The most serious implication of this onward march of the Taliban has been the radicalisation of Pakistan’s armed forces. As the armed forces draw their manpower from the same society, its composition is bound to reflect the biases of the society. General Musharraf, after two assassination attempts, did try to cleanse the army of radical elements and succeeded in purging overtly religious generals. However, the junior officers and other ranks by and large reflect the prevailing views of the society. Most of them still believe that the war against Taliban is America’s war and have reservations about fighting them.
The growing Talibanisation is eroding the state structure, and the unravelling of Pakistan is a distinct possibility. For the first time since its creation, there is a threat to the cohesion of the Pakistan army…
Every single attack on a military installation has borne clear marks of collusion by elements from within. Many PAF and Pakistan army personnel, including six officers, were convicted of attempts on General Pervez Musharraf in December 2003, when he was the president. An army soldier, Abdul Islam Siddiqui, was hanged on 20 August 2005, after court martial for the same offence. In April 2012, one of the six convicts, an air force technician Adnan Rashid, who had been sentenced to death, was freed by the Taliban in a daring jail break in Bannu.1 As early as 2006, six middle-ranking officers were court-martialled for refusing to fight in FATA.2
On another occasion, an anti-aircraft gun was discovered on the flight path of General Musharraf’s plane when he was taking off from the Rawalpindi airbase on a pitch-dark night. In September 2006, most of the 40 men arrested for attacks on Musharraf were mid-ranking PAF officers. The conspiracy was uncovered when an air force officer used a cell phone to activate a rocket aimed at Musharraf’s residence in Rawalpindi. The rocket was recovered, and its activating mechanism, also a cell phone, revealed the officer’s telephone number.3 The PAF confirmed in 2009 that it had acted against at least 57 personnel following the December 2003 assassination attempt against Musharraf. Six of these men were sentenced to death; others were arrested or dismissed from service. Over 100 PAF men faced disciplinary action in the aftermath of the murder attempt. However, the possibility that some of the accomplices evaded arrest cannot be ruled out.4 There were numerous instances of sabotage in the PAF to prevent aircraft from being deployed against the militants.
In one of the most bizarre cases, 200 armed security personnel led by a colonel were taken captive along with their officers and equipment by 20 Taliban militants in South Waziristan.5 During subsequent attacks on Kohat Cantonment in 2008, there were reports that some tribal cadets of Army Cadet College had joined the militants. Former army personnel were also involved in the attack on the GHQ, which was carried out with the possible collusion of insiders. In 2010, two former army officers, along with two serving officers, including a colonel, were convicted by a court martial for planning an attack on the Shamsi airbase, which was being used by the Americans to fly their drones.
Pakistan has always tried to deny the existence of such elements within its security establishment.
Pakistan has always tried to deny the existence of such elements within its security establishment. Investigative journalist Syed Saleem Shehzad was believed to have been brutally silenced for publishing a story that highlighted the presence of al-Qaeda cells within the Pakistani navy. The attack on PNS Mehran was another case of collusion by serving personnel. Kamran Ahmed, a former naval commando, and his brother Zaman Ahmed were arrested for aiding the attackers. Another marine commando from Waziristan, who had been posted at PNS Mehran, was arrested in January 2011 for having links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
According to Saleem Shehzad, many ex-officers of the armed forces and numerous serving officers have been collaborating with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. A number of junior officers and other ranks still place faith above the country, and accordingly many former officers who were earlier involved with Afghan and Kashmiri ‘jihad’ have joined al-Qaeda. The book talks about Captain Khurram Ashiq from the elite Zarrar Company of Pakistan SSG who, along with his brother Major Haroon Ashiq, joined al-Qaeda after resigning from the army but continued to use his army connections to facilitate al-Qaeda aims. Haroon allegedly killed Major General Ameer Faisal Alavi in Islamabad and kidnapped Karachi filmmaker Satish Anand with assistance from another officer, Major Basit. He was subsequently arrested while attempting to kidnap an Ahmadi for ransom and is currently lodged in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.6
A few days before his murder, Saleem Shehzad had described the attack on PNS Mehran as ‘the violent beginning of an internal ideological struggle between Islamist elements in the Pakistani armed forces and their secular and liberal top brass.’7 He also warned about a nexus of serving and retired soldiers that could instigate mutiny against the top military brass.8 Most analysts believe that the Pakistani military is the glue that binds a fissiparous state like Pakistan, and one can well imagine the implications of an ideological war within this institution. Of late, the disciplined façade of the army has been showing cracks as many mid-level officers and soldiers have harboured latent sympathies for their opponents. This has resulted in large-scale surrenders by the personnel of the security forces. Many Pakhtoon soldiers were unwilling to take up arms against their kith and kin.9
…it is quite evident that Talibanisation will not stop at Pakistan’s frontiers and all its neighbours will have to face non-state actors based in Pakistan.
The arrest and subsequent court martial of Brigadier Ali Khan of the Pakistani army, who was posted at the GHQ for links with pan-Islamic radical outfit Hizb-ut-Tehrir, once again highlighted the existence of radical Islamist elements within Pakistan’s armed forces. The prosecution alleged that he had planned a mutiny with the support of 400 armed men, including some generals and personnel of 111 Brigade, as well as an F-16 pilot who had agreed to bomb the GHQ during the corps commanders meeting.10 The fact that Brigadier Khan is a third-generation army officer, with a brother, a son and a son-in-law in the army, shows the gravity of the situation. Even before Brigadier Khan, two serving army officers were court-martialled for links with Hizb-ut-Tahrir.11
The growing Talibanisation is eroding the state structure, and the unravelling of Pakistan is a distinct possibility. For the first time since its creation, there is a threat to the cohesion of the Pakistan army, which is probably the most powerful institution in the country. According to Stephen Cohen, most states have an army but in Pakistan’s case, the army has a state. The erosion of the Pakistan army and the manner in which the state has been capitulating makes the Lebanonisation12 of Pakistan a distinct possibility and that might be catastrophic for all its neighbours.
Implications for the Region
The Taliban already enjoys complete domination over most parts of FATA and great influence over large areas in KP and northern Balochistan. Its influence in Punjab and urban Sindh is growing. There have been serious concerns about the nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of militants. It must also be understood that the Taliban today is quite different from what it was prior to 9/11. It is no longer insular and is closely linked to the global Islamic movements. Its aims and objectives are no longer confined within a geographically defined area.
Taliban today is quite different from what it was prior to 9/11. It is no longer insular and is closely linked to the global Islamic movements.
The onward march of the radical ideology as symbolised by the Taliban, if unchecked, would eventually lead to emergence of Pakistan as a citadel of radical Islam, with liberal elements either pushed out or silenced. Such a state would start exporting its ideology across the world. It is important to note that many Islamic militants from across the world – from the Philippines to Chechnya, including Indonesians, Maldivians, Bangladeshi, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Arabs and Uighurs – come to Pakistan for indoctrination. The possession of nuclear weapons by such a state could pose the most serious challenge to global peace.
The growing influence of the Taliban poses two-pronged challenges for Pakistan’s neighbours. Firstly, as the foot soldiers of the Taliban move out of their citadels, it would lead to net accretion in the ranks of the armed militants, challenging the state in Pakistan’s neighbourhood. Secondly, by giving the Taliban a free hand, Pakistan would end up creating a bastion of Islamic fundamentalism in this region, which will become the nerve centre for propagating Islamic radicalism in the entire neighbourhood. As it is, Afghan Taliban, Uzbek, Uighur, Tajik and Kashmiri militants have established fraternal ties with the TTP and many of their militant camps are now located in the region under their control. As the militants entrench themselves and propagate their extremist ideology, the volunteers willing to cross the Line of Control (LoC) or the international borders to blow themselves up are not going to be in short supply. So the increasing influence of militants in the region poses a direct threat to the security interests of Pakistan’s neighbours.13