I wrote this in April 2009 for Wichaar.com and am posting it unchanged. Its interesting to see how our predictions look 2 years later….
I recently went on a road trip across the North-Eastern United States and at every stop, the Pakistanis I met were talking about the situation in Pakistan . As is usually the case, everyone seemed to have their own pet theory, but for a change ALL theories shared at least two characteristics: they were all pessimistic in the short term and none of them believed the “official version” of events. Since there seems to be no consensus about the matter, a friend suggested that I should summarize the main theories I heard and circulate that document, asking for comments. I hope your comments will clarify things even if this document does not. So here, in no particular order, are the theories.
1. Things fall apart: This theory holds that all the various chickens have finally come home to roost. The elite has robbed the country blind and provided neither governance nor sustenance and now the revolution is upon us: the jihadis have a plan and the will to enforce it and the government has neither. The jihadis have already captured FATA and most of Malakand (a good 20% of NWFP) and are inevitably going to march onwards to Punjab and Sindh. The army is incapable of fighting these people (and parts of it are actively in cahoots with the jihadis) and no other armed force can match these people. The public has been mentally prepared for Islamic rule by 62 years of Pakistani education and those who do resist will be labelled heretics and apostates and ruthlessly killed. The majority will go along in the interest of peace and security. America will throw more good money after bad, but in the end the Viceroy and her staff will be climbing rope ladders onto helicopters and those members of the elite who are not smart enough to get out in time will be hanging from the end of the ladder as the last chopper pulls away from the embassy. Those left behind will brush up their kalimas and shorten their shalwars and life will go on. The taliban will run the country and all institutions will be cleansed and remodelled in their image.
2. Jihadi Army: The army is the army of pakistan . Pakistan is an islamic state. They know what to do. They will collect what they can from the Americans because we need some infidel technologies that we don’t have in our own hands yet, but one glorious day, we will purge the apostate officers and switch to full jihadi colors. The country will be ruled with an iron hand by some jihadi general, not by some mullah from FATA. All corrupt people will be shot. Many non-corrupt people will also be shot. Allah’s law will prevail in Allah’s land. And then we will deal with Afghanistan (large scale massacre of all apostates to be held in the stadium), India , Iran and the rest of the world in that order.
3. Controlled burn: This theory holds that there is no chance of any collapse or jihadi takeover. What we are seeing are the advanced stages of a Jedi negotiation (or maybe a Sith negotiation would be a better term). The army wants more money and this is a controlled burn. They let the Taliban shoot up some schools and courts (all bloody useless civilian institutions anyway). Panic spreads across the land. People like John Kerry come to Islamabad and almost shit in their pants at the thought of Taliban “60 miles away from the capital”. Just as Zia played the drunken Charlie Wilson and the whole Reagan team for fools, the current high command is playing on the fears and ignorance of the American embassy and morons like Kerry and even Clinton. 5 billion is peanuts. The sting has been prepared with extreme finesse. When Obama coughs up a good 10-20 billion, things will be brought under control, but just barely. The scam will continue for the foreseeable future. The jihadis may have their dreams, but the army is in charge and can easily defend the “settled areas”. The rest can stay in jihadi hands as a suitable cash cow.
4. The coming war on the Indian border: The border of India is on the Indus , not on the Radcliffe line. The taliban will take over the mountains, but they will be resisted at the edge of the plains. The Americans will train the army to fight this new war. There will be setbacks and loads of violence, but in the end the center will hold. America will fight a new kind of drone war in the mountains and in time, the beards will be forced to negotiate. Along the way, many wedding parties will also get bombed but you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. The Indian part of Pakistan will make peace with India and India will help us fight the Northern invaders. The army high command is NOT jihadi. But they lack capacity and need time to build it up. They need to be supported and strengthened. America should pay them more money and pay more heed to their tactical advice.
5. Buffer state: a variant of the above theory holds that Punjab is the historic buffer of India . All sorts of invaders come in, fight over the punjab and capture it. Then the peasants get to work. We might even convert to whatever barbaric ideology they have brought, but in time the peasants outbreed and outflank the invaders. In the end, the invaders become Indian and help us outbreed and outlast the next invading horde. We win by “assimilation and attrition”. I am not sure if this is an optimistic theory or a pessimistic one. In India , the two are practically the same anyway.
6. No one seemed to think that peace would break out soon. No one thought the “peace deal” is the end of the matter. Jihadi sympathizers regard it as a way for the taliban to consolidate in Swat before the inevitable advance into new territory. Anti-jihadis regard it as a necessary break to buy time while the new FC is trained, or as a surrender, or as an army plot, but NOT as a peace deal that leads to any kind of stable peace by some direct route.
My personal opinion: The state is stronger than many people think. But it is grossly incompetent and the elite itself is split and infiltrated by jihadi sympathizers. It wont collapse soon, but all problems will continue to get worse for the foreseeable future. A big drone offensive is coming and there will be much secondary fighting in Pakistan . But there is at least a 50-50 chance that jihadistan will NOT be able to expand into the Punjab and Sindh (though much terrorism will surely happen). The army will be gradually purged of jihadis and will one day come around to being a serious anti-jihadi force, but it wont be easy and it may not happen. If the army continues to have jihadi sympathies, then all bets are off and many horrendous scenarios are imaginable.
But we don’t have enough information to be sure of the outcome. The US embassy presumably knows more than we do. On the other hand, their declassified documents make it clear that they are incredibly naïve and racist in their assumptions and tend to regard the people they have colonized as mildly retarded children; so there is a good chance they don’t know batshit about what is going on, but are able to present impressive looking powerpoints about three cups of tea with Kiyani and the other brown children who inhabit the world outside the green zone..