Manipal, India - Pakistan's U.S.-approved chief of army staff, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, wanted a less unpredictable personality than Asif Ali Zardari as president of the country. But the crafty equestrian from Sindh insisted on the job, aware that the absence of high office would almost certainly mean either a death sentence or a fresh stint in jail, as Zardari faced several corruption charges.
Since then, "the chief" has seethed as Zardari admitted publicly that the jihadis fighting India in Kashmir were terrorists, and further, that he himself saw no threat from India, thus destroying the army's rationale for consuming more than one-third of the budget. By the time Pakistan's new president said that, like India, Pakistan was committed to a "no first use" policy on nuclear weapons, Kayani had made up his mind that Zardari had to go, and was searching for an opportunity to get him out.
The chief's undiplomatic descriptions of his nominal superior to his intimates have been many and acid, but his personal relationship with U.S. policy gurus has thus far ensured that Washington saw nothing untoward in the clear divergence of views and interests between the chief and the president – or in the chief's private musings about replacing the president. This was Pakistan, after all.
Mumbai 11/27 – the date that marks the midpoint of the three-day terrorist siege in the city – may have shaken the complacency of U.S. and EU policymakers about Kayani's suitability to lead an army touted as the linchpin of the allies in the war on terror.
So far, the chief has managed to evade suspicion that he approved the Mumbai terror strike, yet signs abound of the active participation of serving military officers in the training and facilitation of the terrorists who landed in Mumbai on Nov. 26, 2008. It strains credulity that Kayani was ignorant of an operation that involved training given by subordinates of two of his corps commanders, given the attention to minutiae of the officer who replaced Pervez Musharraf as army chief in 2007.
Kayani's empathy with the jihadis – for the record, presently only those active in Kashmir, although trained jihadis switch theaters of operation frequently – are as strong as were those of his fellow Punjabi, former President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. But these links have been kept out of view of Western interlocutors, unlike those of Zia, who was open about his affiliations.
For nearly two years the Inter-Services Intelligence has sought permission from army headquarters to fast-track a strategy developed in 2005 that is designed to return the Taliban to power in Afghanistan. Permission for such an escalation in support to the Taliban was rejected by Musharraf. However, judging by changes on the battlefield, it appears to have been approved by the new army chief soon after the swearing-in of Pakistan's civilian government on March 25.
The plan envisages the shifting of the military's focus of manpower from Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan – where it is supposed by NATO to be hunting the Taliban and homegrown insurgents – to its eastern border with India. A breakdown in NATO supply routes through Pakistan would then be arranged. These steps would be followed by negotiations with the Taliban to facilitate a power-sharing agreement with the democratic parties in Afghanistan.
The denuding of manpower from the western front and the choking of NATO supplies through Pakistan would, it was calculated, lead to a panic within the alliance that would facilitate such a fatal – to the war on terror – compromise with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
From then onwards – initially with covert and later with open support from the Pakistani military – the Taliban would eliminate its democratic partners and take over the administration of all except perhaps the Tajik and Uzbek-dominated areas of Afghanistan.
The Mumbai attacks were expected to trigger a military mobilization from India that would give the Pakistani army the excuse it was searching for to disengage openly from operations against the Taliban. That failed to happen, however.
Although the Pakistani army claims it has no control over the Taliban – or indeed the border regions where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar reside – the reality is that ideology, drug money, kinship and religious links bind the two forces, and that the Taliban would lose its battlefield cohesion within half a year without the help given by elements within the Pakistani military.
It is no coincidence that two major attacks on NATO supply routes into Afghanistan have occurred in Pakistan since the Mumbai attacks. By standing by while such Taliban attacks multiply, the Pakistani military clearly hopes to persuade NATO to nudge Afghani President Hamid Karzai toward a power-sharing agreement that would let the Taliban enter his government. Once Karzai agrees to share power, Mullah Omar would graciously accept his offer of talks aimed at integrating the Taliban into the government in Kabul.
Reinforcing existing Western pressure on Karzai to negotiate with the Taliban are hidden sweeteners from Saudi Arabia, intended to help persuade Afghanistan's democratic leaders to agree to partner with the Taliban. Once such an arrangement takes effect, it would be a matter of three or four years before the Taliban take control of the 70 percent of Afghanistan that some Western experts are already incorrectly ascribing to them.
What is needed to protect the world against terror is not compromise with the Taliban, but victory over them. Such an outcome will not be decided on the field in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan. Victory would necessitate choking off the Taliban's supply routes from Pakistan, and extinguishing the numerous safe havens provided by that country to Mullah Omar's terror outfit.
Until NATO gives the Pakistani generals the option of either clearing out the jihadis inside Pakistan, or standing by while NATO interdicts the supply routes to Afghanistan, the bloodletting in Afghanistan will continue to increase. And unless the United States and the European Union act decisively to shut down the 119 terror training camps in Pakistan and reform the Wahabbi schools that are affiliated to individual terror outfits, the war on terror cannot be won.
A crucial step is for the United States and the European Union to take the lead in ensuring that it is not the army chief who can throw out of office the president of Pakistan, but Asif Ali Zardari who can replace an army chief whose links with jihadists are becoming too transparent to hide.
Unfortunately for Pakistan, with the short-sighted opportunism characteristic of that country's politicians, the other major political figure, Nawaz Sharif, has thrown in his lot with Kayani against Zardari. Indeed, Sharif has gone to the extent of joining hands with the overtly Wahabbi groups in supporting the activities of the religious schools in Pakistan that provide human fodder for the Pakistani army's terrorist ancillaries – forgetful of the fact that after Zardari’s, it is his head that will be next.
If the United Nations decides to impose sanctions on individuals such as former ISI chief Hamid Gul – who was tasked with helping the Taliban avoid NATO retribution – and expands such a list to include carefully selected elements from the military, business and political circles who are known to facilitate the Pakistani terror machine, several current backers of jihad may decide to abandon a policy that can only bring ruin to their country. Thus far, such individuals have escaped even the mildest retribution for their activities
The time for mild rebuke is anyway over. Unless action be taken – including sanctions on key backers of the Taliban in Pakistan and in other countries, and interdiction of supplies within the Taliban-infested regions of Pakistan – the war in Afghanistan will soon go the way Mullah Omar wishes it to, courtesy of the generals in Pakistan.
-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)