Manipal, India — Pakistan's chief of army staff, General Parvez Ashfaq Kayani, is a master at the strategy of starting a fire and then volunteering to put it out in exchange for concessions. Yet he was taken aback when President Asif Ali Zardari declined to enter the noose of imprisonment being prepared for him by the expected return to office of dismissed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
Zardari has refused to reinstate Chaudhry, ousted by his predecessor Gen. Pervez Musharraf, despite urgings from Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani – who was functioning in tandem with Kayani in wanting a more pliant head of state than Zardari.
Since then, Kayani has been working at undermining his nominal superior, ensuring a steady diet of negative media reports about Zardari, and ensuring backroom backing for those champions of Punjabi supremacy in Pakistan, the Sharif brothers. The conspirators meet outside Pakistan, usually in locations in the Middle East, to fine-tune their plans to ensure the removal of Zardari and the return to center stage of Kayani ally Nawaz Sharif.
Of concern to democracies about this Pakistani soap opera is the backing that Kayani has given to the Taliban and its parasite, al-Qaida. It is no accident that NATO has failed to prevent this group of louts from retaking one-third of Afghanistan and moving into the rest.
U.S. backing for Kayani has ensured that the Pakistan military's double-faced policy of secretly helping the Taliban while publicly backing NATO continues. Now that the Clinton team is back in office, courtesy of President Barack Obama, the United States is returning to the 1994-96 policy of backing the Taliban.
Meanwhile the Taliban has separated into "moderate" and "hard" elements, the distinction being as illusory in practice as the 1893 Durand Line that sliced “Pashtunistan” into two parts, with the north belonging to Afghanistan and the south coming under British, and now Pakistani, rule.
Kinship and opium link these presumed two segments of the Taliban together in a tight embrace, with the "hard" section benefitting militarily from the concessions now being showered by a panicky NATO on the "soft" Taliban.
Behind both is the Pakistan army, which has acquired a fleet of around 2,000 nondescript vehicles to transport goods and personnel across the so-called international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The money for such operations comes from the opium trade as well as from Middle Eastern benefactors. Each time a NATO general comes calling, a few of these vehicles are seized, only to be quickly replaced with others bought from within the country.
Asif Ali Zardari may not be a suitable candidate for a seminary, but his family is almost entirely Sufi, in contrast to the hard-line ideology of the relatives of Ashfaq Kayani. The new president of Pakistan is aware that his personal and political survival depends on ensuring that the jihad cohort of Pakistan's officer corps is replaced. He needs army officers with a more syncretic and moderate background, such as represented Pakistan's culture till the 1970s.
Of the present 33 lieutenant-generals in the Pakistan army, 17 are jihadist, including all 11 favorites of Kayani, who is scheduled to retire on Nov. 28, 2010. Before that, 11 lieutenant-generals will retire, and Kayani wants to ensure that he retains the sole power to name their replacements. It is certain he will favor those in league with the Taliban and in agreement with his strategy of using a newly Talibanized Afghanistan to destabilize the object of his hatred, India.
Fortunately for Kayani, the current U.S. administration seems to be even more gullible than the previous one, which facilitated the escape of key al-Qaida and Taliban leaders from the northern Afghan city of Kunduz in 2001, and gave nearly US$3 billion to the Pakistan army to distribute among "moderate" Pashtuns. The money went to the Taliban and funded its revival.
Kayani has ensured that several of the "freedom fighter" camps in Pakistan-held Kashmir have been shifted to the Swat Valley, one of numerous gifts delivered by a grateful Taliban to the Pakistan army in exchange for the sanctuary it has been given in the valley.
Several hundred "fighters" of the kind that terrorized Mumbai during Nov. 26-28, 2008, are being trained in these camps by serving officers of the military. Of these fighters, a large number are Indian nationals, many recruited from the Middle East.
It was not a coincidence that recent terror attempts, such as the failed 2007 attack on Glasgow Airport, included Indian nationals. Kayani is intent on ensuring that India is identified by the international community as a breeding ground for terrorists, similar to Pakistan. Nepal and Bangladesh are the other South Asian states whose nationals are being trained by elements of the military.
Since the Mumbai fiasco, when communications equipment and explosives used by the terrorists were traced back to the Pakistan military, it has been careful to create firewalls to mask its involvement in the training of jihadis.
Kayani is hopeful that most of Afghanistan will return to the control of his allies within the next two years, so that he and his successors can then concentrate on their declared objective of "avenging the 1971 breakup of Pakistan" by creating chaos in India.
Kayani and most of his generals are India-centric, and are uneasy at the fact that the Taliban see not their subcontinental neighbor but the United States as the principal enemy. Assistance given to weaken India may therefore end up being used against the United States – a factor that Obama needs to keep in mind.
A single mass terror attack on the United States could take away the entire "feel good" factor visible in the coming to power of a young, charismatic president in the mould of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Obama needs to take control of policy away from the Clintonites and ensure that the civilian government in Pakistan is empowered to de-jihadize the Pakistan army. He needs to see that the Taliban is defeated on the field and its numerous backers in Pakistan and the Middle East are sanctioned and prosecuted as war criminals. Otherwise, the freedom from attack that his country has enjoyed since 9/11 may not last for long.
-(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.)