Why Pakistan’s Ship Is Sinking

My latest article is published at The Diplomat. I discuss the challenges the Pakistani military leadership has faced this spring and argue that the military and civilian leadership need to work together to move away from Pakistan’s parochial national security strategy and develop an approach focused on human security.

Read it here.

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Gilani Gambles by Siding with Kayani

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani addressed Pakistan’s National Assembly tonight in Islamabad on issues surrounding the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden. His speech, which was in English and began at around 9AM in Washington, was clearly aimed at an American audience. Gilani’s address, with its defensive and nationalist tone, appears to have been significantly influenced by the high military command. He met earlier in the day with Gen. Khalid Shamim Wynne, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee.

The Pakistani military is letting the civilians serve as the public face of the government on this issue, as I noted last night on the John Batchelor Show.  Today,  Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said, “It is believed that people of Pakistan need to be taken into confidence through their honourable elected representatives.”

For the Pakistan Army, this is a multi-front battle.  It perceives it is being attack on all sides: by the U.S. military and intelligence services (quite literally), the Obama administration, the U.S. Congress and media, India (which spoke about  conducting unilateral raids in Pakistan), and critics in Pakistan who are angered at the violation of the country’s sovereignty and/or that bin Laden was hiding in a mid-sized city near the Pakistani heartland.

The army is also deeply concerned about internal dissent.  As a result, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani held a “very frank” question and answer session with army officers from three garrisons in Punjab.

Some in Pakistan have argued that the civilians should proactively use this low point for the army to reshape civil-military dynamics in their favor.  A less risky and perhaps equally efficacious path for the Pakistan Peoples Party would have been to take a back seat and let the military take the heat.  But Gilani has chosen to actively side with the military.  Perhaps it is his nationalist instincts coming in.  He is a son of the soil who has spent no time abroad in exile.  But he risks sinking with the military command.  Alternatively, if he and the military are able to ride this through, Gilani could have earned some brownie points with the military, and a lifeline for his government till the next elections in 2013.

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Pakistan Dives into the Persian Gulf

The always-important Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan visited Pakistan this weekend to ensure that the country’s major power brokers are behind Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as the latter faces a possibly Iran-backed domestic uprising from its Shia native majority.

Bandar, the once long-time ambassador to the United States and now national security council chief, sought to avoid a replay of the 1990 Gulf War, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif supported Saudi Arabia and the United States in Iraq war, while Chief of Army Staff Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg publicly called for an Iraq-Iran-Pakistan alliance against the West.

Today, it is the civilian government that is less likely to be on board with Riyadh’s game plan. Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is a pragmatic nationalist aligned with the United States, Saudi Arabia, and China.  The Islamabad coalition government is led by the center-left Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which has historically had poor relations with Riyadh. Its senior brass consists of many Shia Muslims, the minority Muslim sect hardline Salafis in Saudi Arabia have deep contempt for.  Riyadh has a soft side for the PPP’s rivals: the various center-right Pakistan Muslim League factions, particularly Sharif’s, as well as the army and military intelligence services.  The Saudi king has even expressed his personal disdain for President Asif Ali Zardari, describing him as “rotten” and the major “obstacle” behind Pakistan’s progress, according to State Department cables released by WikiLeaks. Meanwhile, the PPP has sought warmer ties with Iran, which has not improved the party’s standing in Saudi eyes.

But the Saudis are in need and seem to be reevaluating their hostility toward the PPP.  Bandar’s visit comes two weeks after the Saudi army chief’s meeting with Kayani. Riyadh’s concern for the future of Bahrain and potentially even Saudi Arabia’s predominantly-Shia eastern corridor provides the PPP with an opportunity to mollify Saudi antagonism, ease domestic pressure, and help its always-embattled government continue to crawl toward the finish line and complete its five-year tenure.  The Saudis have reportedly offered Islamabad oil on deferred payment or at concessionary rates, which could assist Zardari in maintaining oil prices at current rates and containing public opposition.  Inflation is at a seven-month low, but the PPP could be hit hard by a rise in global oil prices due to the strife in Libya, and the combination of a traditional summer oil price spike and IMF pressure to reduce subsidies.

Distrust between the PPP and Riyadh is considerable, but money talks. Riyadh’s assistance could give the PPP a temporary lifeline.  However, it cannot save the Islamabad government from from self-destruction. Furthermore, Riyadh is unlikely to let go of an option to support a center-right and Islamist alliance should Pakistan face early elections late this year or early next year.

One should not overestimate the importance of the civilian government in Saudi eyes.  Most likely, Riyadh simply wants all of Pakistan’s major power brokers to be on the same page.  But the most important player for the Saudis is the military.  The Pakistan Army, as one of the Sunni Muslim world’s most powerful armies (and because Rawalpindi is more likely than Ankara to play second fiddle to Riyadh), will become even more critical to Riyadh as the Sudairis doubt Washington’s intentions and resolve.  The Pakistani military — deeply allied with China, the largest importer of Saudi crude — has historically contributed forces to Arab Muslim states in times of need. It is an equal opportunity offender, having shot down Israeli fighter jets and brutally subdued Palestinian militant organizations.  Many of its retired officers have also served in the security services of Gulf Arab states, including Bahrain. Recently, the Fauji Foundation — a massive Pakistan Army welfare trust and business conglomerate — put out advertisements for hundreds of anti-riot instructor and security guard jobs with Bahrain’s internal security services.  Pakistanis have served in the Bahrain security forces for decades; many have been naturalized to boost the island nation’s Sunni population.

So the Pakistan Army is not a tangential player when it comes to Gulf security.  It can potentially serve as a force multiplier for the Saudis. Presumably, Riyadh is preparing contingencies for worst-case scenarios that might require the direct support of the Pakistan Army. Bandar’s meetings with the civilians – Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, as well as Zardari — are likely aimed at ensuring that they do not serve as a hindrance to such plans.

Interestingly, Bandar is not the kingdom’s major interlocutor with the Pakistanis.  The kingdom’s Pakistan portfolio is generally handled by the Saudi ambassador, foreign minister, and intelligence chief.  It is possible that in addition to his role as general secretary of the NSC, Bandar visited Pakistan due to his pragmatist and pro-US leanings, which might have helped in building confidence with PPP officials.  It also suggests a deficiency in the more regular channels of communication.

For Pakistan, siding with the conservative Sunni Arabic bloc risks alienating Iran, with which there remains the faint hope of a natural gas pipeline for the energy-starved South Asian state.  While an Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline seems unlikely in the present, it would be advantageous for Pakistan to have multiple gas import options available at least hypothetically so as to reduce its perceived dependency on a single source.  If it became clear that Pakistan’s sole option was the TAPI pipeline transiting through Afghanistan, then Kabul and ISAF could use this as leverage vis-a-vis Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Now only if the Saudis were a major exporter of natural gas.

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The Kayani Era Continues

Check out my latest blog post as ForeignPolicy.com’s AfPakChannel.  Here’s the bottom line:

“The Kayani extension provides a short-term ceasefire between the PPP and the army, but it will also likely produce re-alignments among its fractious power brokers. And another head-on clash between any two of them is not far from reality.”

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Pakistan to America: What have you done for us lately

My latest blog post, a ForeignPolicy.com, is available here.

An excerpt is below:

“Next week, senior U.S. and Pakistani officials will meet in Washington for the first ever strategic dialogue between the two countries. The Pakistani delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, but make no mistake: at least when it comes to the Pakistani side, this will be the Gen. Ashfaq Kayani show….”

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The Kayani Doctrine

On Monday, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani briefed foreign correspondents in Rawalpindi and was unusually candid.  

In the briefing, Kayani articulated his Afghanistan doctrine.  Pakistan, he said, seeks a friendly government, stability, and “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.  He also added that Pakistan does not seek a Talibanized Afghanistan and offered to train the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

Kayani, like many others in the region, is preparing for a post-American and post-ISAF Afghanistan.  Many actors fear the emergence of a security vacuum in such a context.  Kayani is expressing Pakistan’s willingness (or better put, desire) to fill the void, prevent an outbreak of instability, and even come to support the Karzai government.  His message to Karzai is: if you become our ally (because strategic depth really calls for an alliance, not just friendship) and ditch India, we can help keep you alive and in power.  And, it seems as if there’s an implicit message to the Afghan Taliban — key as both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia try to pull the group away from al-Qaeda: you are not our only option, so don’t take us for granted. 

Kayani’s doctrine is not revolutionary.  Its objectives are no different from Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy from the past thirty years.  But, for the first time, he is publicly demonstrating great flexibility in terms of choice of alliances.  Kayani is essentially a cold realist.  He believes Pakistan has permanent interests, not permanent alliances, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  And he and the Pakistan Army will do business with the entity that best facilitates achieving those objectives.  Behavior, not personalities, is key.   

Pakistan’s army chief also said that he impressed upon NATO that Pakistan’s “strategic paradigm” needs to be realized.  In that strategic paradigm, India remains a natural, long-term threat and Afghanistan is part of Pakistan’s sphere of influence – the latter being a perspective no different from America’s Monroe Doctrine.  Pakistan’s desire to be the predominant foreign power in Afghanistan is, as I said on a recent radio appearance, a policy that began in the late 1970s with military ruler Zia-ul-Haq.  But the key difference between the two is that the Kayani doctrine is largely agnostic, while the Zia doctrine was heavily religious.

The Pakistan Army’s behavior since 9/11 and India’s isolation from the two recent conferences on Afghanistan in Istanbul and London, demonstrate that Rawalpindi, at the very least, has a veto power on the key decisions regarding Afghanistan’s future.  Pakistan is not simply a nuisance or basketcase, but a regional power that has the capability to leverage a superpower’s depedency on it and check the regional growth of India, a rival, neighbor, and potential superpower. 

In the midst of this high wire act, Pakistan neared bankruptcy.  It has mastered the art of making a dollar out of fifteen cents.  Some would say, it’s done this by getting the United States to pay the remaining eighty five cents.

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Zardari in the Crosshairs

My latest external publication is an article on ForeignPolicy.com that discusses the plight of President Asif Ali Zardari. An excerpt is at the end of this post.

I have been blogging less frequently in the past two months, but you can catch me regularly on the John Batchelor Show, Saturdays at 9:30PM EST (770AM-NY, WABCradio.com, and XM , XM Radio Channel 158).

You can also follow me on Twitter.

Here’s an excerpt of my FP article:

“Afghanistan’s election crisis has temporarily abated, but Pakistan could soon face a volatile political transition of its own. President Asif Ali Zardari is under ever-increasing pressure to resign. His influence and power are dwindling and will likely continue to diminish in the coming months. By this spring, the Zardari presidency could meet its end….”

Click here to read more

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When ‘Assets’ Become Liabilities

The kidnapping of a young American soldier by the Jalaluddin/Sirajuddin Haqqani network puts Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment in a difficult position, especially if the soldier is being held in North Waziristan.  Rawalpindi could face the choice of having to permit a U.S. ground incursion into Pakistan’s tribal areas or conducting a raid against the Haqqani network itself.


The Pakistan military has had ties with a handful of Afghan Muslim militant leaders and groups since the 1970s, which have been proven to be fairly useful in attempts to shape developments in the weak, yet often antagonistic neighboring state.

Since that time period, relations with a variety of actors have changed or fluctuated.  The network of the late Younus Khalis, now led by his son, Anwarul Haq Mujahid, has turned against the Pakistan military.  In its current form, the Tora Bora Mujahideen, it is allied with al-Qaeda as well as the Tehreek-e Taliban of Swat.  Anwarul Haq was recently arrested in Peshawar; also, he sent forces into Swat to support Fazlullah’s insurgency.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the blue-eyed boy of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) till the mid-1990s, was ditched once the Taliban proved to be a viable force that could break the stalemate in Kabul.  Hekmatyar at one point was receiving support from two competing states, Iran and Pakistan, and later fell solely into Tehran’s camp, especially after September 11.  But Hekmatyar was soon pushed out of Iran and, according to press accounts, has maintained a more cooperative relationship with the Pakistan military since then.

In contrast to the Khalis and Hekmatyar networks, there appears to have been far less volatility in Pakistan military-intelligence establishment relationship’s with the network of Jalaluddin Haqqani.  The Haqqani network, now primarily run by Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin, seems to serve at least two functions for Rawalpindi:  one, it helps stunt growing Afghan-Indian economic and security ties (by ensuring there are costs to their advance); two, it provides intelligence on the other Afghan and Pakistani militant groups in the area, particularly Baitullah Mehsud’s group.


Now that seemingly cooperative relationship could be in jeopardy as it clashes more overtly now than ever with Pakistan’s alliance with the United States.

Concerns over the ISI’s contacts with the Haqqani network have been expressed by Washington off the record for at least a year, and on the record, since April.  There is no indication of the ISI facilitating attacks against U.S. forces, but there are reports that it aided in the Haqqani network’s attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul.

With the significant possibility that the American soldier kidnapped by the Haqqani network is being held in North Waziristan, Pakistan could be compelled to make a choice between the Haqqanis and Washington.

Naturally, the U.S. military seeks the return of its soldier alive and by whatever reasonable means necessary.  If the U.S. soldier is in Pakistan, then a possible demand from Washington to Rawalpindi could be: get us the soldier back or we’ll do it ourselves.  Granted, Washington will not push for a drastic solution that would result in more harm than good, but there is likely a sense of urgency.

Since the hostage is military, the United States is — again, assuming the soldier is in North Waziristan — reeled into the Haqqani’s purported safe haven.  There is less incentive for the Haqqani network to hold on to him for a prolonged period of time, since that would increase the risk of the protective Durand Line ‘wall’ being breached by U.S. forces.  The Haqqani network’s demands for the U.S. to stop operations in Ghazni and Paktika are unrealistic.  As a result, an execution, which would be valuable for the Haqqani network’s propaganda, is likely and that is a scenario Washington would like to avoid.

As Rawalpindi is pressed to make a choice between the Haqqani network and Washington, there are possible indications that its relationship with the former have deteriorated.

The Pakistan military-intelligence establishment’s attempts to isolate Baitullah Mehsud from neighboring militants have faced difficulty and Haqqani does not seem to have played the intended role.  The North Waziristan-based Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who is close to the Haqqanis, has partnered with Mehsud and attacked the Pakistan Army, despite the latter’s attempts to avoid hostilities.  Also, Maulana Sangeen, a major Haqqani network commander, was, according to one report, at the same funeral in which Baitullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain were reportedly attacked.  However, Sangeen later denied he was present at the funeral, telling The News he has nothing to do with the internal fighting Pakistan. At the very least, a key Haqqani commander is publicly trying to avoid the impression of hostilities with the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment.

It’s certainly possible the Haqqani network has kept the soldier in Afghanistan.  The group has a strong presence inside Khost, Paktia, and Paktika provinces in areas that are no-go for Afghan and U.S.-led coalition soldiers.  If the soldier is in these areas, Pakistan would avoid having to make a difficult choice.


But let’s assume the Haqqanis are now leaning against the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment or at least entertaining the thought.  Why would that be the case? I’ll answer the question with another question.  What do the Haqqanis, Mehsud, Gul Bahadur, and Maulvi Nazir all have in common (besides being Pakistani/Afghani Pashtun militants  nominally loyal to Mullah Omar, supported now or previously by Pakistan’s intelligence services, and linked to transnational jihadists)?  They are the targets of U.S. drone attacks.

At least in the case of Gul Bahadur, Mehsud, and Nazir, the drone attacks, besides eliminating some high-value targets with increasing precision (though the civilian casualties are often either underestimated or overestimated), are also pushing them toward increased cooperation.  They are all threatened by U.S. drone attacks abetted by the Pakistani state.  The Haqqani network shares a similar predicament as the aforementioned trio.  Will it fully

While Pakistan should ultimately disentangle itself from a scenario in which it is connected to a group that is causing harm an ally, it cannot presently afford an all-out confrontation from a grand alliance of militants.  Pakistan declaring an all-out war against jihadis would push these groups into the arms of al-Qaeda and create an unprecedented convergence of rural, urban, and tribal militants inside the country.

And so, even if the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment would like to abandon the distinction between ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’, the costs of doing so right now would be far too much. Pakistan would actualize the words of Ayman al-Zawahiri and make itself at the “heart” of a struggle between the West and jihadist forces.

Update: The interregator in the hostage video claims that the solider is in Kandahar.

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Time to Use the Danda?

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Kayani Seeks New Deal with Obama?

Barack Hussein Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States today, marking the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of a new era in American politics.  Among those hopeful for change appears to be Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.    

For the second time this month, Gen. Kayani has called for the ceasing of U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan.  His statement yesterday was echoed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen. Tariq Majid, who said the attacks were causing political and economic trouble for Pakistan.

General Kayani’s comments could be dismissed as posturing for domestic consumption.  But the timing — two statements in the final period of the Obama transition — suggests otherwise.

It is conceivable that Gen. Kayani consented to U.S. drone strikes in August as he concluded it was the lesser of two evils cash-strapped Pakistan had to choose from — the other evil being U.S. ground incursions.  Factoring in his calculation could have been the fact that the Bush administration was on its way out and there would be a potential opportunity to strike a new deal in four months.

Whether this was Gen. Kayani’s game plan is unclear and it’s uncertain as to whether it would even work.  After taking control over U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus reportedly told the Pakistani leadership that there will be no policy change in the next administration.  

But the role of Gen. Petraeus, who arrives in Islamabad today, in the Obama administration is unclear.  There appears to be a concerted effort by Chairman of Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen to sideline Gen. Petraeus (very transparent in Elizabeth Bumiller’s profile of Adm. Mullen).  

And there will be new, multiple (and perhaps overlapping/competing) centers of power in the Obama administration.  Managing the “team of rivals” will be a cerebral and pragmatic chief executive — a clear contrast from his predecessor.  Despite the continuity of challenges, policy outputs could very well be different.  And that might be what Gen. Kayani is banking on.

Change will not occur overnight.  The Obama administration’s review of the Afghanistan-Pakistan war is expected to conclude by early April.    

A dramatic game changer in Islamabad before then, however, would require an accelerated policy shift.

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Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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