Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad
By Bruce Riedel
BROOKINGS INSTITUTION PRESS
Copyright © 2012 THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
All right reserved.
We were aboard Air Force One en route to California when I began briefing President Barack Obama on the strategic review of American policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan he had asked me to do. Seated behind his wood desk in the president's cabin, Obama listened closely, asking many questions. I first summarized the threat assessment.
A syndicate of terrorists now embedded in Pakistan and Afghanistan was planning further attacks on American interests at home and abroad. A prominent member was al Qaeda, the group that changed world history with its attack on New York and Virginia on September 11, 2001. The syndicate also included the Afghan Taliban, which hosted al Qaeda back in 2001; the new Pakistani Taliban, which helped al Qaeda murder former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto; Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, the group that attacked Mumbai in November 2008, only three months before our flight; and a host of other terrorists.
By the time we landed, I had walked the president through the review's 20 recommendations and some of its 180 proposals for specific actions. The report's chief architects were the two cochairs, Under Secretary of Defense Michelle Flournoy and Special Representative Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and myself, along with the head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), General David Petraeus, and field commanders in Kabul. It had taken six weeks to shepherd the review through the interagency process and to get input from Pakistanis and Afghans, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, other nations with soldiers in Afghanistan, and key geopolitical players such as India and Saudi Arabia. National Security Council principals—including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, National Security Adviser Jim Jones, and others—had also examined it carefully.
As we walked from Air Force One to a waiting Marine helicopter, I drew the president's attention to the review's central conclusion: Pakistan, the birthplace of global Islamic jihad and now its epicenter, had become a crucible of terror and was the most dangerous country in the world. Clearly, it held the key to destroying both al Qaeda and the larger syndicate.
The president's busy schedule in California included an interview on television's Tonight Show with Jay Leno in which he talked about getting a dog for his two daughters. Oddly enough, my Blenheim puppy, Nelson, had been sitting on my lap when the president's call came through at my weekend home in Maryland, inviting me to lead the review. It was just five days after he had been sworn in on the Capitol steps, but he was already engaged in what he called the most important national security issue facing the nation.
I had first met Barack Hussein Obama in 2007, when I joined his campaign as a volunteer expert providing advice on South Asian issues and counterterrorism. In July 2008 I accompanied him to the Willard Hotel in Washington, where he had his first substantive encounter with the new Pakistani administration replacing the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf, represented by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. Throughout his conversation with Gillani, I was impressed by Obama's command of the issues and effective style of communication.
Though thrilled at Obama's victory in November 2008, by then I had been retired for two years and was eager to stay out of government. I had joined Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, and after almost thirty years with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), I was enjoying the freedom of continuing work in my area of expertise—the Middle East and South Asia—but now as a scholar and teacher. The president urged me to return to government for two months to help reassess American policy on the crisis in South Asia, which was badly in need of attention.
I could not have agreed more. The conflict President Obama had inherited in Afghanistan had turned into the "forgotten war" of the twenty-first century. After a brilliant start in 2001, when the United States and a handful of coalition allies helped the Northern Alliance topple the Taliban's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in less than a hundred days, Washington's attention shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq. As a result, it squandered an easy military victory, permitting the foe to recover and make a comeback.
By 2009 the Taliban and its al Qaeda ally had established a secure safe haven across the border in Pakistan and were threatening the stability of the southern and eastern half of Afghanistan. A war that should have ended in 2002 had been rekindled—and was soon being lost. Worse still, the militants were now headquartered in Pakistan, a country facing a severe political crisis that was pushing the state to the brink of failure. Having the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal in the world and being its second largest Muslim country with a population of 180 million, Pakistan seemed poised to become a jihadist enclave.
This was not the first time America had taken its eye off the ball in South Asia. In the 1980s, with the help of Pakistan, the United States had inflicted a crushing defeat on the Soviet Fortieth Red Army in Afghanistan, which was followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the cold war. But it then focused its attention elsewhere (ironically, much of it on Iraq), leaving Afghanistan to become transformed, not into a stable and friendly nation, but a hostile and fanatic foe eager to host al Qaeda and act as the base for the deadliest attack ever on U.S. soil.
During my thirty years of service at the CIA, Pentagon, and White House, I have had the privilege of advising four presidents on South Asian affairs. This experience has taught me, often the hard way, that the politics of the region are both unpredictable and often inscrutable to an outsider. But America's policies toward Pakistan and Afghanistan must often appear just as inscrutable to South Asians, especially when, for complex reasons, its strategies have aided the foes of democracy and the very enemies Americans are now fighting against there.
My goal in the following pages is to explain this paradox—specifically, to determine why successive U.S. administrations have undermined civil government in Pakistan, aided military dictators, and encouraged the rise of extremist Islamic movements that now threaten the United States at home and abroad. A first step to this end is to recognize that Pakistan, past and present, remains shrouded in mystery, with key events in its development related to conspiracy and unsolved assassinations. A second step is to examine U.S. relations with Pakistan during the first two and a half decades of its independence, bearing in mind that it was the first nation ever created solely for Islam.
Jinnah, Partition, and Civil War
The idea of Pakistan was born on the banks of the River Cam in East Anglia in the 1930s. A student at Cambridge University, Chaudhary Rahmat Ali, envisioned a Muslim state created from the union of several British-controlled territories and princely states in the northwestern part of the subcontinent. He referred to this new state as "Pakistan" in a pamphlet he wrote in 1933 titled Now or Never, Are We to Live or Perish Forever? The name Pakistan is basically an acronym compiled from the names of the areas of Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan. In Persian and Urdu, Pakistan also translates as "the land of the pure." Notably absent from Ali's vision was the eastern province of Bengal, which in those years was home to more Muslims than any other province of the British Raj. Its omission would be a signal of much trouble to come.
Although Ali was a strong force in the Pakistan movement in the United Kingdom, the prime mover back in South Asia was Muhammad Ali Jinnah, also known as Babae-Quam (the father of the country) or Quaid-e-Azam (the great leader). Jinnah and his Muslim League Party spearheaded the drive to independence. Indeed, it is fair to say that Jinnah changed the map of South Asia and that without him there would be no Pakistan. Not surprisingly, a portrait of this towering figure can be seen in every government office in the country.
Unfortunately, the partition of South Asia in 1947 led to the deaths of at least 1 million people and one of the largest refugee transfers in human history as millions of Hindus and Sikhs struggled to find new homes on the subcontinent. The region and the world are still reeling from the aftershocks of that division.
In many ways, Jinnah seemed an odd candidate for the role he played in the creation of the world's first state intended for Muslims. He was not a practicing Muslim, he drank alcohol, smoked fifty cigarettes a day, and dressed like the English-educated lawyer that he was. According to his preeminent biographer, Stanley Wolpert, Jinnah never wore the same silk tie twice, which he would have ordered from an expensive tailor in London to go with his more than 200 Savile Row suits. He was, reported the New York Times, one of 1946's best-dressed men in the British Empire. At one point, he owned seven flats in London's posh district of Mayfair. In 1930 Jinnah sought to win a seat in Britain's Parliament but was unable to break the race barrier in English politics. Had the British accepted Jinnah as an equal, he might well have lived out the rest of his life in London. As his Indian biographer, Jaswant Singh, put it: "Jinnah was committed to his three-piece suits, his lorgnette, his cigarette holder and the King's English."
Clearly, Jinnah's vision of Pakistan was not rooted in religious piety. Although he was a Shia Muslim—a minority sect of Islam (almost 90 percent of Muslims are Sunni, including most of those living in Pakistan today)—he apparently spent little time in mosques or in studying the Quran. Extremism had no place in his views either. The subcontinent did have an established jihadist tradition, dating back to the so-called Indian mutiny of 1857 (increasingly referred to in India as the first war for independence) and the subsequent founding of the jihad-espousing Deobandi movement. Though sparked by a military revolt, the mutiny attracted large numbers of jihadists fighting to reestablish Muslim rule in the Indian subcontinent. When the British resumed control, some of these militants created a madrassa near the town of Deoband to advocate Islamic fundamental views. Jinnah was never a Deobandi.
Rather, Jinnah's great concern was that a united India would treat its Muslims as second-class citizens, persecuted by the Hindu majority. Muslims, he once remarked in 1937, "do not want to be reduced to the position of the Negroes of America." He saw a separate Pakistan as a haven where they could practice their religion to whatever degree of piety they desired. Founded for Muslims, it would not be a secular state but would in many ways act like one in advocating tolerance and diversity.
Despite a substantial following, Jinnah met with some strong opposition in the Islamic camp. Mawlana Sayyid Abu A'ala Mawdudi and the political party he founded in 1941 to represent South Asia's Muslims were unenthusiastic about the Pakistan idea at first, preferring to keep the entire subcontinent united, but under Muslim domination in a form reminiscent of the Mughal Empire. Ironically, noted one observer, "the pious among the Muslims of the subcontinent did not create Pakistan." Indeed, Mawdudi was deeply distrustful of Jinnah because of both his political ambitions and lack of religious piety. Even Jinnah's Muslim League was not Muslim enough. However, Mawdudi's Jamaat-i-Islam Party was unable to garner mass support in the new Pakistan, although it did become the flag bearer for those wanting a more Islamic Pakistan and succeeded in developing independent but related branches in the rest of South Asia.
One of the many tragedies of Pakistan's history is that after helping Pakistan gain independence, Jinnah did not live long enough to make his vision of the state a reality. A victim of tuberculosis and lung cancer, he died on September 11, 1948, little more than a year after Pakistan's birth. He had so dominated the independence movement that he left no potential leaders in the wings with the stature to take on the difficult job of shaping the kind of state he had in mind.
To add to the nation's distress, Jinnah's chief lieutenant and successor, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in 1951, in the first in a series of violent deaths that have scarred Pakistan's history and continue today. With the loss of its founding fathers, the new nation seemed destined for turmoil. One can easily imagine what would have happened in America if Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison had not lived long enough to become president.
During Pakistan's first quarter century, the legacy of partition, with its division of the country into East and West Pakistan, only confounded the region's politics. At the time, the majority (56 percent) of Pakistanis lived in East Pakistan, in a part of the divided province of Bengal, the first headquarters of the British Raj in South Asia. As already mentioned, Bengal had been overlooked in the naming of Pakistan, reflecting its secondary importance from the beginning, although Rahmat Ali had dreamed of a united Bengal dominated by its Muslim population and expanded to include Azzam and the rest of northeast India as a separate state called Bang-i-Islam.
Jinnah saw Bengal in somewhat the same light, as a separate state with Muslims and Hindus united, one that could thus further weaken India. The British and Indians refused to consider that option and instead divided Bengal along religious lines. The predominantly Muslim part became East Pakistan, which in the process was cut off from its traditional political, intellectual, and economic capital, Calcutta.
From the beginning, West Pakistan was dominated by the province of Punjab, which was better endowed than Sindh, Baluchistan, the North-West Frontier Province, and the rump of Kashmir that had joined Pakistan. Punjab not only had the largest population and the richest farmland, but it also provided the overwhelming majority of the officer corps for the Pakistani army. Many Punjabis, especially members of that corps, believed Pakistan was created to serve their interests first and foremost; many also regarded Bengalis as second-class citizens, even as inferior humans lacking the alleged martial skills of Punjabis.
This issue boiled up immediately after partition and independence in relation to language. Should Bengali be an official language of the new Pakistan? West Pakistan's establishment, including Jinnah, said no, opting solely for Urdu. Within a few months of independence, demonstrations broke out in Dhaka protesting the lack of Bengali on official papers of the new Pakistani state. Despite his failing health, Jinnah was forced to come to Dhaka in 1948 to try to calm the situation.
But Jinnah only intensified the discontent by insisting "the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Any one who tries to mislead you is an enemy of Pakistan." Though Bengalis were allowed to speak and write in their language in East Pakistan, they were shocked to hear Jinnah imply they were not only inferior citizens but could even be considered enemies of Pakistan because they wished to retain a mark of their culture.
When Pakistan eventually drew up its first constitution in 1956, it recognized Bengali as a national language but still gave primacy to Urdu. By then, however, language was but one of many issues dividing East and West Pakistan. The country's Punjabi-dominated government in Karachi (the capital until 1958) emphasized development in the West; the army and bureaucracy were overrun by West Pakistanis, especially Punjabis; and the East was treated almost like a colony separated from its motherland by India.
The contradictions between Pakistan's majority population in the East and the ruling establishment in the West proved fatal for Pakistani democracy—which was already facing monumental challenges. Pakistan's economy was still very weak, it had little experience with democratic institutions, its tribal regions along the Afghan border were a bed of chaos, and the conflict with India had not let up. With the East and West so divided, it became almost impossible to sustain a democratic form of government.
In October 1958 Pakistan's government was toppled in its first military coup, with the chief of army staff, Major General Ayub Khan, at the helm abrogating the constitution, banning political parties, and naming himself president. Ayub Khan had been army chief for eight years, succeeding a British officer from the Raj. He was a graduate of Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, Britain's prestigious officer training school, and had fought in World War II with the British Indian army in Burma. Like Jinnah, he was almost as much English as Pakistani. Among the several reasons for his coup, a primary one was the fear that a truly democratic election would tilt the balance of power toward East Pakistan at the expense of the army-dominated West.
Excerpted from Deadly Embrace by Bruce Riedel Copyright © 2012 by THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION. Excerpted by permission of BROOKINGS INSTITUTION PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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