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Pakistan may collapse in three months, warns expert

May 07, 2009 10:39 IST

A conference on 'Pakistan's Troubled Frontier: The Future of FATA and the NWFP' organised by The Jamestown Foundation in Washington, DC, witnessed several speakers expressing their concerns about the situation in Pakistan.

The audience comprised Barack Obama administration officials, senior United States Congressional aides, South Asia specialists, scholars and the heads of several think tanks who deal with the region.

The second of a five-part series.

Reportage: Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC.

Experts believe that despite recent events, elements within the Pakistan army and the Inter Services Intelligence remain attached to the strategy of using the Afghan Taliban for strategic depth against India.

One such is David Kilcullen, who has served as a senior adviser for counterinsurgency to then United States secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Commander of the Central Command General David Petraeus, and continues to be called on for advice by the US military brass.

Kilcullen, author of the best-selling The Accidental Guerrilla, while keynoting the conference, said, "Elements within the army and within the ISI have traditionally had a close relationship with the Afghan Taliban, and one of the problems with that is that some elements in the Pakistani national security establishment have got into the habit over decades of using militant extremists as an unconventional counterweight to Indian regional influence."

"That's a problem when you are trying to orient the national security establishment away from a focus on India and a focus on the region, to dealing with the main threat to Pakistan, which is the threat of internal collapse and extremist take-over," he observed.

Predicting that the civilian government in Islamabad will collapse within the next two, three months, Kilcullen said if this was to be avoided, the Obama administration needed immediately to "empower the Pakistani civilian authorities to control their own national security establishment", and to "beef up and train" Pakistan's police force.

Arguing that sections of the national security establishment are not operating under the direction of the civilian authorities, Kilcullen said, "You only have to look at (Pakistan's chief of army staff) General Ashfaq Kayani publicly disobeying President (Asif Ali) Zardari's directive to send (the head of the ISI Lieutenant) General (Ahmed Shuja) Pasha to India after the Mumbai attacks to see that parts of the army just don't take direction from elected officials."

Referring to the under-trained police force, Kilcullen said it, and the frontier constabulary, are primarily tasked with law and order and internal security. "But we have given very little support to the Pakistani police, and it is heavily under-resourced. Lots of the resources have gone to the military, and the Pakistani police are under-resourced, under-trained and penetrated and intimidated by the militants," he said.

Kilcullen, who was part of the White House review of Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy carried out under Obama's direction, strongly opposed the predator drone strikes inside Pakistan, and said it was a disservice both to the US and to Pakistan.

"When we intervene in people's countries to chase small cells of bad guys, we end up alienating the whole country and turning them against us. And Al Qaeda's strategy is fundamentally based on trying to soak us up in a series of unsustainable interventions in various places around the world," he cautioned.

The strategic expert said the US needed to get out of the business of unilateral intervention in countries where it sees terrorist threats, and get into "an approach of local solutions to local problems, working through a capacity building and local partnership approach."

When it was pointed out that the people in some areas hit by predator strikes had hailed the attacks for getting rid of terrorist elements, Kilcullen said this was because "we haven't actually been in there and protected them, and if you can't protect people then I guess it's a fall back, hitting the bad guys, and this can make some groups feel safer. But it's complicated, and every agency has its own dynamic, every little valley has its own dynamic. I've talked to guys of one end of the valley who've said, 'Thank you for that drone strike a couple of weeks ago, you wiped out one of my major business rivals'."

The trouble with such strikes, he said, was that they provided a rallying point for those attempting to destabilise the country. "If we go in with an enemy-centric focus where we are just trying to find and defeat the Taliban, then we are on a path to losing. If we go in with a population-centric approach where we are trying to protect the population to make them feel safe, that is the pathway to getting people to move away from armed politics towards participation in a regularised political process."

He pointed out that when the Pakistani army, under pressure from the US, went into the FATA region to conduct military operations against a group of radical Al Qaeda-linked militants, "the heavy-handed approach that the army took, the damage that was done to local society and the unilateral way that they operated led very quickly to a backlash."

"Large portions of tribal groupings in FATA were in open revolt against the army and after that, all we've seen has been an increase in the coalition of the pissed-off in that part of the world, who are aligning themselves against the national government and with a bunch of groups that they were not close to before the army went into the FATA," said Kilcullen, suggesting that this backlash was now spreading across the rest of Pakistan.

Image: David Kilcullen. Photograph: Paresh Gandhi

Part I: 'Taliban ahead in propaganda war'