David Kilcullen, author of The Accidental Guerrilla (an insightful treatise on how to fight and win small wars amid big ones) and senior fellow at the EastWest Institute, is one of the foremost counter-insurgency experts in the world. A former Australian army officer, he writes that he “had to leave the army to get into the war” and has had hands-on experience with small wars and counter-insurgency in Cyprus, Bougainville, East Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He was the top adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus, who commanded US-led coalition forces in Iraq, and a key figure behind the so-called surge strategy that led to an increase of American troops in Baghdad and al-Anbar province, a stronghold of the insurgency in Iraq. Today he advises Petraeus on Afghanistan and is closely involved with the evolving US strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Between promoting his book, strategizing with the US military and having nightmares about Pakistan, he spoke to W. Pal Sidhu for Mint. Edited excerpts:
Your recent statement that “within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state” caused quite a stir in South Asia, especially Pakistan...
I am not calling for the break-up of Pakistan, but it is clear that Pakistan could potentially fail in less than six months if we do not assist them. With a population of 173 million, 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than the US Army and Al Qaeda headquarters, the collapse of Pakistan would dwarf everything else we have experienced until now. We need to ensure that Pakistan’s problems do not become the world’s problems.
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What is the basis for your assessment?
Well, it’s premised on two issues. First, internal security: although Pakistan is not the enemy, it is unarguable that some elements in the Pakistan security establishment—sections within the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the army—continue to support the Taliban and tolerate Al Qaeda. The fundamental problem is that Pakistan’s elected civilian leadership does not have control over its own national security establishment.
For example, after the attack on Mumbai in November 2008, Pakistani President (Asif Ali) Zardari and Prime Minister (Yousuf Raza) Gilani asked ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha to visit India only to be vetoed by army chief (Ashfaq Parvez) Kayani. Similarly, the Pakistan security forces are also unable to control the challenges to internal security. They were unable to protect the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team and also refused to control the situation in Lahore during the recent civil unrest, leading to a dangerous environment.
Creating a stir: Security expert David Kilcullen says the collapse of Pakistan would dwarf everything else we have experienced until now.
The second issue is economic: despite IMF (International Monetary Fund) bailout, the Pakistani economy remains extremely fragile. There is now also concern over water shortage and the state of the textile industry. The political instability and security situation has made Pakistan an unattractive investment for business. Clearly, the biggest danger to Pakistan is not India but the potential for takeover by militants.
Should India be worried about a collapsing Pakistan?
India should certainly see this as a very serious problem. I think India’s reaction to Mumbai shows that India does not want a conflict with Pakistan, but a weak Pakistani state with little monopoly of the use of force might be unable to prevent a fight with India. There is also the destabilizing role that Pakistani-based militants play in both India and Afghanistan.
What the Pakistani national security establishment needs is a guarantee from India, but anything that New Delhi can offer is unlikely to satisfy Islamabad. Only a regional multilateral security architecture is likely to provide that kind of guarantee, but such a structure does not exist at the moment. Organizations such as the EastWest Institute and others are working towards building precisely such a regional set-up.
How can the US and other powers assist Pakistan to address its problems?
Only Pakistanis themselves can solve Pakistan’s problems. However, we can help in the process by empowering the elected civilian leadership in taking control of the national security apparatus. One approach would be to provide assistance and funding to the police in Pakistan to empower them to enforce and maintain the rule of law, making them the primary counter-militancy force, as is the case in India and several other countries. By and large, the police in Pakistan are concerned with ensuring the rule of law and are not interested in fighting India.
Another is to carry out political reform, especially in the FATA (federally administered tribal areas) region, so that it is not subject to an anachronistic set of separate unique rules and regulations, but is part of the regular dispensation of the state of Pakistan. We should not be frightened of democracy and what it might deliver. The Pakistani army’s heavy-handed tactics played a part in provoking the uprising in FATA that was subsequently hijacked by extremists. Finally, the US and other key powers should ensure that in the long-term legitimate civilian rule is established and that it can deliver governance and social justice to the people. Of course, stabilizing Afghanistan, which has been a key factor in destabilizing Pakistan, would go a long way to addressing some of the challenges facing Pakistan.
How is the current US policy, which you are instrumental in formulating, shaping up to address the challenges of Afghanistan?
The political framework of the Obama administration is to focus on Al Qaeda in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The main military effort (to be led by Gen. Petraeus) will be in Afghanistan whereas the main aid, development and diplomatic effort (to be led by special envoy Richard Holbrooke) will probably be in Pakistan.
In Afghanistan this has translated into a surge of 26,000 additional troops to stabilize the country for a year or two and then begin the process of handing it over to the Afghan establishment. This appears to be the right approach because at the moment the Taliban are gaining strength.
Initially there will be an upsurge in violence against the coalition forces in Afghanistan. However, if we can succeed in reducing the number of Afghan civilian deaths then the surge may succeed. By July it should become clear if this strategy is working.
W. Pal Sidhu is vice-president of programmes at the EastWest Institute, New York. He writes on strategic affairs every fortnight. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org