Tag Archives: Pakistan

Political Autopsies on Mullah Omar and Murree

Another round-up of interesting analysis on the aftermath of Mullah Omar’s death, the politics of the Taliban, and the relationship with Afghanistan-Pakistan-Taliban talks.

Borhan Osman for the Afghan Analysts Network:

Why Akhtar Mansur agreed to this meeting in the first place, despite opposition from the Qatar office, was explained by the sources as follows: primarily, he intended to relieve the Taleban of the increasing pressure by Pakistan. But rather than agreeing to serious, formal and public talks with the Afghan government, he wanted the Murree event to remain private. He had tried not to damage the Taleban’s narrative of distance to Pakistan. He also did not want to look to be bypassing the movement’s formal channel for talks, ie the Qatar office. At the same time, he was convinced he could use the meeting, which he thought was inevitable, for something: to signal that the Taleban were willing to hold formal talks, which would come soon … endorsing the Qatar office as an autonomous entity in the wake of the Murree meeting could imply two possible aims. It would be a clear attempt to deny Pakistan leverage over Taleban leaders who, before, had lived on its soil, so it cannot drag them into further peace talks as the ‘official representatives’ of the movement. It would also allow the Qatar office to accelerate peace efforts, removing the need for the Leadership Council to supervise its activities … An external force intimidating one party into coming to the table can be no substitute for genuine interest in seeking a negotiated end to the conflict. Proceeding from a view that the Taleban insurgency is wholly a Pakistan-created phenomenon and therefore Islamabad can just deliver the Taleban to Kabul may not be very helpful. Pursuing such an approach always risked the trust-building needed for launching a more independent channel of talks with the Taleban.

Antonio Giustozzi in Foreign Affairs:

From the beginning, though, Yakub also entertained close relations with Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is leader of the Miran Shah Shura and is hostile to political reconciliation. Perhaps the many years of education Yakub spent in a Pakistani madrasah predisposed him to object to Mansour’s seemingly “unprincipled” approach to the peace process, which is increasingly focused more on power sharing and the distribution of the spoils than on principles (establishing a “more Islamic” system of government, whatever that might mean) … According to sources within the Quetta Shura, friction first arose between Yakub and Mansour in April, when Mansour initially raised the possibility of announcing to the world that Omar was dead. Mansour claimed that Kabul’s demand to meet Omar in order to obtain a clear endorsement of the peace process left the group with no other choice. Yakub, however, also understood that Mansour was laying the groundwork for his own succession to Omar. Yakub is also likely not to have appreciated Mansour’s decision to issue an Eid al-Fitr message at the end of Ramadan that was signed “Mullah Omar” and that endorsed the peace process. His [Mansour’s] message broke the unwritten agreement that the Quetta Shura would not use Omar’s name to promote policies that were still controversial among the Taliban … For now, an open split does not appear imminent. Yakub seems intent on organizing a campaign against Mansour within the Taliban, a brand name that has significant value. But if Mansour keeps breaking old rules and, most important, if he resumes the reconciliation process before gathering widespread support within the top layers of the Taliban, anything could happen. The Taliban also risks that major donors to the movement might end up so dismayed by ever worsening internal struggles that they could dump the Taliban altogether. Funding to the Taliban is already in decline this year, and a further acceleration of the cuts could have devastating effects

Barnett Rubin in the New Yorker:

It may be tempting to portray Mansur as in favor of talks, and Zakir and Mullah Omar’s family as “hard-liners” opposed to talks, but the lines are not so clear. Especially with the appointment of Mawlawi Haibatullah, Mansur seems to be strengthening his Ishaqzai tribe’s hold over the leadership rather than maintaining a careful tribal balance. Afghanistan’s history with the I.S.I. inevitably leads some to attribute differences between Zakir and Mansur to an effort by Pakistan to pressure Mansur, but a senior Pakistani official e-mailed to say, “Our main effort now is to prevent fragmentation That is lose-lose for everyone.” The Taliban Web site claimed that Mansur received visiting delegations, whose members pledged bay’at (religiously mandated allegiance) to him … The Pakistani pressure on the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government through a process in which Pakistan has a say will continue, as will differences among the Taliban on how to respond. Mansur authorized Taliban leaders with strong ties to the I.S.I. to participate in the July 7th meeting, while simultaneously permitting his official spokesman and Web site to issue statements undermining the meeting’s legitimacy. Now Mansur’s decisions, unlike those in Omar’s name, are unlikely to be met with unanimous consent, especially if they are seen as being made under pressure from Pakistan. The political office, which derived much of its authority from its close ties to Mullah Omar (its head, Tayyib Agha, is rumored to be the late leader’s son-in-law) might be orphaned. It has been under Mansur’s leadership, however, that Taliban spokesmen have stated that the political office is the only address for talks. If the office seizes its new autonomy to engage directly with the Afghan government, and the government accepts the offer rather then relying entirely on Pakistan, the office could be the government’s interlocutor in an Afghan-led effort. Any settlement will still need to safeguard Pakistan’s interests, but China’s involvement, as in the Urumqi meeting, may accomplish that more deftly than meeting under the gaze of I.S.I. generals.

Thomas Ruttig for the Afghan Analysts Network:

Mansur also gave the green light for early channels of contact, from opening the Qatar office to the Pugwash-organised talks earlier this year, also in Qatar. He also seems to have been the driving force behind the recent move to make the Political Committee independent of his own Quetta Shura. (In contrast, there was controversy about whether he had really blessed the Murree talks, too, or not. More about this in our following dispatch.) This policy of trying to make the Taleban more independent of Pakistan’s direct control, by moving its main political instrument to Qatar, has put him on the hit list of the anti-talks (but not necessarily pro-Pakistan [added on 1 Aug.]) forces among the Taleban, widely believed to be led by Mullah Qayum Zaker, and of Islamabad itself. (6) This, by the way, was a significant moment, creating for the first time something like an independent ‘political wing’ of the Taleban, if, of course, it remains credible with those fighting on the ground … Pakistan’s induction of its own favourite Taleban leaders, opponents of Mansur’s course, into the Murree talks amounted to a coup to take over the whole Taleban movement. To push forces more amenable to its own interests, it gambled on either a complete take over (in case the Mansur group would give in) or a final split of the Taleban. (Some Afghan observers AAN talked to see similarity in this move to Pakistan dropping Hekmatyar in favour of Mullah Omar’s Taleban in the mid-1990s.) This had, and still has, some chance of success, particularly as the Afghan government bought into the Pakistan-organised talks with that faction and when this faction gains more support within the Taleban. But then, the appointment of Mansur by his own group, to the disgruntlement of the opponents, was a counter-coup … For the time being, it will be insufficient to talk of ‘anti-‘ and ‘pro-talks’ Taleban, as there are now more currents with clear, distinctive agendas. We have ‘anti-talks’ Taleban who oppose a Pakistan-led approach (Mansur) but who are pro-talks when they can carry them out independently. We have ‘pro-talks’ Taleban who support the Pakistan-led approach (including those attending the talks in Urumchi and the first round in Murree). And we have Taleban apparently opposed to any talks (Zaker).

Andrew Small for Foreign Policy:

Beijing faces a jihadist world that is becoming increasingly hostile to its interests — and increasingly difficult to negotiate with. From the 1980s on, when the preeminent militant figures were headquartered in Afghanistan and Pakistan and receiving active sponsorship or tacit acquiescence from the Pakistani security services, Beijing enjoyed a number of benefits. Given that there were far more important targets, and the cause for an independent Uighur homeland was a peripheral one at best, attacking China over its Xinjiang policies seemed inadvisable. Moreover, with Pakistani facilitation, Beijing preferred buying off its potential opponents: The Taliban benefited from Chinese arms, money, and modest political support. Whether for reasons of tactical necessity or pragmatic advantage, the suffering of their Uighur brothers was a strikingly low priority for the Taliban or for Kashmiri militant groups. In 1997, even Osama bin Laden publicly dismissed bomb attacks in Xinjiang as a CIA plot to divide China and the Muslim world … That model has become far less viable.

Bette Dam interviewed in Der Spiegel:

I saw this misconception of who the real enemy in Afghanistan was. I realized that, more than we think, the corrupt Afghan government, with its warlords fighting each other, was also the enemy. Often bombs were attributed to the Taliban, but were they always behind it? Hardly any journalist was talking to the Taliban. So, I found it necessary to portray the Taliban movement and its leader, to explain who they are. As a result of that research, the book will explain why the West is losing the war in Afghanistan …  From the perspective of living in Kabul, the Taliban were scary. But after traveling extensively in the south, where many Taliban come from, I saw it differently. The Taliban were happy to talk, they felt misunderstood. For example, they considered it an important gesture that most of Taliban members surrendered to President Hamid Karzai after 9/11 and handed over their weapons. But the US and some of its allies didn’t accept a Taliban surrender and sent armies in to chase them … One of the interesting points is that Mullah Omar was a person who was very interested in the West. He really trusted the United States in the beginning, because they had helped him during the jihad in the 1980s to expel the Soviets. In 1996, when he became the leader of the Taliban, the first thing he expected to happen was the reopening of the US Embassy in Kabul. Instead, a big cultural misunderstanding ensued because what we saw, of course, was the Taliban’s treatment of women, the stonings. Although it is true these things are horrible, there was also a context in Afghanistan: the civil war. Women were being dragged off the streets, gang raped and murdered. They put women in bags and threw them in the water. A lot of tribes were killing each other.


After Mullah Omar

Some of the most useful pieces of commentary and reporting published on Mullah Omar’s alleged death:

Michael Semple for Politico:

The development will have far-reaching consequences for Afghan politics. In the first place, the shattering of the Mullah Omar myth will embolden a dissident faction within the Taliban leadership. The dissidents have been at loggerheads with the movement’s acting leader over how to respond to Pakistani demands that the Taliban talk to the Kabul government. Safe from allegations of rebellion against the Ameer, the dissidents are now free to push ahead with negotiations and maybe even to put up their own candidate for the leadership … ISIL followers in Afghanistan and Pakistan already accused the Taliban of waging an unlawful struggle because they lacked an Ameer. ISIL will now feel vindicated and try to recruit from the Taliban fighting forces. It remains to be seen just how much of a boost it receives as, even with Omar off the scene, there are significant barriers to its progress in Afghanistan. And in any case, ISIL’s gain is Al-Qaeda’s loss. In the tussle with ISIL over the past year, Ayman al-Zawahiri has continued to insist that he and Al-Qaeda are loyal to Mullah Omar. Zawahiri, too, will have to update his narrative. Moreover, none of the potential replacements for Omar has the kind of stature likely to persuade Al-Qaeda veterans to swear loyalty … Acknowledgement of Omar’s death is likely to hasten the shift to a multi-actor insurgency in Afghanistan. That would be a bitter reality for Afghans who hope for peace. But ultimately the Afghan government, with continuing international support, should be far more confident of ultimately prevailing over a fragmented insurgency than in a fight against a unified Taliban movement.

Barnett Rubin for the New Yorker:

For the first time the Taliban, founded to end factionalism, were speaking with multiple voices, some manipulated by Pakistan more obviously than ever. Since only the hidden Mullah Omar could settle which was the true voice of the Taliban, the question of his authority became pressing … The death of Mullah Omar may allow Pakistan to put leaders it controls more fully in charge of the Taliban. It may also cause the Taliban to splinter. Some may stop fighting and enter the system, while others may join even more extremist groups, such as the Islamic State, and fight the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the two governments cannot gain the willing participation of most of the Taliban in the peace process, Kabul may demand that Islamabad use force to shut down whatever part of the Taliban’s military machine it does not control directly. But the Pakistani Army, which is already overstretched by its posture toward India, and by battles against the Pakistani Taliban, Baloch nationalists, and armed gangs in Karachi, will be reluctant to take on a battle-hardened Afghan group, some of whose members it hopes to use as future agents of influence. These issues may at least temporarily draw the attention of high-level U.S. decision-makers back to Afghanistan, where they will find that they now need to coöperate closely with China.

The Guardian:

“I have asked around a lot and there was no military strategy coming from Mullah Omar, not in 2001, not in 2005, not in 2010,” said Bette Dam, a journalist and author who has been researching a biography of Omar for several years …  “In the current situation there is so much at stake, the possibility of peace, and many of the Taliban want a leader who can make daily decisions for them,” said Dam … “The timing of the release of this information needs to be taken very seriously,” said Dam. “There are several groups within the Taliban and outside who want to make sure they have a share in any peace or any power sharing, lots of groups are afraid to be left out.” … “If it is true [that he is dead], it would be a major issue for the peace talks, and it would be a major issue for the Taliban, because he can’t really be replaced,” said Felix Kuehn, an author who has researched the group for more than 10 years. “He is more than a man, he is an institution,” said Kuehn. “Even the younger generation of Talibs who have never seen him, and who are not very aligned with the policies put out by the Taliban leadership – those who are more radical and less inclined to peace talks – always speak highly of Mullah Omar, and want to hear what he thinks.”

Another Guardian story:

A Pakistani intelligence official told the Guardian on Wednesday he had been aware of the reports of Omar’s death since January 2014, based on information from “close aides” of the militant chief and family members … There are also several outstanding questions about Omar’s death, with no detail on exactly how or where he died, or where he was buried – something that may not be revealed for years, his biographer, Bette Dam, said, quoting a senior Taliban official: “You can’t find the grave, the grave is secret,” he told her, after confirming the death.

The NYT:

A different American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said American officials had heard “chatter” in recent days among senior Taliban members about their leaders’ possible demise. Still, the official cautioned that the communication, which was picked up through electronic surveillance and other sources of intelligence, was not definitive … A different official at Afghanistan’s spy agency, who like other Afghan officials spoke about the matter only on the condition of anonymity, said that the agency had learned of Mullah Omar’s death a year and a half ago and that since then, “a lot of our international allies have confirmed the death.” The [Afghan] official said that Mullah Omar had been relatively itinerant and was believed to have spent some time in Rawalpindi, home to the headquarters of the Pakistani military, among a host of other places. “Because of the American drones, they were changing his place very often,” the official said. … [A European] diplomat referred to intelligence indicating that Taliban commanders were discussing among themselves, with a variety of opinions, whether Mullah Omar was alive or dead. “Almost everyone believes the chatter wouldn’t be where it is if there wasn’t something significant here,” the diplomat said, adding, “It has never been at this volume or intensity before.” That is a change from a few years ago, when Western intelligence officials said they believed Mullah Omar was active and living under official protection in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.

Sami Yousafzai ultra-revisionist account for Newsweek:

Just before the end of Ramadan this year I received an unexpected call from one of Mullah Mohammed Omar’s longtime family friends. He had ust learned a secret held by only a tiny circle of Omar’s most trusted associates: the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban was dead … this caller was different—extraordinarily well placed to know about the Mullah’s whereabouts. His claims were also very detailed. He asked not to be quoted by name on such a sensitive topic, but he and his family are highly respected for their longtime humanitarian work in Pakistan’s Afghan exile community. Omar died in Afghanistan, my contact said. People have often assumed that the Taliban leader fled across the border into Pakistan, like most of his surviving followers, but in fact he refused to leave the country of his birth … when the end finally came, Omar was holed up for the winter among the desolate mountains of Now Zad district in Helmand province, in an area of tiny villages known collectively as Taizeini.  Few maps show the place, but it’s roughly 100 miles northwest of Kandahar. A good friend was with him, according to my source. Mullah Abdul Jabar, a native of Zabul province, had served during the years of Taliban rule as governor of central Baghlan province … Omar told Jabar what to do in the event of his death or capture—get word to Mullah Sheikh Abdul Hakim. The religious scholar, a longtime friend and advisor of Omar’s, makes his home in Quetta, the southwestern Pakistani city where the Taliban leadership resides. Hakim and Jabar quickly relayed the news to three other senior Taliban figures. One was Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the head of the Quetta Shura. Another was Mullah Qayyum Zakir, director of the Taliban’s military council at the time. And the third was another religious scholar and longtime Omar friend, Mullah Abdul Salam, who lives and preaches in the city of Kuchlak, a few miles outside Quetta. (None of the five could be reached for comment.) A week after Jabar brought his news to Quetta, the council chiefs Mansoor and Zakir held a private meeting with the two religious scholars. The family friend says Mullahs Salam and Hakim formally gave Omar’s turban to Mansoor, appointing him to be Omar’s successor as Amir-ul-Momineen—the “Commander of the Faithful.” … Zakir wanted to announce Omar’s death immediately, but the others convinced him not to talk. In order to keep it secret, the Quetta Shura went so far as to issue a decree prohibiting any questions about Omar’s fate. Violators would be referred to a Taliban court.

Casey Garret Johnson for Foreign Policy on Omar’s alleged successor:

While other Taliban leaders have been imprisoned or put under house arrest by Pakistani authorities, Mansour remains a favored son in large part because he has remained in step with ISI policy and has often served as a link between the Haqqani network of Waziristan and the Afghan Taliban of Balochistan. He is also one of the individuals to have benefited from the U.S. surge in 2010-2011. As one analyst from Kandahar notes in an interview: “More than anyone else, Mansour has benefited from the leadership vacuum that opened up after the U.S. started to take a lot of the Taliban commanders out — particularly in the south. Mansour remained safe in Pakistan and he was able to expand his network and powerbase, even though he had never really been a military commander per se.” As late as 2012, Mansour was seen as a hardliner among Taliban leaders, opposing any talks with Hamid Karzai’s government. From about 2013 onward, his position appears to have changed, putting him directly at odds with Abdul Qayyum Zakir, a Taliban military leader from northern Helmand who has for years commanded arguably the largest organized insurgent front inside Afghanistan. Throughout 2014, Mansour and Zakir bickered over the direction of the movement, with Zakir adopting a hard line and eventually being sacked, only to be re-instated after a reconciliation involving a few slaughtered goats and hearty man hugs. By early 2015, however, the two “frenemies” were reportedly at odds again. The most recent news reports of Omar’s death also speculate that Mansour and Omar’s son are involved in a fight for control. Given his historically close ties with Pakistan, Mansour’s moderation could be read as a clear indicator that Pakistan’s calculus has indeed changed.

The Express Tribune (Pakistan):

A day after the news of Afghan Taliban supremo Mullah Omar’s death broke, the powerful Taliban leadership council elected on Thursday Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as the new Afghan Taliban supreme leader, a senior Taliban leader told The Express Tribune. “The council also elected Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is known as Khalifa, the chief of Haqqani as deputy of the Taliban’s leader,” the Taliban leader told on the condition of anonymity. The Taliban have not yet officially announced the new leader. However, the Taliban leader said the formal announcement is likely to be made shortly.

See also Colin Cookman’s excellent round-up.


Notes from ‘Fighting to the End: the Pakistan Army’s Way of War’

I recently finished Christine Fair’s new book, ‘Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War‘, which is based on an extensive survey of essays, books, and manuscripts written by Pakistani military personnel. I’ve written a review of the book for the RUSI Journal, but I wanted to pick out a few passages/nuggets from my notes that I couldn’t mention there:

  • “the army relaxes its educational and even physical standards in places where it hopes to expand recruitment. For example, in Balochistan, recruits with an eighth-grade education will be considered for all positions except as technicians, nurses, or military police. Recruits from Balochistan can be shorter as well, with a minimum height of  feet, 4 inches instead of  feet, 6 inches” (p31)
  • “PMA [Pakistan Military Academy]  recruit – like their enlisted counterparts – are taught how to use a flush toilet, sit on the commode, perform physical exercise, and even use the proper dining etiquette … South Asian Foreign Area Officers in the US Army as well as scholars of the Pakistan Army also note that in the Pakistan Army officers are “also judged on their personal behaviour to a degree that is uncommon” in western armies” (p33-34)
  • “The military cultivates civilians including scholars, journalists, and analysts, providing them selective access to the institution and punishing them – either with physical harm (or the threat of it) to the author or her family members or simply with  the denial of future access – should they produce knowledge that harms the interests of the army … self-censorship is still very common, as is deference to the army’s  preferred narratives. The intelligence agencies’ willingness to use lethal methods against intransigent journalists and other domestic critics …” (pp35-36); “in recent years ISI has established its own media cell tasked not only with monitoring international and domestic reporting about Pakistan but also with reaching out to and actively managing reporters … the army has long influenced Pakistan’s textbooks, in which the army appears as the institution best able to handle any crisis” (p198)
  • Pakistani military memoirs show “focus on battles in which Pakistan prevailed but within wars that Pakistan lost … there is a persistent emphasis on religious themes, such as the nature of the Islamic warrior, the role of Islam in training, the importance of Islamic ideology for the army, and the salience of jihad. Pakistan’s military journals frequently take as their subjects famous Quranic battles, such as the Battle of Badr. Ironically, the varied Quranic battles are discussed in more analytical detail in Pakistan’s journals than are Pakistan’s own wars with India. A comparable focus on religion in the Indian army … would be quite scandalous. It is difficult to fathom that any Indian military journal would present an appraisal of the Kurukshetra War” (p39)
  • Pakistani defence publications frequently cite the poetry of Iqbal on  a variety of themes ranging from the notions of faith and community to that of jihad” (p43)
  • “Oddly, many authors in Pakistan’s military journals do not consider the 1947-1948 war to be a war at all, even though the army was engaged and even though the operation had the backing of the senior most political leadership. While teaching undergraduates at the Lahore University for Management Sciences during summer 2010, I learned that those students, who came from throughout Pakistan, had never learned that a war took place in this period … these students believed that the conflict involved only mujahideen and were incredulous that the army and civilian leadership were involved” (p51)
  • “this tendency to conflate India with Hindu is a common trope in Pakistani military writings, and writers rarely bother explaining what precisely they mean by such expressions as Hindu mentality” (p57)
  • “the military attracts public support by describing the foe – inevitably Hindu India or its agents – as nonbelievers (kufar, pl. of kafir) and casting the conflict nearly exclusively in religious terms. Thus, conflict with India is portrayed as jihad against nonbelievers who threaten Pakistan” (p90)
  • “Another way of denigrating the enemy is to reduce the diverse Indian Army to a solely Hindu force … Perhaps one of the most important examples of such exposition was written by Brig. Javed Hassan (1990). Hassan, who would retire as a lieutenant general, published India: A Study in Profile while at … the Command and Staff College in Quetta. It is now required reading at the National Defense University as well … Among Hassan’s other derogatory remarks, he argues that India is not a nation, characterizes its past as having a “total absence of any popular resistance against foreign domination and rule”, describes the Indians as “less Warlike” than Pakistanis, and attributes India’s military failings to “racial” shortcomings” (p100) … “several prominent and intertwined rubrics or narrative tropes … the authors first establish that Hindus are dishonourable, meek, pusillanimous, treacherous, and inequitable and then argue that these traits define the country … Muslims are honourable, brave, dedicated to fighting for the umma, steadfastly committed to justice, and fight only when attacked” (p154) … “Hassan’s book frequently deploys such tropes as the “Hindu psyche” and other patently Orientalist, if not outright racist, concepts” (p162)
  • “the Afghan government actually supported Pakistan in the 1965 war with India and maintained strict neutrality  during the 1971 war between India and Pakistan” (p116); a “thaw in relations prompted Pakistan to stop its assistance to the Afghan Islamists in early 1977” (p123)
  • On Kargil: “one of [Sharif’s] advisors explained to me … that the briefing [by the army] was in English, and Sharif did not seem to understand the possibilities for escalation of the conflict” (p151); “the [ISI] chief had not been apprised of the mission in advance” (p152)
  • “prior to the 1971 war, no authors in Pakistan’s defence establishment blamed India for widespread unrest in Pakistan, with the exception of those who claimed that India encouraged Afghanistan to take provocative positions in the frontier” (p166)
  • “the Pakistan army clearly understands concepts like defeat and success in ways that differ from more mainstream understandings of these concepts. With the exception of the 1971 war, Pakistan does not see itself as ever having been defeated militarily” (p172)
  • “for several years, Pakistan voted against seating communist China [in the UN] … Pakistan jointly sponsored a UN General Assembly resolution criticising China’s suppression of the 1959 Tibetan uprising” (p185)
  • “In recent years, writers in Pakistan’s defence publications have begun to content that the United States is deliberately seeking to destroy Pakistan or is even aiding and abetting the Pakistani Taliban in its operations” (p195)
  • “Pakistani defense writing of the 1950s suggests that engagement with the US military led the Pakistan  Army to adopt important doctrinal shifts toward guerrilla warfare” (p227)
  • “Since 2001 … the Afghan Taliban have experienced regular turnover of midlevel commanders … The new commanders are less beholden to Pakistan, in part because of their age … Pakistan is struggling to cultivate influence among the emerging Afghan Taliban factions, even while it seeks to control elements of Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura” (p21)
  • “One highly suggestive piece of evidence is the significant signals traffic between the ISIS and JeM recorded after JeM’s 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, indicating the ISI’s anger with JeM for that attack. In contrast, significantly less traffic was detected after the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai” (p252)
  • “Punjabis living outside of the Punjab are less likely than those in the Punjab to view jihad as a militarised struggle .. however [they] are also less supportive of complete civilian control of the army” (pp272-273)

The context to the Saudi-Pakistan nuclear relationship

On Tuesday, the BBC’s Mark Urban cited a ‘a senior Nato decision maker’ who ‘had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery’, and that this reporting was based on ‘Israeli information’. I am largely sceptical of this latest reporting, not least because Saudi Arabia has every incentive to play up this issue as nuclear diplomacy with Iran advances. Julian Borger has a good piece to that end.

Nevertheless many people are unfamiliar with the extent of security cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. David Kenner yesterday reported that Saudi Arabia sought Pakistani assistance in training two brigades of Syrian rebels, although it was earlier reported by Yezid Sayigh that Pakistan had been ‘reluctant or unable to meet a previous Saudi request to provide special forces training’.

But the relationship goes back a long way. Pakistan assisted the Royal Saudi Air Force to build and pilot its first jet fighters in the 1960s, and Pakistani personnel flew Saudi aircraft during a Yemeni cross-border war in 1969.[i] In subsequent decades, as many as 15,000 Pakistani troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, ‘some in a brigade combat force near the Israeli-Jordanian-Saudi border’.[ii] In 1986, Pakistan’s Saudi presence comprised one division (roughly 13,000 troops), two armoured and two artillery brigades (approximately 10,000 troops), along with naval and air force personnel.[iii] Pakistani forces reportedly ‘fill[ed] out most of the 12th Saudi Armored Brigade’ based at Tabuk.[iv] This brigade reportedly left in 1988, after Saudi Arabia demanded that Pakistan send only Sunni personnel.[v] It is unclear how many Pakistani personnel remain in Saudi Arabia, but Pakistan does provide assistance and personnel to Bahrain and to other GCC members for internal security.[vi]

For a fuller account of this and the nuclear dimension to the relationship, I look at the issue in some depth in my RUSI Whitehall Paper on Iran Permanent Crisis, available here. A short extract of the relevant pages is available here (PDF).

[i] Nadav Safran, Saudi Arabia: The Ceaseless Quest for Security (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), p. 202.

[ii] Bruce Riedel, ‘Saudi Arabia: Nervously Watching Pakistan’, Brookings Institution, 28 January 2008.

[iii] C Christine Fair, ‘Has the Pakistan Army Islamized? What the Data Suggest’, Working Paper 2011-13, Mortara Center for International Studies, Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, September 2011.

[iv] Anthony H Cordesman, Western Strategic Interests in Saudi Arabia (London: Taylor and Francis, 1987), p. 139.

[v] C Christine Fair, Pakistan: Can the United States Secure an Insecure State? (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2010), p. 121. Thomas Lippman claims that the forces left because ‘oil prices hit historic lows and the Saudis could no longer afford them’; see Thomas W Lippman, ‘Nuclear Weapons and Saudi Strategy’, Middle East Institute Policy Brief No. 5, January 2008, p. 8.

[vi] Mujib Mashal, ‘Pakistani Troops Aid Bahrain’s Crackdown’, Al Jazeera, 30 July 2011.

The Afghan Missile Crisis (That Wasn’t)

From the Washington Post, on 11 November 2001:

Pakistani fears of an Indian attack on its nuclear sites were so great in the summer of 1999, after Pakistani-supported guerrillas invaded Indian territory, that military officers here secretly contacted Taliban officials about the possibility of moving some nuclear assets westward to neighboring Afghanistan for safekeeping, according to a recently retired Pakistani general officer familiar with the talks.

”The option was actively discussed with the Taliban after some indications emerged that India may open hostilities at the eastern border,” the retired official said. ‘‘The Taliban accepted the requests with open arms.”

The former official said the talks were ”exploratory” and said that no nuclear-related assets were placed in Afghanistan. At the time, Pakistan’s military and intelligence services had close relations with the Taliban, providing training, weapons and other support.

The story appears not to have been corroborated by other outlets, and it doesn’t have a named byline. I can’t find anything on this episode in the authoritative books on Kargil. But an interesting counterfactual: what if the nuclear weapons had been present in Afghanistan in September 2001? 

A National Security Council for Pakistan: another turn of the wheel

Ahmed Rashid, with an overview of Nawaz Sharif’s challenges, in the FT:

Mr Sharif realised he had to simultaneously construct a security strategy to counter the violence before he could get investment and the economy moving. The result has been intense daily discussions led by Mr Sharif with the powerful military, intelligence agencies, experts and others on how to create a civilian-led national security strategy and even the setting up of a national security council under the prime minister – a first for Pakistan […] The answer for Pakistan is a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy that brings together military operations, political initiatives, reconciliation and economic development – something that has never been tried and certainly not since the growth of violence after September 11 2001. For the first time there is also hope that such a strategy will be led by a permanently staffed national security council that brings together the military, intelligence, bureaucrats and civil society experts.

From Time magazine, in 1998:

Speaking at the Naval War College in Lahore on Oct. 5, [then Army chief, General Jehangir] Karamat fired several well-aimed salvos at [then Prime Minister] Nawaz Sharif. He blamed the nation’s politicians for carrying out vendettas and insecurity-driven and expedient policies while Pakistan capsized. Karamat called for the creation of a three-tiered national security council that would include the military, credible advisers and a think tank of experts. Despite Karamat’s call for a larger military role, few Pakistanis believe he was trying to topple Nawaz Sharif’s elected government. This was a warning, says former army chief of staff Mirza Aslam Beg, not a plan to get rid of Sharif. The Prime Minister wasn’t so sure, fearing that the proposed council would impose itself over elected legislatures at both the federal and provincial levels. He ordered Karamat’s words to be deleted from reports on the state-run television and radio stations, the first time a Prime Minister has dared to censor the Pakistani military.With that, Pakistan’s leader was on a collision course with its army chief. Two days after the speech, Nawaz Sharif forced Karamat to resign […] To succeed Karamat, the Prime Minister elevated Lieut. General Parvez Musharraf, a corps commander who may be more supportive than his predecessor [!].

Indian views of Nawaz Sharif’s election

Indian views on Nawaz Sharif’s election – ranging from the wary to the enthusiastic.

Shyam Saran (former foreign secretary):

One, Kashmir will remain the “core issue” for Pakistan […] Pakistani army’s well-known opposition to him. It would also reassure his constituency of right-wing and religious elements, including jihadi groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tauiba [sic].  Two, given PML-N’s close association with jihadi and fundamentalist groups, it is unlikely that serious curbs would be put on them […] Thus, there is unlikely to be a clear break from the long-standing policy of using cross-border terrorism as an instrument of State policy — although in seeking to improve relations with India, they may be put under more strict constraint […] Three, Sharif has been reticent about his party’s views on the Afghan Taliban or on how he sees Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan […] India has had no place in Pakistan’s vision of a future Afghanistan and this is unlikely to change […] Hence the best policy to adopt is to seek improved relations in small doses, whose cumulative impact over a period may still be substantive. We should learn from the experience of Kargil and other similar instances. Grand gestures on either side or an attempt to depart significantly from the established narrative are usually followed by a deliberate and often violent effort to reverse any perceived improvement in relations.

C. Raja Mohan:

Sharif is also aware that Singh’s clock is running down, and that the UPA government headed by him has little political steam left. There is a danger then that the subcontinent’s traditional curse — the misalignment of the political cycles in India and Pakistan — might once again compel Delhi to lose yet another moment of opportunity with Islamabad […] As Delhi debates the government’s options towards Sharif within the UPA’s self-imposed constraints, there is one way out — through the Punjab. It could consider, for example, sending an Indian political delegation headed by Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to attend Sharif’s swearing-in next week […] When Vajpayee travelled to Lahore in February 1999, defying the hawks in his party, he had the wisdom to ask Parkash Singh Badal, the then CM of Punjab, to join his delegation

The elections in Pakistan provide a new political basis for re-imagining India-Pakistan relations. Nawaz Sharif’s victory is rooted in a comprehensive political sweep in Punjab — Pakistan’s largest province. On this side of the Radcliffe Line, there is a strong government, whose leaders are deeply committed to normalisation of relations between the two Punjabs, and between Delhi and Islamabad. The stars in Punjab are in rare alignment for a big political push on the people’s agenda in Indo-Pak relations. The only missing element is a bit of political courage in the Congress party

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan (former Indian Ambassador to the UN):

On the other hand, going by the election manifestos of major political parties in Pakistan in the run-up to the May 11 elections, there seems to be a growing consensus among politicians for détente with India. Their manifestos not only did not contain anti-India rhetoric; they also indicated a willingness to promote peace with India. The party of incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif even went to the extent of declaring that it will open the transit route for trade between India, Afghanistan and beyond through Pakistan. Since winning the election convincingly, he has reiterated his desire to work for better relations with India, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has warmly reciprocated. Imran Khan’s party also spoke of progressive detente with India. This trend needs to be noted and welcomed in India. It suggests that the political mainstream might be ready to stand up to the military in case the latter came in the way of normalising relations with India. Whether it is able to do so will remain to be seen, but at least it has made public its intention to do so. Mr. Sharif has declared that he will be the ‘boss’ and that civilian supremacy will be asserted. If that happens, the possibility of normal relations between the two countries can certainly be entertained. Indians have a tendency to lurch from euphoria to hostility in reacting to developments in neighbouring countries. We need to wait and watch.

Vivek Katju (former Indian diplomat):

Lastly, how should India deal with Sharif? It should welcome a forward movement on trade, treatment of prisoners, people-to-people contacts and cooperation in areas such as agriculture and the environment. However, we should be conscious that the use of terror is a part of Pakistan’s security doctrine against India and Sharif cannot change that. His views on Kashmir and other issues have also not been flexible. Statecraft requires cold assessment, not exuberant emotion. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and external affairs minister Salman Khurshid would do well to watch Sharif’s swearing-in on television in their offices rather than in person in Aiwan-e-Sadr in Islamabad.

Shekhar Gupta:

So the people of Pakistan have nuanced their view of their army and the Lashkars. But are we in India willing to change ours? Unfortunately, over the years (post-Sharm el-Sheikh, let’s say), our view of Pakistan has become re-militarised as its own society’s has become de-militarised. Anybody in Pakistan is willing to say to you now that the horrible beheading of the Indian soldier was carried out by the military establishment only to block the Zardari government giving India the MFN status. And we walked straight into the trap, calling off sporting exchanges, the prime minister himself saying it can’t be business as usual, the leader of the opposition demanding 10 heads for one. While the same Pakistan has defied the army, the Lashkars, and its hatred of America and its drones, to vote for a man whose manifesto promises trade and peace with India, even transit to Afghanistan and Central Asia […] Sad truth is, we Indians still seem unwilling to appreciate and respond to this dramatic transformation.

Pakistan, NATO, and tactical nuclear weapons: two of a kind?

The Davy Crockett tactical nuclear weapon, at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in March 1961.

There has been growing interest in Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons. Here’s Gurmeet Kanwal:

The Pakistan army’s continuing efforts to arm the 60-km Hatf-9 (Nasr) short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) with nuclear warheads will adversely impact deterrence stability on the Indian subcontinent as tactical nuclear weapons are inherently destabilising and invariably escalatory. The Nasr missile was first tested in April 2011 and then again in May 2012 and is reported to be a replica of the Chinese M-20.

On this subject, see also A.H. Nayyar and Zia Mian from 2010, Jeffrey Lewis and Rajesh Basrur last year, and Michael Krepon. The rationale for Pakistan’s use of such weapons is familiar to most, and often invokes NATO’s nuclear doctrine. It is worth understanding how exactly NATO’s nuclear thinking applies to Pakistan, and what this implies for how its arsenal might develop and how India might respond to this.

The most lucid explanation of NATO’s doctrinal precepts are to be found in the late Michael Quinlan’s 1997 RUSI Whitehall Paper, Thinking About Nuclear Weapons. Its available free online, and formed part of a longer book in 2009 (the book includes a chapter on India and Pakistan). The bolded sentences highlight the parts most strikingly relevant to Pakistan today:

Especially, though not only in the particular setting of the Cold War confrontation, plans and capabilities have had to provide options for use that could be credible; and this has meant, for example, developing weapons of greater accuracy and lower yield, and plans for more limited use and more constrained targeting, than might feature in an uncontrolled apocalyptic holocaust


The [NATO nuclear] doctrine was built around the Alliance’s strategic concept of flexible response, formulated during the 1960s. That concept has been much misunderstood and even caricatured. It did not, for example, envisage a pre-determined sequence of moves – an ‘escalation ladder’ – to be followed in the face of aggression; and though it did not rule out first use or early use of nuclear weapons, it was far from prescribing or assuming either. The core of the concept was always the timely use of the minimum force, whether conventional or nuclear, adequate to deny an aggressor success in his objective. Aggression against so broad and diverse an entity as the North Atlantic Alliance could have a wide variety of forms and scales; and providing a capability for apt and credible application of minimum effective force to fit any scenario therefore meant that there had to be plainly available a substantial range of military options from which the Alliance could choose both for initial resistance and for how best to proceed if the first option did not succeed. A narrow set of prescriptions for response, or a rigid doctrine for the order or number of follow-on options to be entertained, would have been the antithesis of flexibility, at odds both with the realities of the Alliance’s political, geographical and strategic diversity and with the deterrent merit of uncertainty.

NATO thinking was always clear that a major conflict was not to be conducted in sealed compartments, whether of territory or of force category, and still less in sealed compartments imposed by an aggressor to suit his strengths and preferences. The idea of possible escalation, in the sense of being ready to change the terms of the encounter in scope or intensity beyond what the aggressor had chosen, was essential, But NATO recognised also that the prospect of having abruptly to cross a wide gulf in these respects could scarcely be either acceptable to its own peoples or credible to a determined adversary. Deterrence required making it as hard as possible for any adversary to form the view that NATO would shrink from decisions on raising the conflict’s intensity, or to dare act on such a view.

The range of options available must therefore be an unmistakable continuum without huge gaps. That in turn meant that there had to be nuclear forces, backed by will and doctrine for their possible use, intermediate between conventional forces (NATO had no large offensive chemical armoury) and the ultimate strategic nuclear capability – the more so since, especially in the earlier days, that capability often entailed high weapon yield, low accuracy and uncertain penetrativity, so that precisely-limited use might not have been easy. From NATO’s inception the judgement was widely accepted that NATO’s non-nuclear forces might find themselves unable to repel or even arrest a large-scale and determined attack upon NATO territory. NATO, as a grouping of free sovereign states, could not espouse plans envisaging the ready surrender of any member’s territory and must therefore adopt a posture – ‘forward defence’ – that was was by no means optimal for military effectiveness.

Besides the overwhelming general fact of virtually inexhaustible destructive power in the hands of the postulated adversary, substantial studies of possible scenarios brought out – in retrospect, unsurprisingly – a more particular conclusion: that if, finding itself losing in a conventional conflict in Europe, NATO were to use nuclear weapons for military effect and the adversary then responded more or less symmetrically, it must be expected (with all due allowance for the uncertainty in such evaluations) that NATO would still, save perhaps in one or two narrowly specialised settings, find itself losing. In other words, NATO could not count on its nuclear weapons to substitute military victory for military defeat.

Recognition of this conclusion infused the work of the NPG [Nuclear Policy Group] for most of the later years of the Cold War. NATO nuclear doctrine had to concentrate upon the use of weapons to convey effectively to the adversary the message that he had mistaken NATO’s political tolerance and underrated NATO’s will to resist, and that for his own survival he must therefore back off. Much NPG work centred upon questions of targeting principle (it did not attempt detailed target selection) to fulfil this basic war-termination concept. The purpose would inherently be to convey a political message and induce a political response; but it was generally accepted that achieving this would require action with some substantial material effect going beyond just the shock, severe though that might be in first use, inherent in any nuclear action. ‘No-target’ demonstration – the detonation of a weapon over the Baltic, say – was occasionally canvassed, and the option continued to be recognised; but it found little real support. It was judged, surely rightly, that this might well suggest precisely a lack of the tough resolve that it would be the whole aim of the action to demonstrate. The heart of the judgement required would be to find the right balance between doing too little to drive home the message and doing so much as to provoke a ferocious reaction in rage or spasm.

It was usually thought that for most situations targets should preferably, though not with absolute necessity, be military ones with some bearing upon the non-nuclear operations in progress, so that the aggressor could not immediately sustain those operations unchecked but would be compelled at least to pause and address fresh and dangerous decisions.


One such consideration held that non-strategic war-termination strike (or ‘pre-strategic’ or ‘tactical’ or ‘theatre’ strike-the terminology never quite settled upon a uniformly-accepted usage differentiating among these) ought to be carried out by delivery systems evidently separate from the ‘strategic’ ones The argument ran that unless this distinction was maintained the Soviet leaders might mistakenly interpret the action as just the initial salvo The weight of this argument always however seemed questionable. NATO would undoubtedly accompany any ‘war-termination’ nuclear action by a major effort in explicit communication to convey what its purpose was and was not – this was indeed a major theme of study in the NPG’s work.

These problems – conventional inferiority, a lack of strategic depth (stemming from politics in NATO’s case, but territory and infrastructure in Pakistan’s), a fear that limited war would create “sealed compartments, whether of territory or of force category” and neutralize nuclear weapons – are directly and highly applicable to Pakistan.

But many of these subtleties are not brought out in the Pakistani context. This is especially as regards the very limited battlefield effectiveness of such weapons, and hence their role as political signals to compel de-escalation rather than military instruments to physically and durably block an offensive. The use of the descriptor”tactical”, rather than “non-strategic” or “sub-strategic”, has contributed to this confusion, although some (Nayyar and Mian, Tellis)  have tried to explain the surprisingly limited effects of nuking tanks.

Quinlan even addresses the issue of the safety of tactical nuclear weapons, a problem that often comes up in discussions of Pakistan (like that of Kanwal, excerpted above):

It used sometimes to be suggested that the forward deployment of nuclear delivery units on West German territory posed, in face of a postulated Warsaw Pact offensive, a ‘use-or-lose’ dilemma which, whether as inescapable fact or even as deliberate stratagem, could drive the timing of NATO nuclear action and so set the ‘threshold’. This was, however, in no way part of NATO’s doctrine or planning (and forward commanders had neither the authority nor, at least in later years, the physical power to launch nuclear weapons without political clearance).

Even if Quinlan is right (and Paul Schulte suggests otherwise, claiming that in the 1950s NATO “seems to have supported a temporary policy of U.S pre-delegation of very short-range battlefield nuclear weapons, including Atomic Demolition Munitions, especially on the Central Front in Germany”), then there are still some significant differences with Pakistan – the primary one being that Pakistan’s lopsided civil-military relations look very different to NATO’s.

In 2005, for instance, Feroz Hassan Khan, a senior official in Pakistan’s nuclear secretariat, the Strategic Plans Division, explained that “partial pre-delegation” of weapons would be an “operational necessity because dispersed nuclear forces as well as central command authority … are vulnerable” (see here, p.15).

A second difference is that NATO gradually placed less and less emphasis on tactical nuclear weapons (withdrawing more and more after 1979 as part of the “dual-track” policy), because of the “eventual improvement of its conventional capabilities that, spurred by Warsaw Pact equipment improvements and doctrinal innovations, resulted from Western technical and, especially American, electronic advantages”. (Schulte, p.53). Pakistan, by contrast, is conventionally falling behind in terms of military spending and technological edge (see this KSG report, p.10). This suggests its reliance on nuclear weapons will grow, not diminish.

A third difference lies in the response to tactical nuclear weapons: “the Soviet General Staff, led by Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, seems to have concluded in the late 1970s that their most effective option against NATO would be conventional but extremely rapid deep operations conducted, after massive aerial surprise attacks, by operational maneuver groups” – so far, apart from the qualifier “deep”, this blitzkrieg-like approach should remind you of India’s own evolving limited war doctrine, dubbed Cold Start (Cold Start is, of course, supposed to entail shallow incursions).

But the similarity ends there: “Ogarkov knew that many in NATO doubted that their political leaders would agree quickly to use nuclear weapons”. The Soviets would fight “the war in such a way as to delay NATO taking the decision to use nuclear weapons until it was too late for them to be able to influence the outcome of the war” (Kelleher, cited in Schulte, p.53). Whereas NATO was a multinational alliance with a variety of perspectives on where the nuclear threshold ought to lie, Pakistani decision-making – whatever its pathologies – is certainly simpler and more responsive. India cannot rely on Pakistani hesitation, even though it, India, would surely calibrate the level of force so as to make any Pakistani decision a difficult one.

If Pakistan does place increasing stress on limited nuclear options, and tactical nuclear weapons in particular, then understanding the differences from the NATO precedent – the ones discussed here, and plenty of others – will be as important as seeing the similarities.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons (and A.Q. Khan’s perpetual motion machine)

Bruno Tertrais has published a new paper, Pakistan’s nuclear and WMD Programmes: Status, evolution and risks (PDF), at the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium. Its mostly a synthesis of existing information, but sums things up nicely.

On the evolving nature of Pakistan’s requirements for nuclear sufficiency:

Guaranteed unacceptable damage implies survivability even after a first strike by the adversary. Pakistan is likely to use an Indian pre-emptive strike as a planning assumption (coupled, in the future, with the deployment of missile defence by India) … a former SPD officer wrote that for a set of 10 possible targets, a country might need 68–70 warheads (without taking into account the risk of a pre-emptive strike).

On Pakistan’s need for creativity in counter-value targeting:

A diversification of targets could make Pakistani deterrence more credible, given that a strike on Indian cities would produce massive casualties among its Muslim population—something that might be hard to consider for a country whose very creation was justified by the need to provide a sanctuary and a natural homeland for South Asian Muslims. [1]

For the reverse (and slightly weird) idea, that India would “spare Karachi because Indian Muslims’ relatives live in the city”, see here.

On Pakistan’s nuclear readiness:

It is widely assumed that Pakistan’s nuclear systems are kept on low alert. In peacetime, missiles may not be mated with warheads, and in 2003 President Musharraf referred to a ‘geographical separation’ between them. It is also possible that warheads are kept in a disassembled form. However, the SPD insists that it has never confirmed such arrangements; Kidwai states that forces are not on ‘hair trigger alert’ but that ‘separation is more linked to time rather than space’. A former SPD official has also denied that the warheads were kept in disassembled form. The time required to convert weapons into a state of launch readiness is uncertain. Some accounts suggest that assembly would only take minutes, while other refer to hours. Kidwai said in 2002 that it could happen ‘very quickly’.

On Pakistan’s weapons potential:

Pakistan began producing HEU in the mid-1980s …  It may be producing 120–180 kg per year, enough for 10–15 warheads … Pakistan has [also] begun developing an important plutonium production capability … Khushab-1 can produce 5.7–11.5 kg of plutonium per year depending on its duration of operation, enough for 1–3 warheads … The [total] potential production of warheads today is 7–18 per year.

In late 2010 Pakistan had enough fissile material for at least 160 warheads, and perhaps as many as 240. The coming online of the third and fourth Khushab reactors could bring the total Pakistani buildup capacity to 19–27 weapons per year.

If you assume Pakistan has a 100 warheads today, and take the lower bound for the potential production rate (19 weapons per year), it would take Pakistan under seven years to surpass the UK’s total stockpile (225 weapons), just over seven years to reach China’s level (240) and just over a decade to reach that of France (290) – with these latter figures taken from the Federation of American Scientists. For a useful chart that displays these comparisons, see here. See also the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ useful review, Pakistan’s nuclear forces, 2011.

Anyway, back to Tertrais. On Pakistan’s command and control

The foreign minister is deputy chairman of the Employment Control Committee (ECC), which defines nuclear strategy and would decide on nuclear use. It includes the main ministers and the military chiefs … The planned deliberative process for nuclear use is compared by the SPD to that of a ‘board of directors’. The principle of unanimity was affirmed by the NCA in 2003. A decision to use nuclear weapons would need ‘consensus within the NCA, with the chairman casting the final vote’. If consensus were impossible, however, a majority vote would  suffice. Given that the ECC comprises five civilians and four military ex officio members (not including the SPD head), it is not unreasonable to conclude that the military would be the de facto decision maker. However, it would probably ensure that the civilians shared the responsibility of the decision to use nuclear weapons.

On nuclear safety:

As stated above, weapons are probably kept in a disassembled form, but there is considerable uncertainty about the location of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Some suggest that even the director of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) does not know where the weapons are.  It would make sense for most of them to be located in the northern and central parts of Pakistan, in the safest and most secure area of Punjab. After the terrorist attacks on the USA of 11 September 2001, Pakistan ordered a redeployment of its arsenal (to at least six new secret locations according to one account), for fear of an Indian attack. A similar redeployment occurred after the Abbottabad raid by the USA in May 2011, this time for fear of a US raid. Pakistan plays some kind of shell game with its nuclear weapons and dummy locations reportedly exist. If the country has about 100 warheads, it would be surprising if more than 10 sites host weapons at any given time. Some of these sites are subterranean and Pakistan has certainly gone to great lengths to physically protect them.

See also Christopher Clary’s useful 2010 paper for IDSA, Thinking about Pakistan’s Nuclear Security in Peacetime, Crisis and War.

On the nuclear codes:

The last line of defence is coding. Coding is now carried out during the manufacturing process: the launch officer receives the code a few moments before use and inserts it via a computer. For aircraft, pilots receive the code during flight. It has been surmised that 12-digit alphanumerical codes, generated by the Military Intelligence agency, are used. Codes are physically present on bases, split between two officers according to a two-man rule. There are both enabling and authenticating codes. These arrangements are supplemented by ‘a tightly controlled ID system’ and there is no involvement of intelligence services in the chain of command. Atsome points in the chain of command, a three-man rule operates ‘for technical reasons’, according to the SPD One informed source claims that the arming code is divided between three persons.

Gauging the possibility of unauthorized use depends on the exact nature of the codes used by Pakistan. Are the arming mechanisms buried deep in the warhead design, or can coding be bypassed? Do they include disabling features? Is there a code for each warhead or set of warheads, or just a general nuclear release enabling mechanism? Does physically arming a warhead depend on a code transmitted down the chain of command at the last minute, or would the code(s) already present at the base be enough?

Finally, on the EU’s concerns:

 EU members might have military facilities within reach of Pakistani longer-range missiles (e.g. France and the United Kingdom in the Gulf) or temporary bases and personnel (during an operation in the region). In the case of a deterioration in Pakistan’s relations with the West, this could be a subject of concern.


On a sort of related note, I was amused by A.Q. Khan’s recent interventions in the case of Pakistan’s magical car-that-runs-on-water. The father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb appears to be quite taken with the invention:

Former science minister Dr Atta ur Rahman has bravely tried to stem the tide of nonsense by pointing out that the laws of thermodynamics rule out perpetual motion machines, but Dr Qadeer Khan (father of the Islamic bomb and national hero) steps forward to defend the inventor … he says that Readers Digest wrote many years ago that apparently ridiculous inventions may turn out to be true and one can easily see that there is no gas tank in this great man’s car, so the proof is already here … I am NOT kidding.

Video (Urdu):

State sponsorship of terrorism: a blessing or a curse?

This week, the United States put a $10 million bounty on Hafiz Saeed, the founder and leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). When it comes to state sponsorship of terrorism, LeT takes the biscuit. As Christine Fair explains:

[A]fter the Mumbai attack of 2008, the Punjab provincial government began managing the organization’s substantial assets in the Punjab and has even placed many LeT/JuD workers employed in various purported charitable activities on its official payroll. In addition, the Punjabi government has made substantial grants to the organization … for Pakistan, LeT is an existential asset in the same way that it is an existential enemy for countries like India and even the United States. (p25)

Seemed a good time to read A Blessing or a Curse? State Support for Terrorist Groups [PDF of draft], an article in  the most recent International Organization by David Carter. His theory is that, far from being beholden to their proxies,

[state] sponsors [of terrorist groups] avoid costs, physical and political, from target military operations by providing information to the target about the groups they sponsor. Sponsors have the greatest incentive to do this when the group is based within their territory because an attempt to forcefully eliminate the group necessitates military operations in the sponsor’s territory. Thus, sponsorship can be a curse to groups when they rely on their patron for a safe haven … On the one hand, sponsors want to provide enough aid to the group to facilitate successful attacks. On the other hand, they also want to minimize potential military or economic costs they will incur from target reactions to group attacks. (pp130, 133)

Carter argues that the experience of the Jammu  and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) is typical:

The JKLF, who had come to rely on a privileged basing arrangement and support from Pakistan, suffered considerably from actions taken by Pakistan that undercut the group. In fact, the group’s leadership even accused Pakistan of providing information about its whereabouts to Indian security forces. The group was successfully eliminated by Indian forces in 1996. (p130)

One of the most interesting arguments:

Cooperating by providing information can help avoid a military strike or can even increase the precision of target military strikes and decrease the physical, economic, or political damage the sponsor experiences. (p134)

This seems persuasive, until you see the example supplied (an excerpt from the New York Times):

Increasingly, the Americans say, senior leaders in Pakistan, including the chief of its army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, have gradually come around to the view that they can no longer support the Taliban in Afghanistan. (p134)

Those tracking the US-Pakistan relationship will find this interpretation … unpersuasive.

Anyway, how does the model hold up when tested against the data? Carter looks at 648 groups, of which 244 were still active as of 2006, 377 eliminated, and just 27 ‘victorious’:

In contrast to the results for sponsorship without safe haven, sponsorship with a safe haven does not significantly decrease the probability of failure by internal dissolution in either model … Furthermore … sponsorship without safe haven does not significantly affect the probability of target elimination. The results provide considerable evidence that receiving sponsorship with safe haven is not helpful to a group’s prospects. (p145)

So, two things: groups do benefit from safe havens – just not ones actively provided by a sponsor; and groups do benefit from sponsorship – just not when it’s supplemented with safe havens.


Does military action help in eliminating a group?

The finding that target initiation of a MID [militarized interstate dispute i.e. belligerent act] against the sponsor increases the risk the group is eliminated by 176 percent suggests that target states enjoy some measure of success in putting pressure on sponsored groups. Conversely, target states that are embroiled in civil wars are 90 percent less likely to forcefully eliminate a group. (p147)

Curiously, India is cited as an example of a state embroiled in civil wars on the basis of its multiple internal insurgencies.


All in all, I’m not persuaded by the causal mechanism. The US-Pakistan case actually suggests something completely different: if the client is important enough, the sponsor will carefully calibrate the quantity and nature of the information they provide so as to stave off pressure on themselves but ensure long-term group integrity.

And, in fact, the intelligence relationship can be subverted by the sponsor for their own ends. Matthew Aid, in Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terror, describes this pattern in great detail:

Beginning in the fall of 2007, several of the joint CIA-ISI intelligence operations in the FATA went horribly wrong. Sensitive intelligence information that the CIA was giving to the ISI on al Qaeda and the Taliban activities in the FATA was found to be somehow leaking to the enemy, resulting in a number of CIA clandestine intelligence collection operations being compromised and agents either being killed or disappeared without a trace … CIA officials were convinced that the targets of the [drone] strikes had been compromised from the inside, with the leaks appearing to come from the very top of the ISI.  (pp108-9)

In fact:

Only in the past three years has the US intelligence community somewhat reluctantly come to the conclusion that the Pakistani government’s unwillingness to help the United States combat the Taliban was a deliberate act of national policy. (p110)

But you can’t argue with the numbers:

when a group relies upon its sponsor for safe haven the probability of target elimination is 114% greater than if the group does not (and has never had) sponsorship. (p145)