Foreign Policy Blogs

Is the Pakistani Military at War With Itself?

Not too long ago, the Tehrik-e-Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that claimed the lives of at least 80 paramilitary cadets at a military training center in Charsadda, in Northern Pakistan.  The Taliban announced the bombing was an act of revenge for the killing of Osama bin Laden.  It had taken out elements of the military, the same one that used to feed its insurgency in Afghanistan during the 1980’s and beyond.

Military officials in Pakistan believe that the T-e-T was not responsible for the heinous act; a splinter group was responsible, it is believed. Instead the attack was orchestrated in retaliation for the Pakistani military’s forays into nearby Mohmand Province. This seemed a strange move since a splinter group of the Taliban remains a constituent part of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, a loose umbrella organization of militant groups. The military officials seem to downplay the threat of the Taliban, whoever the particular culprit in the attack.  Indeed, some in the military are grumbling that the Pakistani Taliban are biting the hand that fed it for nearly 20 years.  Some argue that elements of the military, in particular a secret group within the ISI still funds insurgent activities.  It proved true this might then mean that the military is indeed at war with itself.

The attack was just another violent narrative for which the Pakistani Taliban have snatched up responsibility.  There have been many others.  Yet T-e-T is able to orchestrate these attacks simply because the military has not weeded them out yet-them and other groups like them.  And why? Because the military, or at least operationally important cadres of the military, seem disinclined to round up these insurgents who informally make up the Tehrik-e-Taliban.  It seems the search and determination to obtain strategic depth in Afghanistan through insurgent groups, against supposed Indian moves, trumps nearly overwhelming evidence that those same groups have now organized to  take down the so-called apostate government in Islamabad.

Consider that the U.S government thinks that the Lashkar-e-Taiba attack in Mumbai was coordinated by a mid-level officer in Pakistan’s ISI, a constitutive and pride bearing part of the Pakistani military, once led by the rabidly anti-American Hamid Gul, in fact once led by the current Chief of Army Staff General Kayani who has recently displayed more than a credible share of anti-American rhetoric.

Lashkar-e-Taiba was, of course, formed at precisely the same time  in the late 1980’sthat the Haqqani terrorist network came together in armed “jihad”  against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.  Now it seems that though L-e-T’s leader lives a comfortable life in house arrest, nevertheless its works and strategies have been associated with attacks against the Pakistani government itself. Whatever one thinks of the Taliban and Lashkar, its attack in Mumbai severely crippled the credibiliity of the civilian, Zardari led government.  If ISI involvement can be proved in the current proceedings underway in teh United States, it will show the ways in which at least some part of the military is destroying governance and government in Pakistan

(Indeed, if one were to be somewhat skeptical of the military, one might argue that the military is setting up its attack infantry in these insurgents to take down the weak civilian government.  But that argument might well fall at the sheer large numbers of Pakistani soldiers killed in fights with the Pakistani Taliban. But to the skeptic that might not serve to counter the argument entirely.)

Consider also that though Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently claimed that he has no evidence that high ranking members of the military knew about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts in the military cantonment city of Abbottabad, nevertheless he still maintained that someone knew of it.  And he must be understood to have meant that someone in the military knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts; likely a junior officer or an entire class of junior officers.

And this is dangerous-that elements of the military might still be supporting armed insurgents.  For Taliban insurgents have been learning and updating al Qaeda tactics and that of other well-financed groups to conduct its fight against the government in Islamabad.  There have been reports that along with more devastating car bombs that have gone off in Pakistan, an al Qaeda tactic, the Taliban have also begun to use women and children as suicide bomber.  This level of inhumanity and cynicism of human value cannot stand to whatever argument the military might marshal for strategic depth.

No argument for patience and a view to Pakistan’s dire straits, clientelistically, politically, can excuse the military for its complicity with insurgents.  That is, if some complicity can be proved.



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

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