Understanding Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex

Nitin Pai
Pax Indica
Opinions - IN

Until we are clear what is source of the problems Pakistan poses to the world, we are unlikely to get anywhere near solving it. The source, I would submit, is an multi-faceted entity that I call the military-jihadi complex---a dynamic network of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures that pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance.

It has captured the 'commanding heights' of the Pakistani state and subordinated the Pakistani people to its ends. It exploits Pakistan's geopolitical position to promote its own interests, passing them off---often quite successfully---as Pakistan's national interests, thereby becoming the primary beneficiary of international assistance that ought to have accrued to the peoples of Pakistan. Having total control over a nuclear arsenal has emboldened it to pursue ideological-territorial ambitions in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Nuclear weapons do not secure Pakistan, as much as they shield the military-jihadi complex from paying the true costs of its policies. Indeed, the strategic costs of its many misadventures and failures have been passed on to the Pakistani people, in the form of a failed state, a ruined economy and a deeply radicalised population.

Let's look under the hood. What does the military-jihadi complex comprise of? Obviously, it includes the Pakistani armed forces, their intelligence agencies, their commercial enterprises (that Ayesha Siddiqa refers to as 'MilBus') and cliques of retired military officers and their associated political-economic interests. These might be said to constitute the first node.

The second node consists of radical Islamist organisations and their large networks of militant groups, such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa/Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Given that these groups rely on Islamism to recruit and motivate their cadres, they are also connected with international Islamist causes and networks such as al-Qaeda. Organised crime syndicates are another aspect of this node.

The third node is formed by political and bureaucratic actors who might be members of various political parties and occupy positions in the government, but represent the interests of the military-jihadi complex. The fourth node includes civil society groups, think tanks, NGOs and sections of the media.

The complex is held together by forces of attraction, repulsion, patronage and coercion. Ideological affinities keep the complex together: Islam and Pakistani nationalism (defined in anti-India, anti-American and anti-Israel terms) are the main forces of attraction. Sectarian, institutional and personal rivalries drive the forces of repulsion.

The presence of both attraction and repulsion allows the army's top leadership to keep the military-jihadi complex under its control. This arrangement received shocks after 9/11, after General Musharraf turned against some groups, and again in June 2007, when he ordered the army to storm Islamabad's Lal Masjid. To the extent that the relationship with the United States permits, General Ashfaq Kayani is trying to repair the damage.

Power in the military-jihadi complex derives from the ability to supply or deny money, infrastructure, material, expertise, operational support, intelligence, propaganda and political cover. This again allows the army leadership to exercise control over the other parts of the complex. But because there is no rigid hierarchy across the complex, 'subordinate' units have some amount of autonomous bargaining power, not least through their ability to create political or diplomatic trouble for their superiors.

The David Headley story---more of which will come to light next month when the matter goes to court in the United States---tells you how all this works. He was once involved in drug trafficking, and used the contacts from the narcotics smuggling world to enter into the jihadi circles. He joined one group and toyed with the idea of joining another, more ambitious group. He observed Pakistani military officers training terrorists. At all times, he had an ISI handler who he was expected to report to.

So long as the military-jihadi complex exists, it is impossible for Pakistan to live in peace with itself and with other countries. A radical Islamist agenda with an increasingly global scope, enmity with India over Kashmir and the use of terrorism as the principal instrument of policy form the complex's core agenda. From Rajiv Gandhi's overtures to Benazir Bhutto, to Atal Bihari Vajpayee's bus ride to Lahore, to Manmohan Singh's dogmatic pursuit of dialogue, India's attempts to engage have substantively failed. The military-jihadi complex has not stopped cross-border terrorism, merely changed its form. Over the last decade, the United States put enormous diplomatic, military and financial resources to bear on the Pakistani army to dismantle militant groups, only to meet with astoundingly little success.

The fact is that the military-jihadi complex is an implacable strategic adversary that is resolved to destroy India. In the short term, it must be contained. In the medium-term it must be dismantled. Ultimately, it must eliminated.

Nitin Pai is founder & fellow for geopolitics at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati - The Indian National Interest Review, a publication on strategic affairs, public policy and governance. He blogs at The Acorn and is active on Twitter too.