Posted by: John Elliott | December 27, 2008

Pakistan’s army is in charge – and forcing a crisis

The most worrying trend in Delhi, as India-Pakistan tensions escalate, is a growing belief that the Mumbai attacks were not just condoned, but were actually commissioned by Pakistan’s army – not just by the usual suspect, the ISI (Pakistan’s CIA).

Reading the newspapers, and talking to well informed friends and contacts on the Christmas party circuit in Delhi in the past few days, I have been amazed by how many people are arguing this. These are not conspiracy theorists but people who, through their past or present careers, are closely linked with India’s foreign affairs and security circles.

Three of the reasons behind the theory were set out in yesterday morning’s (Dec 26) Indian Express which asserted that the Mumbai attacks had been “sanctioned” at the “highest levels” of the Pakistan army.

The reasons, which have appeared in varying forms in other papers in the past few days, were: to make the West (ie the US) realise it can’t take for granted Pakistan army’s presence (fighting the Taliban) on the Afghan border; to reinstate the army’s institutional credibility following President (General) Pervez Musharraf’s exit from the scene; and to reassert the army’s supremacy over the civilian government on security issues.

There is another more devious theory. It is that the army is tired of losing battles on its western border with Afghanistan, and would like an excuse to shift its battalions to the eastern Indian border, leaving the lawless Afghan border to the Taliban and the Americans to slog it out.

Linked with that is a view that President-elect Barack Obama must learn that the Pakistan army does not like having to fight the Taliban (which it helped create) on America’s behalf, so should soften his approach when he becomes president. Obama should also not put pressure on Pakistan’s civilian government.

It is now clear that the army – led by its new chief, General Ashfaq Kayani  – is running Pakistan’s civilian government. It has long been evident that President Asif Ali Zardari is more of a joker than even a cipher – and that, one year after his wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated last December 27, has no real power.

Now Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, is following the army’s line by denying that anyone from Pakistan was involved in the Mumbai attacks, having initially taken the opposite view.

This surely illustrates why it is best to have a general at the top of Pakistan’s government. The current  muddle about who is in charge was partly created by the west, which encouraged the ousting of Musharraf from his post of army chief.  One day western governments – led by the US and UK – which bleat endlessly about the need for a democratic government in Pakistan, will realise that the army is always in charge so it is much better to have it out in the open occupying the presidency.

Some of my Delhi-based foreign correspondent colleagues gloated as they reported Musharraf’s decline as if he was some evil monster. He may have done all sorts of things wrong – most national leaders do – and grossly misled outgoing-US president George W. Bush (not a difficult thing to do), but at least India and the west knew who to deal with. Now they don’t.

The army has over-ruled the civil government’s wish for peace with India. What should have been an inquiry into who was responsible for the Mumbai attack, with terrorist camps in Pakistan being closed down, has been turned into a dire India-Pakistan crisis.

The world has become more concerned about the risk of a war between the two nuclear powers than about dealing with the Mumbai terrosts, which is exactly what the Pakistan army wanted.

India is partly to blame for this because some of its muddled messages over the past month have appeared to be threatening to attack Pakistan if action was not taken against terrorists based there. That enabled the Pakistan army to whip up nationalist opinion and pursue the strategy outlined above.

I stick to my view of December 23 that India will not attack Pakistan – but, alongside that, it now seems that the chances of Pakistan-based terrorists being dealt with by Pakistan are now slim. And when the next terrorist attack takes place, I believe India might well respond. Then the Pakistan army will, according to current Delhi informed opinion, have achieved its aim.


  1. China’s role in all this is hardly every mentioned.

    It is in China’s interest to force a conflict between India and Pakistan. It achieves the twin objectives of occupying the US in Afghanistan against the Taliban, and of occupying India in a battle with the Pakistanis.

    Sun Tzu said “The best way to defeat an enemy is to be victorious without stepping on to the battlefield.” China is playing her cards beautifully.

    Highly significant is the fact that when the discussions came up in the UN Security Council in 2006 to designate the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the mother organization of the LET, as a terrorist organization China opposed it. It supported Pakistan’s plea that the Jammat-ud-Dawa was an Islamic social organization and worked in rescue and rehabilitation efforts after the 2005 earthquake. It would be childish to accept the Chinese explanation that the JUD was a social non-government organization (NGO). But the Chinese can create a farce and expect the world to believe it. It is no secret the world over that Prof. Hafeez Mohammad Saeed is the head of both the LET and the JUD, and is patronized by Pakistan’s ISI to counter India.

    I suspect that India, the US and NATO may need to think of creative solutions to this otherwise intractable problem that will only benefit China and leave the Indians, the Pakistanis, the US, and NATO with big losses.

  2. What Indian leaders are doing? They are just issueing statement after statements, which are being used by Pakis back against the Indians. They have wasted one month in the name of diplomacy. What has come out. Instead of forcing Pak to act, every body, be it US or China, is sermoning India to exercise restraint. You kick my butt and then ask me not to kick the kicker. The real question is why India is afraid of world opinion when Pakis are not. A tiny country of the size less than one third of India can blackmail US, China, UK and India just sitting waiting for the US to act in India’s interest. What what they fearing. Manmohan don’t have guts of Vajpayee who didnot dare to open war to free Kargil. What happens if India starts precision attack on terror camps. Pakistan may retaliate to small or large extent. In the process it will again blackmail by threatening to use nuclear device. So what if Pak has northern parts of India within its range of missiles, India has the entire Pakistan with missile range.
    Its time that Pak and the others must be told by deeds not words then we mean business.

  3. It is really unfortunate to see how Pakistan is imploding due to the military leaders’ selfish motives. These people have corrupted the system with misinformation and fear.

    Eventually country gets the leaders it deserves. Pakistan deserves better.

    Things would have been different if Pakistan press was bit more objective. India is not perfect, but we keep our politicians in check pretty well.

  4. Mr John Elliott,
    You have correctly concluded that Pakistani army has made its intention clear, and is going to achieve what it wanted.
    Your article also reflects the current view in India, that there is no option left to India, than sort it out in a war.
    However it would be interesting to see, how the western powers, led by the US and UK are going to act. For India it will be a defining moment to discover whether the so called strategic partners are actually supporting war against terror, or are actually fuelling it, by continuing to provide financial and military lifeline to Pakistan.

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