Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Submission by Professor Shaun Gregory, Pakistan Security Research Unit, University of Bradford


    (i) The UK, US and NATO are losing the war in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban are in control or dominant in about 70% of the country and in most of the key political areas of Afghanistan. They are strongest in those regions which are contiguous with Pakistan;(ii) Part of the explanation for this is that Pakistan[166] is antipathetic to Karzai's government and to any administration in Afghanistan which is indulgent of Indian influence. Pakistan thus wants the end of Karzai, a pro-Pakistani Pashtun government in Afghanistan, and wants the UK/US/NATO out of Afghanistan;(iii) For this reason—and others—Pakistan has been hosting the Afghan Taliban since they were displaced from Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 and it is from Pakistan's northern Balochistan and FATA that the Afghan Taliban have planned and conducted their comeback in Afghanistan. Pakistan's role in this comeback lies somewhere between passive tolerance of the Afghan Taliban to open and active support;

    (iv) Many have argued that it is only renegade or former Pakistan intelligence [ISI] officers who are supporting the Afghan Taliban, but in truth the ISI are a disciplined force tightly controlled for the most part by the Pakistan military;

    (v) Thus the UK/US/NATO find themselves in the invidious position of being reliant on an "ally" which does not share their interests and whom they cannot trust. Although they have considerable leverage over Pakistan due to the reliance of the Pakistan military/ISI on US military aid and the country on non-military aid, Pakistan also has considerable leverage over the West;

    (vi) This leverage includes NATO/US/UK reliance on Pakistan for overland logistics [about 80% of materiel and 40% of fuel] and for intelligence and overflights;

    (vii) It also includes reliance on the Pakistan army and ISI for intelligence in the war on terrorism and the battle against tribal militants, al-Qaeda and the TTP/TNSM etc in the FATA/NWFP; and reliance on the Pakistan Army to keep Pakistan's nuclear weapons and nuclear-related technology out of the hands of terrorists;

    (viii) In addition Pakistan hints at "coercive" options which would make life even more difficult for the UK/US/NATO;

    (ix) US/UK/NATO efforts to do anything about this situation and push or incentivize Pakistan to more co-operative actions and positions is subject to very powerful obstacles;

    (x) Despite these obstacles there are ways forward for the US/UK/NATO with respect to Pakistan. These include taking steps to reduce Pakistan's logistics leverage [such as NATO is already doing in looking for alternative routes through central Asia], looking at the modalities of logistics through Pakistan, reaching out to India for help and co-operation in many related areas, shifting the balance of aid to Pakistan from the military to the non-military, and ensuring that military aid to Pakistan is subject to conditionality, transparency and accountability;

    (xi) In sum we can no longer afford a "business as usual" relationship with the Pakistan military. Not at least while Pakistan itself is in crisis, while NATO falters in Afghanistan, while the number of NATO casualties in Afghanistan rises, while the number of terrorist plots with links to Pakistan continues to rise, or while the risks of a nuclear terrorist attack with its origins in Pakistan remains.

  Some of my arguments and brief outlines of the evidence for all these assertions is laid out in the following pages:

2.  Policy Themes

  I wanted to start by setting out a number of the constants in Pakistan's defence and security thinking because these give us insight into why Pakistan behaves as it does and the degree to which the interests of Pakistan and the West—by which I mean primarily the US, UK and NATO are at odds in many areas. Five issues I think are fundamental:

    (1) that faced with a conflictual and powerful India to its east, Pakistan's security demands a friendly Afghanistan to its west both to provide it with "strategic space" and to ensure that Pakistan is not trapped between two adversaries;

    (2) that having been through the trauma of the break up of east and west Pakistan in 1971 with defeat by India and the creation of Bangladesh, Pakistan has become obsessed about further threats to the integrity of what remains of the original Pakistan;

    (3) that since the Zia ul-Haq years [1977-88], Pakistan has been undergoing a process of Islamization which has moved Pakistan away from the pluralist secular vision of its founding fathers towards an Islamized polity in which Sharia asserts an ever stronger role, and in which the centre of gravity in Pakistan's politics—and within the Pakistan military and intelligence services—has become ever more Islamic;

    (4) that subject to isolation and sanctions through the 1990s following the Soviet-Afghan war, Pakistan created and/or supported numerous extremist and terrorist organisations as instruments of state policy, both in relation to its international security objectives within the region and across the Islamic world as far afield as Algeria; and for internal purposes, particularly in relation to Kashmir, opposition to domestic secular pluralist political forces, and to perceived Shia threats to Pakistan's Sunni majority;

    (5) that Pakistan's Army needs to be understood as the country's most powerful and cohesive institution and that its direct engagement in politics since the 1950s means we should not understand the Pakistan army in the kind of terms with which we would think of NATO armed forces. For the Pakistan Army's supporters it is the one institution which has held the country together in the face of instability and a corrupt political class. To its detractors the Pakistan Army has stifled the evolution of democracy in Pakistan and locked the country into a paranoid security paradigm which only serves to fuel insecurity and underwrite the continued national dominance of the Army.

3.  Pakistan's Support for the Taliban

  In order to begin to understand what is going on in the FATA and NWFP today we have to understand that Pakistan and Afghanistan are intimately interlinked and in some respects need to be understood as two halves of the same walnut. One way into the issues is by thinking about Pakistan's relations with the Afghan Taliban. As is well known Pakistan supported and empowered the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan between about 1992 and 1996 as a means of imposing some order and stability on the chaos of post-Soviet warlord-dominated Afghanistan, and was one of only three states to give diplomatic recognition to the Taliban government. Pakistan did this because the Taliban are a Pashtun group and Pakistan has always sought to assert its control of Afghanistan—and thus to prevent Afghanistan falling under Indian influence—through the Pashtuns who constitute about 50% of the Afghan population and are dominant in Afghanistan's most important political regions. There are about 50 million Pashtuns in total, roughly 20 million in Afghanistan and 28 million in Pakistan.

Following 9/11 Pakistan was put under intense pressure and offered lavish rewards by the US to turn against the Taliban and although Pakistan had little choice but to comply with this, the crucial point is that the underlying fundamentals of Pakistani security policy did not change. The Karzai government which emerged in Afghanistan is antipathetic to Pakistan and is indulgent of Indian influence—for example the Indian "consulates" springing up across Afghanistan— much to Pakistan's alarm. Pakistan thus wants an end to the Karzai government and it also wants the US and NATO out of the Afghan theatre, because NATO props up Karzai, is permissive of Indian influence, and because the ongoing war with the Taliban is destabilizing Pakistan. The Taliban remain Pakistan's best instrument for achieving all three objectives because they are able to sustain—arguably with some Pakistani support or at least Pakistani tolerance—a grinding insurgency which Pakistan expects to force eventually both a political accommodation with the Taliban in Afghanistan and a Western deal with the Taliban to find a face-saving exit from Afghanistan.

4.  Taliban in Balochistan

  Thus Pakistan has provided a safe haven for the Afghan Taliban since 9/11, not least in Pakistan's South Western province of Balochistan. The added bonus of having the Taliban in Balochistan—where throughout much of the Musharraf years they were hosted by the Islamist MMA which, with Musharraf's support, dominated the Balochistan provincial assembly—is that the Taliban and MMA have played an important role in suppressing Balochi nationalism which, as one senior Pakistani military figure remarked, threatens Pakistan's territorial integrity in a way that the Taliban at the time did not.

This explains why the Taliban were—and still are—free to operate from Balochistan, in particular from around Quetta, despite the presence of huge numbers of Pakistan military in the province and much to the anger of NATO and UK commanders, particularly after the deployments to Southern Afghanistan in 2005 which found themsleves taking casualties from the Taliban who then simply retreated to safety across the Pakistan border. Recent claims by Pakistan to have moved against the Taliban shura in Balochistan do not appear to have been substantiated.

5.  Taliban in the FATA/NWFP

  The picture of the Taliban in Pakistan's northern NWFP and FATA is similar but even more complex. These areas have always been beyond the direct control of Pakistan but have been managed successfully through the exploitation of tribal power structures, which Pakistan understands well. In the aftermath of 9/11 the Taliban has also been tolerated in the NWFP and has been de facto permitted—through a series of "peace deals" with Pakistan—to attack Afghan and NATO forces across the border provided they did not threaten Pakistan itself. The situation has been further complicated by the emergence of Mehsud's Pakistan Taliban, the TTP, and groups like Fazlullah's TNSM, both of whose agenda is not Afghanistan, but the overthrow—or rather the complete Islamisation—of the Pakistani state. I'll say more about these groups in a moment.

6.  Kashmir—FATA NWFP

It's worth also just adding that Pakistan's ISI transited some of the Afghan Jihadi fighters from Afghanistan at the end of the 1980s into Kashmir to try to wrest Kashmir from India. To do this it set up a network of terrorist training camps in Pakistani Administered Kashmir and either created or empowered groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed for that struggle. Some of these groups -who were trained by the Pakistan army for guerrilla insurgency—have also made their way into Pakistan's tribal areas in the last few years where they have brought these skills to the tribal militants. Lashkar-e-Toiba of course is the organisation which carried out the attacks on the Indian parliament in December 2001, and is strongly suspected of having been behind the November 2008 commando-style attacks in Mumbai.

7.   Pakistan and al-Qaeda

Pakistan, and in particular Pakistan's lead intelligence agency—the ISI—has had a close relationship with Osama Bin Laden—and thus with al-Qaeda—since the Soviet Afghan war. At the end of that war in 1989 and 1990 the ISI tried to use Bin Laden for its jihad in Kashmir. The ISI also tried to co-opt Bin Laden for an attempt to remove Benazir Bhutto who was Prime Minister for the first time between 1988 and 1990, and this was the ground of Benazir's claim that ISI veterans—still influential in Pakistan—were complicit in the first attempt on her life in Karachi in October 2007, just a few months before she was so tragically assassinated.

It was the ISI which introduced Bin Laden to the Taliban in 1996 when he returned to Afghanistan, thereby gifting al-Qaeda a secure base from which to emerge as a genuinely global threat, and it was the ISI which tipped off Bin Laden about a series of attempts on his life in the late 1990s by the US in retaliation for al-Qaeda attacks in East Africa.

  In case anyone is interested I can make available a paper I wrote in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism in Washington in December 2007, which provides much greater detail about the ISI-al-Qaeda relationship. The long and complex relationship between the ISI and al-Qaeda must I think inform any analysis of Pakistan's response to al-Qaeda post 9/11.

8.  Pakistan's Army Operations in the FATA/NWFP

  The situation in the FATA/NWFP today is thus deeply complex and spiralling out of control. The Pakistan Army—post Musharraf—has stepped up military action in Bajaur province and neighbouring Mohmand province in particular and the new COAS Kiyani is trumpeting this as a "new realism" in the Army and as evidence of a willingness to tackle the militants, but there are reasons to doubt this.

The militants the Pakistan Army are fighting in the FATA and NWFP appear to be mainly Baitullah Meshud's Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan [TTP], and Maulana Fazlullah's Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammedi [TNSM]. These groups comprise almost entirely Pakistani nationals, many radicalised by the Western presence in Afghanistan, by Pakistan's "support" for the West, and by US airstrike in the FATA. The Pakistan Army also appears to be taking on some elements of al-Qaeda and some foreign groups—notably Uzbecks and some Arabs/Turks/Chinese Uighurs—which also pose a direct threat to the security of Pakistan itself, in a way the Afghan Taliban do not.

9.  Afghan Taliban in the FATA/NWFP

  The Pakistan Army however is still not moving against Mullah Omar's Afghan Taliban, nor is it moving against its erstwhile proxies in the Afghan-War and its aftermath—the Jallaludin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmayar militant armies. Nor, despite the Mumbai attacks, is it moving against those elements of Kashmiri separatists such as the LeT which have relocated to the FATA, though under intense US, British and Indian pressure it has made arrests of many Jamaat-u-Dawah [JUD] members, the JuD being widely viewed as an LeT front. The reason for this is that these groups will offer Pakistan the future influence it wants in Afghanistan [and in Kashmir] and Pakistan will thus put up with Western pressure to do more about these groups because it believes that the US and NATO cannot win in Afghanistan and that a deal with the Taliban is inevitable.

Thus it is that stories continue to emerge about the apparently free movement of the Taliban across the Afghan-Pakistan border, about the Afghan Taliban moving unchallenged—or with Pakistan Army permission—through Pakistani checkpoints, and about arms caches and training being provided to the Afghan Taliban by Pakistan, all of which Pakistan of course strongly rebuts and dismisses as US or Afghan propaganda.

  The suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on 7 July 2008 which killed more than 40 and injured more than 200 has been unequivocally linked to the ISI-backed Sirajuddin Haqqani's network, another clear illustration of Pakistan's on-going—if clandestine—support for the Afghan Taliban and its opposition to growing Indian influence.

  The same might be said for the pressure which is being exerted on NATO's logistic supply lines through Pakistan, which until recently Pakistan did little to protect. More cynical minds might indeed suggest that Pakistan's interests are served by constraining these supplies, both to weaken NATO and the US in Afghanistan and to remind the US in particular that Pakistan presently has its thumb on NATO's jugular, a useful riposte when Pakistan itself is pressured by the US.

10.  US Direct Action in the FATA

  At the same time the US has run out of patience with the Pakistan Army and ISI in relation to Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda safe havens in the FATA and has stepped up air-strikes and even conducted some ground incursions, most notably on 25 September 2008, when US and Pakistani forces traded gunfire. The US and NATO might however wonder why the Pakistan army and ISI are apparently powerless to do anything about the cross-border movement of the Taliban yet have managed to have troops in place and willing to fire on every US cross-border ground incursion to date.

Pakistan has responded very negatively to these developments— for example shutting off NATO logistics flows through Pakistan in retaliation for US ground incursions—but it is difficult to see that the US has much option. From a military perspective the imperative to act in the FATA in the face of Pakistani obfuscation seems overwhelming.

  However, as the US and NATO are well aware, the negative impact of these incursions and strikes are enormous and, inter alia, are fuelling anti-US and anti-western antipathy in Pakistan, strengthening anti-western sentiments within the Pakistan Army and ISI, and risking a general tribal uprising which would complicate issues in the FATA even further. It is a measure of the perilous state of the war with the Taliban in Afghanistan that the US clearly feels these risks are outweighed by the need to take direct action in the FATA.

11.  The Surge

  As you'll be well aware, the incoming Obama administration has signalled its intention to support a troop surge in Afghanistan, following the strategy that has proven successful in Iraq over the past 18 months, and that General Petraeus has been moved to the Afghan theatre for that purpose. The success or failure of this surge is very much going to depend on Pakistan and on what happens in the FATA and NWFP. Pakistan will not wish to see the surge succeed for the reasons I have outlined but it will come under intense pressure from the Obama administration who is unlikely to be as patient or as indulgent with the Pakistan military as the Bush administration has been. I expect the Pakistan Army reaction to the surge to be to very sharp and they are likely to use every means at their disposal—above all support for the Afghan Taliban—to defeat it.

This means that the US and NATO has to maximise its leverage over Pakistan, but before this concludes by thinking through precisely what that means it is helpful to put two others issues on the table—Pakistan's nuclear weapons and its role in the War on Terror—because these are likely to condition the degree to which Pakistan can be pressured over the next few years.

12.  Nuclear Proliferation and Terrorism

  The first issue is the links between Pakistan's relations with al-Qaeda, Pakistan's use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy, and what has been termed a "porous" nuclear weapons context in Pakistan. Many analysts believe that if there is a nuclear 9/11 carried out in the West, it will have its origins in Pakistan. I think there are at least two sets of issues here: one is that unscrupulous technocrats—such as AQ Khan—from within Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme could provide assistance to terrorists enabling them to cross the nuclear threshold. In this connection we already have the well documented case of two recently retired Pakistani nuclear weapons scientists—Sultan Mahmood and Chaudiri Majeed, who met Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan in August 2001. Pakistan has tried to dismiss this event as of marginal importance and Mahmood and Majeed as minor figures, but in fact these were senior and privately radical figures who, although not weapons designers themselves, were certainly knowledgeable about networks of nuclear contacts within Pakistan and beyond, and as the AQ Khan story had illustrated, it is these networks which are of pivotal importance in terms of nuclear transfer.

The second set of issues arise around the possibility of direct collusion between terrorists, and Islamists within the Pakistan military and intelligence services who have access to nuclear weapons and/or nuclear components. Having myself worked with Pakistan's SPD on precisely these nuclear safety and security personnel issues I take the view that these are serious concerns. Indeed I have published an analysis of these issues and you can access a shortened version of this paper about Pakistan's command and control arrangements which includes discussion of these nuclear terrorism risks, on the PSRU website a link to which you've been given.

  The point is that the Pakistan Army is seen as pivotal by the US to the safe custody of its nuclear weapons and to the prevention of nuclear weapons technology reaching terrorist hands. Pakistan thus has leverage in this domain.

13.  The ISI and the WoT I

  The second set of issues pertain to the hunt for al-Qaeda and the War on Terrorism. Two sets of tensions—those between Pakistan's need to be responsive to the US in particular and the need to be responsive to the generally anti-western sentiment at all levels in Pakistan, and those between differing Western and Pakistan interests in the region—have led to what may be called the "double narrative" of Pakistan's role in the WoT. The first of these—the story Pakistan wants the West to hear—is that Pakistan is an indispensable ally in the WoT. Certainly in the early years after 9/11 Pakistan did provide a great deal of support for the WoT, assisting the West in hunting down many al-Qaeda members, arresting or killing many senior figures such as Al-Libbi, Ghailiani, Farooqi, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and so forth, and closing down many indigenous terrorist organisations. As we have mentioned Pakistan has also taken heavy casualties in the tribal areas battling tribal militants.

14.  The ISI and the WoT II

The second narrative, however, is that Pakistan has released many terrorist suspects, allowed many indigenous terrorist organisations to reform, some under different names, has redeployed some of these groups to its northern areas and even to Bangladesh to escape international attention, continues to use terrorists as instruments of state policy, and that Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are still at large and—according to US Undersecretary of State John Negroponte—that al-Qaeda has reconstituted itself in Pakistan as the hub of its global operations.

In recent months Pakistani intelligence has provided more information about al-Qaeda and other foreign terrorists in the FATA/NWFP and there have been some notable successes, particularly the deaths of Abu Zubair al-Misri, Azam al-Saudi, Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar and Mustafa Abu-al-Yazid. But this has come only under intense US pressure and does not detract from the general duplicity of Pakistan, and the ISI in particular, in the War on Terror.

15.  Criticisms of the ISI

  In preparing a paper on the ISI—which is available if you want to have it—I spoke to security personnel on both sides of the Atlantic and a pretty consistent critique of the ISI's role emerged, in particular that:

    —  the ISI tends to act on US and/or UK intelligence but not to be proactive in bringing its own intelligence to the West, and that there are huge gaps in the intelligence the ISI does provide to the West which Western agencies believe they are able to fill should they wish;

    —  the ISI is unhelpful in relation to specific investigations—most notably of London's 7/7 and 21/7 attacks—where the trail has gone cold, particularly where those investigated abut against Pakistani sensitivities such as ISI-constructed terrorist training camps;

    —  the ISI has restricted or denied the US/UK access to many alleged terrorists as well as to many of its own operatives and assets [key individuals here include Omar Saeed Sheik implicated in the murder of Daniel Pearl; Dawood Ibrahim, Pakistan's no 1 gangster/fixer with known connections to the ISI and al-Qaeda; Rashid Rauf allegedly involved in the summer 2006 Heathrow bomb plots who miraculously "escaped" Pakistani custody before he was killed in a US airstrike]; and

    —  the ISI manipulates intelligence for its own internal and geopolitical reasons, and misdirects US and UK intelligence services [eg targets in the tribal areas].

  The real point here of course—in relation to the War in Afghanistan and to the War on Terror—is not whether Pakistan and its ISI are for us or against us, but rather whether the benefits the US and NATO derive from the support of the Pakistan military and ISI are worth the costs and present and future risks. I take the view that the answer to that question has changed markedly for the negative over the past few years and that we can no longer afford a "business as usual" relationship with the Pakistan military. Not at least while Pakistan itself is in crisis, while NATO falters in Afghanistan, while the number of NATO casualties in Afghanistan rises, while the number of terrorist plots with links to Pakistan continues to rise, or while the risks of a nuclear terrorist attack with its origins in Pakistan remains.

16.  Policy Constraints

  I am under no illusions however about the difficulties of pressing Pakistan to adjust its policy. Any western initiatives to force Pakistan to revise policy must face up to at least five substantial obstacles:

    (1) that despite the nominal transition to "democracy" in Pakistan post February 2008, the Pakistan military remains in control of defence policy, foreign policy, nuclear policy, internal security, and will defend their expanded interests in the Pakistan economy which mushroomed under Musharraf. In the context of the WoT, and in the context of vast direct US aid to the Pakistan military this leaves the divided elected government a pretty small portfolio of issues to squabble about;

    (2) that Pakistan has proven extremely resistant to external sanctions and pressure. Indeed the lessons of the decade or so of the Pressler sanctions through the 1990s, and the post-test sanctions in 1998, is that Pakistan will not budge an inch in the face of such pressure and that the solutions it seeks to circumvent those pressures have had, if anything, even more negative consequences for the West;

    (3) that we should never lose sight of Pakistan's capacity for "coercive options", by which I mean its capacity to deny the West what support it presently offers and/or to step up support for the Taliban, for terrorists, for proliferation, and so on. I have myself heard several senior Pakistani diplomats and military figures make precisely this threat, albeit veiled in polite language;

    (4) that the narrow focus of the Bush administration—and Cheney's office in particular—over the past seven years on Musharraf and the Pakistan Army has greatly limited the policy options and denied the West a broader front of engagement with Pakistan. Over Musharraf's term democracy has declined in Pakistan and Islamic extremism and terrorism have flourished. It will not be easy to find that broader front or to reverse the consequences of Bush's policy myopia;

    (5) that direct US military intervention in Pakistan is a hugely risky policy option with the potential to inflame the situation, undermine what western support still exists in Pakistan, trigger precisely the coercive options Pakistan has warned of, and perhaps even threaten the existence of Pakistan itself. I am reminded of Zbigniew Brezinski's recent entreaty that the US could soon find itself at war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan and, in his words, if it were "that would spell the end of US hegemony".

February 2009

166   Throughout this paper when I use the term Pakistan I am referring to the military-political elite which runs the country, unless otherwise stated. Back

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