Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

Ending the deadly embrace — II

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Over a coffee: Ending the deadly embrace — II —Dr Haider Shah

The chief US strategist strongly supports long-term engagement with Pakistan so that it is able to end its deadly embrace with terrorism. Bruce, in fact, finishes his book with a chapter on helping Pakistan and is frank in admitting that the US proved a very unreliable friend in the past

In the previous part of this article, primary elements of Obama’s strategy on Afghanistan were analysed with the help of Bruce Riedel’s recently published book. A strategy is defined as answering three basic questions. Where are we, where do we want to go, and how do we get there? But in order to understand where we are it is also important to know how we ended up there in the first place. Like all other strategists, Bruce in his book also first traces the roots of Pakistan’s problems in its early history. In doing that, he appears sympathetic to Pakistan’s early security concerns and its scrambling for outside help. Pakistan’s fixation with India is identified as the defining feature of its foreign and domestic policy. When the US offered money and arms during the Afghan jihad, there was therefore a mismatch of strategic objectives. The US wanted to use Pakistan and jihadis for defeating the Soviet Union and communist threat while Pakistan viewed it as an opportunity for using the terror structure built with the US money against India. This theme has been discussed by both Bruce and late Saleem Shahzad in their respective books.

Appearances can be deceptive. This is what we discover from Bruce’s description of his meetings with our main political leaders. Bruce is intrigued by the dubious liberal leaders in furthering the cause of jihadis when in power. He laments, “It is one of the many paradoxes of Pakistan’s history that the most liberal and enlightened of its leaders Benazir Bhutto would be the one to help midwife the Taliban, an action that would ultimately lead to her assassination.” Similarly, Musharraf portrays himself as an enlightened moderate but under his watch double gaming continued unabated. Ironically, he too had a narrow escape from the assassination attacks by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other militants that had long benefited from Pakistan’s warm embrace. Based on his confidential meetings, interestingly, Bruce is less damning about Nawaz Sharif. He equates Sharif with Hamlet who is torn between making his personal desire of making difficult decisions but is hard pressed by circumstances surrounding him. Bruce observes that in a one to one emergency meeting Sharif expressed his readiness not to go nuclear if the US could assure the resolution of the Kashmir issue as, without that, Sharif is quoted as warning Strobe Talbot that if nuclear tests were not done, “next time Strobe came to Islamabad the prime minister would be a jihadist with a long beard”. Unfortunately, in the establishment, media and politics, there are many such jihadists without any beard at all.

Like Saleem’s book Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11, Bruce also in his book views the present terror network in Pakistan as a troika comprising al Qaeda with an international jihad perspective, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) with Indian and Kashmir focus, and their common connection of ISI. Saleem wrote about radicalisation of military officers in his reports and book. Bruce also examines the nexus between the military establishment and militant groups. He emphasises the social dimensions of this affinity by stating that the Pakistani Army and LeT recruit in the very same villages and towns in Punjab. The result is that some family members go to the army while others join LeT. Therefore militants and the military enjoy very cordial family level relations in Punjab. The author claims that both al Qaeda and LeT have gained synergistic gains by working together as they pooled their resources for strategic planning, training facilities and monetary channels. Bruce reviews LeT’s attacks on the Indian parliament and Mumbai and concludes that both attacks were carried out to heighten tensions between Pakistan and India so that Pakistan is forced to shift its forces from the western border to the eastern one and consequently the pressure on al Qaeda is eased in the tribal area.

The chief US strategist strongly supports long-term engagement with Pakistan so that it is able to end its deadly embrace with terrorism. Bruce, in fact, finishes his book with a chapter on helping Pakistan and is frank in admitting that the US proved a very unreliable friend in the past. He severely criticises the short-term US policy in which the US provided massive aid to all military governments in Pakistan but imposed economic sanctions when democratic governments were in power. Like all analysts he is also alarmed at the future economic figures relating to Pakistan. Just consider some basic facts, e.g. by 2050 the Pakistani population will be expected to be 460 million, making Pakistan the largest Muslim country surpassing Indonesia.

About 54 percent of the population is below 19 and 38 percent between 20 and 39. Water availability per capita has already gone down drastically from 5,000 cubic meters in 1951 to below 1,000 cubic meters in 2010. The country is also suffering from an acute power shortage as against the required 14,600 megawatts the supply is only about 10,200 megawatts. As per the official Economic Survey of Pakistan, up to 36 percent schools do not have a boundary wall, flush toilet or drinking water facility while 60 percent schools are without electricity. A recent Brookings study claims that illiteracy is actually increasing and that the education infrastructure resembles that of a poor Sub-Saharan nation. The fragile economic situation can be remedied if Pakistan is able to transform its negative image. The $ 1.5 billion a year aid arrangement under the Kerry Lugar-Berman Act already signalled a shift in emphasis from the military to social and economic sectors like education, water and energy.

While advocating full economic assistance to Pakistan, Bruce emphasises that two red lines must be drawn for engagement with Pakistan. First, safe havens for the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network must be shut down. Second, the deadly embrace with LeT, which Bruce claims operates with impunity in Pakistan, must be ended. Since the US engagement in Pakistan is going to be a long term one, it is better that we use this renewed interest to our best advantage. The strategy of bleeding neighbours with the help of jihadi organisations has not worked and has instead backfired. It is in our own larger interest that we end our embrace with the terrorists and instead follow a clearly articulated national strategy of economic revival of the country.


Author: Dr. Haider Shah

Academic, Researcher and Writer

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