its insurgency.

While the Obama administration seeks to re-energize the engagement with Afghanistan and Pakistan, it will need to find new ways of making friends and helping reduce regional animosities. Throwing money at problems is one way. Changing peoples’ minds about each other may be a better way of achieving peace and stability in that region.

Shuja Nawaz is Director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council of the United States and a member of the Council’s Task force whose report on Pakistan will be released later this month. He is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within (Oxford 2008) and FATA: A Most Dangerous Place (CSIS, 2009). He can be contacted at

A Grand Opportunity for a Global President

Charles Dickens called Washington a “city of magnificent intentions.” When Barack Obama takes over on January 20th as the 44th President of the United States, he will need to translate his own lofty ideas into realities. What makes the challenge bigger for him is that he may also be carrying another title: the first globally-elected President of the United States. Unlike any other presidential election in US history, his nomination was favored by denizens of over 90 countries worldwide. All his supporters, here and abroad, expect him to transform the image and reality of the United States, in short order. While this is a daunting task, it also offers him a grand opportunity to make some bold decisions and set the United States and its partners on a fresh path, where an engaged and principled US foreign policy based on humanity and justice would be the rule.

Expectations are high and no where more than in the Muslim World that has seen the past decade marked by a threatened Clash of Civilizations between it and the West. That is also where the most dangerous shoals of foreign policy exist: Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, and South Asia, particularly Pakistan, which may be his greatest nightmare.

President Obama will not have much time to tackle each and all of these regions of unrest before he runs out of the hope and goodwill that will support him in his early days in office. The economic detritus of the Bush Administration has made the transition complex and difficult. But certain principles that are already reflected in some of his public statements may help point to likely actions that will allow him to make some historic leaps and take his supporters and doubters both with him.

Here are some things he could in his first 100 days:

  • Restore faith in the U.S. justice system by shutting down secret jails in Bagram, Guantanamo, and all torture and rendition practices as well as sites in other countries;
  • Recognize that the Gaza conflict has two sides and that the U.S. needs to engage with both to stop the violence against innocent civilians and children; bring Arab support to bear on stopping Hamas’ attacks into Israel and use the U.S.’s own leverage aid and arms-supply over Israel to stop its invasion of Gaza so the search for a longer-term peace may resume;
  • Announce that the US will respect the results of overseas elections that are free and fair regardless of which party comes to power;
  • Open a dialog with Iran to resolve issues and thus help eliminate Iranian involvement in Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza, while opening up the path to Iranian help in rebuilding Afghanistan and expanding its gas pipeline into Pakistan and India; Iran is the key to many locked doors in the greater Middle East and to the peaceful US exit from Iraq;
  • Engage and help the people of Pakistan directly to wrest control back from the militants that threaten the stability of that key country in South Asia and thus restore peace and stability to Afghanistan as well; do not favor any single party or person for short-term US gains;
  • Help India and Pakistan back to the peace table by opening up their borders to trade and people; draw the Diaspora Pakistani and Indian community into this process for cross-border joint investments that would allow both rival nations to benefit from trade and cultural exchanges and remove Kashmir as a cause of conflict over time; and
  • Let the Muslim World understand loud and clear that the United States has no designs against it and that it will practice what it preaches by not supporting dictators and autocrats against the freedom-seeking people of the Muslim World.

President Obama can make this statement more effective by choosing to deliver his major foreign policy speech abroad, preferably in the Muslim World…then see the wave of support carry him over the obstacles to these Grand Objectives.

Where would be a good venue for this event? How about the Wagah border crossing between India and Pakistan, so both Indian and Pakistani crowds can see and hear him? And let those metal gates that are shut by goose-stepping soldiers every evening remain open forever after that as a symbol of good neighborhood and out of respect for a brave new U.S. president who is unafraid to tackle the hardest tasks first.

This piece also appeared on The Huffington Post and on the Atlantic Council website, where the author is now Director, South Asia Center.

Back to the future in Pakistan

As 2007 was lurching toward a messy end in Pakistan, a documentary film suddenly caught much attention inside the country and abroad, especially among the diaspora Pakistanis. Sabiha Sumar and Sachithanandam Sathananthan’s "Dinner with the President: A Nation’s Journey" tried to shine a light on Pakistan’s future by showing conflicting elements of Pakistani society. At the apex was President General Pervez Musharraf, who was wearing his uniform as Army Chief in addition to running the country from Army House in Rawalpindi. Enterprising Sumar managed to convince Musharraf’s handlers to allow her to film a dinner with him at Army House in Karachi (one of the many such homes that the Chief of Army Staff has at his disposal in major cities throughout the country.) Musharraf invited his mother and his wife to join him at the meal. (Surprisingly the wife’s contributions were almost entirely edited out.) This conversation was the thread that Sumar used to tie together the documentary. Today, as Pakistan, under a civilian government, continues to battle the vestiges of the Musharraf regime and new economic and political challenges, it may be worth taking a look back at that insightful film and what it teaches us about Pakistan.

Sadly, the dinner was the weakest link in an otherwise telling film about Pakistan. By focusing on Musharraf, Sumar and her Sri Lankan partner showed their leaning toward a professed “liberal” autocrat. The assumption that comes through is that Pakistan, with its vast gaps between the rich and the poor, and between the radical Muslims with little or no knowledge of Islam and the intellectual elite, with its confused ideologies and imprisoned in its comfortable drawings rooms, needs a strong central figure at the center to guide it into the future. Even a year later, Sathananthan was accusing Pakistani “liberals” of helping the “neo-colonialists” in removing Musharraf:

“Politically challenged Pakistani liberals — a motley crowd that includes members of human rights and civil liberties organisations, journalists, analysts, lawyers and assorted professionals — are utterly incapable of comprehending the geo-strategic context in which Musharraf manoeuvred to defend Pakistan’s interest. So they slandered him as an ‘American puppet’, alleging he caved in to US pressure and withdrew support to the Afghan Taliban regime in the wake of 9/11 although in fact he removed one excuse for the Bush Administration to ‘bomb Pakistan into stone age’, as a senior State Department official had threatened." ("The Great Game Game Continues", November 2008)

Notwithstanding that the story about bombing Pakistan into the “stone age” was a figment of Musharraf’s imagination and not based on his intelligence chief Lt. General Mahmud Ahmed’s actual report from Washington DC, the film portrays Musharraf as a sensitive liberal with good intentions. The questions lobbed at him were soft; his answers softer still. The dinner turns out to be a dud.

But Sumar comes into her element when she visits with a group of Pashtuns near the Afghan border and bravely challenges their antedilluvian views on Islam and the status of women in society. When confronted by a tough woman armed with potent arguments in favor of equality for women, their best option is to retreat. The most telling commentary on Musharraf’s Pakistan comes in a vignette in the film that shows a poor Sindhi family eating its spare supper on the dirt floor outside its make-shift home. All they have is a piece of flat bread, perhaps some onions and water. They invite the filmmaker to join them. Juxtaposed against the scenes from a comfortable dining room where Pakistani intellectuals rant against the regime or the beach party where obviously drunk young men and women cavort out of control and one plastered young man expresses admiration for Musharraf, the film manages to show the stark choices facing Pakistan, as its heads into an uncertain future.

Critics like Sathananthan may regret that Musharraf was shown the door by the people of Pakistan , and some even bemoan the new civilian government and how it came into power. But they fail to recognize that the only way out of Pakistan’s political morass is to allow the people’s voice to be heard, whether it is through the ballot or through film and other mass media. Musharraf may have facilitated the political return of the Pakistan Peoples Party by removing some of the legal obstructions in its path. But he did not favor the return of the Pakistan Muslim League. The Saudis facilitated that. Both parties won their votes against all odds in a referendum against Musharraf’s rule and on the failing economy.

Showing Pakistan a mirror through discussion and debate so it can see itself may help start a critical debate inside the country. Without such a debate, Pakistanis will lurch from one crisis to another. The chattering classes will be silenced by the cackle of AK-47s and the arguments carried by suicide bombers into the heart of the country.

“Dinner with the President” began that debate in 2008. We hope the team will return to Pakistan in 2009 to show where we are now headed. Next time around, one hopes that Sumar will concentrate on the underlying issues that she uncovered during her “Dinner with the President” and stay away from the drawing rooms and dining tables of the elite. On second thought, perhaps a useful starting point may well be another “Dinner with the President” this time in Islamabad, which was once described as lying (no pun intended) “18 miles outside Pakistan”. Then she should head into the real Pakistan of the poor and dispossessed, where Sumar is at her best. Changing the lives of those people is critical to the future of Pakistan.

This piece aso appeared on The Huffington Post.

Bhutto’s Pakistan, a Year On

Earlier this month, as I drove past the spot where Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on Murree Road near Liaquat Garden in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007, I thought of how much had happened since that tragic evening. She had returned, against the advice of many friends, to a violent and fractious Pakistan because she felt that her presence was key to the restoration of democracy in her homeland. I knew that road well. Decades earlier I used to turn there on to College Road, on my way to the neighboring Gordon College. Many of Gordon College student demonstrations for democracy in 1968 crashed into the police barricades at that spot.

Those were Halcyon Days compared to what Pakistan is now going through. A year after her much-foretold death, Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan is wracked by political turmoil and economic uncertainty. It is relying on the world to bail it out again. Yet the answers to its problems lie inside Pakistan. Unless Pakistan settles the wars within and coalesces around its political center, it faces a bleak future and risk of foreign intervention. This is the challenge facing its fledgling civilian government. The world must help it succeed.

Today, Pakistan is run by civilians. But the parliamentary system that had been hijacked by the military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, and converted into a presidential one remains unchanged. Power continues to flow not from the Prime Minister but from the President. Ms Bhutto’s signed compact (Charter of Democracy) with the other leading party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that called, among other things, for the complete restoration of the judiciary has been shredded. The coalition of her center-left Pakistan Peoples’ Party with Sharif’s center-right Pakistan Muslim League (N) is no more, partly as a result of the time bombs that General Musharraf planted when he brought the PPP into power under political deals that wiped clean all charges against its leadership and by removing the top layer of the judiciary in November 2007 for the second time in one year. The PPP fears that a restored judiciary under the former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary would overturn many of those deals creating chaos. Mr. Sharif refuses to compromise on this issue. The PML (N) controls the Punjab, Pakistan’s economically powerful province. The PPP has the center. This standoff threatens the political stability of the country.

President Asif Ali Zardari, who inherited the political mantle of his wife, Ms. Bhutto, has continued the Musharrafian alliance with the United States against the terrorists and militants that threaten Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan and increasingly are operating in the hinterland. He also continued the Musharraf policy of making peace overtures to neighboring India and offered even to forego a first nuclear strike in case of a conflict between the two rivals. But, despite his attempt at producing a consensus among the political parties in parliament against terrorism, most parties on the right wing of the political spectrum have started backing away from that stance. And the recent Mumbai terror attacks that are being linked to Pakistani militant groups have brought India and Pakistan to the edge of another conflict.

The economy is still in tatters. Distracted by political wrangling soon after the February 2008 elections, the new government failed to concentrate on the rapidly deteriorating economic situation until late in the year. The spike in global fuel and food prices added to its woes. Foreign exchange reserves have plummeted from a height of $16 billion to close to $4 billion. Food prices are up nearly 50 percent. Energy and water shortages persist. A program with the International Monetary Fund, once pronounced anathema by Mr. Zardari, is now in force. And Pakistan is holding its collective breath for the countries that it calls "Friends of Pakistan" to actually come forward with vast amounts of financial aid. Absent a robust and growth-oriented economic program and an improved security situation, such aid may not be forthcoming. These countries will likely wait for the IMF program to take root. Donors are also wary of dealing with a sprawling government of some 60 cabinet members, most of whom are eminently unqualified for their respective tasks, and represent parochial interests rather than a cohesive central policy.

On the security front, 2008 may prove to be as violent as 2007, when nearly 60 suicide bombings took place inside Pakistan, most against the armed forces. Adding to the volatile mix is the re-emergence in force of the Punjabi Sunni militant groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Lashkar-e-Tyaba that even threaten the state that once sponsored their help for the Kashmiri Mujahideen. The army, overstretched in the region bordering Afghanistan, cannot be deployed in a major operation inside Punjab. Without army action, these groups will continue to flourish. There is no police force worth the name that could be used in controlling these elements and de-weaponizing Pakistani society. More important, there is no public debate on what sort of society Pakistanis want to create over 61 years after becoming an independent state. Nor is there any sign of such a debate taking place in the near future.

Now, with India increasing the pressure on Pakistan to act against the militants that India alleges were behind the Mumbai attacks, and garnering international support for that cause, Pakistan faces the possibility of military action on its eastern frontier. If that happens, the Pakistan army will be thrust once more into the political vortex. Then, if the political center does not hold, history may well repeat itself and the army may be "asked" by the people to take charge once again. If that happens, Ms. Bhutto will have died in vain.

This piece appeared in The Washington Post Post Global on 26 December 2008

Brinksmanship in South Asia: A Dangerous Scenario

Reports of military movement to the India-Pakistan border must raise alarums in Washington DC. The last thing that the incoming Obama administration wants is a firestorm in South Asia. There cannot be a limited war in the subcontinent, given the imbalance of forces between India and Pakistan. Any Indian attack across the border into Pakistan will likely be met with a full scale response from Pakistan. Yet, the rhetoric that seemed to have cooled down after the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks is rising again. It was exactly this kind of aggressive posturing and public statements that led to the 1971 conflict between these two neighbors. Pakistan has relied in the past on international intervention to prevent war. It worked, except in 1971 when the US and other powers let India invade East Pakistan and lead to the birth of Bangladesh. What makes the current situation especially dangerous is that both are now nuclear weapon states with anywhere up to150 nuclear bombs in their arsenal. If India and Pakistan go to war, the world will lose. Big time. By putting conventional military pressure on Pakistan, is India calling what it perceives to be Pakistan’s bluff under the belief that the United Sates will force nuclear restraint on Pakistan?

The early evidence after the Mumbai terrorist attack pointed to the absence of the Pakistan government’s involvement in the attack. Indeed, the government of Pakistan seemed to bend over backwards to accommodate and understand Indian anger at the tragedy. But, in the weeks since then, as domestic political pressure mounted on the Indian government to do more, talk has turned to the use of surgical strikes or other means to teach Pakistan a lesson. It was in India’s own interest to strengthen the ability of the fledgling civilian government of Pakistan to move against the militancy within the country. But it seems to have opted for threats to attack Pakistan, threats that, if followed up by actions, may well derail the process of civilianization and democratization in that country. India must recognize the constraints under which Pakistan operates. It cannot fight on two fronts. And it lacks the geographic depth to take the risk of leaving its eastern borders undefended at a time when India has been practicing its emerging Cold Start strategy in the border opposite Kasur. Under this strategy, up to four Integrated Battle Groups could move rapidly across the border and occupy a strategic chunk of Pakistani territory up to the outskirts of Lahore in a “limited war”.

For Pakistan, there is no concept of “limited war”. Any war with India is seen as a total war, for survival. It risks losing everything the moment India crosses its border, and will likely react by attacking India in force at a point of its own choosing under its own Offensive-Defensive strategy. (That is probably why it is moving some of its Strike Force infantry divisions back from the Afghan border to the Indian one.) As the battles escalate, Indian’s numerical and weapon superiority will become critical. If no external intervention takes place quickly, Pakistan will then be left with the “poison pill” defence of its nuclear weapons.

The consequences of such action are unimaginable for both countries and the world…

The NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) conducted an analysis of the consequences of nuclear war in South Asia a year before the last stand-off in 2002. Under two scenarios, one (with a Princeton University team) studied the results of five air bursts over each country’s major cities and the other (done by the NRDC alone) with 24 ground explosions. The results were horrifying to say the least: 2.8 million dead, 1.5 million seriously injured, and 3.4 million slightly injured in the first case. Under the second scenario involving an Indian nuclear attack on eight major Pakistani cities and Pakistan’s attack on seven major Indian cities:

NRDC calculated that 22.1 million people in India and Pakistan would be exposed to lethal radiation doses of 600 rem or more in the first two days after the attack. Another 8 million people would receive a radiation dose of 100 to 600 rem, causing severe radiation sickness and potentially death, especially for the very young, old or infirm. NRDC calculates that as many as 30 million people would be threatened by the fallout from the attack, roughly divided between the two countries.

Besides fallout, blast and fire would cause substantial destruction within roughly a mile-and-a-half of the bomb craters. NRDC estimates that 8.1 million people live within this radius of destruction.

Studies by Richard Turco, Alan Robock, and Brian Toon in 2006 and 2008 on the climate change impact of a regional nuclear war between these two South Asian rivals, were based on the use of 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear devices of 15 kiloton each. The ensuing nuclear explosions would set 15 major cities in the subcontinent on fire and hurl five million tonnes of soot 80 kilometers into the air. This would deplete ozone levels in the atmosphere up to 40 per cent in the mid-latitudes that “could have huge effects on human health and on terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems.” More important, the smoke and sot would cool the northern hemisphere by several degrees, disrupting the climate (shortening growing seasons, etc.) and creating massive agricultural failure for several years. The whole world would suffer the consequences.

An Indo-Pakistan war will not cure the cancer of religious militancy that afflicts both countries today. Rather, India and Pakistan risk jeopardizing not only their own economic futures but also that of the world by talking themselves into a conflict. The world cannot afford to let that happen. The Indian and Pakistani governments can step back from the brink by withdrawing their forces from their common border and going back to quiet diplomacy to resolve their differences. The United States and other friends of both countries can act as honest brokers by publicly urging both to do just that before this simmering feud starts to boil over.

This piece appeared in The Huffington Post, 26 December 2008

Maximum Terror in Mumbai: Confusion Reigns

24 hours after they began, the coordinated terror attacks in Mumbai have produced scores of deaths and wounded and, potentially could end with even more deaths of innocent hostages. What is scarier though is the possibility that this incident may spell danger for India-Pakistan relations at a time when a much-needed thaw seems to be emerging. Confusion reigns in Mumbai, as the authorities try to understand the nature and the reason for these attacks.

Earlier unconfirmed reports on CNN that identified the MV Alpha as a Karachi-registered ship that allegedly carried the attackers proved to be incorrect. The Indian navy boarded the MV Alpha and confirmed that it was, in fact, Vietnamese-registered and had no connection with the attacks. The possibility remains that the ubiquitous “foreign hand” will be blamed for the terrorist actions. Unless there is strong evidence linking Pakistan to the attacks, India would be well advised not to fall back on that option.

Similar to the earlier attacks in New Delhi, chances are that this is a homegrown outfit. It may well be operating under a false flag of the “Deccan Mujahideen”, a hitherto unknown group. But what adds to the confusion this time is that there was no statement from the attackers against the Indian political and social system and no demands were made. Rather, there was a focus on selecting British and American hostages. This may well point to the participation of an Islamist group with ties to militants operating in Kashmir or against the state inside Pakistan. Why?

Just one day before the attack, at a meeting in Islamabad of the Home Secretaries of India and Pakistan, an agreement was reached on a wide range of measures aimed at combating terrorism. According to Dawn of 25 November 2008:

“The two sides agreed for the first time to stop blaming each other for any untoward incident without evidence. Under the joint anti-terrorism mechanism, a two-member committee has been formed, comprising additional foreign secretaries of the two sides. The committee will exchange information about terrorists. The agreement on an anti-terrorism mechanism is being considered a big step for improvement of relations.

The resolve to enhance cooperation between their civilian investigation and security agencies — Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) — is another significant achievement made during the talks.”

The Islamist militants fear that the increasing cooperation between India and Pakistan against terrorism and President Asif Ali Zardari’s effusive words on warmer relations with India will leave them without a recruiting base in Pakistan. They would rather derail the nascent peace process between Pakistan and India, using, among other things, the rising unhappiness among Muslim youth in India about their lack of economic and social development.

To its credit, the Indian government set up a high-level committee two years ago to investigate the plight of the Muslims of India, who despite being close to 150 million strong have a disproportionately tiny share of India’s burgeoning wealth. The Sachar Commission report of November 2006 confirmed what Indian Muslims had long known: they were well below national averages for education, skills development, employment, and economic opportunities. Some 38 per cent of Muslims in urban areas and 27 per cent in rural areas lived below the poverty line. But today, nearly two years after the release of that report, there is still talk about “targeted intervention” and many of the actions being discussed are still in the future tense. Even when these plans are implemented, at the notoriously slow pace of Indian bureaucracy, it will take years to make up for the ill-effects of previous discrimination. Meanwhile the “youth bulge” in the Indian Muslim population will become increasingly susceptible to the lure of the militants.

One ray of hope came recently at the recent annual conclave of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind of India, where leading religious scholars spoke against terrorism. As one Mullah stated: “There is a world of a difference between terrorism and Jihad”. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, all countries with huge Muslim populations, and all susceptible to Islamist militancy, would do well to publicize that stance in their battle against terrorism at home and abroad. Whether the terrorism is home grown or imported, the world does not need a repeat of the Mumbai mayhem.

This piece is available on Huffington Post at