The Destabilization Of Pakistan

October 20, 2009

A strengthening alliance of militant groups working out of Pakistan continue to perpetrate attacks against governmental and security forces both inside and surrounding the country’s borders. Punjabi extremist groups are perpetrating bold attacks in concert with the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda.

It is a goal of these insurgents operating within Pakistan to divert NATO attention away from the insurgent’s camps and power centers. The insurgents are doing this to allow themselves time to regroup. The militants have capitalized on American attention being distracted by the Afghanistan elections. The insurgents have also begun to look for ways to encourage future distractions. Using groups like Jundullah to cause renewed tension with Iran over the weekend is but one example.

The militant groups within Pakistan have decided that the Pakistani government is an easy target. This is why there is increasing news being reported of violence in the larger Pakistani cities and of even military stations being captured. The current destabilizing campaign is being helped by members of Pakistan’s own military which has puritanical, devout officers throughout its ranks.

The Pakistani army has not always been a haven for Islamist zealots. The current condition of the army can be traced back to General Zia ul-Haq. After being installed as Army Chief in 1976, he employed an Islamicisation campaign to “reform” the military into a more religiously zealous force. After Zia installed himself as President after a coup d’etat in 1977, his Islamicisation campaign took on Pakistani society as a whole.

Zia wanted Islam to be integrated into the syllabus of the military’s Staff College. All Qur’anic passages congruent to war were distributed in military circles. Zia encouraged religious debate and even religious dissent in his military. The fortitude for religious descent that Zia fostered became a basis for the religiously divided atmosphere in Pakistan’s military today. Current army officers feign loyalty to the military government, but are secretly funneling assistance to militant groups including al Qaeda in the form of funds, arms, and intelligence. And the majority of military officers are outright hostile to the civilian government.

The tension between the civilian led Pakistan and the militarily led Pakistan has kept a fragile security situation in Pakistan for decades. However, these past few months have seen the situation destabilizing in an accelerated and more problematic way. The recent attack in Lahore is a prime example of this. Lahore is the cultural capital of Pakistan. It is not a war-zone easily accessible to insurgents. The militants attacked Lahore to divert the Pakistani government’s attention away from the militant’s own camps in Southern Waziristan. This sort of ‘sleight of hand’ tactic to sidetrack security forces is becoming all too common around Pakistan.

Pakistan is currently plagued with obstructive and inefficient bureaucracy, militants who try to assassinate anyone seen as an obstacle to Islamist societal pressures, a divided and undermining military, courts that will not convict the guilty, warlords who keep parts of the country ungovernable, and corrupt civilian politicians who will do anything to stay in power. To many of its own citizens, the idea that today’s Pakistan can deliver what they need most – security, jobs, education – is laughable. These needs were not met in the past when the country was more stable than it is today. And there is no reason to believe that anything will change.

Militant groups are looking to capitalize on this sentiment. Pakistanis who are disgruntled, poorly educated, and out of work would be more willing to lend support to al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, and the volatile coalition that they are surely building. If Pakistani and NATO forces are kept busy containing the symptoms of Pakistan’s descent into chaos, they will be too distracted to deal with the disease.

For further reading on Pakistan, read my previous post on the Deobandi movement.

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