Understanding Pakistan’s Approach to the War on Terror

Although Pakistan has been a frontline state in the war on terror since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, there is no doubt that General Musharraf initially cast his lot with the United States mainly as a result of deep fears about what U.S. enmity might imply for Pakistan’s long standing rivalry with India, its efforts at economic revival, its nuclear weapons program, and its equities in the con ict over Kashmir.(6) Desirous of protecting Islamabad’s interests in these areas and to avoid Pakist an becoming a target in the campaign against terrorism, Musharraf reluctantly cut loose Islamabad’s ties with the Taliban-a force it had nurtured, trained, and equipped for almost a decade in its effort to secure control over Afghanistan-and stood aside as the U.S.-led coalition assisted its detested antagonist, the Northern Alliance, to rout its own clients and their al-Qaeda accomplices and seize power in Kabul. Because the al-Qaeda elements in Afghanistan during the 1990s were never directly dependent on the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) for their success (despite maintaining a significant liaison relationship), the ejection of their Arab, African, and Central Asian mercenaries was viewed with fewer misgivings than the flight of the Pashtun-dominated Taliban, who were tied to Pakistan directly in terms of both patronage and ethnicity.(7)

Islamabad’s ties to the Taliban were so strong and so important that throughout the initial phase of Operation Enduring Freedom, General Musharraf and his cohort implored the United St ates to desist from decisively destroying Mullah Muhammad Omar’s regime in Afghanistan. When this objective could not be secured, Pakistani leaders argued against all coalition military operations that would result in ejecting the Taliban’s foot soldiers from their traditional bases in the southeastern provinces of the country. When these entreaties were also disregarded by the United St ates and the comprehensive defeat of the Taliban appeared inevitable as a result of joint U.S. and Northern Alliance military operations, Islamabad responded by covertly exfiltrating its army and intelligence personnel seconded to the movement-along with some key Taliban operatives, if Indian intelligence sources are accurate-while permitting the defeated stragglers to cross over to safety across the frontier al-Qaeda guests thus found their way and into Pakistani territory.(8) Taliban forces and their across the highly porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border into the FATA. While Pakistani border patrols concentrated their efforts against the latter group, resulting in the seizure of numerous low-level al-Qaeda elements, these operations nonetheless were never rigorous or water-tight enough and were, in any event, frustrated by other factors: the old tribal tradition of extending succor to strangers who ask for protection; the region’s history of providing foot soldiers, first, for the anti-Soviet jihad and, later, for the war against the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan; the absence of a strong Pakistani st ate presence in this area; and the utterly hostile topography consisting of remote and difficult mount ain terrain with poor lines of communication, all of which combined to bestow on the defeated remnants a substantial measure of sanctuary and assistance.(9)

The U.S. inauguration of the “global war on terror” soon compelled General Musharraf to make good on his “principled” decision to join the U.S.-led coalition. This inevitably required Musharraf to confront the sources of terrorism that had developed internally in Pakistan, most of which ironically resulted from his own army’s previous decisions to nurture radical Islamist organizations because of their utility to Islamabad’s military campaigns in Kashmir and fghanistan.(10)

Four different terrorist groupings were implicated in this regard. The first were the domestic sectarian groups like the Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba and its offshoot the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Shia Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan and its offshoot the Sipah-e-Muhammad, which were engaged in violent bouts of bloodletting within the country. Although many of these groups had enjoyed the support of the Pakistani government, the milit ary, and the intelligence services previously, their unexpected growth in power over time had become not only an embarrassment to their sponsors but also a serious challenge to domestic order.(11) As Christine Fair has summarized it, “The scale of sect arian violence in Pakistan is st aggering, with hundreds of people killed or injured in such attacks each year.”(12) The New Delhi-based Institute for Con ict Management has documented sectarian violence alone as claiming close to 5,000 lives in Pakistan since 1989, with incidents involving everything from targeted killings of high-profile civilians, to bombings of mosques and drive-by shootings of innocents, to pitched gun battles in major population centers. In one incident, for example, sectarian hostility in the town of Parachinar in the Kurram Agency involved a five-day war, where small arms, mortars, rocket launchers, and antiaircraft missiles were all used in a convulsive spasm that claimed hundreds of lives and injured many more.(13)

Confronted by such challenges to the writ of his st ate, Musharraf was only too happy to exploit the opportunities offered by the war on terror to crack down on these groups and suppress them once and for all. He did so, however, only selectively. Focusing the government’s energies primarily on those Deobandi and Shia groups whose objectives were out of sync with the military’s perception of the national interest, he targeted Sunni groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen al-Alami, the Jundullah, and to a much lesser degree the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, as well as Shia threats such as the Sipah-e-Muhammad, primarily because they were engaged in “anti-national” jihadi violence within Pakistan rather than in support of Islamabad’s external ambitions vis-a-vis India and Afghanistan. Using the entire panoply of coercive st ate capabilities, these entities were therefore put down with a heavy hand through arrests, targeted assassinations, and aggravated intergroup massacres. Although many of the tools used to defeat these perpetrators of sectarian violence were often unconstitutional, Musharraf shrewdly judged that the aggressive dismemberment of these groups would not evoke either domestic or international
condemnation. He was right.

Using the opportunities therefore afforded by the global war on terror, the Pakist ani security services systematically eliminated many sources of sectarian violence within two years of the campaign’s initiation, even though they have been unable to conclusively eradicate the cancer of sectarian bloodshed within Pakistan itself.(14) In part, this is due to the selectivity of Musharraf’s antisectarian campaign. But the continuing fragmentation of these violent groups; their links to the wider networks of international terrorism now resident in Pakistan, various foreign sponsors abroad, and the ourishing madaris within the country; and the continuing utility of their gun-toting membership to different political parties and occasionally to governmental organs themselves imply that sect arian threats will be impossible to extinguish so long as “state policies of Islamisation and [the] marginalization of secular democratic forces” continue to persist in Pakistan.(15)

The second set of groups, the terrorist outfits operating with Pakistan Army and ISID support against India in Kashmir, was treated in a remarkably different way compared with the anti-national sectarian militants inside Pakistan. These groups, such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Jaish-e-Muhammad, and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, for example, were the long lances in the Pakistani campaign to wrest the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir from India. Since the late 1980s, the Pakistani milit ary has financed, trained, armed, and launched these cadres on their murderous missions into Kashmir and elsewhere inside the Indian union. Because the struggle for control over the disputed Himalayan st ate was fully under way by the time the global war on terror was inaugurated, these terrorist groups were more or less exempted from Musharraf ‘s domestic campaign against violence and extremism.

This exclusion was justified both on the strategic rationale that Pakistan’s participation in the war on terror was intended, among other things, to protect its freedom of action in Kashmir and on the repeated, though fraudulent, assertion that these groups, far from being terrorists, only personified the legitimate Kashmiri struggle for self-determination against Pakistani-sponsored Deobandi terrorist groups operating against India.(16) In fact, of all the India in Kashmir and elsewhere, only one entity-the Hizbul Mujahideen-began life as an indigenous Kashmiri insurgent group; the others, including the most violent organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Jaish-e-Muhammad, and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, are all notwithstanding-and perhaps led, manned, and financed by native Pakistanis.(17) This reality because of it-Islamabad continued to sust ain the operations of these groups against India but, in an effort to maintain the consistency of its commitments to the global war on terror, now began to emphasize that its support took only the form of moral, and not material, encouragement.

This charade was rudely interrupted by the December 13, 2001, terrorist attack on India’s parliament when, in response to New Delhi’s subsequent military mobilization, Pakistan was compelled by U.S. diplomacy to initiate a series of measures to restrict the activities of its terrorist clients. The implementation of these actions, however, was at best halfhearted and inconsistent. Far from seeking to extirpate these terrorist groups permanently, Musharraf sought mainly to defang India’s threats of military action and to alleviate Washington’s fears of an inconvenient Indo-Pakistani war. His overarching objective consisted of protecting these terrorist assets to the extent possible because they represented national investments-a “strategic reserve”(18)-in Islamabad’s subconventional war against New Delhi. Consequently, to this day, Musharraf has not sought to eliminate the Deobandi terrorist groups operating against India in Kashmir and elsewhere; he has instead sought only to modulate carnegie endowment for international peace their activities, depending on the extent of satisfaction he derives from the prevailing state of diplomatic relations with New Delhi and the progress secured in the ongoing Indo-Pakistani peace process.

Although the Pakistani-supported infiltration of terrorist groups into Kashmir-but not into the rest of India-appears to have abated in recent years, most observers conclude that this phenomenon is linked either to Musharraf’s desire not to provide India with any excuses to abandon the generally fragile peace process or to domestic crises within Pakistan. In any event, it is agreed that Musharraf simply has not made the decisive decision to abandon or eliminate the terrorist groups operating against India in the manner witnessed, for example, in the case of the more virulent anti-national sectarian entities operating within Pakistan.(19)

The third group relevant to the Pakist ani decision to join the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism consisted of the Taliban, that is, the Pashtun remnants of the regime ejected from power in Kabul as a result of the initial success of Operation Enduring Freedom. After their defeat at the hands of the Northern Alliance, the Taliban cadres hastily returned to the regions whence they originated. Many in the rank and file withdrew to their villages in the southern Afghan provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzgan, and Zabol as well as along the border areas on the western side of the Durand Line separating Afghanistan from Pakistan, that is, in the eastern Afghan provinces of Paktika, Paktia, Khowst, Nangarhar, and Konar. Given their significance as high-value t argets, the core Taliban leadership-along with those Pakistani Pashtuns who had joined their movement-crossed over the Afghanistan-Pakistan border into the relative safety of the FATA. Because most of the Taliban’s fighters originally mobilized by the Pakistani ISID were drawn from the Ghilzai confederation of Pashtuns, which dominates eastern and southeastern Afghanistan, and from the other Pashtun tribes inhabiting the FATA, their return to these ancestral lands was not surprising. In fact, all the evidence relating to the incidence of terrorist att acks since 2001 suggests strongly that the war-fighting cadres of the Taliban continue to remain bivouacked in these areas (see figure 1).(20)

The exact location of the supreme leadership of the Taliban movement, however, cannot be established with any self-evident clarity. Irrespective of where the rahbari shura (leadership council) centered on Mullah Omar and his closest associates found shelter in the immediate aftermath of their defeat, Afghan military and civilian intelligence officials as well as NATO commanders today believe that this coterie eventually found refuge in Quett a, the largest city and capit al of Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province, from where they continue to operate to this day. As Col. Chris Vernon, NATO’s chief of staff for southern Afghanistan, declared forthrightly, “The thinking piece of the Taliban [operates] out of Quetta in Pakistan. It’s the major headquarters-they use it to run a series of networks in Afghanistan.”(21) These networks, in turn, are judged to be directed by four subsidiary shuras based in Quetta, Miran Shah, Peshawar, and Karachi: the first three actually control or coordinate most of the ongoing terrorist operations occurring, respectively, along the southern, central, and northern “fronts” in Afghanistan (see figure 2), whereas the fourth is believed to connect the Taliban with the logistics, financial, and technical assistance conduits emanating from the wider Islamic world. (22) The pattern of terrorist attacks occurring in Afghanist an from 2002 to 2007, illustrated in figure 1, again corroborates this judgment.

Because the Pakistani state was most intimately involved in the creation of the Taliban before their fall, Musharraf’s antiterrorism campaign after September 11, 2001, deliberately avoided any concerted t argeting of this group and, in particular, its senior leadership.(23) No other explanation is consistent with the fact that, although Pakistani military, intelligence, and paramilit ary forces apprehended scores of al-Qaeda operatives, including numerous key individuals in the al-Qaeda hierarchy, the senior Taliban leaders killed or captured in southern Afghanistan or in the FATA have numbered literally a handful in comparison. This asymmetry in seizures is all the more odd because, prior to Operation Enduring Freedom, Pakistani military and ISID liaison elements were deeply intertwined with all levels of the Taliban command structure and its war fighters in the field. In contrast, the Pakistani intelligence relationship with al-Qaeda in Afghanist an was more tenuous, yet Pakistan’s military forces were able to apprehend far more al-Qaeda cadres than Taliban operatives. These successes in regard to al-Qaeda have invariably been attributed by Pakistanis, including General Musharraf, to the fact that it was always easier to identify the ethnically alien al-Qaeda elements along the frontier in comparison with the Taliban who, being ethnically Pashtun, were able to disguise their identities by assimilating into the larger tribal population.(24)

While this explanation is only partly true-non-native fighters have lived in and become amalgamated into the social structures of the Afghan-Pakistani frontier since at least the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s-it is also disingenuous because the Pakistani ISID was not only carnegie endowment for international peace pakistan and the war on terror 9 deeply involved in the recruitment, training, arming, and operations of Taliban fighters at multiple bureaucratic levels, but it also maintained an intense liaison relationship with the Ghilzai tribes whose population has been disproportionately represented in the Taliban. Since protecting these relationships was deemed to be especially critical for Pakistan’s national security interests in the aftermath of the Northern Alliance victory in Kabul, the large number of Taliban foot soldiers who made their way into the FATA were largely ignored by Pakistani counterterrorism operations so long as they did not engage in any untoward activities that either called attention to their presence or magnified the troubles confronting the Pakist ani state. All told, then, the Taliban network, just like the Pakistani-aided terrorist groups operating in Kashmir and elsewhere in India, was deliberately permitted to escape the wrath of General Musharraf’s counterterrorism operations in the initial phase of the war on terror.(25)

Such an approach, however, could not be extended to the fourth group, al-Qaeda, which had also taken up sanctuary in the FATA, particularly in South Waziristan initially. Although al-Qaeda continued to have sympathizers within the extreme fringes of Pakistani society even after the terrible events of September 11 were conclusively attributed to its operations, the Pakistani military establishment did not enjoy the luxury of slackening its campaign against this t arget because of the consequences for U.S.-Pakistani relations at a time when bilateral ties were just recovering after a decade of U.S. disfavor and when Washington had just embarked on a ferocious campaign against al-Qaeda worldwide. Most senior Pakistani military officers at the corps command level were also genuinely horrified by the destruction that al-Qaeda wreaked in New York and Washington and, fearing for their country’s own future in the face of the monster now present in their midst, supported Musharraf’s decision to engage and destroy this terrorist organization of global reach.

Pakistan’s military, accordingly, began to prosecute the war against al-Qaeda with great vigor, if not always with finesse, through multiple instruments.(26) These included providing the United States and its military with facilities and access for the prosecution of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and conducting various law enforcement and internal security operations (sometimes in cooperation with their U.S. counterparts) aimed at inter-dicting terrorist financing and apprehending and rendering terrorist targets for prosecution abroad. Most important, however, the Pakistani military initiated Operation Al Mizan, a large-scale effort that involved moving major milit ary formations from the Army’s XI Corps and elite Special Services Group (SSG) battalions into the FATA, an area where regular army units had not ordinarily been deployed for decades. These infantry forces joined the Frontier Corps regiments-the paramilitary formations usually located in the region-as a show of force in order to both reassert the strong state presence that historically was lacking and apprehend the al-Qaeda elements that had taken shelter within the area.(27)

This military campaign, which took the form of a gigantic cordon-and-search operation, had several consequences. First, it resulted in the capture of numerous al-Qaeda and other extremist operatives-some 700 at last count-who have since been turned over to the United States. Because these individuals are mostly foreigners-non-South Asian arrivals living in carnegie endowment for international peace what are essentially Pashtun lands-detecting their presence, while not easy because of the local support they receive from the natives for ideological reasons and sometimes simply out of greed or fear, was certainly easier.

Second, it forced some though by no means all senior al-Qaeda operatives-for example, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Ramzi Binalshibh-to leave the relatively secure FATA sanctuary and disperse further inward into Pakistan, where their insertion into less ideologically congenial surroundings and their need to rely on more complex means of communication increased their susceptibility to detection and arrest.

Third, the dramatic irruption of the Pakistani state into the FATA, through a significant military presence of the kind not seen in more than a century, resulted in making conditions sufficiently inhospitable for al-Qaeda such that its senior leadership and cadres were compelled to relocate under fire from South to North Wazirist an and beyond, where they operate to this day (see figure 3). This forced displacement, which unfortunately remains at continuous risk of reversal, nonetheless had the beneficial effect of disrupting many planned terrorist operations, but the dispersal of the organization’s leadership in the northern FATA, especially in the Bajaur Agency where the terrain is inhospitable, the population is violently pro-Taliban, and the presence of the Pakistan Army is thin, has inadvertently made the task of destroying the al-Qaeda core all the more difficult.(28)

In any event, these outcomes suggest that although Pakistan began as a reluctant entrant into the global war on terrorism, it has since become an active participant in the struggle. More than 85,000 Pakistani troops remain garrisoned along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border-a deployment that predates the initiation of the global war on terror. A significant fraction of these forces, however, is engaged today in counterterrorism operations in the border areas, and more than 600 soldiers have already sacrificed their lives in this effort. Further, Islamabad itself has now become a victim of terrorism as a variety of groups, ranging from those previously nurtured and now discarded by the Pakistani state, such as the al-Alami faction of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, to more distant beneficiaries of past Pakistani policies, such as al-Qaeda, seek to wreak an orgy of revenge against institutions and individuals whom they had previously counted among their sponsors and friends.

That Pakistan has made significant contributions to defeating various terrorist groups is therefore undeniable, yet its larger campaign against terrorism has also been conspicuously selective and perhaps self-serving. While it has secured major gains in eradicating some domestic anti-national sectarian terrorist groups and has contributed disproportionately to the ongoing campaign against al-Qaeda, it has been much more reluctant to conclusively eliminate those terrorist entities operating against India in Kashmir and elsewhere and against Afghanistan both in the FATA and in transit back and forth to the southern and eastern Afghan provinces.(29) Further, the protection of the terrorist infrastructure that supports these groups has produced undesirable blowback because the actors traditionally involved in perpetrating terrorism in Kashmir increasingly either coordinate with or directly assist the Taliban and al-Qaeda in operations against not only Afghanist an but also the United States and even Pakist an itself.(30)

Clearly, strategic and geopolitical calculations play an important part in accounting for this segmented Pakistani response. Islamabad, for example, has long viewed the terrorist groups operating in Kashmir and now in other Indian states as useful instruments for executing its policy of “strategic diversion” against New Delhi.(31) For this reason, Pakistan has been reluctant to target and eliminate these groups conclusively, preferring instead to alternately tighten and loosen control over their operations depending on how much satisfaction it receives from India at any given moment.(32)

The decision to avoid targeting the Taliban was born of similar calculations. Initially, it was owed simply to the inclinations of senior Pakistani military commanders who were just not prepared to add insult to injury by physically eliminating the very forces they had long invested in, especially because they had now suffered the ignominy of having to consent to their client’s defeat. Over time, however, the reasons for protecting the Taliban only grew stronger: India’s growing prominence in Afghan reconstruction, its increased in uence and presence in Afghanistan more generally, the weakening of the Hamid Karzai government in Kabul, the progressive souring of Pakistani-Afghan relations (including those between Karzai and Musharraf personally), and the disquiet about a possible U.S. exit from Afghanistan (a prospect inferred from the mid-2005 announcement that the United States would divest full command of Afghan combat operations to NATO) once again increased Pakistan’s paranoia about the prospect of a hostile western frontier. It was exactly the desire to avert this outcome that led to the initial Pakistani decision to invest in sustaining the Taliban. And with fear of the wheel turning full circle gaining strength in Islamabad since at least 2005, the temptation to hedge against potentially unfavorable outcomes in Kabul-by protecting the Taliban as some sort of a “force-in-being” only appeared more and more attractive and reasonable to Pakistan.(33)

Although Pakistan’s discriminative approach to fighting terrorism was shaped and imple mented by General Musharraf in his dual capacity as president and previously chief of army staff, it would be erroneous to conclude that this prevailing strategy is owed simply to the whim of one man. This is particularly relevant today when Musharraf’s hold on power has become progressively weaker and the future of his political status and effectiveness increasingly clouded. Rather, Musharraf ‘s decisions in regard to counterterrorism strategy since 2001,
although publicly perceived as personal dicta, invariably re ected the consensus among the corps commanders of the Pakist an Army and, hence, represent the preferences of Pakist an’s military-dominated state. In other words, even if Musharraf were to suddenly exit the Pakistani political scene at some point, Islamabad’s currently disconsonant counterterrorism strategy would still survive so long as the men on horseback continue to be the principal guardians of national security policy making in Islamabad. Because it is unreasonable to expect that the uniformed military will give up its privileges in this regard anytime soon-even if a civilian regime were to return to the helm in the future-the internally segmented counterterrorism policy currently pursued by Pakist an will likely persist for some time to come.

Even if it could be imagined that a civilian dispensation could wrest some control of Pakistan’s national security policy from the military, it is not at all certain that the current strategic direction would change dramatically: a civilian regime would probably have greater incentives to combat all sectarian terrorist groups more evenhandedly, but that too is uncertain. After all, both the Pakist an People’s Party led by the late Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif have had problematic Islamist political allies in the past and, depending on the political exigencies of the moment, could harbor incentives to give even sectarian or otherwise radical entities a breather from prosecution, although that would likely be justified as only a temporary expedient. Both civilian parties historically also permitted the Pakistani military and intelligence services to aid, abet, and arm the terrorist groups operating in Kashmir and elsewhere in India, sometimes because they were simply powerless to prevent it but at other times with their full knowledge and consent. It also ought not to be forgotten that even a radically at avistic Islamist group such as the Taliban was raised, promoted, and unleashed by the civilian government of the late Benazir Bhutto (during her second term in office from 1993 to 1996) with the full collaboration of the Pakist ani military and intelligence services-and that the Taliban continued to receive complete moral and material support under her civilian successor, the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

Both the principal civilian political alternatives in Pakistan would likely continue to prosecute the current antiterrorist operations against al-Qaeda because there seems to be a fragile consensus among Pakistani political elites that this group remains a grave threat to both their country and the international community. This fact, however, only underscores the continuity that is likely to persist in Pakist an’s approach to counterterrorism even if a civilian government were to ascend to power in Islamabad. Although there are likely to be differences in style, nuance, and emphasis, the weaknesses of Pakistan’s moderate political parties, Islamabad’s enduring interests vis-à-vis Afghanistan and India, and the likely inability of any civilian government to exercise comprehensive control over the Pakistani military and intelligence services all combine to suggest that dramatic changes in attitude and performance toward the Taliban and the terrorist groups operating on Indian soil may not be forthcoming. And, although sect arian groups within Pakistan may be pursued more uniformly and hopefully just as resolutely as the war against al-Qaeda, the net deviation from Musharraf ‘s currently segmented antiterrorism policies may be either too subtle or too insignificant to really matter.(34)

Ironically, the Bush administration itself bears some responsibility for reinforcing Musharraf’s original instincts and entrenching what has now become the enduring Pakistani calculus. Although President Bush affirmed in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks that his war on terrorism would be total and that states supporting terrorist groups would be required to divest themselves of these ent anglements decisively or face America’s wrath, his own government never implemented his stirring vision in regard to Pakistan. Rather, during the Indo-Pakistani crisis of 2001-2002-a key moment of truth for Pakistan and its future course in the war on terror-successive U.S. intermediaries visiting the subcontinent pursued an approach that only permitted Islamabad to conclude that the war on terrorism was in fact eminently “divisible.”(35) By not pressing Pakistan to relinquish all its terrorist clients once and for all during that crisis-as Washington had previously compelled Islamabad to forsake the Taliban on September 13, 2001(36)-the United States lost a momentous opportunity to help Pakistan rid itself of its long addiction to terror. Instead, the administration’s diplomacy, by declining to hold Musharraf accountable for breaching his serial promises to end Pakistani support for terrorism, enabled Islamabad to infer that so long as operatives belonging to “terrorist groups of global reach-meaning al-Qaeda-were being regularly apprehended by Pakistan, the ISID’s links to, and protection of, other regional terrorist organizations would not become a critical liability in U.S.-Pakistan relations.

The liberties thus afforded Pakist an in regard to sustaining its ties with local Kashmiri terrorist groups during the initial phase of the global war on terror consequently reinforced Pakistan’s inclination to treat the Taliban remnants similarly. This blunder had few consequences as long as the Taliban movement was in remission, but it has proved to be a most costly lapse on the part of the United States because the sanctuary afforded by Pakistan to the Taliban-and especially its leadership-since 2002 has only permitted the group to rejuvenate and, once again, to begin offensive operations in Afghanistan that, in effect, threaten to undo the gains secured by the early victories in Operation Enduring Freedom.(37)

The U.S. neglect of the early Pakistani decision to ignore the Taliban as a t arget of counter-terrorism operations can be explained only by the administration’s single-minded concentration on the war with al-Qaeda.(38) This obsession was no doubt justified at the time, but its inadvertent consequences have now come back to haunt the United States, NATO, Afghanistan, and the ongoing military operations associated with Operation Enduring Freedom more generally. By failing to recognize that the early immunity provided to the Taliban would eventually complicate the effort to defeat al-Qaeda if for no other reason than that these two groups remain geographically commingled and because Taliban endurance in southern and eastern Afghanist an and in the FATA is an essential precondition for al-Qaeda’s survival-the administration lost an opportunity to consolidate its political and military gains in Afghanist an while simult aneously compelling Pakist an to hasten its march away from extremism.

The Bush administration has now begun to press Musharraf to actively interdict the Taliban-an issue that did not become the subject of high-level U.S. demarches before 2005-2006-but it is not certain that, even if responsive Pakist ani counterterrorism actions were to be mounted today, they would be as effective as they could have been had they been pursued in the administration’s first term. This is because Pakistan’s own current intelligence capabilities with respect to the Taliban are probably not as strong as they were when Mullah Omar and his associates were first ejected from Kabul.

Although it is certain that Pakistani information about the Taliban and their leadership is still better than that possessed by other intelligence agencies, including those of the United States, the probable atrophy of Islamabad’s connections during the past several years of the war on terror, the strong and growing antagonism within Pakistan toward Musharraf’s counter terrorism policies in the FATA, and the increasing opposition from Pakistan’s fundamentalist political parties and their social bases of support toward Musharraf’s domestic and foreign policies all viciously interact to increase the risk that belated Pakistani actions against the Taliban, including its leadership, may end up being far less successful than they otherwise might have been if executed a few years earlier. And that, in turn, implies not only that the challenges of defeating the Taliban are from a historical perspective rooted in fateful U.S. decisions to treat the Kashmiri terrorists differently when the administration should have done otherwise, but also that Washington ignored the Taliban until it was too late.


6. Address by the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, to the Nation, September 19, 2001, Islamabad, in K. R. Gupta, ed., International Terrorism: Response of India, Pakistan and The United States, vol. 5 (New Delhi: Atlantic, 2002).

7. The best analysis of Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban can be found in Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York: Penguin Books, 2005).

8. This information was formally conveyed to the United States by the Government of India in 2001-2002 and is discussed by India’s former high commissioner to Pakistan, G. Parthasarathy, in “The Bush Administration-A House Divided,” Business Line, August 30, 2002.

9. Although it is often believed that the Pashtun exaltation of nang (honor), izaat (respect), and imandari (righteousness), which lie at the core of Pashtunwali, the Pashtun code of life, are disproportionately responsible for the tribal willingness to offer melmestiya (hospitality) to Taliban and al-Qaeda stragglers who request assistance, the reality is far more complex. In the traditional understanding of Pashtunwali, any stranger who offers his tribal host respect and requests his assistance is indeed granted hospitality to the point of refuge, irrespective of the visitor’s past actions or moral standing. It is not certain, however, that this code of Pashtunwali alone accounts for the tribes’ decisions to offer sanctuary to the defeated Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants in the immediate aftermath of Operation Enduring Freedom. For one thing, the old Pashtunwali code has suffered considerable erosion over the past few decades. To complicate things further, the significant resources possessed especially by al-Qaeda refugees have resulted in many situations where wealthy aliens simply purchase asylum, thus resulting in the rise of a new industry of “hospitality for hire” in the FATA. Finally, if Pashtunwali and lucre do not by themselves suffice to buy protection, targeted assassinations invariably do: Pakistani military officers deployed in the border areas have pointed out in private conversations that some significant proportion of the “hospitality” offered by at least some
FATA tribes to their al-Qaeda guests is owed simply to fear growing out of previous instances of targeted killings by terrorists of the tribals who reported on their presence. Between the Pashtun honor code and tribal elites who either profit from or are frightened by the presence of al-Qaeda, the FATA continues to offer a variety of armed militant groups sanctuary and protection.

10. For a superb history of the Pakistani military’s decisions in regard to raising, supporting, and utilizing Islamist terrorist groups for geopolitical purposes, see Husain Haqqani, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005).

11. The painful history of Pakistani state involvement with domestic sectarian groups is usefully summarized in S. V. R. Nasr, “Islam, the State, and the Rise of Sectarian Militancy in Pakistan,” in Christophe Jaffrelot, ed., Pakistan: Nation, Nationalism and the State (Lahore: Vanguard, 2005), pp. 85-114.

12. C. Christine Fair, The Madrassah Challenge: Militancy and Religious Education in Pakistan (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2007), p. 2.

13. See “Sectarian Violence in Pakistan,” South Asia Terrorism Portal, 2007, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/database/sect-killing.htm; and Nasr, “Islam, the State, and the Rise of Sectarian Militancy in Pakistan,” pp. 85-86.

14. Aarish Ullah Khan, The Terrorist Threat and the Policy Response in Pakistan, SIPRI Policy Paper no. 11 (Stockholm: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, September 2005), pp.
31-32, 35-44, http://books.sipri.org/files/PP/SIPRIPP11.pdf.

15. “The State of Sectarianism in Pakistan,” Asia Report no. 95 (Islamabad/Brussels: International Crisis Group, April 18, 2005), p. i, http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/asia/south_asia/095_the_state_of_sectarianism_in_pakistan.pdf.

16. See the excellent discussion in C. Christine Fair, The Counterterror Coalitions: Cooperation with Pakistan and India (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 2004), pp. 21-27, http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2004/RAND_MG141.pdf.

17. For a useful and comprehensive survey of the various terrorist groups operating in Kashmir, see “Terrorist Groups: An Overview” and the other derivative links at South Asia Terrorism Portal, n.d., http://satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/jandk/terrorist_outfits/index.html.

18. Fair, The Counterterror Coalitions, p. 25.

19. See the discussion in “India and Pakistan: Is Peace Real This Time? A Conversation between Husain Haqqani and Ashley J. Tellis” (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2004), http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/India-Pakistan.pdf.

20. Note that the data collated in Figure 1 most likely underestimate the incidence of Taliban vio-lence because the data are based primarily on international, rather than local, reporting.

21. “Pakistan Sheltering Taliban, Says British Officer,” Guardian, May 19, 2006.

22. The broad geographic confines of the southern, central, and northern fronts along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, illustrated in Figure 2, are drawn from Jones, “Pakistan’s Dangerous Game,” p. 20. The role of Karachi as a conduit for Taliban financing and logistics activity is discussed in Douglas Farah, “Terrorist Responses to Improved U.S. Financial Defenses” (testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Financial Services, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, February 16, 2005). The author is grateful to several Afghan, NATO, and Indian diplomats, officials, and military officers for their willingness to discuss off the record the operational dimensions of Taliban resurgence. For a useful discussion of the various Taliban leadership councils, see “Countering Afghanistan’s Insurgency: No Quick Fixes,” Asia Report no. 123 (Kabul/Brussels: International Crisis Group, November 2, 2006), pp. 9-11, http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/asia/south_asia/123_countering_afghanistans_insurgency.pdf.

23. Rubin, “Saving Pakistan,” pp. 69-71; Daniel Markey, “A False Choice in Pakistan,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 86, no. 4 (July/August 2007), pp. 90-92.

24. See “President Bush Welcomes President Musharraf to Camp David.”

25. Bruce Riedel, “Al Qaeda Strikes Back,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 86, no. 3 (May/June 2007), pp. 24-40.

26. The many dimensions of the Pakistani effort are summarized in Fair, The Counterterror Coalitions, pp. 27-42.

27. The aims, objectives, and character of Operation Al Mizan are discussed in Major Fayyaz Hussain Shah, “Pakistan’s Role in the Global War on Terror” (master’s thesis, Canadian Forces College, n.d.), wps.cfc.forces.gc.ca/papers/csc/csc33/mds/shah.doc.

28. Akram Gizabi, “Bajaur: Tribe and Custom Continue to Protect al-Qaeda,” Terrorism Focus(Jamestown Foundation), vol. 3, no. 2 (January 18, 2006), pp. 2-3, http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/uploads/tf_003_002.pdf; see also, Michael Scheuer, “Assessing the Six Year Hunt for Osama bin Laden,” Terrorism Focus, vol. 4, no. 30 (September 25, 2007), pp. 5-7, http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/uploads/tf_004_030.pdf.

29. For a devastating critique of Pakistan’s incomplete war on terrorism, including its failure to transform its domestic environment, which breeds extremism, see “Unfulfilled Promises: Pakistan’s Failure to Tackle Extremism,” Asia Report no. 73 (Islamabad/Brussels: International Crisis Group, January 16, 2004), http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/asia/south_asia/073_unfulfil_promises_pakistan_extr.pdf; and Stephen Philip Cohen, “With Allies Like This: Pakistan and the War on Terror,” in Adam Garfinkle, ed., A Practical Guide to Winning the War on Terrorism (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 2004), pp. 103-116.

30. K. Alan Kronstadt, “International Terrorism in South Asia,” CRS Report for Congress no. RS21658 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, November 3, 2003), fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/26047.pdf; and K. Alan Kronstadt and Bruce Vaughn, “Terrorism in South Asia,” CRS Report for Congress no. RL32259 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, August 31, 2005), fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/52750.pdf.

31. The logic, calculus, and risks associated with this strategy in the context of generalized security competition between India and Pakistan are detailed in Ashley J. Tellis, Strategic Stability in South Asia (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 1997), pp. 42-54.

32. Ashley J. Tellis, “Fragile Peace,” Force, July 2005, pp. 7-9.

33. A useful discussion of Pakistani calculations vis-à-vis the Taliban can be found in Syed Saleem Shahzad, “Pakistan, the Taliban and Dadullah,” Pakistan Security Research Unit, Brief Number 3, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, March 1, 2007, http://spaces.brad.ac.uk:8080/download/attachments/748/Brief3finalised1.pdf, and Jones, “Pakistan’s Dangerous Game,” pp. 24-26.

34. This reality is sometimes not sufficiently appreciated in the United States as is evident, for example, in the discussion in Thomas R. Pickering, Carla Hills, and Morton Abramowitz, “The Answer in Pakistan,” Washington Post, November 13, 2007, which rather innocuously asserts: Both the Pakistan People’s Party under Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan Muslim League under Nawaz Sharif are opposed to the jihadi movements. They have publicly committed themselves to combating not only al-Qaeda but also the political and military leadership of the Taliban living in Pakistan, a point on which Musharraf has been notably reluctant to act. The dalliances between even moderate Pakistani political parties and various jihadi organizations and their sponsors historically ought to induce caution in accepting such statements at face value. Although it is to be hoped that the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League, learning from the past, are now convinced of the dangers that even externally useful jihadi organizations pose to the Pakistani state, the parties’ political weaknesses often result in an undesirable dependence on various Islamist political parties that support such organizations. Such dependence, in turn, prevents them from implementing those liberal ideals they may otherwise be committed to, and this often results in compromised performance, even when other factors such as Pakistan’s national interests and the issue of control over the military and intelligence services are discounted for purposes of analysis.

35. The best account yet published of U.S. diplomacy during the crisis can be found in Polly Nayak and Michael Krepon, US Crisis Management in South Asia’s Twin Peaks Crisis, Report no. 57 (Washington, D.C.: Stimson Center, 2006), http://www.stimson.org/pub.cfm?id=327.

36. Dan Balz, Bob Woodward, and Jeff Himmelman, “Afghan Campaign’s Blueprint Emerges,” Washington Post, January 29, 2002.

37. Roger Cohen, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Musharraf,” New York Times, November 8, 2007; and Arthur Keller, “Caution: Taliban Crossing,” New York Times, November 28, 2007.

38. Rubin, “Saving Afghanistan,” pp. 58-59.


1 Response to “Understanding Pakistan’s Approach to the War on Terror”

  1. 1 Noori
    November 26, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    This is all rubbish……… An analysis based on Indian Intelligence Agencies……..LOL….. Where is CIA-the most failed organization?…..Whatever Americans have achieved in Afghanistan its bcoz of Pakistan. If you remove Pakistan from this battle, then American would have been reduced to dot in this battle uptill now………And what to say about success, what kind of success…..first u cant even legitimize the presence of NATO force in Afghan……….U should be sick with this fight…..

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