Wanted: Unity of Purpose
When the Mughal Emperor Babur examined his enemy, Ibrahim Lodhi, and his army the night before his final battle to conquer India, he noticed that the soldiers were all separated into exclusive clans and castes. Though Babur noted that his army was far outnumbered, he told his commanders that they would have no problem decimated an enemy who was so divided without common purpose or identity. The Pakistani Army has limited the creation of common purpose by training terrorist groups, fostering divisions amongst the government based on sectarian and caste conflicts, and continually demarcating its identity from that of the civilian government. Without having a singular shared vision of Pakistan’s long-term interests within the military and amongst the state, Pakistan will not be able to save itself from the growing existential threat of violent extremism.
Starting from Zia-Ul Haq in the 1980’s, there has been an assessment amongst the intelligence and Army officials in Pakistan which now makes U.S. policy-makers shudder: namely, that terrorists could be used to achieve a nation’s goals. While the U.S. forgets that it espoused the same policy in the 1980’s as it financially supported the mujhaddin as well, it is integral to note that this policy changed completely on 9/11. Unlike Pakistan, the U.S. militantly realized the existential threat emanating from terrorism, and attacked those groups.
Under Bush, the U.S. fell victim to the shortcoming Babur pointed out, by not having an appropriate method to attack their recognized common enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan as commanders lacked a comprehensive military strategy. This did not lend a lesson to the Pakistani Army, whose flip-flopping on its objectives and methods has led to a continually faltering foreign policy. Though Kayani has been on record as stating that he believes all terrorists must be expelled from Pakistan, lower ranks of the ISI and military may not embody this principle.
If one looks to the testimony by David Headley as reported by Indian intelligence officials, it is clear that senior and retired ISI members offered information and support to the Mumbai attackers. This was in line with the long-term policy established after General Zia to nurture these terrorist mujahiddin groups either to destabilize Kashmir or the Indian heartland. However, the question must be asked to the ISI of what profit did Pakistan derive from the Mumbai attacks.
Bob Woodward stated that when Mumbai occurred, President Bush believed it was another 9/11 for which Pakistan should be held responsible. Since then, and as highlighted by the Headley testimony, the incident greatly harmed Pakistan, its status in the international community, and inevitably its relationship with the U.S.
Further, the terrorist groups also play the same double game that Pakistan plays with the U.S. in its funding. While they agree to ceasefires, as many Taliban tribal militants did in NWFP in 2009, they help launch fighters into Afghanistan and give protection to the recruiting and training of insurgents. Thus, while the Pakistani Army believes it can control these groups, the terrorists believe they can operate with immunity so long as they at least appear to be “playing ball” with the ISI. However, their existence in the country is an existential threat that has fostered an environment for homegrown terrorists to attack Pakistan rather carrying out attacks in Afghanistan and India as the Army hopes.
General Patreaus has continually advocated for the strategy that there must be a convergence of effort by the civilian and military arms working in a counter-insurgency. The objective is to eradicate the physical elements, terrorists and their weapons, while eliminating the future threat of extremism by improving governance and economic development. While this is a long-term strategy that may take over two decades to complete, Pakistan should be adopting a similar policy to deal with the threat of militant extremism that has made the country regress greatly.
Instead, rather than attempt to speak with one voice as a state structure, the Army has distinguished itself from an ineffective civilian government. Haidar Mullick, who studies the Pakistani military, recently stated that the Army did an “excellent” job of making sure people knew that the flood relief was being conducted by the military alone, while the civilian government did nothing.
The floods were an opportunity for the Army and civilian government to come together to offer help and lay the foundation for incorporating those people back under the allegiance and control of the state. Yet, because of the long-term adversarial relationship between the Army and the civilian government, they allowed this opportunity to vanish and create another vacuum for extremists to lambaste democracy and advocate for the overthrow of the state.
Sun Tsu, a Chinese warrior-philosopher once said, “At all levels of war, employment of military forces in a manner that masses combat power toward a common objective requires unity of command and unity of effort.” In the modern era, with the advent of terrorism, Sun Tsu might agree that a unity of command is necessary between the civilian government and the military. Further, he would agree that trying to use an uncontrollable force, terrorist outfits, as a tactical weapon is bound to backfire.
Thus, Pakistan’s army should stop its asset-liability assessment of extremist groups and realize the carnage their existence has already created. Further, the Army should realize the great gain to be gotten through cooperation with the civilian government, to create a strong message of unified purpose against the country’s true enemies.