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Militants, army in perfect step

The Tehrik-e-Taliban’s declaration of solidarity with the Pakistani government against India is of interest because the Tehrik has been at the forefront of attacks against Islamabad, including the Pakistan military.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2008 23:59 IST

The Tehrik-e-Taliban’s declaration of solidarity with the Pakistani government against India is of interest because the Tehrik has been at the forefront of attacks against Islamabad, including the Pakistan military. At one level, it is evidence of how hostility to India unites the most disparate elements of Pakistan. At another, it reflects the shared worldview of the Pakistani military and the Islamicist militant groups it is supposedly combating. The officer corps has made no secret of its belief that the fighting in the tribal areas could be resolved by negotiation, that the conflicts there are a “misunderstanding” or a consequence of US pressure.

The Mumbai attack has shown how pointless it is to differentiate between a militant group that targets Kashmir and one that targets Kabul. However, Mumbai has also thrown up evidence that the difference between Pakistan’s military and its mullahs is far less than is believed. The only “non-State actor” that matters in Pakistan is its army, an institution that dwarfs the State that it is supposed to serve. And the involvement of this non-State actor in supporting groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and giving the green light for the Mumbai attacks is increasingly evident. Washington, the only capital with any real leverage over Pakistan, has asked itself the follow-up question: why would the Pakistani military sponsor something on the scale of the Mumbai attacks? The answer would seem to lie in the military’s desire to escape its commitments in the tribal areas. If India had followed the 2002 pattern, Pakistan would have had the excuse to move its six divisions from the Afghan border. This, in turn, would have ended the military option in the tribal areas leaving a negotiated settlement with groups like the Tehrik as the default stance.

For its own interests, the US needs to increase pressure on Pakistan. The Pakistani military must not be allowed to escape responsibility for Mumbai, otherwise it will keep trying to find means to avoid its responsibilities in the tribal areas. The men in khaki are in a state of denial. They insist the militant problem is about India’s actions in Kashmir, Kabul’s weakness in Afghanistan, US policies in West Asia — everyone is to blame except Pakistan itself. That the Tehrik should offer a common front with the military is no surprise. They are, ultimately, two sides of the same coin.