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
Today, al-Qaeda is in a position to influence the TTP and all other radical organisations in Pakistan. Even in the most populous Pakistani state of Punjab, where many of these organisations were created and nurtured by the security establishment, they have switched their loyalty from the Pakistan army to al-Qaeda.14 Al-Qaeda is in the region because it believes that it was the Prophet’s prophesy that ‘Khurasan’ (presentday Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia) will be the initial theatre of ‘end of time’ battles for the establishment of a global Islamic Emirate. It also talks of Ghazwa-e-Hind (battle for India) before Imam Mahadi reveals himself to command the Muslim forces to defeat the Western forces led by Dajjal (antichrist). The Taliban, under al-Qaeda’s influence, is set to fulfil this prophecy.15
Although the usage of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by non-state actors in the classical sense is unlikely, the use of low-tech radiation bombs by such outfits cannot be ruled out.
With this sort of ideology, 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. Every single deal with the Taliban in Pakistan has seen their foot soldiers move to newer areas. Peace deals in Swat saw many of them moving to Kashmir and Afghanistan, sometimes even with the connivance of state actors.16 Besides India and Afghanistan, growing influence of the Taliban will give strength to Islamic militants fighting in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and even China. Its intolerance of Shias will soon bring it into conflict with the Iranian regime as well.
Pakistan’s security establishment has been obsessed with the idea of controlling Afghanistan. It realises that the only force on the Afghan political landscape that might be willing to do its bidding is the Taliban and hence has been supporting its inclusion in the Afghan government. At the same time, it wants to be the sole mediator between the Taliban and the West. Consequently, it will scuttle any approach made by the West or the Afghan government to reach out to the Taliban directly, as was done in the case of Mullah Biradar and Burhanuddin Rabbani.
The Strategic Plans Division (SPD), which looks after Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, is also manned and controlled by the Pakistan army and with the army getting Talibanised, the elements of the SPD getting influenced by its ideology cannot be ruled out. The TTP, through subverted elements in the SPD, could eventually gain access to Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile and may use it in pursuit of its nefarious agenda.
It must be appreciated that the concept of Taqiya in Islam allows an individual to disguise his ideological orientation till the opportune moment arrives. Although the usage of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by non-state actors in the classical sense is unlikely, the use of low-tech radiation bombs by such outfits cannot be ruled out. The Afghan National Army (ANA) and Western military components could be at the receiving end of such dirty bombs. As the Taliban and other radical groups are being indirectly controlled by al-Qaeda, which ideologically aims to defeat the West in Khurasan, it may be more than willing to do so.
Pak armed forces are showing signs of Talibanisation and consequent erosion of their cohesion. This could lead to ‘Lebanonisation’ of the state, which could pose a grave threat not only to the countries in the region but to the entire globe…
The Taliban, therefore, may not allow foreign troops to easily pull out from Afghanistan and could keep them embroiled there so as to attain victory in the ‘end of time’ battle. It must be clear that a Talibanised Pakistan will aim to engulf Afghanistan ideologically to attain al-Qaeda’s perceived objectives.
The state policies of the Pakistani establishment since 1947 have contributed to the radicalisation of the society and consequent Talibanisation. Accommodation with the Taliban for short-term tactical gains has allowed the Pakistani Taliban to spread its influence from South Waziristan to North Waziristan and from there to all the Pakhtoon-dominated areas. Its influence now is spreading beyond the Pakhtoon belt, to Punjab and urban Sindh. Many academics try to make a distinction between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban, but they fail to understand that though they are different organisations, they are ideologically unified. The TTP and other radical groups, like Haqqani Network, consider Mullah Omar as Ameer-ul- Momin.
The state has failed to take effective measures against Talibanisation, and the warped educational curriculum continues to inculcate a conservative mindset that is susceptible to jihadi ideology. Recent indicators show that Talibanisation is perpetuating effortlessly and a major correction in the established policies of the state coupled with sustained measures are required to check the Taliban onslaught. However, the state is still negotiating peace deals with the TTP. The last bastion of the Pakistani state, the armed forces are showing signs of Talibanisation and consequent erosion of their cohesion. This could lead to ‘Lebanonisation’ of the state, which could pose a grave threat not only to the countries in the region but to the entire globe, as Taliban today, despite its denials, has a global agenda.
- Rediff.com. ‘Pak Jailbreak: Terrorist Had Access to Mobile, Facebook.’ 16 April 2012. <http://www.rediff.com/news/report/pak-jailbreak-terrorist-hadaccess- to-mobile-facebook/20120416.htm>.
- Zahid Hussain. ‘Deadly Dilemma.’ Newsline, November 2006. p. 23.
- Shaheen Sehbai. ‘Rumour Mills Go Rolling with Arrest of Eight Militants.’ News, 15 October 2006.
- News. ‘The Enemy Within? [editorial]. 26 June 2009. p. 6.
- Dawn. ‘Tackling the militants’ [editorial]. 2 September 2007.
- Syed Saleem Shahzad. Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11. London: Pluto Press, 2011. pp. 82–103.
- Syed Saleem Shahzad. ‘Pakistan’s Military Under al-Qaeda Attack.’ Asia Times Online, 24 May 2011.
- Syed Saleem Shahzad. ‘Trouble Ahead in Pakistan’s New US Phase.’ Asia Times Online, 18 May 2011.
- Ayesha Siddiqa. ‘Dealing with Deals.’ Herald, August 2008. p. 16d.
- Daily Times. ‘Brig Ali Planned Air Strike at GHQ: BBC.’ 2 March 2012.
- Alok Bansal. ‘Radicalisation of Pakistani Armed Forces.’ CLAWS, 28 June 2011. <http://www.claws.in/index.php?action=details&m_id=894&u_id=157>.
- ‘Lebanonisation’ has come to refer to a process of national disintegration, where central authority erodes to a level that different power groups start acting independent of the central authority as far as their interactions with not only one another are concerned but also with entities outside the geographical frontiers of the state. It is distinct from ‘Balkanisation’ because the process of disintegration does not create clear-cut smaller states as in the latter case. In recent times, the term has been used extensively for Somalia and Iraq before its recent stabilisation.
- Alok Bansal. ‘Implications of Peace Deals in Pakistan’s Wild West.’ IDSA. <http://www.idsa.in/publications/stratcomments/AlokBansal130608.htm>.
- Khaled Ahmed in Foreword to Mujahid Hussain. Pakistani Taliban: Driving Extremism in Pakistan. New Delhi: Pentagon Security International, 2012. p. vii.
- Op cit, n. 77, p. xvi.
- Op cit, n. 61.