Sunday, Aug 14, 2022

More Or Less?

The notion that we are being unfairly asked to “do more” by the US and that things would be fine if that was not done is a common feeling in Pakistan...

AP Photo/Shakil Adil

Within days of the arrest of some terrorists by the CID in Karachi, a group of terrorists was able to get together and attack CID headquarters with automatic weapons and a huge truck bomb. Obviously, these are not isolated disgruntled individuals taking revenge for the latest drone attack. They are well organized, well trained and well supplied with arms, ammunition, technical capability and intelligence. How did that come about? I had a Facebook exchange after the news which maybe relevant to the question and led to this article.

First some background: A very intelligent senior journalist in Pakistan had complained that we are suffering in the war on terror and the US is asking us to "do more" without realizing how hard things are. The notion that we are being unfairly asked to “do more” and things would be fine if that was not done is a common feeling in Pakistan. My reply follows.

According to this popular version of events, the US and other powers got a military dictator to arm and train these maniacs (no Pakistani interest in this scheme is implied), then things sort of coasted along happily for 12 years, then came 9-11 (frequently believed to be a Mossad-CIA operation) and the US turned around and said: “We want them dead now”. Since then, the refrain goes, we have been dutifully trying to kill these maniacs and the current Pakistani government in particular is trying its best to kill them and it is unfair of the US to ask us to "do more". 

I think this version of events misses some points.

First of all, the jihadi project was indeed a CIA project, but it was also our project from the very beginning. America wanted Russia humbled in Afghanistan. We wanted that humbling to be done by Islamist jihadis under our control and some of “us” had the foresight and brilliance to see in this an opportunity to settle scores with India and establish permanent control over domestic Pakistani politics and so on and so forth. 

Second, after the CIA finished its dirty business in Afghanistan and left, “we” multiplied the jihadi infrastructure by 10. We redirected it to Kashmir and spread it throughout Pakistan. Of course the westoxicated burger-jihadi middle class had very little notion of what was going on. These were serious things, handled by serious people in the security establishment, not shared with the rest of the country except on a “need to know basis”. It is disingenuous to think the multiplication of jihadi militias throughout the 1990s was also America's fault (though the US did ignore it—perhaps because they thought it improved their leverage over India, perhaps because they were busy with other things). Then, after 9-11 (which was not an inside job in my view), “we” (meaning our security services) protected good jihadis and failed to go after the indoctrination or finance pipelines because “we" wanted the infrastructure kept alive, both for domestic use and for future use against India.

Third, the current government may be "doing more", but how will "doing less" help in this situation? And if the army is now on board with stopping this menace (and I think it may be that their leaders indeed are on board by now, though the rank and file is being fed a diet of anti-Indian and anti-Israeli propaganda to justify this action) then why are army-sponsored PR operators and ex-generals and admirals still writing op-eds as if the jihadis are our heroes and America is the enemy?

These things indicate that the urge to maintain a jihadi option (for domestic use as much as for use against India) is still alive and well.

Of course, even if the rickety state apparatus does decide to go all out against the jihadis, the process will be neither pretty nor quick. There is no simple way to put the genie back into the bottle. The half million who are already trained (Arif Jamal's figure in Shadow Wars) will have to be dealt with. Luckily, some have already moved on to other occupations and others have become simple criminals, busy with kidnapping and armed robbery. But the more committed ones will have to be disarmed and jailed or killed. And in order to do that the state will have to shut down their financing, crack down on their above-ground supporters and win the battle of ideas in the minds of the public (and improve its functioning in general and make it less unjust, a problem it shares with India's rickety state). 

None of this can succeed if the state's own paid propagandists are busy spreading confusion and propaganda that undermines the psy-ops effort. It will also not succeed if the army is simultaneously trying to protect assets for other uses (because the “good jihadis” don’t seem to understand the distinction and frequently help out the “bad jihadis”). It will also not succeed if Saudi and Gulf financing is not being intercepted. In short, it will not stop unless the India-centric, zero-sum national security mindset is changed and the armed forces give up their totalitarian domestic political ambitions. The continued existence of these ambitions necessitates that a good part of the jihadi pipeline be protected. 

For proof of this, you need to look no further than Musharraf’s moronic interviews with Der Spiegel and, more recently, at the Atlantic council. In fact if you put this latest interview together with Admiral Fasih Bokhari's article you can see that the generals who are America's great white hope in Pakistan are perhaps more dangerous and deluded than the illiterate and corrupt gangsters that give the civilian political parties a bad name. But, military men being military men, no Pentagon general seems to be able to resist the sight of a man in a finely starched uniform, especially if he also likes whisky (the one sure sign of "enlightened moderation", if the diplomatic reports of the US embassy from the last 50 years are any guide). 

Unless we can wean the army off these twin ambitions (alliance with the mullahs in domestic politics and anti-Indian hatred as an organizing principle), we are in for much worse than this.

Omar Ali is a Pakistani-American physician who also moderates the “Asiapeace” discussion group on the internet.