Michael KreponReclaiming Pakistan

A hyphenated word has hung like a shroud over Pakistan ever since its founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, vocalized what Great Britain produced in its hasty retreat from empire: a moth-eaten state. In 1947, a British barrister, new to the subcontinent, drew artificial lines on a map that carved up the Punjab, Bengal and Kashmir, producing a hopelessly divided independent state of Pakistan.

Pakistan remains a moth-eaten country, only now, the spaces beyond the writ of the state are home to extremist groups. They can be found in Pakistan’s heartland as well as on its periphery. Pakistan’s military and intelligence services nurtured them with the expectation of gaining leverage against India and within Afghanistan. Now, these quasi-independent fiefdoms fill the spaces vacated by poor governance, economic stagnation, corruption, flimsy social services, and a deteriorating educational system.

Among these groups, the Lashkar-e-Taiba has focused primarily on Indian targets – so far. The Afghan Taliban fire primarily at U.S. and NATO forces – so far. Currently, the biggest threat to Pakistan’s military and intelligence services is the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella group of tribal fighters mobilized after President Pervez Musharraf ordered commando units to seize control of the “Red Mosque” in Islamabad, whose clerics were openly defying the state. A ten-day siege resulted in approximately 100 deaths, prompting a war of vengeance.

This war regularly takes a toll of innocent bystanders in shops and bazaars. Schools for girls are regular targets. The latest targeted victim of violence — a 14-year old school girl riding in a bus — has generated a moment of national introspection. Malala Yousufzai gained global attention as a champion of education for girls, which is considered a crime by obscurantists with guns in Pakistan. She wanted to be a doctor. Now she is in a hospital bed, fighting to recover from bullet wound to her head.

The TTP’s home base is in the tribal lands of Waziristan, but its reach extends all over Pakistan. Whenever Pakistan’s military forces turn up the heat, the TTP reacts by carrying out mass-casualty acts of violence. No city in Pakistan is exempt. Prosecutions and judicial findings are hard to come by in Pakistan, but the TTP may have been behind the December, 2007 assassination of Benazir in Rawalpindi, the September, 2008 truck bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, and the failed Times Square bombing in May 2010.

The TTP has also been implicated in brazen suicide missions directed at Pakistani military installations. Three are of particular note: the October, 2009 attack on Army headquarters in Rawalpindi, the May 2010 Mehran Navy base attack in Karachi, soon after the Osama bin Laden raid, and the August 2012 Kamra Air Force base attack in the Punjab. Local security forces, reinforced by commando units, repulsed these attacks. Additional strikes have been directed at soft targets, such as buses outside defense production compounds and military facilities. Regional ISI offices have also been hit.

More attacks are likely, especially if Pakistan’s armed forces ratchet up their operations against the TTP in North Waziristan. Those who demand that the Pakistan Army confront without further delay the LeT, the Afghan Taliban, as well as the TTP, might bear this in mind. The process of reclaiming Pakistan’s moth-eaten spaces will be painfully slow, and the results will be uncertain. Malala was shot in Swat, where the Pakistan Army is very much present, after carrying out a campaign to push back the Taliban. Even if the Pakistan Army seizes and holds moth-eaten spaces, it cannot prevent violent, extremist acts. Long-term successes require the return of governance and local commerce.

Pakistan’s plight has been magnified by misconceived regional ambitions, especially efforts to place India on the back foot in Kashmir and to limit Indian inroads into Afghanistan. Rawalpindi’s calculation that every addition to Indian strength would make Pakistan weaker has become true – less by Indian design than by Pakistani missteps. To become whole again, Pakistan requires many remedies, one of which is normal relations with its neighbors. Movement in this direction, however, is likely to spark new explosions.

There is no quick or easy way out of this vicious circle. Every explosion that originates in Pakistan’s moth-eaten parts works at cross-purposes with Pakistan’s interests – regardless of where it occurs and who is victimized. Because of prior links to the perpetrators by Pakistan’s intelligence services, complicity is assumed whenever attacks occur in India or Afghanistan – even when this conclusion is unjustified. With each mass-casualty attack, Pakistan’s standing and its economy are further damaged. Pakistan loses without a single shot being fired in retaliation. If these realizations take hold, Pakistan and India will eventually have fewer explosions to deal with. In the meantime, Pakistan has no choice but to methodically reclaim its moth-eaten parts, one piece at a time.

The only way out of this morass is to keep moving forward. Pakistan cannot repair its economy, international standing, and sovereignty until its military and intelligence services change their posture toward India and Afghanistan. Intelligence cooperation is one way to help repair ties, but this requires trust where it is most lacking. And even if progress can be made, it won’t stop the explosions, at least in the near term. Direct cross-border trade between Pakistan and India also won’t prevent explosions, but it could be a harbinger of Rawalpindi’s revised security calculus. Is this a tactical or a strategic move? Time will tell. In the meantime, New Delhi has a choice to make: whether to reciprocate Pakistan’s trade initiatives haltingly, or in full measure.

A version of this essay appeared in the Oct. 13 edition of  The Tribune.


  1. krepon (History)

    Note to readers: this essay, with modest variations, was published the The Tribune (India) on October 13, 2012.

  2. mantej (History)

    indeed it will be a slow process with mixed results.
    the militant mindset has taken firm root in parts of the country. pakistan capacity to firmly dismantly these group
    is also under question. as the chinease say “we are living
    in interesting time”.

  3. Anjaan (History)

    Pakistan’s cure lies in Britain and the US, its most important allies and mentors of the past four decades. All India needs to do is to strengthen its capabilities to defend its borders from infiltration of the Pakistan based terrorists.

    • William deB. Mills (History)

      Well, not quite. India also needs to ensure that its treatment of the residents of Kashmir rests on a foundation of sympathy, consideration, civil rights, and democracy–as a certain Mr. Nehru realized back in the early 1950s before he shifted his policy.

  4. Anon2 (History)

    “Pakistan’s cure lies in”

    Its cure lies in mobilization of its own people politically against the medieval-ism and terrorism of the Taliban within.

    As in the words of Robert F. Kennedy from his 1964 book:
    “Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”

    Only Pakistan can end what was created (Taliban style Islamist) by Reagan and the ISI’s response to the Russians in Afghanistan and the Indians in Kashmir.

    Reasonable people the world over can only hope that the response to Malala’s assassination attempt is a purge of this terror and “education” from all levels of Pakistan society.

    • Anjaan (History)

      @ Anon2,
      In Pakistan, intolerance and hatred towards the religious minorities, particularly the Hindus and India, has been preached through the school text books, for atleast two generations, it continues unchecked.

      Have you ever seen any condemnation of this either in Britain or in the US …. ?

  5. Peace Maker (History)

    Jinnah’s “moth eaten” phrase has been used out of context in this article. By a slick British trick, Muslims were given a geographically moth-eaten country and the Subcontinent was “poorly” divided to sow the seeds of conflict.
    On November 3, 1947, Field Marshall Claude Auchinleck wrote a prophetic statement to the British Ministry of Defence: “If on the other hand Indian forces succeed in establishing a control over Kashmir, this is likely to lead to a severe campaign of repression against Muslims in Kashmir and in Poonch, which is wholly populated by Punjabi musalamans. Should this happen it is probable that there will be a strong religious and racial reaction in Pakistan which might amount to jihad or holy war that the Pakistan government, in my opinion, will be powerless to control even if they so wished.”
    We don’t dig deep enough in history and cherry pick on facts, hence the wrong perceptions.
    Pakistan and India have tasted the poisoned fruit of the six decades old seed. If the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir is not resolved according to the aspirations of its people, as enshrined in several UN resolutions, both pugilists will continue to bleed. We will continue to beat about the bush till this fundamental issue is not resolved with complete sincerity. For this, however, we need bold leaders who can find some out of the box solutions instead of maintaining rigid stance.
    I don’t endorse the perception that the Pakistani government is powerless in dealing with the militants and criminals, it rather finds this increasingly difficult to fight them and control extremism due to diminishing ‘moral’ support from the US and Western World, who have a different paradigm and can only offer criticism. While loss of innocent lives in Mumbai cannot be underplayed, it is also a fact that Pakistan continues to suffer from similar acts of terrorism that may be linked to other states.
    The usual missing narrative in painting a Pakistan on the brink is that the ‘distant bystanders’ actively contributed to the situation to come to this pass. It is easy to pick on from Musharraf’s era and difficult to start from the time once the TTP and al-Qaeda were the Mujahideen. There is a history to this mess which is not being properly carbon-dated. Pakistan’s mistake has been to leverage its territory for Charlie Wilson’s war: arms proliferation, drug trade, millions of Afghan refugees – who were not disarmed…rehabilitated…reintegrated, militancy, extremism and terrorism are the fruits of that Faustian Bargain. That said, a small portion of Pakistan’s populace is militant, extremist and pure-criminal-mercenaries. They have made a large segment of moderate but pathetically impotent majority as their hostages. Hence the poor image of Pakistan.
    If left to itself, Pakistan can manage its domestic security situation very well. This can happen if Pakistan is unburdened from some external loads — the situation on the Afghan border and Afghan refugees; drone attacks by the US and sermons to ‘do more’; the lingering Kashmir dispute and interference in Balochistan and along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
    It may sound Kafkaesque, but sixty-plus years are miniscule in a nation’s life to predict such a bad end. States go through tribulations and Pakistan is no exception. America, for instance, survived a civil war, economic depressions and has emerged stronger. It is a great country and the political pivot of the world. I am one of its great admirers. It will be good to draw a comparison with Pakistan once America ‘celebrated’ 4th of July in 1889. Americans were reeling under the consequences of a civil war over slavery and America was about to witness the horrible Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 in a conflict of the Indian Wars. Did anyone predict America’s demise after Lincoln’s assassination in 1865? There are numerous examples once the viability of a country’s control over its territories could have been questioned. The scholars chose to remain silent on Kennedy’s assassination, Indira Gandhi’s murder by her extremist-Sikh bodyguards, and Rajiv’s killing in a suicide attack.
    It is good to remind Pakistanis that their law and order situation is not good. It is equally important to remind its friends that they should not breathe down Pakistan’s neck and let it gradually clean the mess the friends left after partying twice on its territory. That is the least a true friend would do!

  6. Majid (History)

    Much of Pakistan’s security problem (both internal and external) are a direct consequence of US physical presence in the region. Frequency of terrorist attacks within Pakistan prior to US invasion of Afghanistan is a rational quantitative proof in this regard. US occupation of Afghanistan have facilitated the growth of anti Pakistan elements , both state and non – state alike. Not to mention terrorism as an instrument of US policy in Pakistan. US is as much to blame as Pak’s Govt strategic blunder to join WOT. Finally it is United States whose posture needs to be reversed, i.e. complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, rather than Pakistan’s posture towards India and Afghanistan. They are very much capable of establishing a sustainable frame work for engagement in line with regional realities. Foreign intervention only complicates matters .

  7. mantej (History)

    Peace Maker ,
    looks like kashmir is the root of all the problems.
    the british Field Marshall Claude Auchinleck knew before hand what would happen to pakistan in case kashmir is not resolved. also 65 years may not a whole lot of time for civilizations , but a whole lot for people.

  8. S K Afridi (History)

    Today Pakistan is passing through a bad patch but we must remember that this situation is a creation of UK and US. Prior to US invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan had never any terror related incidents. As long as Taliban were ruling Afghanistan, our Western borders were the most peaceful borders. There was no gun running or drug paddling. Instead of criticizing ISI or Let for insurgency in Kashmir, the writer should have advised India to solve all disputes with Pakistan including Kashmir disputes without using its age old delaying tactics. Non resolution of disputes by India is reflective of its insincerity which will generate frustration and lead to conventional or unconventional wars. Similarly Afghanistan should be advised to mend its fences with Pakistan by putting an end to anti Pakistan activities which it has undertaken in collaboration with CIA and RAW. Inspite of the fact that right from the day of Pakistan’s inception, Afghanistan has been involved in Anti Pakistan activities, Pakistan has always provided all out support to Afghanistan in its difficult times. Even today we are sheltering millions of Afghan refugees. It is a well known fact that Afghanistan has always been sheltering separatist elements from Baluchistan and Frontier province of Pakistan. Afghanistan had provided bases to Al-Zulfiqar terrorists for terrorist activities in Pakistan. Even today those Taliban who had attacked Malala have their safe heavens in Afghanistan and are enjoying the patronage of CIA and RAW. Afghanistan has to realize that its stability is linked with its trouble free relations with Pakistan and not with those so called strategic partners like India or USA. Pakistanis will be fools if they start extending support as demanded by Afghanistan and the West without ensuring that in future for all times to come no anti Pakistan activity emanates from Afghanistan. Knowing the past history of Afghanistan’s anti Pakistan conduct, under Indian, Soviet Union and now under US influence, it is very difficult to trust Afghanistan. Mr Karzai, instead of rendering advice to Pakistan should take some immediate practical steps to get out of anti Pakistan influence of those countries who do not have common borders with them and cannot be effective in bringing stability to his moth eaten and war torn country.