Pakistan is not a Failed State but one with a Failing Leadership

Pakistan is deeply embroiled in urban terrorism, instability on the Afghan border, political turbulence and an unending financial crisis. It has become a rentier state that is heavily dependent on US doles to keep economically afloat. The Pakistan army is finding it difficult to subdue the Taliban, nor does it appear to be seriously inclined to do so as it created the Taliban and considers it a strategic asset. The plausible prospect of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into Jihadi hands makes the situation even more alarming. 

More than anything else, it is internal instability that is threatening to break Pakistan apart. While the Pakistan army has been at war with the Baloch National Army for some time now, the situation in both the settled and the tribal areas of the north-west is perceptibly spinning out of control. Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) of South Waziristan and Maulana Fazlullah’s Tehrik-e-Nifaz-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) in Swat Valley are continuing to gain ground in Pakistan’s troubled north-western frontier despite the army’s heavy-handed fight back. Radical extremists are able to launch hit-and-run attacks at a point and time of their choosing. Suicide attacks are now daily occurrences and even the faithful praying in mosques have not been spared.


The mass exodus of people from Dir, Swat, Malakand and Buner constitutes the largest internal displacement of population since the great exodus of 1947. Over two million refugees streaming into Peshawar and other towns in the NWFP present a complex humanitarian challenge for a weak and financially insecure government and for international relief agencies. The only encouraging sign is that the local tribes have begun to form lashkars to resist the Taliban. However, they are ill-equipped, lack basic training and are no match for the well-armed and motivated Taliban cadres.
The Pakistan army has been forced by Baitullah Mehsud’s TTP, to wage a three-front war: against the TTP and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in South Waziristan; against the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in the sensitive Darra Adam Khel-Kohat area of NWFP and the Shia-dominated Kurram Agency of FATA; and, against Maulana Fazlullah’s TNSM and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in the Swat Valley of the NWFP. North and South Waziristan, the most troublesome areas in the NWFP, have not been fully addressed by the army yet by way of active counter-insurgency operations.
Led by General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, a COAS who appears to lack both initiative and ideas to deal with the deteriorating internal security situation, the Pakistan army is facing perhaps its deepest crisis since its strategic blunder in Kargil in 1999. Approximately 1,00,000 army troops are now deployed for counter-insurgency operations. Besides 7 and 9 Infantry Divisions of the Peshawar-based 10 Corps, a large number of troops from the corps and divisions earmarked for operations on the eastern front with India have been inducted into the area of Swat Valley. These include 37 Infantry Division at Buner and HQ 23 Infantry Division at Mingora with 30, 54, 212 and 333 Infantry Brigades. 14 Infantry Division is deployed in the area Bannu-Mir Ali-Dera Ismail Khan. 
Insurgency in the NWFP and FATA is proving difficult for the Pakistan army to handle. Its policy of placing the Frontier Corps in the vanguard while the regular army trains and equips itself for surgical counter-insurgency interventions has been unsuccessful and casualties have been mounting. The use of air strikes, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery to attack terrorist hideouts is proving to be completely counter-productive and is rapidly alienating the people and compelling them to leave their homes. Unless it engages in close combat with the Taliban, the Pakistan army will be unable to gain control over the areas that it has lost to them.

The army also lacks counter-insurgency weaponry and equipment as it has been investing in upgrading its war fighting capability for conventional war with India, which is at worst a distant threat. The army has also not yet succeeded in fine tuning its tactics, techniques and procedures for dealing with internal security challenges, which require uniquely different preparation. The army will take at least another two to three years to upgrade its capabilities to the level necessary to face the new challenges provided it begins now in earnest and makes a determined effort to succeed. 

Though it has flirted with peace deals with the Taliban militants several times in the past and might do so again, the Pakistan army finds it practically impossible to meet the demands of the TTP and the TNSM and the peace deals soon collapse. According to B. Raman, a noted counter-terrorism expert, their demands include the suspension of all military operations in the tribal areas; the withdrawal of army posts from the FATA; the release of all tribals arrested under the Anti-Terrorism Act; the release of Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi and tribal students arrested during the commando action in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July 2007; and, enforcement of the Sharia in the tribal areas.

The US and its allies have become increasingly more frustrated by Pakistan’s failure to deal with al Qaeda and Taliban militants launching raids on US and NATO troops across the Durand Line. Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US has been making frequent trips to meet General Kayani to impress on him the need to be pro-active in counter-insurgency operations. Pakistan’s grouse is that the US has been violating its sovereignty by launching unilateral trans-border helicopter and UAV raids against militants inside Pakistani territory and many innocent civilians have died. Such raids also serve to reinforce the perception among the Pakistan army’s rank and file that the real enemy is the US and that the Taliban, who are fighting the US forces, are a strategic asset. 


Relations with India have plummeted to the nadir and the rapprochement process has been stagnating since early-2008. Pakistan has been unable to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008 and to address India’s concerns that terrorist organisations based on its soil are still continuing to launch terror attacks in India. Large-scale cease-fire violations are now being regularly reported along the LoC. Earlier, India had accused the ISI of having masterminded the attack on the Indian embassy at Kabul – an accusation that was corroborated by President Karzai’s government in Afghanistan and by US intelligence agencies. In keeping with public opinion in India, the new Indian government is unlikely to be in a hurry to resume peace talks with Pakistan – except to discuss measures to put an end to terror attacks in India by Pakistan-based terrorist outfits.

Pakistan is not yet a failed state, but it is a state with a failed leadership. All the political parties must come together to meet the growing challenges. The ruling party in particular must make determined efforts to rein in the army and the ISI from continuing to appease the resurgent Taliban. The government needs to initiate a consultative process with all the stakeholders for the formulation of a holistic and comprehensive national-level counter-insurgency strategy. 

Political turmoil, internal instability, a floundering economy and weak institutions make for an explosive mix. The only deduction that can conceivably be drawn is that Pakistan is hurtling inexorably downhill and may eventually implode. The emerging situation does not augur well for strategic stability in Southern Asia and for India’s national security as India will inevitably face the horrific fallout of Pakistan’s disintegration as a nation state. 
The writer is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.