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Relentless Pressure

Early in the morning of May 8, 2002, another dramatic and brutal incident of terrorist violence in Pakistan resulted in the death of sixteen persons, including eleven French nationals, at Karachi. This is the third terrorist incident this year that has resulted in the death of Westerners residing or working in Pakistan. Journalist Daniel Pearl was kidnapped on January 23 and, almost a month later, his murder was confirmed after the recovery of a gruesome video film of his execution. Again, on March 17, an American diplomat’s wife and daughter, as well as three others, were killed in a grenade attack on the Protestant International Church at Islamabad.

Interestingly, there has been a sustained effort in various Western media and official – particularly American – statements, to emphasize the immense ‘progress’ that has been made under Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf’s campaign to curb Islamist fundamentalists in his country, and bring an end to the export of terrorism from Pakistani soil. American officials have, indeed, claimed that infiltration into Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), and terrorist activities there, have fallen dramatically over the past months – this is a theme that has been pushed steadily since February this year, not just by the Americans, but also, reportedly, by the United Nations Military Observers Group in Indian and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). The facts on the ground, however, would suggest that there is a deep and powerful strain of self-deception in these perceptions.

In J&K the data shows no significant signs of improvement in the months after 9/11. With 4,507 killed in J&K, year 2001 [Graph 1] was by far the worst in terms of casualties since the beginning of the terrorist movement in 1989. The last quarter of the year did, of course, see a decline (1187 killed) from its earlier peak in July-September (1627 killed). But this would be the ‘normal’ winter decline as a result of adverse operational conditions and the freezing over of the mountain passes. Levels of violence remained well above the January-March 2001 (696) and April-June 2001 (1092) levels.

Graph 1: Total Fatalities in Jammu & Kashmir

These trends continued into the year 2002. Fatalities in January-April 2002 remained well above the January-April 2001 levels [Graph 2]. The only significant, though transient, reversal occurred in February 2002, with 196 fatalities, below the February 2001 level (251) at a time when exceptionally bad weather conditions and heavy snowfall paralysed much of the State. The adverse trends were quickly re-established in March, but it is the coming summer – traditionally a time of escalation in J&K – that will more clearly define the real trends of the covert war. Significantly, there has been a steady rise in the number of foreign terrorists killed in J&K over the years [Graph 3], and official sources disclose that there has been no decline in infiltration in the current year as against the corresponding period last year.

Graph 2: India – Monthly Fatalities in J&K, January – April 2001-2002

Graph 3: Foreign Militants killed in Jammu & Kashmir

Despite the absolute control of the military in Pakistan and a harsh regime of laws implemented by military courts, moreover, the internal situation there does not appear to be moving towards greater stability or order – the only proclaimed virtues of a military dictatorship. Apart from recurrent high profile terrorist attacks, a steady stream of sectarian violence has already claimed 84 lives this year, suggesting an uninterrupted continuity with past trends (Graph 4).

Graph 4: Pakistan – Fatalities in Sectarian Violence

There is, in fact, a great churning in progress in South Asia, and it is in this context that the violence in both Pakistan and in India – including the persisting communal carnage in India’s Western State of Gujarat – is to be understood. Indeed, the multiple and apparently diverse chains of events that have been set in motion by 9/11 and the American campaign in Afghanistan will have consequences far beyond the expectations and calculations of the unimaginative and largely incompetent leadership of the two major rivals in the region – though the structural correctives of a democratic system in India may be better equipped to absorb the shocks of transformation than the rigid, quasi-feudal military dictatorship in Pakistan.

The first element in the current transformations is the fact that the network of containment alliances that had been forged by the US in the region has been significantly altered. While Pakistan’s ‘frontline state’ status in the Cold War equation has been transformed into an ostensible ‘frontline state’ status in the US war against terrorism, the similarities are specious. For one, Pakistan’s role in creating, supporting and exporting terrorism is no secret, and despite official American pronouncements and a desire to see Musharraf succeed in restoring a measure of security and permanence in the flux of the country’s turbulent politics, the American intelligence community remains fully aware of the highly ambivalent role this state’s agencies are still playing. No country – and this includes India – would like to see Pakistan spiral into a ‘zone of chaos’ on the Afghan pattern. There is, however, substantial scepticism and, indeed, pockets of growing anger within the American strategic community against Pakistan’s continuing ambivalence towards terrorism. Moreover, the simple equations of the bipolar world have been completely substituted by complex inter-relationships, and these include intensifying co-operation between India and the US which excludes the possibilities of the unequivocal support that Pakistan received even in its most excessive adventures in the past. The long term trends in this context are still evolving, but the immediate future will be characterised by increasing instability and jockeying for positions, not only between India and Pakistan, but among a number of external actors who seek an expanded role in the South Asian region.

Pakistan is caught in a cleft stick on another plane. For decades, it has sought strength by forging alliances with, and securing support from, the oil rich states of West Asia. It has done this by projecting an ultra-Islamist identity, by supporting extremist Islamist causes – including the Taliban in Afghanistan – and by advertising its nuclear capabilities as a quest for the "Islamic bomb". The volte face forced on it by the US, both on the Taliban and on the activities of extremist Islamists within Pakistan, however, have substantially eroded the credibility of this image and identity, and with these, the guarantee of support from West Asia. Pakistan has, consequently, been placed in a relationship of utter dependence on American and allied powers – both militarily and economically – a relationship that creates intolerable tensions within a political ideology that has long built on sentiments of exclusionary religious identity, Islamist dominance and an anti-West rhetoric. The situation is compounded by a worsening economic profile and a failure of governance on at least as many counts as could be attributed to the earlier ‘corrupt and incompetent’ administrations, and with one further disadvantage – the complete absence of democratic legitimacy for the regime, and of rights and freedoms for the people at large. The continuous military mobilisation along the borders – which has already cost Pakistan over Rs. 16 billion since December last – and the pressures of increased spending to match India’s rising defence budget will deepen Pakistan’s financial crises. There is, moreover, the underlying and grave threat of the presence of a large Taliban – Al Qaeda diaspora on Pakistani soil, and of a number of indigenous armed groupings that share their ideology and motivation.

The authoritarian regime in Pakistan has successfully encouraged a measure of optimism and complacence in the international community with regard to the internal situation in the country, as well as on the involvement of its agencies and citizens in international terrorism. Such complacence is misplaced, based as it substantially is on the disruption of the feedback mechanism and of the institutional constraints on government under martial law. Such disruption, significantly, also undermines the regime’s own abilities to assess the consequences of its policies and to introduce timely correctives. Musharraf’s referendum – widely dismissed as a ‘farce’ by independent Pakistani commentators – is evidence that the internal systems of reportage, accounting and assessment have been suspended, and that the regime’s projections of reality will tend to be widely distorted to confirm the expectations of its leader, and can provide no accurate estimates of the strength of the system. This, as has been demonstrated in the past, is dangerous, and will feed the illusions both of the regime and its foreign supporters as the base of resentment and potential violence widens continuously. If Pakistan is to be saved, it must, consequently, first be saved from its own delusions.

(Edited version published in Pinkerton Global Intelligence Services, May 9, 2002.)





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