Pakistan Reverses?

by Joshua Foust on 10/6/2008 · 2 comments

Via Matt: Going all the way back at least to 2000, it has been common knowledge that Pakistan supported Islamic militants to throw off Indian control of Kashmir. It was why they didn’t ever crack down too harshly on the MMA, why Lashkar-e Toiba has flourished, and why the Taliban found a willing partner in the ISI. So when Bhutto-widower Zardari comes right out and proclaims that India poses no threat to Pakistan and the U.S. has permission to bomb its territory, what exactly is going on?

First, some context: Islamist-fueled conflicts in Kashmir have very nearly brought India and Pakistan to exchange nuclear weapons. I’m talking the 1999 Kargil War, not anything as theoretically distant as India’s push to carve Bangladesh out of Pakistan in 1971. Again and again, militant activities have derailed peace talks over Kashmir, and continue to stoke violence. One of the main points in Frontline Pakistan, a book about post-2001 Pakistan written by journalist Zahid Hussain (review forthcoming), is that Musharraf could never really crack down on these militants because, in a sense, Pakistan’s Muslim identity prevented him from doing so.

Knowing this, why would Zardari admit the obvious? Why give an official reason for citizens, who already dislike the U.S., to hold his rather fragile government responsible for American bombs killing Muslims in Pakistan?

I can only speculate. One reason could simply be that a tipping point has been reached. At long last, the militants, primarily the foreign militants but also the domestic ones, overstretched themselves and became too violent and too expansionist for comfort. This could explain the Mamund tribe’s possible reversal. It is important not to read too much into these things: at several points in the past, FATA tribes have raised anti-Islamist Lashkars only to have them bloodily beaten back. The current campaign in Bajaur deserves close scrutiny.

It is possible, too, the Zardari government is willing to risk backlash to rid itself of a movement it can no longer control. Zardari’s wife famously mused that the Taliban would be a great way for Pakistan to achieve strategic depth in Afghanistan. The consequences of that decision continue to reverberate, though she should not carry even a majority of blame for it.

Similarly, the news that the Taliban may have “split” with Al-Qaeda might also factor into Zardari’s unexpected honesty. If there is indeed a cleaving of the Taliban from its international support network, then the nature of the fight both within Afghanistan and Pakistan will have changed.

But despite all of that, it could simply be that Mr. Ten Percent sees an opportunity to break with the records of his predecessors—including his wife—and move Pakistan toward a more constructive relationship with its neighbors. If he can follow through on what both statements mean—a closer collaboration with the U.S., along with a strong push against militancy—then Pakistan just might start fulfilling its promise.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Ali G. October 6, 2008 at 10:56 am

It might simply be for consumption in the US given that over the past month or so Pakistani authorities have received plenty of bad press (wit firing on US plans). Also, exactly how far does his authority extend?

What does the Pakistani army think of the recent nuclear deal? That’s more substantive then Zardari’s musings.

fnord October 6, 2008 at 12:08 pm

I wonder how the Baluchi insurgency plays into this. If they have gotten reassurances through US for Baluchi cooperation, that would free up a hell of a lot of resources.

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