Pakistan Update: Whither the State?

Pakistan Update: Whither the State?

A bevy of links on the subject.

John Robb: Open-Source Counterinsurgency in Pakistan and P. + Open Source Warfare

Asia Times Interview with Owais Ghani, Gov. of Pakistan’s NorthWest Frontier Province

Will Pakistan Become a Theocracy? by Manan Ahmed for Global Affairs Blog of Informed Comment.

Let’s start with Robb. (first article)

Like Colombia and Iraq, the best source of opposition to the advance of the Taliban will be from wealthy local land owners, businessmen and tribal elders willing to build/hire their own militias and not from the government’s uniformed military or its auxiliaries.  These militias aren’t getting support, instead the opposite is happening: the government is extending authority and legitimacy to the Taliban through promises of self rule (deals should only be made to the extent they divide the opposition).

In other words, the real success in Iraq was due to buying off the Sunni insurgency (the so-called tribesmen or Sons of Iraq).  There maybe a secondary value to COIN (“surge” in Iraq) insofar as the population-centric (“get off bases, go into the neighborhoods”) element of the plan makes the locals more willing to trust and therefore be paid off to fight someone else.

If you hold that COIN does have some validity, then Pakistan’s army is not that and is nowhere heading in that direction. They may already be losing the chance to form any such tribal opposition groups–as individuals like Beitullah Mehsud (Pakistani Taliban) systematically go about executing tribal elders.

In the second article Robb states that the open-source insurgency in Pakistan (which unites a series of local disparate groups into a networked reality) came due to the raid on the Red Mosque (under Musharraf) and the corruption of tribal/governmental agencies in the hinterlands, leading to the call for Sharia and land redistribution.

I think he’s (basically) right as the current trigger that has set off the open-source insurgency (a 21st c. form of insurgency), but as the interview with Ghani, Gov. of the NorthWest Frontier Province makes clear, in the Pakistani (gov?) view, the problem dates back to 1979.


Before the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there was a two-power environment in the tribal areas. One was the tribes themselves, the other one was the government of Pakistan. The entire administrative system and the law-enforcement system were designed according to this two-power environment.

[In the Pakistani tribal areas] you had the maliks [tribal chiefs], you had the political administration, which I will explain later. However, post the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, we were supported by the West and the United States and we used the tribal areas … Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] … as the launching pad for the Afghan jihad against the Soviet army.

Whatever happened after that is the fallout of an unintended consequence of that conflict. Those jihadi organizations morphed into militant organizations [at the end of the Afghan jihad in 1989] and therefore a third power emerged and the old equilibrium was disturbed.

Our administrative systems and law-enforcing agencies were not designed to cope with this three-power environment. A steady decline was there, but it was the shock of 9/11 which brought out the total inadequacy and the weakness of the system. And therefore as a temporary measure to bring about some control and stability, the army had to be inducted.

That third paragraph is a load of Pakistani political BS (he’s got plenty of self-serving propaganda in the piece but also a good deal of incisive analysis), so forget that, but the rest is spot on and feeds back into Robb’s analysis.  Once the militants were on the seen, then the traditional structures are weakened leading over time to a series of autonomous cells that can unite around common grievances/visions (what Robb calls the “plausible promise”).

To deal with that reality Ghani suggests:

There were previous agreements, previous to my tenure, but they were flawed. I was sitting in Quetta [as governor of Balochistan] and I said these were flawed and could not succeed because they were between the military

and the militants [for example, one signed in September 2006]. The agreements should have been between the government of Pakistan and the tribes.  (ed: Chris Robb’s point exactly–“deals should only be made that divide groups”).

Our approach has been that it is the government of Pakistan dealing with the tribes and making agreements with the tribes. For example, we have conducted only one written agreement, and that is in North Waziristan [tribal area]. There is no other agreement in my period [as governor of NWFP]. On February 17, 2008, we signed an agreement in North Waziristan. Over 380 tribal maliks and tribal elders signed that agreement.

That policy (while in theory the right one) is complicated/undermined by the fact that 1)the US is sending clear signals to Pakistan that the US believse Pakistan has no balls, emasculating them on the world stage and only further weakening the Zardari government by making it be seen in domestic Pakistani politics as a US stooge.  1a)  The US flying over Pakistani territory (with a wink-wink nudge nudge from Zardari & Crew) using Pakistani territory as target practice from the air. 2)the next door neighbor is a failed state (Afghanistan) from which guns, drugs, and militants are pouring over into Pakistan (just as they are going from Pakistan over to Afghanistan)   3)elements of the Pakistani Army/ISI (intelligence services) that are sympathetic to various insurgent groups  4)Baluchistan in the south is also rising up dd

So the 100 trilliion question–is Pakistan as a state going to fail?  Robb’s answer, which is definitely play is rather the state becomes hollowed out from within rather than collapses.  If an umbrella group like the so-called Pakistani Taliban overthrows the government, then they have to rule.  But who wants to do that?  As Robb puts it–that’s too 20th century.  Much better to control a fiefdom.  A hollow state is (Robb’s definition):

In short, [a hollow state is] a nation-state that controls the capital and has international legitimacy, but has ceded control over much its territory to non-state groups.

That’s option 1.  Think Lebanon.  Technically still a state but in reality a series of power-centers controlled by various factions where the central government does not have a monopoly of force.

Option 2 the one Kaplan raises in his article is Pakistan breaking up into constituent states like Yugoslavia.  Exit question:  In that divorce scenario who gets custody of the nuclear-tipped children?

Option 3 is an alternative is offered by Manan Ahmed in his post.


2. The most powerful entity in Pakistan in its national army. The second most powerful entity is its civil bureaucracy. The third most powerful are the landed and industrial elite. None of these entities are about to give it up (whatever “it” is – from nukes to bank accounts) to some ragtag bunch of jihadis. Certainly Zardari, wants to keep everything, don’t you know it.

And for a long-term solution, the re-definition and re-imagination on the meaning of and role for Pakistan in the 21st century:

The urgency of this task is evident – there are other claimants with answers. Claimants who carry guns and who can brutalize a population in the blink of an eye. There is also the United States agenda, which continues to treat Pakistan as nothing more than a client-state. Somewhere in this pincer, somewhere between the taliban and the drone, the Pakistanis have to begin forming a sense of their whole.

While I’m sympathetic to the goals Ahmed lays out, I’m not particularly optimistic that they will be realized anytime soon.  But I do take his point that we can overlook the continued power of the army (particularly), the landed elites, and the bureaucratic elites.  It maybe that government suffers losses across the NWFP but battens down and holds Punjab (Lahore/capital).  Though as we have seen in the last two years all of those are certainly vulnerable to terrorist attack.  In that sense, I think I’m somewhere between #3 and #1, more towards option 1 (hollowed out) than 3 but maybe not quite as hollow as John seems to think.  We’ll see.

There are a lot of unknown factors in Pakistan–the US, whether the Pakistani Army will take over the government if things get out of hand, to name just a few.

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