Date: 11 July 2012
Actors: Pakistani State, United States, India, Pakistani Opposition Political Parties
Pakistan is experiencing a crisis concerning the stability of its civilian government, counter to the United State’s efforts to ensure a stable and functioning civilian government in Islamabad. The Defense of Pakistan council is a coalition of 36 Pakistani political parties. Many of the groups are conservative and religiously oriented, some known to be fronts for the banned extremist groups. The council was formed in December 2011, after an errant US airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. In its charter, the DPC calls upon all Pakistani citizens to defend against “aggression“ from the US and India. Pakistan’s parliamentary elections are scheduled for early 2013; the DPC has an opportunity to take advantage of negative public perception of both the United States and the governing Pakistan People’s Party. If Pakistani voters elect candidates from the DPC, the internal and external politics of Pakistan will be further complicated. Pakistan’s relationships with the United States and India, as well as the civil-military balance inside the country, will be negatively affected. Counterterrorism efforts with the United States will be hampered. Positive gains from confidence-building measures with India, undertaken by the current Pakistani government, will be mitigated. Finally, the Pakistani military may be allowed to reclaim power in with the support of anti-American, Islamist political groups. Fortunately, the United States has policy options available to manage the situation.Many groups that make up the DPC are adamantly anti-US and India. Jamaat ud-Dawa is a front for Lashkar e-Taiba, and is led by the latter’s founder Hafez Mohammed Saeed. Lashkar e-Taiba attempts to expel India from Kashmir and is alleged to have carried out the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai with the help of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency. Hafez Saeed has $10 million bounty for help with his arrest, offered by the United States, yet still operates freely within Pakistan. LeT is linked to former ISI chief Lt. General Hamid Gul, who is referred to as LeT’s“godfather”. Furthermore, leaked American intelligence documents claim that Gul helped plan attacks against US forces in Afghanistan. Gul is now the chief of a political party, Tehrik e-Ittehad, also part of the DPC. As a former general, Gul likely still has connections within the Pakistani military. If elected to power, these actors will roll back every effort the US has made to ensure a stable, democratic government in Pakistan.
A union between the DPC and the Pakistani military represents a worst- case scenario for the United States. Pakistan’s military has acted in concert with religious parties in the past. The DPC’s staunch opposition to American interference in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Pakistani military’s wariness of American intentions to physically intervene in Pakistan make for natural allies in opposition of US presence in the region. The confluence of anti-American sentiment amongst the Pakistani populace, the rise of the DPC, and its potential alliance with the Pakistani military could have severe negative consequences for the US efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Specifically, incursions by militants from the Pakistani side of the AfPak border would take place more often; logistical and financial support for the militants would also likely increase. Additionally, members of the Pakistani Taliban could divert their attention from overthrowing the Pakistani state and focus on installing an Islamist government in Afghanistan in tandem with the Afghan Taliban. Finally, an Islamist government at the head of the National Command Authority, which controls Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, exacerbates an already major concern within policy-making circles regarding the threat of extremism within the army.
The United States does have options to affect politics in Pakistan, though their effectiveness is debatable. The US provides Pakistan with $1.5 billion in nonmilitary aid; these funds need to be effectively used to build democratic institutions and promote the rule of law. In the past, Pakistan’s military has intervened when it deemed civilian governments unable to govern. Therefore, ensuring the stability of the current civilian government is important. There is also a military-to-military relationship between the two countries, which the United States could use to discourage any Pakistani military involvement in politics and relax anxiety over the idea of US intervention in Pakistan.