Foreign Policy Blogs

Militant Hubris

For the last eight years, Pakistan has been playing a double-game. Despite considerable US pressure, Pakistan declined to totally give up Al-Qaeda and allied Taliban militants, who had been long supported and used by the Pakistani Army and intelligence services as regional proxies against India. As long as the militants stayed out of the business of attacking Pakistani targets itself, they were largely free to operate in the Northwest Frontier Province. On multiple occasions, Pakistan committed to peace deals with these groups, exchanging Sharia law and free reign in the Northwest for a cessation of hostilities directed against the Pakistani state.

The militants, however, refused to play ball. So when they started to encroach on neighboring districts (Swat, especially), the Pakistani Army began to take notice. This was a case of classic overreach by the militants. It seems that since the Pakistani state had signed a peace deal, the militants believed they could push on without resistance. But, of course, Pakistan had only come to the conclusion that a cease-fire was viable because they believed the Taliban and their allies as rational actors, i.e. they wouldn’t be blinded by their limited successes and become convinced all of Pakistan was ripe for the taking.

Flash forward a few months, and after routing the militants in Swat, the Pakistani Army is now preparing a similar assault in South Waziristan, the very heart of the Pakistani Taliban movement. Meanwhile, the militants, perhaps sensing that they now must go all-in, are themselves stepping up the campaign against the Pakistani state, and have recently hit a number of military installations (including Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi) and has used suicide bombers in Peshawar, Lahore, and Islamabad.

The truth is that contrary to the constant media prognostications, the Pakistani Army was restraining itself because a) it had cooperated with these groups in the past to hit India, and b) hoped they could cooperate with them in the future to hit India. They were not incapable of striking back at these groups, nor were they outgunned. They were merely giving themselves the time necessary to make the conclusion that these groups are no longer to be trusted, and that their usefulness has likely run its course. Now that the military has seemingly come to this thought, it appears that, while always hedging its bets, the Army will attempt to seek an upper hand vis-a-vis the militants.



Andrew Swift

Andrew Swift is a graduate of the University of Iowa, with a degree in History and Political Science. Long a student of international affairs, he is on an unending quest to understand the world better.