15 March 2017

Military—Jihadi Complex S16E2: Gun to the head

Pranay Kotasthane
The rent-seeking prowess of the Pakistani Military—Jihadi Complex (MJC) is well documented. A line in Stephen Cohen’s The Idea of Pakistan summarises this ability best:

Pakistan now negotiates with its allies and friends by pointing a gun to its own head. [The Idea of Pakistan, page 270]

These powers of renting itself out to powerful states are being summoned up once again due to two reasons. One, the Trump administration has shown no inclination (yet) towards prioritising US involvement in Afghanistan. And this delay is resulting in a reduction of MJC’s rent-seeking vis-à-vis Afghanistan. Two, the policy of conducting war through sub-conventional means is now incurring a significant cost to the MJC itself, decreasing its confidence in deploying such assets in the future.

But given that the MJC controls the putative state of Pakistan, a reduction in the set of available options is unlikely to dismantle the complex itself.

The question then is: what are the options available to the MJC going ahead?

Tilak Devasher’s new book Pakistan: Courting the Abyss lists the following options that might be pulled out by the MJC in order to sustain its role as a useful actor for the US.

There are several options: to project the arrival of the Islamic State in Afghanistan and Pakistan or of the AQIS as a real threat to peace; midwifing the Afghan peace talks; accelerating the tactical nuclear weapons programme; and if all else fails, the old strategy of creating another Indo-Pak crisis [..].

The first two options are now beginning to play out in the open. On March 6th, a report in The Express Tribune quoted a namaloom senior Pakistani army source who pulled out the both the big cards — ISIS and Russia — in a desperate attempt to gain US attention.

We have told Gen Mattis that Afghanistan is slipping out of control, and that if things are not put right, America will have a huge crisis on its hands. Da’ish is also developing there, and if they leave Syria and Iraq, the next place for them to gather in is Afghanistan. [..]

If IS and the Taliban continued to gain strength, he added, it could tempt Russia to stage a Syrian-style intervention, this time on the pretext of protecting its ‘backyard’ in Central Asia. [The Express Tribune, 6 March 2017]

Another option available to the MJC, which we have written about earlier, is to sacrifice some of its assets in order to make a re-entry in the good books of the US. It wouldn’t exactly be a surprise if one fine day we hear reports about drone strikes taking out top Haqqani Network operatives.

To modify Cohen’s analogy, it is the MJC that negotiates with allies and friends by pointing a gun to Pakistan’s head. And this policy is increasingly becoming untenable because the finger on the trigger is beginning to move. Unfortunately, not enough has yet been done to decapitate the MJC. It continues to hold Pakistan and Pakistanis at gunpoint.

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