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By kind invitation of Stewart Jackson MP, the Henry Jackson Society was pleased to be able to host a discussion with Jonathan Paris, Senior Fellow at the South Asia Centre of the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. and Associate Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR). Mr Paris’s talk covered a range of topics, including the economy; military versus civilian governance; Islamist trends and the Taliban; India-Pakistan relations and US-Pakistan relations in light of the ongoing NATO surge in neighbouring Afghanistan.
I would like to tell you a little bit about Pakistan and to give you the tools so that you can all work out the future for Pakistan yourselves. The report itself, which came out in January suggested three possible scenarios, the pathway to success, muddling through and a failed state, I came out in the middle, the muddling through option. It’s hard to imagine a failed state, when you really ask yourself, what is a failed state? It’s hard to define. I think that muddling through is such a wide, broadband, so it is up to you to digest what I say and come to your own views as to where Pakistan is heading.
I would like to discuss the following issues with you, firstly the challenges, economy and demography, the military, Islamic trends and then the war in Afghanistan and how that impacts and how the Pakistani’s see the Obama strategy. Given that I just got back from Washington 24 hours a go I can give you a Washington perspective as well. I will then be looking a head and then finally there will be a little bit on India followed by my conclusions.
Some of the challenges include the threat of fragmentation, security and terrorism and within that there are four set parts, the al-Qaeda threat which is small in number but non the less still a potent threat, there is the Taliban in Waziristan and Bajaur Agency; I will be visiting the Bajaur Agency in two weeks so hopefully good things will be happening there; then there is ‘Talibanisation’ which means, which means the spread of their views into the settled areas and finally the general problem of extremism. Some of the other challenges for Pakistan include its economy and its demography, in 1947 when Pakistan was created, it had a population of only 13.5 million people, Iran had the same population in 1947, today Iran’s population stands at 70 million while Pakistan’s is over 170 million. It is continuing to grow at a very fast rate with a perpetual youth bulge. Pakistan has a real challenge ahead to produce enough jobs which require enough investment for the economy to grow. You also need education and healthcare to persuade the women in the villages to have less than six children per family. So demography is a very serious problem but it could also be an opportunity, if they can get the education and job side right. However, right now Pakistan is only growing at 2.7%, compared to India which I think is over 7%. Back in the Musharraf days, Abd el Shahid Aziz was a former city banker for 30 years who became the finance minister and Prime Minister. He created what was called the ‘Pakistan brand,’ a brand that investors would support; their bonds came out at a very low spread. Now the bonds are at a very high spread and in fact the IMF has pretty much taken over the country because it has been in what we call intensive care.
So the economy is a big problem but let’s go into some of the other areas, the problem with the military is that when it runs governments it looses its legitimacy as the armed force of Pakistan. It has a very good image as the army and protector of Pakistan, particularly from India- Pakistani’s perceive India as a great threat to them and as such the army is held in high esteem. But when they go into politics that legitimacy becomes tarnished. My view of the army is that it is best for it to stay in the barracks but whether it will continue to stay in the barracks is a question because there have been four or five occasions when the military has taken over an government. Given the current crisis with President Zardari’s government, one has to ask, will the military step in? I hope not, I hope that there is no extra constitutional take over because it prevents the civilian institutions from gaining maturity, at the moment they are in perpetual infancy because every time they get to seven or eight years old a military comes in and takes over. Given that the civilian side has had a deficit in management, it has had a deficit in transparency, and it has had a deficit in non corrupt practices that is still no reason to have a military take over. So I predict that the military will stay in the barracks and this current presidency will muddle through until perhaps somebody from the other party of the two main parties comes in.
The next thing I want to talk about is Islamic trends, people who don’t know anything about Pakistan are afraid that somehow the Taliban are going to march in and take over Islamabad, nothing could be further from the case. We have seen that when the army takes on the Taliban they can be defeated. The idea that there’s an asymmetric warfare going on where the small side can defeat the larger side is a myth that was debunked with what happened a year a go in Swat, the settled area between the frontier with Afghanistan and Islamabad. The army came in with the full backing of the civilian public and the media, popular opinion was very angry with the treatment by the Taliban, angry about young women being flogged in the city squares, they were extremely upset about the threats from the Taliban to disobey Pakistani law. I would say that the Taliban are not likely to take over but what I do conclude in my report is that there is a trend and mood in Pakistan away from pro West, especially away from a pro American view. America has been Pakistan’s main ally in addition to China since the 1950’s, this is an old relationship with lots of reasons for it but what’s happening now is that you’re seeing a lot more anti Americanism. According to popular poles in Pakistan today by Gallop and Pugh, both see America as the number one most hated country, even more than India, India came in third, and al-Qaeda was second. So we should worry about the Pakistan- US relationship.
I also wanted to say a quick word about India. India is starting to realise that ‘Project India’ is not going to succeed with a failed state to its west. What does ‘Project India’ mean? It’s the effort of India to continue to grow and to continue to engage the rest of the world, not necessarily as a super power but as a regional power; a regional power that can compete with China. Instead I’m afraid that India is going to be bogged down with a much smaller and economically weaker Pakistan if Pakistan becomes a failed state. So India has a stake in Pakistan. The flashpoints are Mumbai, another Mumbai attack would have serious consequences and I don’t think India would restrain themselves after the ‘next Mumbai attack’ and god knows what that would lead to between two nuclear powers. Kashmir, energy and water shortages, the Pakistani’s claim they’re running out of water and the Indian involvement in Afghanistan are very controversial points. Pakistan looks at Afghanistan as its backyard, as its strategic debt and when they see any kind of success by India in Afghanistan it really gets them nervous. While India does not appear to want an escalation of tensions with Pakistan another Mumbai attack would severely test India’s restraint. The Indians tell me they know exactly what to do, how to calibrate their response so that there isn’t an escalation but when someone says that they know how the other side is going to see things we should be suspicious.
I’d like to also talk about the US, British, NATO role in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The administration started out badly I think with the term Af-Pak, Af-Pak is one of those ugly hyphens and what the Pakistani’s really don’t like about it is that it is part of the US and the West’s habit of looking at Pakistan for some other objective. For instance, in 1955 vice President Nixon went over there and they formed a regional pact to fight Soviet Communism; in 1971 while Pakistan had its own civil war the United States was using Pakistan to get to Mao tse Tung for the famous détente with Mao tse Tung and Henry Kissinger; In the late 70’s and early 80’s you had the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan so Pakistan became an ally to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan, and of course after the 9/11 bombings Pakistan became part of Gorge Bush’s global war on terrorism. So now Af-Pak comes along and Obama says we need you to help us stabilise Afghanistan, but the problem is the priorities of Pakistan are Pakistan’s national interest, now maybe they coincide with us but they don’t coincide 100%, so I think the big challenge for the United States, and I think they’re doing well at this, is to pay attention to Pakistan. Holbrooke said on television in America recently that no other country has received as much attention from the Obama administration, every week you see a general or a senior person like James Jones or Holbrooke himself or Hilary Clinton come to Pakistan and this week the Pakistani’s are coming to see Clinton. So there is a lot of attention being paid, what that means I suppose is that if there were an attack like another 9/11, all bets would be off and the United States would probably launch Special Forces against whoever the attackers were, even if they were on the Pakistan side of the border. So again, just like India if you had another Mumbai or there was another 9/11 we could see a serious ratcheting up of tensions which would put the Pakistan army in a vulnerable position.
I suppose some of you, like our American friends are concerned about the vulnerability of the nuclear weapons in Pakistan; firstly I would say that we understand that they are disassembled, secondly I met the person in the State Department last week who is working with Islamabad on protecting their security and the so called PAL, the codes that allow them to be activated, he is pretty confident with their Special Plans Division, which is a separate unit within the army that guards not only the weapons but also the people, they watch the people who are involved with the nuclear programme. So I would say that the only way that they would be vulnerable would be if the Pakistani army itself were to somehow split. The only way that can happen, in my opinion is if the United States and Britain become so focused on Afghanistan and winning the war against the Afghan Taliban that they do things on the other side of the border that make Pakistanis, particularly young officers and soldiers upset. Right now, due to operations in Swat, Pakistan has public opinion behind them in terms of combating extremism; there were 87 suicide bombings last year in Pakistan, never before have they had so many, these bombings killed 1,300 people, 90% of which were civilians. So right now the people are fighting Pakistan’s war but if we make this America’s war by pushing Afghan’s Taliban into Pakistan, which complicates Pakistan’s security problem an also by increasing their inter change and trading of secrets etc, that could be problematic.
I would like to conclude by saying what has happened since this report has come out, one thing was the Obama speech at West Point, another was the very successful conference here in London on Afghanistan, both have focused Pakistan on the end game of what Kabul would look like in 2011. Pakistan has arrested a number of senior Quetta officials from Afghan Taliban and Afghan Taliban leaders living in Quetta and Karachi and one of the reasons is that Pakistan wants a seat at that table, Pakistan may want to be a bridge to talks with the Afghan Taliban and NATO, Pakistan maybe competing with Karzai over which Taliban to talk to; all these things are political manoeuvrings and I am sanguine that General McChrystal understands that this surge is not a military battle, it is a political and economic battle. I think that the team the United States has, with Holbrooke in charge of civilian reconstruction, a very committed guy, almost a zealot to succeed and Stan McChrystal who’s a superhuman, physically and mentally, I worked with him when he was a military fellow ten years a go at the Council on Foreign Relations and I can tell you this is a remarkable man, so we have team A involved and I am relatively optimistic that the Afghanistan surge will not unravel the relationship with Pakistan. Pakistan will go on fighting its Taliban and now recognises that it’s Taliban, the ‘bad’ Taliban are not all that different to the ‘good’ Taliban in Afghanistan and so I think Pakistan will be supporting the surge effort to bring down the Afghan Taliban so that a year and a half from now what we’ll be looking at is a balance of power dynamic in Afghanistan where no one tribe or ethnicity or group has a monopoly on power. So they are going to have to find a way to work with each other as the American and British troops leave.
A number of people have been writing about the mosque and the military and the relationship between the two. There is a view that the military uses Islam to make itself the indispensible protector of Pakistan from India but I don’t see the religious parties, either the ones based in the Pashtun areas, JUI with the Madrasas, or the Muslim Brotherhood like parties in the cities; I don’t see them getting more votes, in fact they keep getting less votes. What I see is no religious party taking over Pakistan, the only way I think Pakistan could really fall is if the army lost its way somehow and there was a coup from within the army. I just don’t foresee the scenario where the mosque itself and religious fervour itself, like in Iran in 1979 would happen.
There has been a history of the ISI, the intelligence part of the army, having its own game going on and part of ISI’s strength came from 1989 when the US and the Saudi’s funded the Mujahedeen through the ISI to fight the Soviet Communists, I think looking back that was probably unwise, none the less the ISI has spawned some of these groups, not only Taliban but Punjab militant groups who were used to ‘make a thousand cuts’ against the Indians in Kashmir, to slowly whittle away at India, but now they’ve become transnational terrorist groups with funding from the Gulf. So you notice in Mumbai for instance, when the Lashkar attacked Mumbai they didn’t only attack Indians but they also attacked a Jewish organisation, partly I believe to please their gulf funders- they are a global Jihad not just an anti Indian Jihad.
There is a question of double dealing by the ISI where one day they will talk to the Americans and the next day they are talking to the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistan Taliban is clearly the enemy of the Pakistan army because they attacked a Mosque in Rawalpindi in November when there were a number of army generals there attending services. But the Afghan Taliban, as you know, are historically the allies of Pakistan because they are Pashtun and the Pashtun connection is a very important one. Whereas other Afghan groups such as the Northern Alliance, are enemies of Pakistan. Pakistan would rather work with Pashtun than the others. So I think it’s a natural alliance, on the other hand what’s happening now is the distinction between Pakistan and Afghan Taliban is eroding, the Pakistan Taliban are out of control and they are trying to contain them and that means getting some of these Afghan Taliban out of their sight. Some Machiavellians say that this is an effort to get a moderate Afghan Taliban in prison so that guy can then become their guy in the negotiations, there may be some of that going on. I don’t think the Pakistani’s have changed, the Americans would like to think that they’ve changed but I think they’ll probably go back somewhat as the Americans begin to leave the region.
I think that the reason India showed restraint in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 and didn’t respond is because their leader has a vision of this ‘Project India’ that requires good neighbourly relations with Pakistan, it can’t look to compete on the world stage if it’s mired in a war with Pakistan. I think Singh gets it but I will say though in my own dialogue with Indians who have come to London for various conferences recently, they are unhappy with the defence side of things, particularly that the world takes their restraint for granted, the world assumes because you have two nuclear powers things can’t really escalate so India will always hold back and they seemed to want to make it clear to me that they won’t always hold back. So the questions is, what makes a Mumbai attack a Mumbai attack, how bad does it have to be before it triggers an return attack? The other issue is that the United States tends to get involved and tries to restrain the Indians as in 2001 and 2002 when there was a stand off.
There have been at least two or three divisions that have moved over from the eastern front to the western front and this is a positive sign that Pakistan sees it’s most imminent threat coming from the terrorist or the extremist out of Afghanistan. But I don’t think they will move too many more because they still see the threat from India as a long term threat, I think we are probably at about the right ratio.
The best way of keeping the military in the barracks relates to the question of, how you get the civilian government to be more competent, to create economic growth etc, which would certainly keep them in the barracks. The other thing is that the army has certain red lines, in terms of corruption, competence and I guess like Turkey, if you go too far in an Islamic way; these are the three red lines that the army has. Zardari is pretty close to the red line on corruption, he’s also pretty close on competence but he’s not doing badly on Islamism. We will have to watch and see but I think they recognise, as does the Turkish army, that to try to take over would back fire and would lose them popularity as an institution.
Shaukat Aziz presided over six years of 7 or 8% growth, according to Shaukat they were the third fastest growing economy after China for at least a couple of those years. So he had a formula, what he suggests now is a focus on education, on security assistance, that means providing better funds to the justice department and the police department- they fall short on security in Pakistan, third he would say capacity building, fourth he would say agriculture or agri-based industries- Pakistan is an agricultural country and they also have the means to go into agribusiness with international companies coming in and using Pakistan’s tremendous domestic market to get going and then using that economy of scale to then be able to export from Pakistan, so there is a nice little synergy; finally it would be nice for the US to grant preferential treatment in textile imports, according to Shaukat it wouldn’t take away textiles from North or South Carolina, it would take away textile sales from China, so instead of China selling five million X of textiles, they would sell 4.9 million and 100,000 would come fro the Punjab, that would make a huge difference to the Punjabi economy. Those five things I think would help, I would only add that there has to be more cohesion in all levels of state craft in Pakistan, at the moment everybody does their own thing, the chief judge does his thing, the President does his thing, the Prime Minister, the opposing parties, the military, they have to start to work together to tackle the challenges.
It is interesting that when the Taliban were moving into Swat and some of the other areas, they used one of their six strategies that I have mentioned in my report and that was to play on local grievances and one of the grievances is the ‘haves’ versus the ‘have- nots’, the landlords versus the workers, this is a problem and what the Taliban skilfully did was threaten all the landlords so that they left the area and ultimately if the Taliban didn’t have control in the daytime they certainly had control in the night time. I’m not an anthropologist; I’m more of a political and economic analyst so I can’t say when this evolution will take place but I would like to point out that what’s happening in Pakistan in addition to a demographic explosion is an urbanisation explosion. You have three mega cities, Karachi’s population is over 16 million people, Lahore is a huge city, Islamabad is growing, then you have a middle tier of three to five million and then you have ten or so cities that have a population of a million people. So what we are seeing is poor people from the farms coming to these cities which is unravelling the feudal system. Still the political power rests amongst the feudal landlords, the Bhutto family is a landlord, Nawaz Sharif is a landlord in a sense, the sugar factories are controlled by them. I think there has to be a shift of voting power to the urban and away from the feudal but clearly urbanisation is proceeding at pace.
Obama announced the NATO surge of 30,000 on December 1st 2009 to show sufficient resolve to stay the course, to degrade the Afghan Taliban militarily and ultimately to bring them to the negotiating table. That will leave in place a functioning and viable Taliban free Afghan government, that’s the goal. I would say that he’s not doing too badly so far. McChrystal had an interesting strategy of announcing to the people of Marjah that they were coming and they were more or less welcome. There are all sorts of negotiations going on with the captured Afghan Taliban which is good because everybody knows that the military is a very small part of it. I think Obama’s heart is not in this war; his heart wasn’t in the Iraq war. My son is serving in Iraq and I haven’t heard from him in seven months because he’s been working day and night to keep the country in control so that they can have an election and I would like to think that that election vindicates what he’s doing. The American soldiers are not just going out and raising havoc they are really trying to do positive things. It is a curios thing that in fact in some respects Petraeus and McChrystal are more popular than the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi and some of the other Secretaries, there’s a lot of disillusionment in Washington but the military is starting to get into this reconstruction and redevelopment side of things. So I am cautiously optimistic that the surge will work and that Obama, against his better nature will get this one right.