The Ignatius Opinion – A Virtual Blueprint of Convenient, Myopic & Wrong Analysis about Af-Pak

David Ignatius, an Op-Ed Columnist for the Washington Post, recently wrote an article titled A new thaw between India and Pakistan. Mr. Ignatius is a respected columnist with deep contacts. He is an intelligent man and he tries to be analytical as well as dispassionate, in our opinion. Unfortunately, intelligence goes astray without adequate knowledge and analysis often goes awry when it is not based on the correct framework.

To put it simply, when you begin with wrong axioms, your conclusions go wrong. His recent article is a good example of this simple fact. Like most European-American journalists, Mr. Ignatius begins with the axiomatic framework laid out by the British in 1947 when they engineered the partition of India. He makes the ridiculous statement that “India & Pakistan were separated at birth in 1947.”
He may not realize that India was born a few thousand years earlier than England and Pakistan was not born. It was amputated from India in 1947. This is a big deal and not a small point as Ignatius should know.  

The Sins Of England – America’s Inheritance

England broke off a strategic part of India in 1947 and allowed it to be called Pakistan or the land-of-the-Pure. The stated reason was to allow Muslims in India their own state. The real reason was to ensure that India did not become as regionally dominant as British India had been. The only man of consequence in India who did not accept the partition was the only true Indian, Mohandas Gandhi. But he gave way to the wishes of his English-oriented colleagues and the land-of-the-Pure was created.

The simple stated reason for the existence of this new state proved false. India today has more Muslims than the land-of-the-Pure. The Bangladeshi people found themselves regarded as not pure enough by the pure-Panjabi race of western Pakistan. So Bangladesh broke away in 1971.  Today, the Pashtun people, forced to be a part of the artificial land-of-the-Pure than their native Afghanistan or land-of-the-Afghans, are in virtual revolt against the domination of the pure-Panjabi race.

When he discusses a thaw, Ignatius reverts back to the old English patronizing framework, that India is a strong democracy and if only India could comfort the land-of-the-Pure by easing its pressure, then that little brother pure-regime would get the confidence to talk peace.

To be fair, Ignatius is only one of many people who put forth this sort of thinking. Recently Paul Beckett of the Indian edition of the Wall Street Journal asked Prime Minister to “make the call” to Pakistan. David Ignatius is a serious columnist and a respected one. We believe that Mr. Ignatius is trying to think seriously about a solution. So we take his views seriously and work diligently to show where he is wrong. 

But, for the sake of hypothesis, let us enter the Ignatius framework and assume that a thaw between Pakistan & India is necessary for the American objective of stabilizing Afghanistan. 

Remember that in every deal, there is a Most Important Player (“MIP“) and the success of the deal depends on whether this MIP wins with the deal or loses.

The Most-Important Player (“MIP”) in this Deal

Who is the MIP in the USA-Pakistan-India deal? The simple answer to this question reveals why the Pakistan-India problem has been unsolvable for 60 years and why the Afghanistan problem might prove to be just as unsolvable.

The creation of the land-of-the-Pure in 1947 created the MIP of the region. That MIP is the so-called Pakistani Army. This is a non-religious organization, at least at the senior levels. But it has used the banner of Islam to build a broad and deep infrastructure in all aspects of Pakistani society. The popular saying in Pakistan is that “other countries have their own armies, but here, the Pakistani Army has its own country.”  

This MIP is smart. When needed, it has sacrificed its leader, its face rather than give up its power. A few years ago, the Pakistani Army sacrificed Pervez Musharaaf but retained its power & control through Musharaaf’s successor, Kiyani. In 1971, the Pakistani Army sacrificed Yahya Khan and in 1965, the Pakistani Army sacrificed Ayub Khan. But it retained its MIP status. The MIP worked under the covers to undermine the civilian government and then again this MIP took over the state with a new face.

This MIP controls virtually every thing of consequence in Pakistan. They control all the revenues that come into Pakistan including billions of American aid. The senior people at this MIP have a gravy train and they share it with the lower levels and their minions, including the militants on their payroll. Through the years, this MIP has built a system of patronage through which they control the administration, the media and the religious school system. Just look at the way they unleashed this network on President Zardari when he tried to work with the Obama Administration to reduce the power of the Army. The MIP showed Mr. Zardari and President Obama who is the Boss. Now, both Zardari and the Obama Administration work with the MIP and not against it.

What would happen to this MIP if there is a real thaw between India & Pakistan? A real thaw would enable the populations of India & Pakistan. literally blood brothers, to come together in pursuit of economic progress and a better future for its people. A thaw with India would enable the rise of a Pakistani Civilian Government with teeth. American aid and the government’s revenue would first be used for economic purposes and not for the military. A thaw with India would reduce the rationale for such a massive Pakistani army. Finally, a thaw with India would embolden the other provinces of Sindh, Pashtunistan and Baluchistan to demand equal rights without fear of Army repression.

A real thaw or  peace with India will be a crippling blow to the power of the Pakistani Army within Pakistan. Therefore, as long as the Pakistani Army remains the MIP of the game, a real thaw between India & Pakistan will remain a mirage.

History of Prior Indo-Pak Thaws or Thaw Attempts

In his article, David Ignatius describes secret talks between Pakistan & India in 2007, talks that appeared to have made significant progress. Then he writes “the momentum was shattered by the Mumbai attacks and there appears to have been little movement since”. Mr. Ignatius cannot be that gullible. 

He should remember the 1999 thaw. Prime Minister Vajpayee of India had a dream of achieving peace between India & Pakistan. For once, Prime Minister Nawab Sharif of Pakistan shared this vision. They opened a bus link between the border cities of Amritsar and Lahore. The average Pakistani trusted Mr. Vajpayee. We were regularly told by Pakistani cab drivers in New York City that they trusted Mr. Vajpayee and hoped for peace between Pakistan & India.

But the MIP did not approve. General Musharaaf, the Pakistani Chief-of-Staff, planned and executed an invasion across the Kashmir border to seize the mountain peaks on the Indian side. Thus began the Kargil war. It is now confirmed that Musharaaf did this without the knowledge of his Prime Minister Sharif. When the Pakistani Army lost the Kargil war, Musharaaf turned on Sharif, arrested him and seized power as the Army dictator of Pakistan.

We believe that the 2008 Mumbai attacks
were convenient in destroying the talks that began in 2007. They succeeded. The MIP won. This is why the Pakistani Army has done absolutely nothing to arrest or punish the terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks. In fact, the deadly Lashkar-e-Toiba (“LeT”) organization has become stronger since the Mumbai attack and enjoys virtual freedom inside Pakistan.

There are signs that the MIP has mutated into a more deadly organization than before. Ten years ago, analysts could take comfort from the fact that the secular Generals controlled the MIP. Today, it is not so clear. After 20 years of religious indoctrination, the lower officer ranks of the MIP have become much more radical than the Generals who head it. These lower ranks enjoy considerable freedom of operation and they might be able to mount small scale operations like the Mumbai attacks on their own.

David Ignatius suggests that India reduce the pressure on Pakistan, presumably by removing more troops from the border with Pakistan.

  • Does he not realize that removal of Indian troops from the border would give the LeT and other terrorist groups greater opportunity to infiltrate India to mount terrorist attacks?
  • Does he also not realize that such a terrorist attack would once again destroy any potential thaw between Pakistan & India?
  • Does he not understand that a conflict between Pakistan & India is exactly what the Terrorists want because that would eliminate even the token pressure on them from the Pakistani army?
It is likely that David Ignatius does not understand these points. Or if he does, he may simply think that they are irrelevant. That might be his biggest illusion.

The Ignatius Illusion or Is It the Obama Administration Illusion?

Like the Obama Administration, David Ignatius begins with the wrong axiom. He thinks it is important for Pakistan & India to help “the United States to stabilize the tinderbox of Afghanistan”, as he puts it. He is naive and wrong. So is the Obama Administration. By his promised deadline of 2011, President Obama has unfortunately begun the end game in Afghanistan, the struggle for the spoils after America leaves.

The victory of Scott Brown in Massachusetts and the transformed political calculus in America have put extraordinary pressure on the Obama Administration to deliver at least a semblance of success in Afghanistan. This is why the Obama Administration is pursuing diplomacy in a hurry and trying to pressure both Pakistan & India into a face-saving deal.

Fortunately, America has a strong, tenacious and cunning player in Secretary Gates. While in India, he said it would be appropriate for India to respond militarily against Pakistan if there is another terrorist attack on India from Pakistani soil. Then in Pakistan he told the MIP that the USA would consider inviting the Indian Army into Afghanistan to train the Afghan police. The presence of Indian troops in Afghanistan is a red line for Pakistan. So the MIP agreed to go along with the American plan.

To India, Secretary Gates laid out the possibility that India could lose all leverage in Afghanistan if the wrong Taleban forces took control. He argued that India needs to enter the diplomatic game if it wants to preserve a role in post-American Afghanistan. As a further stick, Secretary Gates discussed the possibility of inviting Turkish troops into Afghanistan. Turkey has emerged as the new favorite country of the Obama Administration. As a Muslim country and the successor to the Ottoman Empire, Turkey does have impeccable Muslim credentials, credentials that could neutralize Iranian cards in western Afghanistan. India cannot afford to stay away with external players like Turkey entering Afghanistan.

This is how the current tango between India & Pakistan began. Will it work? We are not optimistic because the Obama Administration is making the mistake of looking at the situation from its own perspective rather than from the perspective of the MIP.

An Existential Danger for the Pakistani Army

We have argued for some time that the real struggle in Af-Pak is the 1,200 year old battle between the Pashtuns and the Panjabis. Today, the Pashtun race is divided by the Durand line, the so called border between today’s Pakistan and today’s truncated Afghanistan. Even after this division, the Pashtuns remain the majority in Afghanistan and will dominate any post-US Afghan government. This government will contain a sizable portion of the Afghan Taleban, the same formidable warriors that are fighting the might of the American army today. 

These Taleban do not respect the so called border today and they do not respect the Pakistani Army, which by its own admission does not control the border. Does any one imagine that tomorrow these Taleban will respect the border, a stronger Taleban in power in Kabul?

Look at Stratfor map below, the best map we have seen of the Pashtun populated area.

We think that any post-American Afghan government that contains the Afghani Taleban will end up exercising control in all areas of Pashtun residence. In other words, the new Afghan-Talebani government will end up in control of Pashtunistan or South Afghanistan, area that Pakistan considers its sovereign territory. 

This map is republished with the permission of STRATFOR

                    Pashtun Populated Areas in Orange

What will Pakistan do then? Launch its army against the new Talebani Afghan Government? The same Pakistani Army that refuses to battle the weaker Taleban today because it cannot win in the Pashtun terrain. So does any one seriously believe that the Pakistani Army will attack the stronger Taleban tomorrow, a part of the new Afghan government?

And which Pakistani Army? The predominantly Panjabi regular Army or the predominantly Pashtun Frontier Corps? It is likely that a stable Pashtun dominated Afghan-Taleban government in Kabul will end up winning over the loyalties of the Pashtun Frontier Corps. After all, a brother joins the brother against a cousin.

A de facto control of all Pashtun regions by and a silent switch of loyalty of the Frontier Corps to the new Pashtun Afghan-Talebani government will end up breaking up today’s Pakistan into north-western Pashtunistan and south-eastern Panjab-Sindh provinces that border India. 

  • If they choose to fight this reality, the Panjabi regular army of Pakistan will have to confront the Afghan-Talebani irregular or regular forces. Either this will be a real, open and brutal war Or more likely it will become a vicious war of attrition resulting in covert, terrorist type attacks through out Pakistan & Pashtunistan. The second alternative will transform Pakistan as the new quagmire for America and the region.
  • If they choose to accept this reality and accept the de facto partition of the land-of-the-pure, the Panjabi Pakistani Army will again face its traditional northern enemy in Pashtuns of Afghanistan, the same people who conquered Pakistani Panjabis for the past 1, 200 years. On the east, they will have India, a stronger. richer and internationally important regional power. On the west, it will have Shiite Iran that has also dominated the Pakistani Panjabis for the past 1,400 years.
Regardless of what choice they make, the formation of a stable Afghan regime will create deep fissures within the remaining land-of-the-Pure. If Afghans can have their stable regime, why not the Baluch in Baluch-i-stan. If the Bengalis and the Pashtuns can get self-governance, why can’t the Sindhis of Sindh? After all, Sindh is the most sensible and least extremist of all provinces inside Pakistan. 

This is why we think that formation of a stable Afghan-Talebani regime will end up as a crippling blow to the MIP of the region, its power, its privilege and its gravy train.  

This is why we believe that the Pakistani Army will do everything it can to destroy the chances of a stable Afghanistan. And the easiest way to do that is still the same:

  • Create a military conflict with India, either through another deadly terrorist attack on India or through another incursion. Such a conflict will end the current diplomatic plans of the Obama Administration, keep the Afghan conflict on the boil and maintain Pakistan’s status as the critical front-line state for America’s war on terror. This has always been the MIP’s tactic for winning. 
This is why we have maintained that the real battle in Af-Pak is between America and the Pakistani Army, the MIP of the Af-Pak game. This is why we think David Ignatius is dreadfully wrong and so are his sources. 

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