Media reports suggest that the Pakistan army has revised its security assessment and is now placing more emphasis on ‘internal threats’ rather than the external enemies which had informed its strategy as well as operations. This is a welcome development. The details of the new doctrine are unclear but there have been three indications in the recent past. First, the tacit support to the civilian government’s thaw with India and undertaking the unimaginable: trade with India. Second, the chief of the army staff, Gen Kayani, while speaking at an official ceremony on August 14, cited the threat of extremism and reiterated the moderate ethos of Islam. Thirdly, the continued battle against militants in the northwest of the country continues without any major policy reversal.
There are two issues with the internal shifts, if any, in the way military is proceeding with its strategic rethink. First of all, due to its structure and institutional culture it is not an open and engaging entity. Decisions are centralised and are taken by a coterie of top commanders. Secondly it is also learning to readjust its power and influence within the context of a changing Pakistan.
Secondly, after five years of civilian rule and emergence of new power centres (judiciary and media), its exclusive monopoly of power had been eroded. For instance, launching a coup though not impossible is a far more complicated endeavour. In this fluid political environment, the Army has yet to find a comfortable equilibrium with the political forces and the parliament. It might have been more useful had the army tried to engage with the national security committee of the parliament thereby giving its rethink more depth, public input and long term legitimacy.
Let’s not forget that the ideological propaganda of al Qaeda and its affiliates has penetrated various sections of the Pakistani society. Whilst the Pakistani population does not want a Taliban type regime that bans women’s education, a vast majority of the population considers the US as an enemy of Islam and the Muslim. More often than not the West — as a vague construct — is also employed in this xenophobic and violent ideology of resistance. This narrative has gained ground in the country whether we like or not.
Sadly the elements of the state, especially the military, have added to this paranoia by firstly allowing the torchbearers of this ideology to live safely in the country for over a decade and secondly to operate from within the country. In this lax environment, the al Qaeda and its junior partner, the Taliban, have made some local alliances (more…)