Pakistan's Descent into Chaos

By Gurmeet Kanwal

Embroiled in continuing political turbulence, judicial activism, internal instability and a stagnating economy, Pakistan appears to be hurtling inexorably downhill. The terrorist strike on Minhas airbase in Kamra on August 16, in which one Pakistani soldier and nine terrorists were killed, is but the latest manifestation of the state's inability to protect even its vital military installations. The fact that nuclear warheads are stored at the airbase makes the attack even more ominous. The strike was launched by fighters of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a terrorist organisation that is committed to the establishment of a "true Islamic state" in Pakistan.

Incidentally, this was the fourth such attack on Minhas airbase. Earlier attacks on the base had been launched by suicide bombers in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The attack was similar to the one launched by well-trained terrorists at the Mehran naval aviation base near Karachi soon after the US Special Forces had killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011. In both cases insider help is suspected. The material damage caused has been extensive - one airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft was damaged at Minhas and two P3C Orion AEW aircraft were destroyed at Mehran and 18 military personnel were killed.

Terrorist organisations inimical to the Pakistani state have repeatedly proved their ability to launch strikes against well guarded military targets at will. They have also demonstrated their ability to infiltrate the rank and file of the armed forces and are getting close to their real objective of seizing a few nuclear warheads.

The Pakistan Army is facing perhaps its deepest crisis since its strategic blunder in Kargil. General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of Army Staff, appears to lack both initiative and ideas to deal with the deteriorating internal security situation. Insurgency in the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (NWFP) and FATA is proving difficult for the Army to handle. Its counter-insurgency policy has been unsuccessful and casualties have been mounting. The use of air strikes and helicopter gunships to attack terrorist hideouts has proved to be counter-productive. The Army has been forced by the 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 the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), headed by Maulana Fazlullah, and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) sheltering across the Durand Line in Afghanistan.

Although it has flirted with peace deals with the militants, the Army finds it impossible to meet the demands of the TTP and TNSM. According to B. Raman, a noted counter-terrorism expert, these 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.

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Originally published by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses ( at

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