About a week ago, without the usual international attention, Pakistan miraculously achieved a milestone that has proved to be elusive since the war against terror erupted in 2001. With the US slated to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, the new government has achieved consensus on a strategy to fight the extremists. This is after realizing that the bullet train cannot arrive at its destination with the suicide bombers blocking the tracks. If one goes by the comments of (opposition leader and former cricket hero) Imran Khan, Pakistan’s powerful military chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani even agreed for a phased withdrawal from FATA.
According to reports, the new strategy emphasizes negotiations and perhaps simultaneous use of force as well; a popular maneuver US has applied to its approach in Afghanistan and now to the crisis in Syria.
The goal of the new policy is to dismantle, contain, prevent, educate and re-integrate. It’s just like another version of the American emphasis of deter, dismantle, and degrade mantra against Al Qaeda, and the Saudi lessons in educating and reintegrating extremists.
One hopes the new national security policy and counter terrorism strategy is equally focused on combating and counteracting the emerging threats as well, and not just the past ones. The war against extremists has transformed over the years and without understanding the changing nature of this struggle, one cannot hope to address and check its progression.
For example, a new book from renowned counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen points to the phenomenon of Urban Gorilla, which amply explains what is taking place in cities like Karachi. Dr. Kilcullen looks at major environmental trends such as exploding populations, coastal urbanization, and growing digital connectivity. He postulates these factors are putting large cities and urban systems under tremendous stress, and leading to an intricate overlap between crime and war, internal and external threats, and the real versus virtual realties.
The director of South Asia Center at Atlantic Council, Shuja Nawaz pointed to another stark trend during a recent event; central governments are consistently weakening and peripheries are becoming more important. There will indeed be intended and unintended consequences of this, as government’s fight the extremities of their states for control, throughout the region, while its capacity to provide security and services diminish.
On the other hand, US describes the emerging threats to its national security are from weak and failing states, the proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction, and cyber warfare. No wonder, the recent revelation of the Black Budget points out Pakistan to be at the top of the list. Meanwhile, a study by UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) emphasizes the risks posed by Pakistan’s short-range ‘battlefield’ nuclear arsenal. As the state weakens, the extremists pose a growing threat to the nuclear assets of the country.
As the US withdraws from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s control over a spectrum of extremist organization bustling in the country will be tested. Furthermore, American policy is likely to align even more closely with India. In the event of any unforeseen incident, we could see a dangerous turn of direction. India is concerned the American withdrawal from Afghanistan will shift the focus of extremist groups towards it, and reports have already started to re-emerge in Western institutions reiterating allegations about Pakistan ‘s inhibitions in acting against these groups. In a recent study sponsored by United States Instituted of Peace, Stephen Tankel states that the country will continue to not act against Islamist militants with strategic value.
It appears the Indian apprehensions are not that off the mark. The head of the United Jihadi Council (a Kashmiri group fighting Indian rule in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir), Syed Salahuddin recently stated that with NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan approaching, thousands of militants would be shifting to Kashmir. Quoted by AFP, Salahuddin stated, “The coming months and years will see a tremendous surge in mujahedeen’s activities in Indian Kashmir.”
Under the circumstances, it is conceivable that India may have agreed to Pakistan’s role in the Afghan reconciliation upon reassurance from the Americans that they will keep the pressure on Pakistan to deal with the Jihadist groups active against India.
Pakistan’s counter terrorism strategy remains focused on the FATA and the Taliban. It does not mention the other emerging threats. Many renowned Pakistani analysts fail to see how Punjab-based (Pakistan’s most populous province), and India-oriented groups, will be increasingly in the limelight in the near future. It is possible this omission is a tactic to keep these entities off guard.
In his comments at the Atlantic Council on September 10, Ambassador James Dobbins pointed out the reasoning behind Pakistan not focusing on the whole array of extremists operating from its territory. He stated the country wants to divide these groups and deal with them one by one, as it does not have the capability to deal with all of them simultaneously.
Obviously, once Afghan reconciliation materializes, including with (the Pakistan Taliban, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) TTP, Pakistan will no longer have the above logic to hold on to. After the Afghan settlement, the country would be hard-pressed to focus on these groups. Moreover, for improving ties, India will demand action against extremists even more forcefully.
Another complication to consider in the reconciliation with TTP would be their ambiguous connection and ties with Afghan Taliban. In absence of progress on Afghan reconciliation, negotiations with TTP are also unlikely to move forward. Furthermore, without clear indication of how many American troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014; this will remain another stumbling block towards the final resolution. In any event, the emerging regional dynamics will fully test how much control Pakistan has on the various extremist groups that take refuge there.
If it can neither influence them nor control them, then that could put the state in a very serious bind.