.
T

he narrative about security threats ebbs and flows largely in response to coverage by the media. The crisis of the day rapidly becomes the issue of the day until it is no longer interesting or pressing. Piracy off the coast of Somalia loomed large in national security calculus until the U.S. Navy SEALs rescued the captain of the Maersk Alabama; until the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was complete, nightly news coverage was dominated by the American military’s involvement in that country and the unique flavor of Iraqi politics. So too it is the case with Pakistan. While the United States continues to operate an openly secret drone program in Pakistan territory targeting militants and terrorists, the furor surrounding the presence of Osama bin Laden at Abbottobad rapidly ebbed (at least publicly) with the developments in the Middle East and North Africa.

This is not to say that Pakistan is no longer an element of America’s security calculus; rather it is one that is obliquely referenced and emerges onto the national scene similar to a difficult family member at an awkward family reunion. Nonetheless, much like that relative, Pakistan must be considered, addressed, and analyzed with coherence and clarity. Into this breech steps John R. Schmidt with his book The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad. Based largely on his experiences as a Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad in the years prior to 9/11 and his extensive study of the country, its politics, and leadership since, Schmidt offers one of the more robust and coherent analyses of Pakistan recently published.

Schmidt captures the complexities of the tumultuous relationship between the United States and Pakistan. Islamabad and most Pakistanis believe that the United States is a “fair weather” friend and uncommitted to the region. Perhaps most clarifying is Schmidt’s conclusion that Pakistan does not fully share the United States’ assessment of the threat of radical Islam (believing a good portion of the threat to result from Washington’s interference). As a result, Washington will not be able to fully convince Islamabad to share its perception, but due to incidents and developments within the country, Pakistan’s calculus is evolving.

Schmidt is at his strongest in his characterization of the rise of jihadist groups and radical Islam in Pakistan and the uneasy relationship Pakistan has had with these groups prior to 9/11. Schmidt charts the rise of both Sunni and Shia extremist groups (well before 9/11 and beginning immediately after the 1947 partition of British India) and the interreligious violence that resulted. Schmidt also highlights Pakistan’s use of insurgent/jihadist groups as a tactic against India and as a tool for shaping policy in a post-Soviet Afghanistan. Having witnessed the success of insurgent groups in forcing the Soviet Union from Afghanistan (in which Islamabad played a significant role through its support to chosen groups and role as an intermediary for U.S. support to the Mujahedeen), Pakistan made the strategic decision to use similar organizations in Kashmir as a means of forcing India from the disputed territory.

The strategic environment which Pakistan believes it occupies and the resulting tactical decisions it has made have placed Islamabad in an increasingly precarious position, Schmidt notes. Groups ostensibly “controlled” by Islamabad – Lashkar-e-Taiba, for example – have demonstrated a proclivity to act outside of the aegis of the Army and the ISI. Concurrently, radical Islamist organizations over which Islamabad never had control (and in tribal areas over which neither Great Britain (during the colonial period) nor Pakistan ever enjoyed full state control), operating along the Afghanistan border and tribal areas, increasingly assert themselves in bold and audacious moves to establish local and regional control. Pakistan’s inability to assert control and willingness to negotiate have emboldened the militants and dramatically undercut the strength of the Pakistani state, which itself is already weakened by the political culture that dominates Pakistani society.

Pakistan’s political leadership at all levels is dominated by the “Feudals” – leaders of family and business networks that command considerable support and respect, and distribute patronage and favors, resulting in debts both within and across family, business, and political networks. Pakistan’s “feudal” politics results, regardless of the party entering office, in a myopic focus on distributing patronage and favors to the “Feudal’s” network of support. The consequence of this short term focus is an institutional inability to address long term issues for which there is no immediate political gain for one’s patronage network (until it has no choice but to act).

Schmidt is notably short on recommendations, but his conclusion is realistic – Pakistan will remain a center of the radical Islamist universe for the immediate future, and despite Pakistan’s best efforts there will be no decisive moment in its campaign against the extremists; radical groups will simply move from one area to another. The trends raised by Schmidt are concerning in of themselves, but with the added presence of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and supporting infrastructure the threat these groups pose to the Pakistani state is alarming. It is likely that the population will reject the more radical interpretation of Islam espoused by these groups, but it remains to be seen whether Pakistan will have the resources or the will to address the expansion of radical groups.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress, and a George Mason University National Security Institute Fellow. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad

November 15, 2012

T

he narrative about security threats ebbs and flows largely in response to coverage by the media. The crisis of the day rapidly becomes the issue of the day until it is no longer interesting or pressing. Piracy off the coast of Somalia loomed large in national security calculus until the U.S. Navy SEALs rescued the captain of the Maersk Alabama; until the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was complete, nightly news coverage was dominated by the American military’s involvement in that country and the unique flavor of Iraqi politics. So too it is the case with Pakistan. While the United States continues to operate an openly secret drone program in Pakistan territory targeting militants and terrorists, the furor surrounding the presence of Osama bin Laden at Abbottobad rapidly ebbed (at least publicly) with the developments in the Middle East and North Africa.

This is not to say that Pakistan is no longer an element of America’s security calculus; rather it is one that is obliquely referenced and emerges onto the national scene similar to a difficult family member at an awkward family reunion. Nonetheless, much like that relative, Pakistan must be considered, addressed, and analyzed with coherence and clarity. Into this breech steps John R. Schmidt with his book The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad. Based largely on his experiences as a Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad in the years prior to 9/11 and his extensive study of the country, its politics, and leadership since, Schmidt offers one of the more robust and coherent analyses of Pakistan recently published.

Schmidt captures the complexities of the tumultuous relationship between the United States and Pakistan. Islamabad and most Pakistanis believe that the United States is a “fair weather” friend and uncommitted to the region. Perhaps most clarifying is Schmidt’s conclusion that Pakistan does not fully share the United States’ assessment of the threat of radical Islam (believing a good portion of the threat to result from Washington’s interference). As a result, Washington will not be able to fully convince Islamabad to share its perception, but due to incidents and developments within the country, Pakistan’s calculus is evolving.

Schmidt is at his strongest in his characterization of the rise of jihadist groups and radical Islam in Pakistan and the uneasy relationship Pakistan has had with these groups prior to 9/11. Schmidt charts the rise of both Sunni and Shia extremist groups (well before 9/11 and beginning immediately after the 1947 partition of British India) and the interreligious violence that resulted. Schmidt also highlights Pakistan’s use of insurgent/jihadist groups as a tactic against India and as a tool for shaping policy in a post-Soviet Afghanistan. Having witnessed the success of insurgent groups in forcing the Soviet Union from Afghanistan (in which Islamabad played a significant role through its support to chosen groups and role as an intermediary for U.S. support to the Mujahedeen), Pakistan made the strategic decision to use similar organizations in Kashmir as a means of forcing India from the disputed territory.

The strategic environment which Pakistan believes it occupies and the resulting tactical decisions it has made have placed Islamabad in an increasingly precarious position, Schmidt notes. Groups ostensibly “controlled” by Islamabad – Lashkar-e-Taiba, for example – have demonstrated a proclivity to act outside of the aegis of the Army and the ISI. Concurrently, radical Islamist organizations over which Islamabad never had control (and in tribal areas over which neither Great Britain (during the colonial period) nor Pakistan ever enjoyed full state control), operating along the Afghanistan border and tribal areas, increasingly assert themselves in bold and audacious moves to establish local and regional control. Pakistan’s inability to assert control and willingness to negotiate have emboldened the militants and dramatically undercut the strength of the Pakistani state, which itself is already weakened by the political culture that dominates Pakistani society.

Pakistan’s political leadership at all levels is dominated by the “Feudals” – leaders of family and business networks that command considerable support and respect, and distribute patronage and favors, resulting in debts both within and across family, business, and political networks. Pakistan’s “feudal” politics results, regardless of the party entering office, in a myopic focus on distributing patronage and favors to the “Feudal’s” network of support. The consequence of this short term focus is an institutional inability to address long term issues for which there is no immediate political gain for one’s patronage network (until it has no choice but to act).

Schmidt is notably short on recommendations, but his conclusion is realistic – Pakistan will remain a center of the radical Islamist universe for the immediate future, and despite Pakistan’s best efforts there will be no decisive moment in its campaign against the extremists; radical groups will simply move from one area to another. The trends raised by Schmidt are concerning in of themselves, but with the added presence of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and supporting infrastructure the threat these groups pose to the Pakistani state is alarming. It is likely that the population will reject the more radical interpretation of Islam espoused by these groups, but it remains to be seen whether Pakistan will have the resources or the will to address the expansion of radical groups.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress, and a George Mason University National Security Institute Fellow. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.