Taliban Pakistan: A Tentative Recipe for Change"
Kamran Asdar Ali, Anthropology, University of Texas, Austin
for Regional Integration in Central Asia"
Alisher Ilkhamov, Sociology, Expert Center for Social Research,
Roadmap for Afghanistan"
Radha Kumar, Peace and Conflict Studies, Council on Foreign
Relations, New York City
Size Doesn't Fit All: Addressing Diversity in the Needs and
Development Capacities of Afghan Women, Short and Long-Term"
Margaret Mills, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Ohio
of Dissent: Islamism and Reform in Saudi Arabia"
Gwenn Okruhlik, Political Science, University of Arkansas
and Threats to Human Security"
Barnett Rubin, Political Science, New York University
War and Peace-Building: Unfinished Legacy of the 1990s"
Susan Woodward, Political Science, The City University of
Attack on Humanity: Conflict and Management"
New World Order?
Taliban Pakistan: A Tentative Recipe for Change
Asdar Ali, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University
of Texas, Austin
article was originally written on September 17, 2001. It has
been modified to incorporate the changing events of the past
In December of 1971 the Pakistani army surrendered to the
Indian Forces in East Pakistan/Bangladesh. As a result of
its defeat and failed policies, the Pakistani military finally
handed over power to a civilian administration after thirteen
years of governance. Drawing on the memory of that national
turmoil, the present military ruler of Pakistan, General Pervez
Musharraf, has drawn an analogy between the events in 1971
and the present crisis in the region. Although his intentions
may have been different, the analogy is correct on at least
one count. Thirty years to the date, the Pakistani military
has been again exposed for its failed policies and for its
adventures in neighboring states. The fall of Kabul may not
be the end of misery for the long suffering Afghani population.
Yet the genuine rejoicing in most parts of Afghanistan and
the sense of freedom that the Afghan people feel should remove
all doubt that in the Taliban the Pakistani state and specifically
its military was supporting an undemocratic, obscurantist
and oppressive regime. This policy would have continued with
disastrous after effects for the people of the region, but
for the tragedies in US cities on September 11.
Pakistani press reports indicate that on the evening of September
14, 2001, General Musharraf met with his Cabinet and national
security team in a marathon session lasting until the early
hours. The task was to decide whether the Pakistani government
would accede to the demands made by the United States in the
aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Pakistan was
reportedly asked to provide logistical support to the U.S.
military along with the use of Pakistani airspace, if the
need arose, and to share up-to-date intelligence on suspected
terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and his followers in Afghanistan.
In the late 1970s, another Pakistani general, Zia ul Haq,
must have convened a similar meeting. Then, the military junta
was asked to play a crucial role in support of the U.S.-financed
resistance to Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan. That decision
undoubtedly was easier for the dictator Zia ul Haq and his
advisers. The general had been in power for two years, and
his religiously conservative regime was already unpopular
at home and abroad. Supporting the United States would grant
his government badly needed legitimacy on the world stage.
Zia also anticipated a U.S. aid package to help Pakistan address
its perpetual social and economic problems. To the skeptical
Pakistani population, the military regime portrayed its intervention
in Afghan affairs as humanitarian and political assistance
to fellow Muslims. But the junta's decision to play ball with
the United States also was taken for strategic reasons.
Since Pakistan's independence in 1947, relations between Afghanistan
and Pakistan had been strained due to boundary disputes and
the feared spillage of ethnic Pashtun nationalism across the
border. With openly hostile India on their eastern flank,
Pakistani military strategists had regarded their not-so-friendly
western neighbor with anxiety. This was aggravated by the
communist-led coup in Afghanistan in 1978, and the subsequent
Soviet invasion of that country in 1979. The U.S.-backed resistance
to the pro-Soviet Afghan regime guaranteed, at least in the
minds of the Pakistani military leaders, a somewhat concrete
resolution of their Afghan problem.
The mass displacement of the Afghan population,
the destruction of their homes and the loss of 1.5 million
Afghan lives during the long civil war has largely vanished
from the consciousness of Western news media. Nor do many
outside Pakistan remember the Afghan war's impact on Pakistani
civil, cultural and political life. The Pakistani military
used part of the international aid to strengthen its Inter-Services
Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, which was the principal
liaison between U.S. intelligence agencies and the varied
factions of the Afghan resistance known as the mujahedeen.
The ISI also assumed a lead role in suppressing democratic
dissent within Pakistan. To date, there are no constitutional
checks and balances on its operations. Its leadership consists
of highly motivated and in most cases religiously zealous
officers who are concerned with safeguarding what they consider
to be the boundaries - geographic and ideological - of the
On the political level, the U.S. economic and development
aid helped Zia consolidate his plan for the Islamization of
Pakistan. Development funds were used to establish and maintain
madrassas - Islamic religious schools - in different parts
of Pakistan. Zia and his junta considered the students and
graduates of these schools the foot soldiers who would support
the dictator as he pressed ahead with his agenda to build
an Islamic polity and a theocratic state. Another legacy of
the Afghan war was the unprecedented infiltration of drugs
and weapons into Pakistani society. Profits from drug and
weapons trafficking helped finance the covert war in Afghanistan,
while funneling enormous wealth to a section of the Pakistani
military brass. But the triumph of the Afghan resistance forces
in 1992 didn't result in what Pakistan's military had always
desired: a stable Afghanistan following the dictates of Islamabad.
With the Cold War already a fading memory, the United States
and other Western countries virtually abandoned the victorious
mujahedeen, making only vague promises of development aid
to rebuild the war-ravaged country.
In subsequent years, infighting among the new Afghan leadership
- and its growing independence from the ISI - led Pakistan
to intensify its involvement in Afghanistan's affairs. The
Taliban, a radical faction of madrassa students under the
guidance of Mullah Mohammed Omar of Kandahar, was bankrolled
by the Pakistani military on its path to victory in Afghanistan
in 1995-96. From the perspective of the generals in Islamabad,
the Taliban's loyalty to and dependence on them guaranteed
a safer and less volatile western border. In addition, Pakistan
was interested in secure routes to the landlocked Central
Asian states. A stable, Taliban-led Afghanistan would contribute
to a larger geopolitical strategy wherein Pakistan, the United
States and international petroleum companies envisioned multiple
pipelines transporting oil and natural gas from mineral-rich
Central Asian countries to Pakistani ports on the Persian
Gulf. But the strongly independent and unpredictable nature
of the Taliban, and the continuing civil war in northern Afghanistan,
have in the past few years dampened the initial excitement
these schemes had generated.
for a brief synopsis of the ISI.
More than a decade after his death in an
airplane explosion, Zia ul Haq's ghost lingers on, as Pakistani
cultural life shifts toward embracing orthodox Islamic values.
In a state that has forsaken its task of providing systematic
educational and employment opportunities to its people, the
madrassa system has remained an avenue for a large percentage
of the rural and urban poor who seek social and cultural advancement.
Many who have trained in the madrassas have emerged as highly
organized and violent power brokers who can destabilize any
regime that manages to take power. The Pakistani state and
military have cynically deployed these forces against internal
opposition, and recruited them for the state's covert war
in Kashmir. One consequence of such involvement is that, a
decade after Zia's death, Pakistan remains politically unstable,
rife with growing ethnic and sectarian violence.
The differences between the late 1970s and Sept. 2001 far
outweigh the similarities. Like Zia, Musharraf had been in
power for two years, and he was also unpopular domestically
and internationally. But Musharraf's military junta has had
a more difficult time pushing its new U.S. backed Afghan policy.
The madrassa-trained forces that were nurtured by Zia have
resisted Musharraf's allegiance to the US cause with sharp
and violent protests. This situation may get worse as many
from among the on-the-run Taliban and Arab-Afghans cross into
Pakistan. These forces shall blend in with the support base
they already have in the country. How present and future Pakistani
governments deal with this process in addition to the already
existent Islamist extremism is a serious question. The Pakistani
state's regionally unpopular policy on Afghanistan, based
on narrow strategic gains, may yet haunt Pakistan for years
Unfortunately, successive Pakistani civilian governments in
the last decade have neglected the issues of democratic governance,
economic distribution and social needs. This along with their
rampant corruption has eroded people's faith in civilian rule.
Within this context, the military has further portrayed itself
as the stable social institution that can save Pakistan from
its corrupt and inept civilian representatives. As mentioned
above, the ISI and the military have been involved in all
major domestic and international decisions made by successive
military and civilian governments in the past two decades.
In this period, Pakistan's major external policy initiatives
have been reduced to two elements; nurturing a Pakistan friendly
regime in Afghanistan and encouraging an armed resistance
against India in Kashmir. Both policies, interlinked as they
are, have very little support from even the Muslim states
in the region and internationally they have been public relations
embarrassments. The military, aided by ISI, has not allowed
major intervention by the country's previous civilian governments
or its trained diplomatic corps in these two crucial areas.
The peculiar impasse that Pakistan is faced with today is,
therefore, entirely the military's responsibility.
accepting the U.S. demands in exchange for fresh promises of
international largesse, the Pakistani military has, for the
time being, saved its own skin from the wrath of a U.S.-led
coalition. But in the process, the regime yet again appears
willing to plunge Pakistan into an uncharted future, with no
regard for such stability as remains in Pakistani social life.
The promise of U.S. aid in exchange for strategic support anyway
falls on deaf ears among most Pakistanis (and Afghans). They
remember a series of broken Western promises, most recently
when the United States and its allies didn't provide much-needed
development assistance in the early 1990s. And, during the 1980s
when billion of dollars did pour into Pakistan, their impact
on development was minimal, since a large percentage of the
money was used by the military government to purchase military
hardware and support mujahedeen groups. Accusations of corruption
and pilferage were also plenty. Given the past performance of
Pakistan's ruling elite, the Pakistani public might rightly
be skeptical about any meaningful impact on their lives from
the promised aid.
Pakistan is at a difficult crossroads. Yet like all crises,
this moment needs to be seized to rethink a range of options.
The opportunity should be availed to put forward sincere and
workable solutions for Pakistan's political and social problems.
Otherwise Pakistani society will continue to be riddled with
social chaos and violent strife. The suffering population of
this land of rivers, mystic poets and ancient history deserves
far better than what its elite have offered in the last five
decades of its existence. As a first step it should be made
clear by the international community that the present support
to the military regime is not a green signal for it to perpetuate
its rule indefinitely. International pressure, using economic
aid as a weapon, should be increased on the present junta to
hold free and fair elections on the basis of adult franchise.
It should be persuaded to revoke all Zia era amendments to the
constitution, including laws that uphold separate electorates,
those that discriminate against religious minorities and those
that suppress rights of women. All political parties irrespective
of their affiliation and ideology should be allowed to participate
in the elections. Yet all provincial, federal and prime ministers
since 1985 should be disbarred from the election process for
at least another ten years. This would guarantee a general cleansing
of the political landscape from corrupt politicians (who have
used their access to power as a conduit to accumulate immense
amounts of wealth) and perhaps restore some faith in the political
process. The elections should be held under the auspices of
the United Nations, which has by now gained considerable experience
in monitoring elections internationally. The U.N. has, in the
last decade, intervened in states that have already witnessed
protracted civil war or social strife. Pakistan may be an experiment
in avoiding such a calamity before it occurs.
Once the new representatives are elected then the real task
of creating a social vision for the future begins. This will
not be easy. Starting from decreasing regional political tensions
- Afghanistan's future should be decided entirely by the Afghans
themselves and a political solution should be found on Kashmir
- so that the overblown military budget can be curtailed, there
will also need to be an elimination of corruption from within
the bureaucracy and the law enforcement agencies. Another extremely
important agenda should be to bring the ISI within the fold
of army regulatory codes and also its budget, recruitment, training
and policies under civilian review. The supremacy of civilian
control over all aspects of military, domestic and international
policy is the hallmark of any sovereign democracy. These are
difficult and near impossible propositions given Pakistan's
recent history and I make them with much hesitancy as mere suggestions
for a future path. But it needs to be emphasized that if the
social and political framework within the country does not change,
we may witness the dissolution of Pakistan as we have seen earlier
in Somalia and other places. The geo-strategic location of Pakistan
along with its nuclear capability should also make the international
community think seriously before such a future unfolds. The
primary task remains that of national integration and social
development. Pakistanis will need international support and
encouragement, yet mostly selfless leadership from within to
attain their dream of living in a pluralistic society with dignity,
with economic prosperity and with social justice for all.
for a report on the US aid embargo from the US Congressional