Pakistan’s “Existential Threat” Comes From Within

Bruce Riedel joined Bernard Gwertzman of the Council on Foreign Relations to discuss the dire situation in Pakistan and what can be done to address it.

BERNARD GWERTZMAN: When we talked in January after Richard Holbrooke was appointed special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan you were rather gloomy on the outlook there. You said he was inheriting a “dim and dismal” situation. You then chaired a special committee to draw up policy for that region. Is the situation now any better? The press reports seem to portray a picture of continuing violence and disorder.

BRUCE RIEDEL: I think the situation remains dire. In Pakistan, in particular, it’s deteriorating. In Afghanistan, as President [Barack Obama] has said, we’re not winning. It’s not a lost war, but it’s not going in the right direction. In Pakistan, we face a growing coalescence of jihadist militant groups, not just in the tribal areas, but in the Punjab and in the major cities including Karachi. This is threatening the very survival of the Pakistani state as we have known it. It is not inevitable and it is not imminent, but there is a real possibility of a jihadist state emerging in Pakistan sometime in the future. And that has to be one of the worst nightmares American foreign policy could have to deal with.

GWERTZMAN: You used the expression when we spoke that this was the “jihadist Frankenstein monster that was created by the Pakistan army and the Pakistan intelligence service.” Is there any sign that they’re realizing what they’ve created and willing to do something about it?

RIEDEL: There are a few tentative signs, but it is far from clear that they acknowledge that the existential threat to Pakistan’s freedoms comes from within. I think the army remains focused on the external threat posed by India. Of course, here the “Frankenstein” [monster] is a self-fulfilling prophecy because extremist groups, in this case Lashkar-e-Taiba [Army of the Righteous], attacked India last November in Mumbai. The tension between New Delhi and Islamabad is back to a very high level. In that sense, the “Frankenstein” [monster creates] the conditions for the army to be focused on India. The post-Mumbai era of significant tension between India and Pakistan has not come to a close yet. And there is a serious risk of another Mumbai-style attack, which would ratchet up tensions and make the Pakistani army even more determined to keep 80 percent of its manpower focused on India rather than on the threat posed by the internal jihadist problem.

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