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Review by Jon Dorschner


Jihad as Grand Strategy (Islamist Militancy, National Security, and the Pakistani State) by S. Paul Kapur, Oxford University Press: New York, 2017, ISBN 978-0-19-976852-3, 177 pp., $39.95 (Hardcover).

Although the United States was a long-term patron of Pakistan, there was not much US interest in Pakistan’s unrelenting covert war and commitment to terrorism prior to the Al Qaeda terrorist attack against the United States in 2011. Since then, writing on the seemingly impenetrable maze that is Pakistan’s shadowy support for “bad actors,” has become a growth industry. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid is one of my favorite authors in this genre, having written a series of insightful books on the subject.  The 9/11 events were eye-opening for an American public that until then had been uncaring and unconcerned about Pakistan. However, the flood of reporting concerning this often-forgotten region confirmed once and for all, what South Asians and South Asia experts have long known, that Pakistan has supported Islamist militants from its inception and continues to do so today, regardless of its repeated assertions to the contrary.

With so many books to read, espousing so many different viewpoints, what can another book bring to the table? Why should anyone read S. Paul Kapur’s contribution? There are a number of reasons why I can recommend this work. Perhaps first and foremost, it is a slim volume, clocking in at a mere 177 pages (including the extensive notes and index). This makes this book more accessible to a wider audience. Because it is so short, Kapur writes in a compact, straightforward style, eschewing the rambling, detailed discourses of tomes written purely for academics.

This is not to say, however, that Kapur’s work is lightweight, not valuable, or meant only for non-South Asia specialists. He crafted the work to serve as an essential primer on a complex subject, while also contributing to theoretical literature meant for academics.

Jihad as Grand Strategy serves two valuable purposes. For the general reader, Kapur provides a condensed essential history of a long sordid story. He provides a succinct account of Pakistan’s long support for a jihadist strategy that uses Islamist non-state actors to covertly carry out the Pakistani agenda. This is the essential data that Kapur provides to support his thesis.

Unlike other authors on this subject, Kapur does not engage in sensationalism or categorical value judgments. He evaluates the Pakistani strategy from an objective, realist standpoint. He argues that Pakistan had good reasons to embrace jihadism as a tool of national policy. From a realist standpoint, the strategy furthered Pakistan’s national interests in important ways. Pakistan also took the realist stance that it need not be encumbered by moralization and value judgments and was free to manipulate Muslim religious sentiments for its own gain.

Split off from India in 1947, Pakistan was in every way the weaker of the two states. India enjoyed the pre-eminent economic, political and military advantage. Pakistan was determined that the Muslim majority state of Kashmir accede to Pakistan. Established as the “homeland” for India’s Muslims, Pakistan could not accept a Muslim-majority state in India.

The Kashmiri revolt against the autocratic Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir, provided Pakistan with a target of opportunity and a chance to acquire Kashmir. Unable and unwilling to be dragged into a conventional conflict with India, Pakistan first supported the rebellion with money and weapons, and then sponsored an invasion of Kashmir by Pakistani tribesmen. This initial foray into jihadism was haphazard and poorly organized. The Indian Army prevented the invading tribesmen from capturing the capital at Srinagar, compelling the Pakistan Army to intervene to save the collapsing invasion. The operation enabled Pakistan to acquire one third of the state. The Pakistani leadership concluded that it would do a better job next time.

In 1965, Pakistan tried again. It created a more well-organized a better armed force of Kashmiri militants (organized into companies with Pakistani officers and NCOs) to infiltrate Kashmir. Pakistan thought the Kashmiri population was ripe for armed revolt, but it proved to be a serious miscalculation. Instead of rising up, some Kashmiris turned the invaders in to Indian security forces. Kapur points out that even in failure, the Pakistanis learned they could successfully infiltrate militants into Kashmir, keep them undercover until it was time to launch an attack, and that a small number of armed militants could cause an inordinate amount of damage.

In 1987, Indian mismanagement in Kashmir presented Pakistan with a golden opportunity to revive the insurgency. This time, Pakistan was much more well-prepared. That is because the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan provided invaluable experience and resources. With US support, Pakistan managed the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan. Pakistani military and ISI (interservices intelligence) officers worked closely with the CIA to run huge programs. Pakistan excluded moderate groups and directed American aid to Islamist groups that ironically turned their American supplied weapons on American troops after 9/11. Kapur points out that while Pakistan was happy to drive the Soviets from Afghanistan and put an Islamist government in place there, its real priority was always Kashmir.

Kapur points out what many Americans still have not realized. After the Soviet departure, Pakistan created the Taliban to put a client government in power in Afghanistan. After 9/11, Pakistan pledged to join the US-sponsored “war on terror,” and join the fight against the Taliban. Pakistan accepted American military and economic aid as a member of the anti-terror coalition, while covertly supporting the Taliban. Pakistan continues this support up to the present day.

Pakistan’s primary concern was always Kashmir. Kapur documents how the Zia ul Haq regime vastly inflated the number of weapons and the amount of money required for the insurgency and kept aside these resources for a future effort in Kashmir. It established training camps inside Afghanistan for Islamist militants that it then infiltrated into Indian Kashmir and provided them with much better weapons and equipment. It also told Kashmiri militants that no Pakistani troops would be sent into Indian Kashmir with them, and they must fight on their own. Pakistan discovered that its policy was quite effective. India was unable to effectively seal the Line of Control, enabling Pakistan to infiltrate as many as 2,000 militants per month into Kashmir at the height of the insurgency.

Pakistan’s jihadi policy was brutally realist. While it realized that the insurgency was unlikely to compel India to abandon Kashmir, it wanted to use the conflict to inflict the greatest possible damage on India. Pakistan wanted allies that were utterly violent and ruthless. Pakistan quickly discovered that its Kashmiri surrogates did not fit the bill. Its first partner in Kashmir was the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). The JKLF accepted Pakistani weapons, money, support and training, but would not dance to Pakistan’s tune. It had a secular orientation, rather than an Islamist one, and wanted independence for Kashmir, not accession to Pakistan. Most importantly, it was not willing to engage in the level of violence and brutality that Pakistan demanded. As Kashmiris, the JKLF was reluctant to carry out atrocities against its own people. It was also not willing to sign on to an eternal jihad, but was willing to negotiate with the Indian government to gain concessions.

Pakistan determined that it could not count on Kashmiris to inflict maximum damage and turned to “guest militants” from a wide variety of countries. Many of these jihadis had been brutalized in the Afghan conflict. They were committed adherents of radical Islam. They had no ties to the Kashmiri population, and nursed an implacable hatred of India. Pakistan’s most favored patron was (and remains) the Lashkar e Toiba (Let).

Kapur’s essential thesis is that realist analysis verifies that the jihadi strategy is no longer in Pakistan’s national interest and threatens Pakistan’s future survival.

Pakistan has lost control of its Islamist allies. Even the Let, which Pakistan deemed its most reliable partners, now operates independently. These organizations accept Pakistani support, but no longer take orders from their Pakistani handlers. They do not take Pakistani interests into consideration and adopt policies that hurt Pakistan. In the past decade, Pakistan-supported groups under the umbrella of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have declared war on the Pakistan Army and the Pakistani state. As a result, the Pakistani Army is bogged down in extensive counter insurgency operations in Waziristan Province and is taking heavy casualties. The TTP has responded to the Pakistani offensives by conducting spectacular terrorist attacks throughout Pakistan.

Pakistan supported Islamists have embraced worldwide jihad, and do not restrict themselves only to “liberating” Kashmir from Indian rule. The LeT and others are fighting to re-establish Muslim rule over the entire South Asian subcontinent and have conducted bloody terrorist attacks against India in the name of a South Asian jihad. These outrages (such as the 2008 Let attack in Mumbai) risk provoking India into a military response against Pakistan. India’s growing conventional military capabilities are giving it the ability to inflict an humiliating defeat on Pakistan.

Pakistani support for these out of control militants has increased insecurity in the region, compelling both India and Pakistan to increase their military expenditure. With the conventional balance heavily in India’s favor, Pakistan has increasingly relied on its nuclear arsenal. Pakistan has diverted huge sums to its military, and this is money not spent on infrastructure and development. These “opportunity costs” are becoming unbearable.

The rational course of action would be to abandon this policy. However, Pakistan has failed to do so. What causes a state to act against its own national interests? Authors such as Hussain Haqqani and Christine Fair rightly point out that the Pakistani Army is essentially “greedy.” It has benefitted from a policy of permanent confrontation with India and is unwilling to give it up.

Kapur does not deny this argument, but believes that the best explanatory variable is Pakistan state weakness. Pakistan was established as a theoretical “homeland” for South Asian Muslims by a group of intellectual and political elites that were essentially out of touch with the Muslim mainstream. The intellectual concept that Hindus and Muslims constitute two seperate “nations” that must have their own nation states, has not worked out in the real world. Instead, Pakistan has been a weak state from its inception. A disparate grouping of contending ethnic groups without a shared national identity, Pakistanis have turned to Islam as the only factor that unites them. Furthermore, as the Pakistani state turns to Islamicization as its reason for being, it unites its population by instilling a permanent state of conflict with “Hindu” India.

This conflict is centered on the Kashmir dispute, which defines the Indo-Pakistan relationship as a competition for territory. Kashmir has been elevated into the bedrock of Pakistani nationalism. Pakistanis are socialized into the dispute through their education system, media, and political institutions. While Pakistan is determined to “liberate” Kashmir, and absorb it into the Pakistani state, it does not have the conventional military capability to do so. It has thus turned to Islamist jihad, using proxy forces as a low-cost way to embroil India in conflict, keep the Kashmir issue alive, and “bleed” Indian security forces.

Kapur argues that this essential state weakness makes it almost impossible for the Pakistani state to give up on jihad. He then qualifies this statement by pointing out that realization of an existential crisis could compel Pakistan to take this course of action, along with the emergence of charismatic leaders capable of carrying out such a radical shift in policy.

Kapur does a good job of supporting his thesis and providing the necessary background information regarding Pakistan’s jihad policy. While the brevity of the work prevents Kapur from tackling all the issues, I am surprised he did not mention the Kargil conflict. Kapur states that Pakistan became even more convinced of the efficacy of its jihad policy after suffering total defeat in the 1971 Bangladesh war. The defeat convinced Pakistani leaders they must avoid conventional conflict at all costs. However, Pakistan’s acquisition of a nuclear arsenal provided it with a false sense of security, leading it to embrace adventurism and embark on the ill-advised Kargil operation. This proved to be another conventional defeat, resulting in the destruction of three Pakistani light infantry battalions.

Kapur also did not include the latest Indian Army tactics. Indian Army special operations forces now conduct operations inside Pakistan Kashmir in response to Pakistan-supported jihadi attacks. These limited operations, raise the operational costs for Pakistan with little risk of escalation.

While Kashmir erupts into violence periodically, I would argue that Kashmiris are themselves tired of perpetual conflict and this is compelling them to reluctantly accept Indian sovereignty in Kashmir. I would also argue that even though resentment against India runs deep in Kashmir, the Kashmiri population has also tired of Pakistan and its incessant demands for unending jihad. These changing parameters, as well as India’s growing counter-insurgency capability and growing ability to restrict infiltration across the Line of Control, have put limits on Pakistan’s ability to keep the pot boiling in Kashmir, and make it easier for a future Pakistani leader to quietly wind down the Pakistan-supported jihad there.white star

American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.

imageA native of Tucson, Arizona, Jon P. Dorschner earned a PhD. in South Asian studies from the University of Arizona. He currently teaches South Asian Studies and International Relations at his alma mater, and publishes articles and books on South Asian subjects. From 1983 until 2011, he was a career Foreign Service Officer. A Political Officer, Dr. Dorschner’s career specialties were internal politics and political/military affairs. He served in Germany, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, the United States Military Academy at West Point and Washington. From 2003-2007 he headed the Internal Politics Unit at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India. In 2007-2008 Dr. Dorschner completed a one-year assignment on an Italian Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Tallil, Iraq. From 2009-2011 he served as an Economic Officer, in Berlin, Germany.

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