Pakistan is currently faced with a crisis of enormous proportions and one which could perhaps change the nature of the State. Only time will tell, whether this crisis will lead to Army rule or eventually state failure but it is clear from the present impasse that things are not going to be stable for the next ten years or so. The crisis is spreading at two levels and each represents a challenge to the nation. At one level, there is a conflict between the State and the terrorists. This war on terrorism is not new to Pakistan, the only difference being that it is being waged by the state against terrorists who remain committed to destroying that very entity. At another level there is a conflict between entities of the state over policy and future direction of the nation. Both these trends are dangerous and could undermine the very stability of the Pakistani state.
To begin with Nawaz Sharif tried to bring about a political solution to the crisis within Pakistan after assuming power last year. That process was probably doomed to fail because the “deep” state did not want to give him a plus point. Further, the military/ISI combine was quite happy to maintain a divided house and keep control over those terrorist factions in the TTP that it could make a deal with. From another perspective, Sharif faces the challenge of the need to think beyond Punjab, for today Pakistan’s crisis lies in its cities. Pashtun-dominated Karachi city is the epicentre of terrorism. Not only is the TTP and its main factions based there, also others in the business of narcotics and arms smuggling are stationed there. Karachi suffered over 3,200 violent killings in 2013 — over 10,600 in the last four years. According to the Express Tribune, in 2013, roughly 1,000 killings were targeted attacks against non political individuals. Other violent incidents were a mix of gang warfare, criminal attacks, sectarian violence, explosions, and killings by law enforcement.
In its January 2014 report, “Policing Urban Violence in Pakistan”, the International Crisis Group looks at the drivers of deadly violence in four Pakistani provincial capitals – Karachi, Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar – and identifies ways to confront it. While political, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic tensions play into the hostilities, escalating violence in these cities is largely a product of poor governance, inappropriate security policies and neglected police reform. Extremist groups and criminal gangs exploit the state’s failure to provide basic services, economic opportunities and the rule of law to establish recruitment and patronage networks.
Much to the dislike of Pakistan’s military, Sharif was forced to launch operations in North Waziristan, against Islamic militants of various hues who had targeted Karachi airport on 8 June 2014. This by itself is another reason for the internal strife between the civilian government and military. The US has been putting pressures on Pakistan to conduct a military operation in North Waziristan Agency, since at least early 2010. This pressure was probably strongest following the attacks by the TTP and its allies on Camp Chapman, in Khost, Afghanistan on 30 December 2009 and the Times Square bomb attack on 1 May 2010—both plots had operational links to North Waziristan. The Pakistani military had been reluctant thus far to undertake a large scale offensive in the agency. This was so for a number of reasons, including the Army feared being stretched too thin after recently conducting robust operations in both Swat district and neighbouring South Waziristan Agency in 2009. There was also concern for the likely militant backlash in the rest of the country if the main extremist stronghold in North Waziristan was seriously disturbed.
The Pakistani military provides support to the Haqqani network and other proxy groups, even though state sponsored militants often collaborate with the anti-state TTP. The withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan after 2014 could increase instability by allowing anti-state militants from Pakistan to establish a safe haven in a fragile Afghanistan. The Army was probably also keen to avoid the serious disruption that an operation might cause to the Haqqani Network, an Afghan militant group and Pakistani state proxy that operates in Afghanistan but is based in North Waziristan and shares both ideology and infrastructure with groups such as the TTP and IMU in North Waziristan.
Pakistan’s other problem is dealing with terrorism of which it is the epicentre. The world knows that Pakistan’s ISI, creates, splits and re-creates terrorist organizations to meet its strategic goals. Today, Pakistan has been hoist with its own petard and sinking into a deep morass. Given the multiplicity of terrorist organizations it is indeed difficult for the Pakistani state to deal with each one of them and control all of them. Therefore, radicalisation in Pak society has gained a new meaning. Some of the worst assaults on religious and sectarian minorities in 2013 occurred in Quetta and Peshawar, including the 10th January suicide and car bomb attack that killed over 100, mostly Shias, in Quetta; the 16th February terror attack that killed more than 80, again mostly Shias, in Quetta’s Hazara town; and the 22 September bombing of a Peshawar church that killed more than 80 people, mostly Christians. In addition, anti-Shia violence, led by Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (formerly Sipah-e-Sahaba, or SSP) persists, particularly in the Sindh province.
The Pakistani state retains a light hold on the functions of modern statehood — from taxation to transport, from urban development to policing, from education to health. Wherever the State fails to provide basic services, citizens, communities, political parties, and mafias step in to take over. Further there are challenges to the economy and development of the Pakistani nation. There is a debt servicing issue as well as creating more jobs and employment for the people. Education remains a fundamentally flawed system with the Madrassa system churning out more religiously-minded students who could sidestep into terrorism.
There is therefore, an urgent necessity to tackle Pakistan’s problems on a war footing. There is no quick fix solution for the tensions within Pakistani society. It is fair to say that it is necessary to go back to the basics before thinking of solutions. Acute instability in Pakistan has security implications for the region and internal strife could well spill over into Afghanistan and India. The former is presently precariously poised to political transition.
As Prof. P.R. Chari has aptly stated, Pakistan’s problem is that it has contradictions within which can only be resolved by Pakistan. However, as long the Pakistan Army believes that it can manage these contradictions, there is little that is possible to ensure its stability. In this sense, Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to civilianise the Army have not got far and appear to have led Pakistan deeper on the path to instability.
The author is an experienced