Shuja Nawaz is a political and strategic analyst, and the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within, [click here to read reviews and purchase the book on Amazon.com]. He previously headed three separate divisions of the International Monetary Fund, was the first director of a large division of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, and was also a journalist with The New York Times and Pakistan Television news and current affairs division. He currently writes for leading newspapers and The Huffington Post, and speaks on current issues related to Pakistan and the Middle East at various think tanks, civic groups, and on radio and television. Below, he discusses Pakistan’s current counter-terrorism strategy with CHUP, as well as civil-military relations:
Q: Currently, the Pakistani government has initiated a new counter-terrorism strategy and has consistently proclaimed that they have taken ownership of this war on terror. How does this new strategy differ from the past? How “real” is the cooperation we have seen between the military and the civilian government?
There has been some movement forward: the discussions and briefings of parliament by the ISI chief of Parliament, for example. But we have not yet seen a clear strategy or well-articulated plans that involve both the civil and military and establish a clear and sequential relationship between the two protagonists. The government also needs to make a real effort to draw more than ritualistic slogans from other members of its opportunistic coalition [including older Musharraf allies] and, more important, to bring former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party into the discussions so PML-N can contribute to framing the national consensus on fighting terrorism and militancy inside Pakistan. Simply relying on the army taking the brunt of the militancy battle is not enough. We need action on the Frontier Crimes Regulation, on the future role of FATA in our federation, and on improving relations with Afghanistan.
Q: In a recent Washington Post article, the news agency cited a number of U.S. officials who cautioned that Pakistan has made little progress in other aspects of a wider counter-insurgency strategy, saying that while there are more soldiers on the ground, the current military strategy is not sustainable because Pakistan “is still doing virtually nothing about extending the government’s political authority into the tribal areas, and virtually nothing about economic development” in the region. Do you agree with this assertion? Why or why not? How would a Pakistani counter-insurgency strategy differ from a counter-terrorism strategy?
On the military side, we are still seeing this as a low-intensity conflict that can be fought by well-trained and equipped infantry soldiers. Counter-insurgency demands much more than that: it requires indoctrination and a different mindset and has to work seamlessly with the much larger and longer-term civilian efforts to win over the majority of the population in the insurgent areas. In other words, you have to isolate the insurgents by protecting and winning over the rest. Isolating the insurgents by evacuating the rest from an area [as in Bajaur] works temporarily but creates more problems than it solves. What plans does the government have to deal with the refugees now and when they return? Have those been shared with them? If not, we risk losing them to the militancy.
Pakistan needs to convince the inhabitants of FATA that they are a part of Pakistan proper and have rights and obligations as a result. More important, Pakistan needs to deliver goods and services to them – that is their right. It cannot rely on anachronistic tribal and administrative systems to quell the militancy. Most important, it needs to fight the militants with the language of true Islam to show them and the rest of the population that the militants’ view of Islam is distorted and not the path followed by the majority of Pakistanis.
Q: The establishment of lashkars, or tribal militias, has been touted by the government as a sign that the Pakistani people have joined hands in this fight against terror. How have Pakistanis’ attitudes changed towards the fight against militancy? Are these attitudes impacted or complicated by U.S. drone attacks in the FATA?
These lashkars will work only if they are entirely spontaneous. Otherwise you risk creating future problems and better armed local warlords who will fight amongst each other or turn against the government in the future. The U.S. drone attacks harm the Pakistani cause by exposing the inability of the government and the army to protect its borders. In the tribal areas, drone attacks are seen as an intrusion into tribal territory. This breeds resentment.
Q: The Pakistani military is currently fighting militants and parts of the Taliban in the Swat and Bajaur areas. Meanwhile, the government has indicated a desire to negotiate with some militants. How do we distinguish between the “good” and the “bad” militants?
It is not a distinction between good and bad militants. It is a distinction between those that follow the path of violence and those that are willing to work within the political system to further their political aims. Militancy disrupts the lives of the people, prevents them from pursuing their livelihoods and from developing themselves. We can and should work with those who want to follow the path of peace, even if we disagree on details of how to achieve peace. This will help isolate the militants who are irreconcilable.
Q: At a recent talk at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, you stated that there is a commitment among the leadership in Pakistan’s military to accept civilian supremacy. Given the strong role the army has played in Pakistan’s political arena, can we expect them to stay true to this commitment?
History seems to suggest otherwise. But one must trust the army chief’s word. And one can only be heartened by the current army chief’s intent, and hope that the leadership of the army and the political leadership will be able to return to a stable relationship, under the constitution of Pakistan. First, we must revert to a true parliamentary democracy, unless the people of Pakistan want to amend the constitution to make it a presidential system. The current system is confusing and inherently unstable.
Moreover, it is incumbent on the civil leadership to understand our history and the nature and role of the military and work with it so it reforms itself and its view of the rest of society. Disengaging the military will take time and cannot be done by fiat and notification. Civilian leaders must resist the temptation to draw the military into their disputes. The military needs to come back to its profession and exit all non-military enterprises and activities that drain its energies and bring it into disrepute with the people of Pakistan.