Managing Pakistan - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 18 October 2011

Managing Pakistan

In the Pakistan of today, India has no good options. All it can do is to keep a dialogue going while keeping its powder dry

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Oct 11

It should be no surprise that the American discourse on post-2014 AfPak is shifting as it becomes evident that the troop thin-out will leave behind an Afghanistan in turmoil if not outright civil war. In recognition of the bare-knuckle conflict that lies ahead, discussion has moved on from the soft issues of Afghan democracy, women’s empowerment and eradication of corruption to kinetic topics like the transition of security responsibility. Washington’s big security bugaboo is now the possible entry of the Al Qaeda into the power vacuum left behind by departing US troops. And Paul Yingling, of the George C Marshall Centre, has revived another favourite US nightmare, pointing out that the “truly unique threat to the West” is actually in Pakistan where radical ideology flourishes “less than a day’s drive from the world’s least secure nuclear arsenal”.

New Delhi must be alert to these changing US concerns because, even in ignominious withdrawal, Washington will continue to shape the AfPak stage on which Pakistan will act. American thinking follows a predictable pattern: when Pakistan-based jehadi fighters are killing US troops in Afghanistan, the threat is more immediate. In such circumstances, worried US defence officials would naturally squeeze Rawalpindi by publicly castigating the Inter-Services Intelligence for supporting the Haqqani network. But in the months and years ahead, as US troops withdraw, the view from the ground in Afghanistan will yield primacy to a longer-distance view from Washington. America’s strategic concerns will inevitably shift from the locally influential Haqqani network, to long-range threats to US soil like “Al Qaeda havens” and “jehadi nukes”.

But the AfPak region will remain on Washington’s radar even if closer to the periphery. Some 30,000 US troops will remain stationed in Afghanistan even beyond 2014, their charter including drone strikes into Pakistan’s tribal areas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, the “epicentre of global terrorism”. This will create a mutual dependency with Pakistan: America would need ground intelligence and airspace co-ordination from Pakistan; while Rawalpindi would want to direct drone strikes towards anti-establishment jehadis (like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) while safeguarding its cultivated killers (like the Lashkar-e-Taiba). Paradoxically, therefore, even as US logistical dependency on Pakistan reduces, its place would be taken by an enhanced intelligence and operational relationship.

It would be unrealistic, therefore, for New Delhi to hope for a stronger American line on Pakistan in the short and medium term. In the long term, however, continuing US-Pak co-operation would most likely stall on the rocks of growing radicalisation within Pakistan. With most Pakistanis convinced that Washington has railroaded Rawalpindi into its crusade against Islam, America has become a hate figure that in many ways overshadows India.

While the Pakistani establishment rides the anti-American tiger, this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the US provides a convenient scapegoat for many of the problems that beset Pakistan. It is almost an article of faith in Pakistan (and like all good lies, this has a kernel of truth) that America’s presence in Afghanistan has destabilised the tribal areas. Anti-Americanism provides Islamabad a fig leaf while engaging with its “all-weather friend”, Beijing. But there is also a tricky downside: Pakistan’s leaders can no longer explain why they continue to stretch out a beggar’s bowl to the “crusaders” and militarily co-operating with the infidels in killing “brother Muslims”.

As radicalisation grows in Pakistan, especially among a new generation of soldiers; as Islamists whip up public outrage over the inevitable collateral damage from drone strikes; as an increasingly isolated Pakistan becomes more insular and conservative; and as American domestic opinion makes it difficult for Washington to continue its handouts to a terrorism-tolerant, military-dominated nation of America-haters, the US-Pakistan relationship is foredoomed to bitterness.

New Delhi, therefore, is far-sighted in its realisation that Washington’s ability to influence Pakistan and nudge that country away from the abyss is perceptibly declining. The US continues to tackle symptoms rather than disease, warning against support to the Haqqani network, but seemingly unwilling to take on the underlying ecosystem that nurtures terror as an instrument of national policy. America deploys aid and exchange programmes in fruitless attempts to win Pakistani hearts and minds, but seems unwilling to put pressure for reforming an education system that breeds exclusivity and hate.

In the circumstances, can China be expected to manage the Pakistan problem? Certainly Beijing has a bigger stake than Washington in a less dysfunctional Pakistan. Recent statements from Beijing indicate growing concern over the spread of Islamist militancy to the Muslim Uighur areas of Xinjiang. The Karakoram highway and a planned infrastructure corridor linking Xinjiang with the Arabian Sea only make sense if they pass through secure areas. The soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army already guard Chinese construction teams working in the Northern Areas, in the Pakistan-occupied side of the Khunjerab Pass. As Pakistan’s military grows ever more conservative, Beijing will also come to share America’s apprehension about nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands.

China today commands far greater influence than the US within the power centres of Pakistan, despite having given Islamabad a mere fraction of the military and humanitarian assistance that Washington has doled out over the years. But even Chinese influence might count for naught since the cannons rolling around the Pakistani deck are in nobody’s control. For India, there are no good choices currently. All that New Delhi can do is to keep a dialogue going while keeping its powder dry.


  1. Col. Shukla-

    Another perceptive article. Thank you.

    The Chinese can be expected to drag the benefits of Pakistan keeping India occupied for as long as they can. However, they will not throw money at Pakistan the way America does. They know better than many how deeply the cancer is spread, and being super pragmatic, they will not pour their money down the proverbial drain. Also, they know that the spiraling fanaticism will, some day, reach out to East Turkestan. The PLA soldiers guarding the construction teams, rather than letting the Pakmil provide the security is a clear demonstration of the faith they have in the Pak Mil.

    So their cost-benefit analysis will preclude wasting too much money without enough benefits.

    I personally am happy to know Delhi is being pragmatic about the US-Pakistan relationship. Its a classic hooker-john one, where money rules.

    Yes.. dialogue, lots of dry powder and political will please.

  2. The notion of Pakistan and its very foundation was based on a sense of 'separation' and 'religious identity' the basis of nationhood.Since 1947 Pakistan has sought to reinforce by creating a cultural and historical construct that emphasizes Pakistan's links to Middle-Eastern and Central Asia,The South Asian linkages are minimized would have been totally stricken from Pakistan history,were it not for the obvious facts to the contrary.In such a quest, Pakistan is a confused lot,the middle and Central Asians look on Pakistan as a part of South Asia,and for Pakistan,closeness to South Asia becomes a threat to its identity.With so many Muslims outside Pakistan in south -Asia,one will wonder what was Pakistan created for?For if it were,why are many more Muslims residing out of it.For some, reconciliation with India is striking at the foundations of Pakistan as a nation,since India according to them was never a united nation.It was political Islam that united the sub-continent first and it is Pakistan that must work to bring back the glory days!For others Pakistan has a strategic role and position that cannot be but antagonistic to India.Acting as a barrier to Central Asia, Pakistan can 'regulate'Indian growth towards Central Asia to its own strategic ends.Yet for others,the only long term security for Pakistan is that there be no united India.I believe,that as long as Pakistan predominantly believes in the two nation theory, we will never have good relations.We probably should keep our powder dry for at least a 100 years more and that too would be an optimistic wish! At the most we can be indifferent neighbors with some trade and social links.

  3. I'm glad to see Business Standard publishing your lucid view and glad you could share this article here. Some straight talking with neither jingoism nor panic in Indian media is welcome relief.

    To the reader, this article is also recommended for further reading:

  4. Sir,
    In the last bit of your excellent article i think you meant to Arabian Sea and not Bay of Bengal.

  5. Nice article. My thoughts on India's strategy for Pak-

    1. The last line in your article is most important. We must try to keep peace in the immediate term. This is a very tall ask... given the penchant for ISI actively/passively abetting terrorist strikes in India.

    2. Adopt a version of our grand Afghanistan strategy. Most of your readers will argue against this. Or aim of this strategy should be sharply focussed on changing the mindsets of Pak people. They should see immideate benefits and they should see several low hanging fruits, which we can raise or lower..depending on their behaviour, and depending on which is which fruit.

    3. Integrate SAARC region economically without making the mistakes of the EU.

    4. At the same time, be ready for Pak to implode into several mini countries. No one knows what will happen, but "Security along with Humanity" comes first. Leave political one upmanship out of this.

  6. Hi Ajai,

    Pl. bring forth the following aspects of 'Manage'.

    1. (also intr) to be in charge (of);
    2. to succeed in being able (to do something) despite obstacles;
    3. to have room, time, etc.,
    4. to exercise control or domination over, often in a tactful or guileful manner
    5. (intr) to contrive to carry on despite difficulties,
    6. (Military) to wield or handle (a weapon)

    Also need to elaborate on communication between GOI and the citizens while we are in 'Manage' phase. A must to brace for the massive upheaval next door.



  7. This analysis is more of sermon than an analysis. The ground reality would be different when Taliban and Taliban on Afghan side will pool their strength to keep Pakistan out, after US has left. You may argue that it did not happen when Soviets left Afghanistan. But then there was a no Pakistani Taliban component. Now that the Pushtuns on both sides are up in arms and Afghani Taliban is considerably weaker, thanks to drones flying all over, both the Taliban would combine and keep Pakistan out of Afghanistan. that is the scenario the Government of India is banking upon. They have built roads, doing other infrastructure projects, generally getting Afghani people on their side.

    Pity Pakistan for playing the depth concept too long and too far. Now is the time for Pakistan to put Kashmir on back burner. If they persist then strike hard and long enough if they stage another Mumbai attack.

    Hari Sud

  8. @Anonymous 14:06

    I did indeed mean Arabian Sea. Thank you for pointing that out. I have made the correction.


  9. Dear Col Shukla,

    A very eloquent and insightful summary of the future of strategic relationships in South Asia.

    Thank you.......

  10. As America is mostly going out without registering any victory, the whole Pak-Afghan region may undergo a severe internal conflagration. India has to be ready at all costs for any eventuality and especially to clean all the ashes and remnant debris in Pak. Then the global recession may go down and Indian economy may run fastest.

  11. Nothing will... and ever will... overcome... The punjabi in uniform... Be it God... Almighty... desended upon this... dust bowl... called Pakistan... Then... What to speak of... mere men who came... and went in His Name... and The Followers...

  12. Sir,

    I agree that all possibilities seem tasteless. However, we must take concrete steps towards peace.
    Distasteful steps such as converting the LOAC into the IB may have to be taken in order that long-time peace can be established.
    However, we must move from strength to strength and improve our defences thoroughly.
    We face something not unlike Mordor, in Pakistan. Pakistanis are literally schooled to hate us from their cribs.
    History teaches us that peace never lasts and war will happen. Maybe 1 year from now or maybe 20.
    But it is our duty to be prepared for both war and peace.
    Jai Jawan & Jai Kisan.

  13. Col, something to ponder over seems like a systematic cleaning ops, post 9/11. Sadam, OBL and now Gadafi...grand strategy with exact milestones and deliverables. Whats your Pakistan in that list? Obviously, Musharaf was very smart with his fluctuating sine wave strategy and avoided taking sides. But, Kiyani is taking sides and putting himself and his country into harms way. I think Madam Clinton is there today to make that final assessment. I hope Nuclear fart of Kiyani clears off before he speaks to Madam Clinton today. You know, farts like these cause serious health problems.

  14. Analysis (especially indian variety) is one thing. The reality another thing. One thing Pak have learnt from the current stand off with USA is that they can look it in the eye and tell it to bugger off. No one is begging, USA has been told openly it doesn't need the aid. Only indians are well behind this curve...wonder why they are not taken seriously? The percentage of aid wrt Pak economy or militry is too small to make an impact.

    The ground reality from Pak to CIS to the Med is the same....of brotherhood. The size of your opponent is just a measure of a nation not of defeat or victory. Just look at your history and the history of the world, its full of examples, where smaller, poorer shaped the future.

    Pak will never allow india any measure of control in CA or thje arabian sea...unless and until the kashmir dispute is sorted period.

    India has been hoping since the 1940's that this nation will break or be broken. Wishful thinking is afterall wishful.

  15. What I always wondered about is this:Pakistan makes so much out of Kashmir but why doesn't India do the same about Punjab which is divided into two?If they want Kashmir why doesnt India also demand Punjab back as a unified state?Surely, with Punjabi Muslims running the show in Pakistan this will throw the Pak military's plans into chaos?

  16. Sher Khan ka Baap22 October 2011 at 10:04


    Bete madarrasa degree is not a qualification, so go, get better education otherwise right now you are eating aloo anday, soon you will be eating ghas

  17. Dear Sherkhan-

    Bangladesh was not wishful thinking.
    The well known stats of Pakistani economy is not wishful thinking.
    The lovely song by the Beygairat Brigade is not wishful thinking.
    Funny, apt and very brave of these youngsters :

    Watch :

    Even the sensible folks in Pakistan are kind of understanding whats happening inside their country. Maybe you want to consider waking up? These kids deserve a Nishan-i-Haidar, or atleast a Hilal-i-Jurat for braving the fate that some your good journalists suffered at the Chief's behest.

    The faster your people wake up, the higher the chance that uou might not implode.

    Enjoy your Sunday!

  18. Sher Khan @02:32,
    Bugger off USA,we are now getting our pa*ty-hose from China!!!!!
    That is exactly the kind of delusions Pakistanis are brought up with!! Pakistan will not allow control of the Arabian Sea or CIS until Kashmir is solved!!LOL,that is one of the most hilarious things I have heard,even from a Pakistani!!!And he goes on to say,brotherhood with the CIS and links to the ummah,when Pakistanis make not a peep out oh how Chinese teat their Muslim minorities !HAHAHA! Pakistanis think they can tap on the ummah as they like or they have the wherewithal to influence regional events,apart from being a pest,to the detriment o other regional players!!!Forever piggy riding on others,be it from SEATO or CENTO days on the west to the frantic skirt grabbing of China , Pakistan thinks it can control events in the Arabian sea!!!! What yu gonna do it,with your fishing fleet or do you think of the Chinese Navy as de-facto Pakistani!!!Did you know the Chinese credit funds your Jf-17 line or the turks give frees Cobra helo parts, the Saudis subsidized oil.NO wonder when USA said boo,Pasha ran to the Sauds and the Chinese came over to babysit.And we had the gayest of phrases of how Chinese were sweeter than honey in their friendship!!! Pakistanis have always needed to hold on to the d*ck of either a USA or China and the policies designed to appease either as it suits them.
    Sher Kahn it is quite evident that you are not a resident Pakistani.Looking at the current state of Pakistan,not even a madman would covet that country.

  19. @SherKhan
    >>India has been hoping since the 1940's that this nation will break or be broken. Wishful thinking is afterall wishful.

    Haha.. thus spake SherKhan from Baki-stan. ;-D

  20. Americans are planning to leave behind a force. Will it be able to meet the challenge or will it meet the fate of British garrison in 1842. Najibullah incident is still fresh. Islamic militancy will have to be tackled by it's horns. In entire history, only two persons have been victorious in Afghanistan, Alexander of Macedonia and babur of Ferghana. Alexander had to bribe the trbes and Babur massacred everybody. Thus the mountain range named HINDUKUSH (murder of Hindus). India also must tread cautiously. Paki missiles can't reach USA. So, like Saddam launched Scuds against Israel, Pakis will use their nukes on India in their death throes. Pakistan's game is over but it will drag us down with it, if we are not ultra careful.

  21. Anon 4:18

    Great, certainly it is our land indeed - we should claim it. Just like Chinese where mere mention of these places in our text - be it religious, mythological, legal or historical means we have loci standi to claim it. But..but moment we do it the present Government will look like following RSS line...which they will not do, even if military strategist suggest that's the best way to off balance the enemy. You know our enemy are within the state not outside. That's what nationalist in Pakistan have realized and you see that in form of taliban movement. Probably, where we are far behind compared to Pakistan is 'Nationalist Movement'with challenge to keep this movement secular.

  22. The leaked American embassy cables also show that the Pakistani military and the intelligence agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) are deeply involved in the country’s nuclear power politics, quite often at variance with American interests.

    America’s micro-management of Pakistan is especially evident in three key areas: (i) the American Special Forces operating in Pakistan; (ii) the US interference or unduly deep involvement in Pakistan politics; and (iii) the controversial drone strikes in Pakistani territory.

  23. The only thing which we have done over the four decades is kept the dialogue going, at cost which would have been unbearable for any other country. The cost - over 50,000 killed in Kashmir, another 50,000 killed in Punjab, 500,000 Kashmiri pundits displaced, countless security personnel killed and then the innumerable terrorist attacks across the country which would have claimed atleast 5000 more. Yes lets keep the dialogue going. Yes lets keep it going.

  24. @Sherkhan
    We are very well aware that the American aid is a "small percentage" of PA budget. We also know it's major source of funds are Pakistani tax payer, Fauji foundation, Saudi nuke aids and Afghan drug dealings. It is not the American money, it is the American power that counts. US pressure is what saved PA's backside all these years.

    Your comment about "looking in the eyes of Americans" is pure hogwash! PA is even able to talk big because US wants it's favorite militia around. If it takes out PA, it does not have any rent boys to do it's dirty work in such an important area.

    And please throw this brotherhood story in to a dustbin. Saudi's are preparing to attack Iran by hook or crook. PA is supporting them for money(as usual). So much for the brotherhood.

    And regarding the CIS. As usual Pakistan thinks it is most important country in the world. Who needs access from Pakistan to CIS when India has Iran? and Russia to back it up? Oil from CIS can easily come through from Iran or worst case Russia.

    For the countries in CIS, it is no brainier if they have to choose between India and Pak.A nation with a sack of money versus a nation with nutcase fighters. Money talks louder than "brotherhood".

    India is very lucky that it has a self destructing adversary like Pakistan. PA's usual show of bravado like Kargil makes sure India is on it's toes in defense spending. Add to this Pakistan's obsession with India to the extend of self destruction means, India does not even have to raise a finger in defeating Pakistan!

    I say Pakistan, all the best for the destruction that is going to behold on you, once the Americans leave. Will see you in five years time... if you manage to survive.


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