The Pakistan Army has profound links to the British Empire and has Western antecedents. Yet its engagement on its own soil with the Taliban, the antithesis of those values, has been sporadic at best. Thus far, the Pakistan Army has fought just enough to keep America at bay, but not enough to engage forcefully and dismember the Taliban.
This reluctance of the Pakistan Army was well set forth and explained in the essay of George H. Wittman posted May 6, 2009, “Pakistan’s Time of Troubles,” and perhaps this writing will add insights
The Pakistan Military Academy was set up after the partition of India in 1947 to be like the British model, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst — to train young sahibs to be gentlemen soldiers and to pass muster. In Pakistan, the officer corps has been traditionally an aristocratic profession. In terms of size, the Pakistan Army ranks as the seventh largest in the world. It is supported by the vested interests in Pakistan, particularly those families that control the means of production and distribution in the industrial and commercial provinces of Punjab and Sindh.
The Pakistan Army has been an elitist institution, its cadre of senior ranks directly ruling the country for much of the time since 1947. Some officers have cultivated the bearing and mannerisms of the pukka sahibs who begat them. Why then, with their fundamentally and initially Western training and outlook, do they seem to be mostly supine in the face of the advancing Taliban?
The answer in part is the grand obsession with India. For over sixty years, Pakistan has been an extension of its army, whose purpose is to take on the Republic of India. Three major wars have been fought since 1947 — two over the Kashmir dispute and one over the secession of East Pakistan and emergence of Bangladesh — plus there was an undeclared conflict in Kargil, high in the Himalayas in 1999. This perspective may have prevented Pakistan from seeing the greater enemy crossing and now within its borders, or developing a major counterinsurgency capability of its own. Moreover, the mujahideen have been useful to the Pakistani military through their infiltration across the Line of Control in Kashmir, causing the Indian Army to deploy substantial resources against an asymmetric intrusion.
Not only that, the U.S. has had a foreign policy of convenience in that part of the world — like a 7-Eleven store high in the Khyber Pass of Afghanistan. Once the mujahideen were no longer useful against the Soviets, they were abandoned to then morph into the Taliban, with al Qaeda in their midst. The Pakistan Army leadership may well think that the American commitment to Pakistan is a tenuous one, and it would therefore be unwise to combat the emerging Islamist ideology.
Finally, the Pakistan Army, starting with General Zia-ul-Haq, became Islamicized in the 1970s, along with the ISI, the intelligence service. The bamboo, silver-tipped swagger sticks with regimental insignia, foppish hair styles, clipped moustaches and small pegs of whiskey have symbolically been replaced in some part by Islamic austerity and a partial rejection of those Western accoutrements. So in certain ranks there may now be some emotional affinity for the bearded men in dusty pantaloons toting AK-47s and RPGs in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
A lesson of modern history is that even the formidable and U.S. trained army of the Shahanshah Aryamehr of Iran would not, at the ultimate hour, stand and fight — nor would it shoot at its own people when the revolution came in the late 1970s. The Iranian establishment and the foreign business and diplomatic community were in denial, thinking all along that their Shah would be strong. No matter what sophisticated armaments the Shah acquired to be America’s gendarme in the Persian Gulf, they were useless against a new ideology.
This is not just America’s fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda — who are seeking WMD and threatening Pakistan’s existence as we know it. The world is depending on General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the highly credentialed Pakistani Chief of Army Staff who was previously head of the ISI. From a working class family near Rawalpindi, General Kayani holds a masters degree from the National Defence College in Islamabad. His bio also indicates that he is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning and the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth. In the absence of badly needed credible civilian leadership, it would then be up to the General and his commanders to set the tone for what they believe is good for Pakistan.
The Taliban presence about 60 miles from Islamabad does not bode well, and the Department of Defense should be reviewing and updating contingency plans for possible intervention and seizure of nuclear facilities in Pakistan, in the event that the Taliban directly threatens the capital or that the control of nuclear infrastructure appears endangered. But the most disturbing question is this: if the mayhem comes, on what side would be the critical mass of the Pakistan Army?