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Pakistan: The Militant Jihadi Challenge
Pakistan: The Militant Jihadi Challenge
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
National Ambitions Meet Local Opposition Along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
National Ambitions Meet Local Opposition Along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
Report 164 / Asia

Pakistan: The Militant Jihadi Challenge

The recent upsurge of jihadi violence in Punjab, the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan’s provincial capital, Quetta, demonstrates the threat extremist Sunni-Deobandi groups pose to the Pakistani citizen and state.

Executive Summary

The recent upsurge of jihadi violence in Punjab, the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan’s provincial capital, Quetta, demonstrates the threat extremist Sunni-Deobandi groups pose to the Paki­stani citizen and state. These radical Sunni groups are simul­taneously fighting internal sectarian jihads, regional jihads in Afghanistan and India and a global jihad against the West. While significant domestic and inter­national attention and resources are under­standably devoted to containing Islamist militancy in the tribal belt, that the Pakistani Taliban is an outgrowth of radical Sunni networks in the country’s political heart­land is too often neglected. A far more concerted effort against Punjab-based Sunni extremist groups is essen­tial to curb the spread of extremism that threatens regional peace and stability. As the international com­munity works with Pakistan to rein in extremist groups, it should also support the democratic transition, in par­ticular by reallocating aid to strengthening civilian law enforcement.

The Pakistani Taliban, which increasingly controls large swathes of FATA and parts of NWFP, comprises a number of mil­itant groups loosely united under the Deobandi Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that have attacked not just state and Western targets, but Shias as well. Their expanding influence is due to support from long-established Sunni extremist networks, based primarily in Punjab, which have served as the army’s jihadi proxies in Afghanistan and India since the 1980s. Punjab-based radical Deobandi groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its offshoot Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) provide weapons, recruits, finances and other resources to Pakistani Taliban groups, and have been responsible for planning many of the attacks attributed to FATA-based militants. The SSP and LJ are also al-Qaeda’s principal allies in the region.

Other extremist groups ostensibly focused on the jihad in Kashmir, such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, are also signatories to al-Qaeda’s global jihad against the West, and have been active in local, regional and inter­national jihads. Their continued patron­age by the mil­itary, and their ability to hijack major policy areas, including Pakistan’s relations with India, Afghanistan and the international community, impede the civilian government’s ongoing efforts to consolidate control over governance and pursue peace with its neighbours.

The actions of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led federal government, and the Punjab government, led until recently by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), against Punjab-based jihadi groups for their role in November’s attack in India’s com­mer­cial capital, Mumbai, are a step in the right direc­tion. They must now be followed up by consolidating the evidence and presenting it in court. The two main parties, however, risk reversing the progress they have made by resorting to the confrontational politics of the past. On 25 February 2009, the Supreme Court decided to uphold a ban, based on politically motivated cases dating back to Musharraf’s military rule, on Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, Punjab’s chief minister, from elec­toral politics. President Asif Ali Zardari’s sub­sequent imposition of governor’s rule in Punjab has aggravated a political stalemate between the two main parties that, the longer it lasts, will allow non-democratic forces, including the military, the religious right and extre­mists, to once again fill the political vacuum.

The aftermath of the Mumbai attack presents an opening to reshape Pakistan’s response to terrorism, which should rely not on the application of indiscriminate force, includ­­ing military action and arbitrary detentions, but on police investigations, arrests, fair trials and con­vic­tions. This must be civilian-led to be effective. Despite earlier suc­ces­ses against extremist groups, civilian law enforce­ment and intelligence agencies, including the Federal Investigation Agency, the provincial Criminal Inves­ti­gation Departments, and the Intelligence Bureau, lack the resources and the authority to meet their potential. The military and its powerful Inter-Services Intelli­gence Directorate (ISI) still dominate – and hamper – counter-terrorism efforts.

The PPP government cannot afford to enforce the law only in response to a terrorist attack or external pressure. Proactive enforcement will be vital to containing religious militancy, which has reached critical levels; this includes checks on the proliferation of weapons and the growth of private militias, which con­tra­vene the constitution; prosecution of hate speech, the spread of extremist literature and exhortations to jihad; greater accountability of and actions against jihadi madrasas and mosques; and ultimately converting information into evidence that holds up in court. It is not too late to reverse the tide of extremism, provided the govern­ment immediately adopts and implements a zero tolerance policy towards all forms of religious militancy.

Unfortunately, on 16 February 2009, NWFP’s Awami National Party (ANP)-led government made a peace deal, devised by the military, with the Swat-based Sunni extremist Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Moham­madi (TNSM), a militant group allied to the Taliban. The government agreed to impose Sharia (Islamic law) in NWFP’s Malakand region, with religious courts deciding all cases after 16 February 2009; dismantle all security checkpoints and require any military move­ments to be pre-approved by the TNSM; and release cap­tured militants, including those responsible for such acts of violence as public executions and rape. In return, the militants pledged to end their armed campaign.

This accord, an even greater capitulation to the mil­itants than earlier deals by the military regime in FATA, will if implemented entrench Taliban rule and al-Qaeda influence in the area; make peace more elusive; and essentially reverse the gains made by the transition to democracy and the defeat of the military-supported religious right-wing parties in NWFP in the February 2008 elections. With the Swat ceasefire already unravelling, the federal government should refuse pres­idential assent required for its implementation, and renew its commitment to tackling extremism and realising long-term political reform in the borderlands.

The international response to the Swat deal has so far been mixed, with several key leaders, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, viewing it as an acceptable compromise. Acknowledging the failure of unconditionally supporting the Pakistani military, the international community, particularly the U.S., must reverse course and help strengthen civilian control over all areas of governance, including counter-terrorism, and the capacity of the federal government to override the military’s appeasement policies in FATA and NWFP, replacing them with policies that pursue long-term political, economic and social development.

Islamabad/Brussels, 13 March 2009

Op-Ed / Asia

National Ambitions Meet Local Opposition Along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

Originally published in The Diplomat

Pakistan’s central government is all-in on CPEC. But at key points, local communities are resisting.

In the run-up to Pakistan’s general election on July 25, most political parties stand united in their belief that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will transform Pakistan’s ailing economy. In May, Pakistan’s ambassador to China asserted that “regardless of any political change in Pakistan, our commitment towards the successful completion of CPEC will not change.”

But if political support at the national level appears unwavering, local opposition is growing over the lack of consultation and concerns regarding the inequitable distribution of the prospective benefits. In few places is this more noticeable than the southern Balochistan fishing town of Gwadar, the entry point of the corridor and a microcosm of the center-periphery tensions elsewhere that threaten CPEC’s implementation.

An Ambitious Vision

Aiming to develop a “growth axis and development belt” between China and Pakistan, CPEC could involve investments of some $60 billion. The corridor connects Gwadar, in the southwestern province of Balochistan, to China’s Xinjiang region via a 2,700 kilometer route through the mountainous terrain of Gilgit-Baltistan in northernmost Pakistan .

For China’s and Pakistan’s foreign policies, the potential payoffs are clear. CPEC is a flagship project of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a geopolitical ambition to develop trade and infrastructure with over 60 economies across Eurasia, Africa, and beyond. For Islamabad, CPEC brings the hope of not only economic dividends but also potentially a geopolitical reconfiguration. Some Pakistani strategists believe deepening ties to China will offset rising U.S. diplomatic and economic pressure aimed at ending Islamabad’s support to Afghanistan- and India-oriented militant proxies.

CPEC’s prospective economic benefits are forecast to materialize slowly across Pakistan between 2017 and 2030. But policy planning has been opaque, omitting details of how development projects will actually impact local economies, infrastructure and business. An urban planner and expert on Gwadar said the government’s plan lacks even “cosmetic consultation.” As more details slowly emerge, local alarm is growing about what CPEC will bring to Balochistan.

Stirring Local Unrest

In Gwadar, the Arabian Sea town in southern Balochistan that CPEC aims to transform into a bustling commercial port, inner city locals fear displacement over government plans to expropriate land, bulldoze the old city, and resettle residents. The state-led land grab is estimated to claim at least 290,000 acres to make way for development, in large part through ultimatums issued to local residents. Those who refuse to sell land or property could simply have it seized by the federal government and would likely face forced resettlement.

Local livelihoods also appear to be under fire. Fisher folk, whose daily catch provides them just enough to feed their families, have on occasion been denied access to the sea and could face the permanent closure of Gwadar’s jetty. Unskilled workers resent exclusion from the port’s construction, as federal authorities favor importing labor from other provinces. One official in Gwadar said that “the plan seems to be to make life so miserable for the residents that they leave on their own.”

Anti-Chinese sentiment is rising in step with suspicions of Beijing’s intentions.

Nor is it clear that those who stay in Gwadar will reap the fruits of Chinese investment. At the start of the project, Pakistan transferred leasing rights for Gwadar port to the China Overseas Port Holding Company, sealing a deal that grants China 91 percent of the port-generated profits and Islamabad just 9 percent, while denying Balochistan’s provincial government any revenue. With such lopsided terms, China is under minimal pressure to ensure local prosperity.

Anti-Chinese sentiment is rising in step with suspicions of Beijing’s intentions. Some Pakistani security analysts see China’s development plans as a mask for broader geopolitical ambitions. In Gwadar, they perceive Beijing as less interested in developing a transport link to Xinjiang or a commercial waystation to the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf than eventually transforming the port into a military or naval base, another in a string of installations dotted across the Indian Ocean that affords Beijing the strategic initiative vis-à-vis regional rival India.

Regardless of China’s true intentions, the net result for locals is the same. Economic marginalization is stirring local dissent, which could lead to significant security risks. Balochistan’s insurgency has long rested on popular demands for greater political and economic autonomy. The failure to provide Gwadar the benefits of CPEC development is heightening hostility toward Islamabad and Beijing, and affording Baloch insurgents a chance to expand their outreach and recruit disgruntled locals. Since 2017, Baloch militants have already killed scores of Pakistanis employed on CPEC projects and future attacks might target Chinese construction workers or Chinese nationals living in Pakistan.

A Chance to Reverse Course

Instead of addressing the causes of this dissent, Pakistani authorities have opted to respond through crackdowns of anti-CPEC protests, an overbearing security presence, and harassment and intimidation of local residents. The best chances for the country’s stability – not to mention CPEC’s success in Gwadar and elsewhere – lie in giving provinces and communities a voice in shaping development projects.

In particular, the government should make greater efforts to consult communities and experts regarding the impact of development and reconsider the ongoing policy of rampant land expropriation. It should also put in place measures to ensure the employment of local labor on construction projects to ensure that they reap the dividends of outside investment. Chinese and Pakistani companies, too, ought to take similar measures to assess the risks associated with controversial development initiatives.

Whatever the result of Pakistan’s elections, the new parliament should seize the opportunities of a fresh mandate by informing a new government policy. That policy should have the well-being of Pakistani citizens at its heart, rather than treating it as expendable in the pursuit of mega-development.