Ahmed Rashid

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Ahmed Rashid

Pak­istan Un­der Siege: Ex­trem­ism, So­ci­ety, and the State by Madiha Afzal and two other books on Pak­istan

Ji­had and Dawah: Evolv­ing Nar­ra­tives of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Ja­mat ud Dawah by Sam­ina Yas­meen. Lon­don: Hurst, 315 pp., £35.00

De­feat Is an Or­phan: How Pak­istan Lost the Great South Asian War by Myra MacDon­ald. Lon­don: Hurst, 313 pp., £25.00; £15.99 (pa­per)

Pak­istan Un­der Siege: Ex­trem­ism, So­ci­ety, and the State by Madiha Afzal. Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion Press, 192 pp., $36.99 (pa­per)

There was a mo­ment some time ago— how­ever hard it is to imag­ine now— when Pak­istan could have be­come a cen­ter of trade, in­vest­ment, in­fra­struc­ture projects, and en­ergy pipe­lines be­tween South and Cen­tral Asia and the Mid­dle East. Pak­istan is strate­gi­cally lo­cated and blessed with abun­dant nat­u­ral re­sources. But it has been un­able to ben­e­fit from these ad­van­tages as a re­sult of its fre­quently dis­as­trous po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions, which in­vari­ably lead to crises. Its se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment is con­stantly in con­flict with elected civil­ian gov­ern­ments and is never sat­is­fied with its own im­mense power. Cor­rup­tion is ram­pant at all lev­els of govern­ment, while the coun­try con­tin­ues to have some of the low­est in­dices in the world for health, lit­er­acy, and nu­tri­tion and— as UNICEF re­cently an­nounced—the worst in­fant mor­tal­ity rate in the world. Pak­istan has nu­clear weapons but em­ploys ji­hadist or­ga­ni­za­tions to fight on its be­half in con­flicts with for­eign coun­tries. It has failed to crack down on ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity at home and en­cour­aged its cit­i­zens to adopt views that may make them more re­cep­tive to ex­trem­ist po­si­tions. Pak­istan has con­tin­ued to in­sist, for in­stance, that In­dia is a con­stant threat and that only a re­newed na­tional com­mit­ment to Is­lam will be able to unite the dis­parate eth­nic groups, tribes, and mi­nori­ties that co­ex­ist within the coun­try. These views are taken to the ex­treme by Is­lamic mil­i­tants, who seek to de­stroy In­dia al­to­gether and to turn Pak­istan into a sharia state gov­erned ex­clu­sively by Is­lamic law.

At a meet­ing in Paris at the end of Fe­bru­ary, the thirty-seven-na­tion Fi­nan­cial Ac­tion Task Force (FATF) ap­proved a mo­tion by the US and Bri­tain to have Pak­istan placed back on its “gray list” of coun­tries that have taken in­ad­e­quate steps to com­bat ter­ror­ist fi­nanc­ing. (It had been taken off in 2015.) At the end of June, in an­other meet­ing, the FATF of­fi­cially put Pak­istan on the list. This will have sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic costs: it is likely to dis­cour­age for­eign in­vest­ment, force Pak­istan to re­pay its loans, slow down trade, and place a hold on the $60 bil­lion that China has been giv­ing it for in­fra­struc­ture projects. The FATF warned that un­less there were ma­jor changes in its ac­tiv­i­ties Pak­istan could end up on the “black list” of “Non-Co­op­er­a­tive Coun­tries or Ter­ri­to­ries,” along­side North Korea and Iran. This would en­tail heavy in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions. Even if it man­ages to avoid that fate, it will fall short of its as­pi­ra­tion to be a mod­ern par­lia­men­tary democ­racy as long as it con­tin­ues to pan­der to Is­lamic ex­trem­ists and rely on them to carry out its for­eign pol­icy. Three re­cent books sur­vey the his­tor­i­cal de­vel­op­ment and cur­rent state of Pak­istan’s re­la­tion­ship with ji­hadist groups. En­cour­ag­ingly, two of them are writ­ten by authors from Pak­istan rather than from Europe or the United States. Pak­istan Un­der Siege: Ex­trem­ism, So­ci­ety, and the State, by the young aca­demic Madiha Afzal, is a re­mark­ably clear, con­cise, and ac­ces­si­ble at­tempt to dis­man­tle as­sump­tions com­mon among Western­ers about pub­lic opin­ion in Pak­istan. In one poll, she tells us, 89 per­cent of Pak­istani re­spon­dents said that ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence was un­jus­ti­fied. But Afzal not only gives the lie to Western stereo­types about the preva­lence of ex­trem­ist be­liefs in Mus­lim coun­tries; she also looks closely and crit­i­cally at the ways in which the Pak­istani govern­ment has en­cour­aged the coun­try’s mil­i­ta­riza­tion and what she refers to as its “Is­lamiza­tion.”

Fol­low­ing Septem­ber 11, Afzal writes, it was com­monly as­sumed that Pak­istan was awash with madrasas, or re­li­gious schools. Western jour­nal­ists and schol­ars fre­quently cited es­ti­mates that be­tween 500,000 and two mil­lion stu­dents were en­rolled in them. Pak­istan’s own ed­u­ca­tional cen­sus, on the con­trary, shows that only 7 per­cent of vil­lages have a madrasa, with less than 200,000 en­rolled stu­dents over­all. At the same time, Afzal writes with con­cern about the ways in which Pak­istan’s ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem has sup­ported the coun­try’s ex­trem­ist fac­tions. The govern­ment text­books stu­dents use are steeped in false facts, ex­ag­ger­a­tions, and out­right lies that con­firm ex­trem­ist views. They re­fer, for in­stance, to In­dia’s “con­stant wish to weaken the in­tegrity of Pak­istan for one rea­son or an­other.” The coun­try’s le­gal sys­tem, too, tends to sup­port ex­trem­ist think­ing. Clauses in­serted into the pe­nal code in the 1980s crim­i­nal­ized per­ceived in­frac­tions of Is­lamic law. These clauses have been used by courts to de­prive women of their ba­sic rights. In some cases Afzal fails to take ac­count of his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion that bears on her case. In her dis­cus­sion of Sufi Mo­hammed, an Is­lamist in­sur­gency leader, she makes no men­tion of the fact that af­ter Septem­ber 11 Pak­istan al­lowed him to mo­bi­lize 10,000 tribal fight­ers to help the Tal­iban re­sist the US in­va­sion of Afghanistan. But her ar­gu­ments are per­sua­sive and sen­si­ble. She crit­i­cizes Pak­istan’s govern­ment for its in­ad­e­quate re­sponse to lo­cal acts of ter­ror­ism, which have claimed some 25,000 lives over the past decade:

The Pak­istani state has never en­gaged in a clear con­ver­sa­tion with its cit­i­zens about the ter­ror­ist groups tar­get­ing the coun­try— ex­plain­ing who they were, where they come from, what they say they want, and why they are wrong. It has of­fered no lessons in his­tory, no clar­ity or guid­ance.

The govern­ment’s re­fusal to talk to its peo­ple about the back­ground to these ter­ror­ist at­tacks has left room, Afzal shows, for some politi­cians in Pak­istan to blame them on the United States and In­dia. There’s lit­tle sign of this chang­ing. In Afzal’s view, the govern­ment will not sig­nif­i­cantly al­ter its strat­egy or out­look as long as it “is still con­vinced it can walk the line be­tween its mas­ter nar­ra­tive”—i.e., that it is do­ing ev­ery­thing it can to erad­i­cate ex­trem­ist groups within its bor­ders— “and rad­i­cal­ism.”

In Ji­had and Dawah: Evolv­ing Nar­ra­tives of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Ja­mat ud Dawah, Samia Yas­meen makes a more spe­cific in­quiry into the state’s re­la­tions with ji­hadist or­ga­ni­za­tions. A Pak­istani pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Western Aus­tralia, Yas­meen has car­ried out an in-depth study of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), con­sid­ered to be the largest and most im­por­tant ji­hadist group op­er­at­ing in Pak­istan and a re­cip­i­ent of sub­stan­tial gov­ern­men­tal sup­port. She has con­ducted her re­search largely by study­ing the group’s own pub­lished text­books and ser­mons. LeT was founded at the end of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan by the Is­lamist leader Hafiz Saeed and other pro­fes­sors in Lahore who be­longed to the Deobandi sect of Sunni Is­lam. The Deobandi’s af­fil­i­a­tion with the Wah­habi move­ment in Saudi Ara­bia pro­vided LeT with rich pa­trons and donors in the Ara­bian Gulf who be­lieved that the group would, in ex­change, pros­e­ly­tize Wah­habism and ji­had in South Asia and tar­get In­dia and Iran. Arab and Pak­istani do­na­tions al­lowed LeT to ex­pand quickly and set up schools, uni­ver­si­ties, hos­pi­tals, and a free med­i­cal and am­bu­lance ser­vice—all of which have lent some cred­i­bil­ity to the group’s claim that it is just a char­i­ta­ble Is­lamic or­ga­ni­za­tion. But the provoca­tive texts it pub­lishes and the text­books it as­signs in schools of­fer a strictly sec­tar­ian in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Ko­ran and tes­tify to the group’s strong be­lief in

ji­hadist vi­o­lence. Few mod­ern Is­lamic states would al­low such lit­er­a­ture to be read by the young peo­ple LeT of­ten ad­dresses.

In ad­di­tion to Ara­bian and Pak­istani donors, LeT’s third main source of sup­port has been Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary, which shares the group’s aim of lib­er­at­ing In­dian Kash­mir. Af­ter the Sovi­ets with­drew from Afghanistan in 1989, Yas­meen writes, Pak­istan’s In­terSer­vices In­tel­li­gence agency “se­lected di­verse re­li­gious-based or­ga­ni­za­tions in Pak­istan to be trained on the Afghan front and then to de­velop suf­fi­cient ca­pac­ity to shape the fu­ture di­rec­tions of the Kash­miri in­de­pen­dence move­ment.” Schol­ars and re­tired govern­ment of­fi­cials have told me that the party has given mil­i­tary train­ing to tens of thou­sands of mil­i­tants since the 1980s.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween LeT and Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary was so­lid­i­fied in 1999, when the army chief Gen­eral Pervez Mushar­raf, who would soon seize power in a mil­i­tary coup, se­cretly planned a lim­ited in­va­sion of In­dian Kash­mir us­ing both reg­u­lar troops and LeT fight­ers. Just a few months af­ter In­dia and Pak­istan had both tested nu­clear de­vices, Mushar­raf’s forces oc­cu­pied moun­tains over­look­ing strate­gic towns in In­dian Kash­mir. He hoped to hold In­dian ter­ri­tory long enough for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to in­ter­vene and force both sides into talks. Pak­istan’s nu­clear arms had opened up space, Yas­meen writes, “for low-level tac­ti­cal moves that could se­cure the max­i­mum gains in the form of forc­ing In­dia to ne­go­ti­ate on the fu­ture of Kash­mir.” Pak­istan also con­sid­ered the oc­cu­pa­tion re­venge for its loss of East Pak­istan at the hands of In­dia in 1971. Mushar­raf was con­fi­dent that the threat of nu­clear weapons would de­ter In­dia from re­tal­i­at­ing by in­vad­ing Pak­istan. But In­dia drove out the in­vaders and a war broke out in the Kargil dis­trict of Kash­mir, re­sult­ing in a hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat for Pak­istan’s army and the LeT ji­hadis it had em­ployed. Hun­dreds of fight­ers were killed, Pak­istan was in­ter­na­tion­ally con­demned for war­mon­ger­ing, and its con­trol over its nu­clear weapons was put in doubt. Still, how­ever, many re­tired gen­er­als con­tinue to rate Kargil a tac­ti­cal, if not a strate­gic, suc­cess.

Myra MacDon­ald, a for­mer Reuters jour­nal­ist in South Asia and a nat­u­ral sto­ry­teller, has writ­ten a su­perb book about the pe­riod lead­ing up to and in­clud­ing the Kargil war. In De­feat Is an Or­phan: How Pak­istan Lost the Great South Asian War, she de­scribes the war as the de­ci­sive point at which Pak­istan’s “down­ward trend rel­a­tive to” In­dia be­came seem­ingly “ir­re­versible.”

Af­ter Pak­istan de­vel­oped nu­clear ca­pac­i­ties, MacDon­ald writes, it could have taken ad­van­tage of its newly achieved par­ity with In­dia to “put its own house in or­der.” In­stead, Pak­istan re­mained as inse­cure as ever. It re­lied on the pro­tec­tion of the nu­clear um­brella to pur­sue its proxy war against In­dia. No longer forced to adapt to the threat of ex­ter­nal in­va­sion that might com­pel it to dis­arm its Is­lamist mil­i­tant prox­ies, it clung to them ever more tightly.

It was this in­se­cu­rity that led Pak­istan to in­vade Kargil. The Pak­istani army de­flected re­spon­si­bil­ity for the war by blam­ing its de­feat on col­lu­sion be­tween the US and In­dia. In MacDon­ald’s view, that choice ended up strength­en­ing and en­cour­ag­ing ji­hadist forces. “De­feat at Kargil,” she tells us, “gave ji­hadi groups one more rea­son to stoke up out­rage against the United States and In­dia.” It be­came “a pow­er­ful re­cruit­ing tool.”

Is­lamic mil­i­tant groups also blamed the Pak­istani state for with­draw­ing from Kargil. They were “no longer will­ing to trust the Pak­istan Army to de­liver on Kash­mir,” as a re­sult of which “more and more would go their own way, a process ac­cel­er­ated af­ter Septem­ber 11, 2001.”

The more the state came to rely on ji­hadis, the less con­trol it had over them. “By 1999, Pak­istan was find­ing it harder and harder to keep on top of the dif­fer­ent mil­i­tant groups its se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment had spawned,” MacDon­ald writes. “It had loos­ened links down through the chain of com­mand to en­sure op­er­a­tional de­ni­a­bil­ity only to dis­cover this also eroded its con­trol.” Since the Kargil war, LeT has ex­panded glob­ally. In ad­di­tion to tar­get­ing In­dia, it now gives fight­ers, in­tel­li­gence, and tech­ni­cal aid to the Afghan Tal­iban and other ex­trem­ist groups in Cen­tral Asia and else­where. In Novem­ber 2008, over the course of four days, ten ter­ror­ists of al­legedly Pak­istani ori­gin who had been trained by LeT mas­sa­cred 164 peo­ple in Mum­bai, in­clud­ing six Amer­i­cans, and wounded an­other three hun­dred. The worst ter­ror­ist at­tack since Septem­ber 11, it was all the more sur­pris­ing be­cause it fol­lowed some five years of calm be­tween Pak­istan and In­dia. The or­ga­niz­ers of the at­tack have not been pun­ished, al­though some LeT lead­ers, in­clud­ing Hafiz Saeed, were put un­der house ar­rest.

Ap­par­ently no changes have been made in the mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence hi­er­ar­chy that sup­pos­edly con­trols LeT. Since 2008 in­ter­na­tional bod­ies such as the FATF and the United Na­tions have des­ig­nated LeT a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion and have de­manded that Pak­istan shut it down. In 2012 the US an­nounced a bounty of $10 mil­lion for in­for­ma­tion on Saeed; the Pak­istani govern­ment re­leased him from house ar­rest last fall. The army needs a new doc­trine. It must make greater use of diplo­macy, en­gage with neigh­bor­ing states, dis­man­tle ji­hadist groups, and build a re­gional net­work that will en­hance trade and in­vest­ment. China is al­ready in­vest­ing some $60 bil­lion in in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment for Pak­istan as part of its One Belt One Road eco­nomic plan. Yet Pak­istan can­not ben­e­fit from this sort of in­vest­ment if it is con­stantly fight­ing wars in Afghanistan, Kash­mir, and its prov­inces Balochis­tan and Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Pak­istani mil­i­tary has main­tained its poli­cies de­spite ob­jec­tions from par­lia­ment. Nawaz Sharif was elected prime min­is­ter three times (in 1990, 1997, and 2013), but each term was cut short by the mil­i­tary, which dis­trusted him be­cause of his at­tempts to shift Pak­istan’s for­eign pol­icy to­ward im­prov­ing re­la­tions with In­dia, Afghanistan, China, and the US. The army con­sid­ered for­eign pol­icy its own pre­rog­a­tive; it has de­clined to make peace with In­dia af­ter los­ing three wars and con­tin­ues to sup­port the Tal­iban in Afghanistan. In 2017 Sharif was barred from pol­i­tics for life due to cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions. Just two weeks be­fore the gen­eral elec­tion on July 25, 2018, he was sen­tenced to ten years in prison and a fine of £8 mil­lion for al­legedly own­ing prop­erty in Lon­don be­yond his means. His daugh­ter and son-in-law also re­ceived sub­stan­tial prison sen­tences. The mil­i­tary made clear that it would not tol­er­ate an­other prime min­is­ter from Sharif’s Pak­istani Mus­lim League (Nawaz) (PML-N), fur­ther mak­ing the elec­tions less cred­i­ble.

In Im­ran Khan, the win­ner of this year’s gen­eral elec­tion, the mil­i­tary saw a much more pli­able politi­cian whose views were sim­i­lar to its own. Khan has shown sym­pa­thy to the Tal­iban (the Pak­istani me­dia nick­named him “Tal­iban Khan”), has of­ten de­scribed the Afghan Tal­iban’s war against the US as a ji­had, and has been a con­stant critic of US poli­cies in the re­gion. Khan also sup­ported the army’s most con­tro­ver­sial step be­fore the elec­tions: al­low­ing Is­lamic ex­trem­ist groups—many of them banned by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and de­spised by mid­dle-class Pak­ista­nis—to take part in the elec­tions. Khan had al­ready worked closely with Is­lamists. His Jus­tice Party had gov­erned Khy­ber Pakhtoon Khaw prov­ince in north­ern Pak­istan for the past five years, form­ing a po­lit­i­cal al­liance with the fun­da­men­tal­ist Ja­maat-e-Is­lami party. Both Khan and the army knew that al­though ex­trem­ist groups would not get enough votes to win seats in par­lia­ment, they would draw right-wing re­li­gious vot­ers away from the PML-N. Be­fore the elec­tion, Don­ald Trump had cut off $2 bil­lion in mil­i­tary aid to Pak­istan and asked In­dia to in­crease as­sis­tance to Afghanistan—moves that the mil­i­tary and Khan sharply crit­i­cized. The army’s le­git­imiza­tion of ex­trem­ist groups just be­fore the elec­tions was a direct re­buke not only to In­dia and Afghanistan but also the US and NATO, which had been try­ing to pres­sure Pak­istan to push the Tal­iban into peace talks with the Kabul regime. Some of those ex­trem­ists tak­ing part in elec­tions were wanted by the US for ter­ror­ism.

A few weeks be­fore the elec­tions, the mil­i­tary’s in­tel­li­gence agen­cies speeded up their at­tempts to pres­sure PML-N can­di­dates to change sides and join the Jus­tice Party. The ju­di­ciary be­gan to jail more se­nior mem­bers of the PML-N, es­pe­cially those who were cer­tain to get elected. On elec­tion day, as the vote count­ing started, it be­came ap­par­ent that Sharif’s sup­port­ers would still win many seats. What fol­lowed was a com­plex ma­nip­u­la­tion of the vote-count­ing process, de­lay­ing the re­sults for at least two days.

The elec­tion re­vealed Khan’s will­ing­ness to be a tool of the es­tab­lish­ment. As long as he sub­mits to it, and as long as the Pak­istan govern­ment thinks of its lim­ited wars with In­dia as low-risk ad­ven­tures, it will not re­vise its ba­sic mil­i­tary doc­trine. Nor will any govern­ment make mean­ing­ful progress un­less the mil­i­tary aban­dons its rhetoric about be­ing un­der threat of at­tack and sub­ver­sion by In­dia. Pak­istan ur­gently needs a for­eign pol­icy that builds trust with its neigh­bors and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Only then can it hope to im­prove the lives of its peo­ple. —Au­gust 30, 2018

Pun­jabi po­lice com­man­dos stand­ing guard at a po­lit­i­cal rally for Im­ran Khan, Faisal­abad, Pak­istan, May 2013

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