Yes, the ISI has gained strategic depth

In early March, Sri Lankan cricketers were shot at, and injured, by a group of young men in Lahore. Meanwhile, the Pakistani state signed a treaty with a fundamentalist group in the Swat region to impose sharia in the area. The real ruling power in Pakistan, the spy agency ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), is putting on a bit of a show in the first instance, and erasing the Durand Line (which anyway expired in 1993 according to the 100-year-old Afghan-British treaty) in the second instance.

The attackers were not terrorists or militants: circumstantial evidence suggests a well-planned operation with limited aims. If they had really wanted to kill the Sri Lankans, they could have used the rocket-propelled grenades they apparently had, or used suicide bombing tactics. Instead, they sauntered up from a grassy knoll (grassy knoll? J.F. Kennedy assassination redux?), shot off a few desultory rounds from AK-47s, and trotted off to waiting vehicles that whisked them away.

This was in the middle of Lahore, at a major traffic intersection, with large numbers of policemen providing security to the VIP Sri Lankan cricketers. Police snipers were positioned on nearby rooftops as well. Yet, they got away. Besides, it is rumored that the Pakistani team bus had altered its usual itinerary, traveling separately from the Lankans.

The casual observer might conclude that the operation was stage-managed (“see, we too are afflicted by terrorism”). The ISI previously staged several dramatic “assassination attempts” on General Musharraf. Mysteriously, and miraculously, the roadside bombs always went off minutes after the general’s convoy had passed by. The ISI’s special effects team has clearly improved (a 2010 Oscar award?).

The ISI, like their mentors, the Chinese, are very good at “diplomatic theater,” which is greeted by the U.S. State Department with a willing suspension of disbelief, for reasons best known to them. The same was seen in 2001, when the United States allowed Pakistan to airlift several hundred Taliban who were besieged and trapped by the Northern Alliance in Kunduz, Afghanistan. It is rumored that those so-called Taliban were senior Pakistan Army officers under ISI direction.

The ISI’s fondest wish has been to gain “strategic depth” to support their declared goal of dismembering India and creating a “Mughalistan” there; before crushing the Americans, that is. The imposition of sharia in Swat just shows that the ISI and their protégés, the Taliban, are of one mind. The ISI in uniform rule Pakistani Punjab; ISI in baggy pants rule most of the rest of Afghanistan-Pakistan. The ISI has achieved their desired strategic depth by creating a Pushtunistan across the land that they control. The U.S. and India can now look forward to more 9/11s and 11/26s.

Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Vienna, Austria.

No, the Pakistani state has ceased to exist

A prime ministerial candidate is assassinated. Religious extremists govern one out of four provinces in the country and are close to taking over another. Schools admitting female students are closed—all in one year.

Sound like an anarchist’s dream? Welcome to Pakistan: a country where religious anarchy has made lawlessness the official law. Governmental authority is as much of a farce here as in Afghanistan; the difference is that everybody knows the warlords run Afghanistan, whereas Pakistan is managed by people who are as shady as they are shadowy. The only institution with the ability and authority to run Pakistan seems to be the army, unceremoniously shown the door last year. Turning over power to political parties whose rhetoric is matched by their impotence has created conditions for anarchy. Might is right, and intimidation is might. One shoots and kills just to prove that these things can be gotten away with.

Of course, the current chaos has hoary roots going back two decades. In the 1980s, Muhammad Zia ul-Haq came up with a policy of marrying two religious groups (the American Christian conservatives and assorted Islamic right-wingers) to kick the Russians out of Afghanistan. This demonstrates how defeat starts with victory. The Americans moved out, declaring victory, and mullahs, filling the power void, began to train their guns on their former benefactors. Thanks to Zia, the mullahs, notable primarily for their ability to raise hell in the name of heaven, graduated from being the farce of the 1970s to a major force by the 1990s. The major Pakistani political parties’ strategy of a “more Islamic than thou” attitude to win elections co-opted the religious right into the electoral system. It became possible to use democratic processes to defeat democracy.

The post-9/11 “war on terror” saw the first genuine effort in decades to rein in the religious extremists. However, the Bush-Mush duo’s inability to distinguish between cause and cure alienated many from democracy and drove them into the arms of fundamentalism. It was then that the double whammy for democracy became evident: The reaction of people to the siege of Islamabad’s Red Mosque demonstrated how diseased the roots of democracy were. Musharraf’s foolish fights with the Supreme Court demonstrated how the mightiest of the land spared no effort to saw away democracy’s very trunk.

When elections were held in 2008 to re-usher in democracy, they merely replaced Musharraf’s autocracy with Zardari’s kleptocracy—the latter process is truly the vulture looking to feast on the remains of the former. The state of Pakistan exists in body but no longer in spirit. Decades of dismantling, destruction, and dismemberment have created a democratic desert.

S. Gopikrishna wrote this opinion from Toronto, Canada.