What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Some basic theorising of Pakistan's security sector

Same-day analysis of Pakistani developments on (My) State Failure Blog? I'll give you a break. I'm not really an area expert. But what I see in Pakistan (more exactly in Rawalpindi) today is definitely intriguing to me.
The pieces of the Pakistani puzzle are hard to assemble even for those beyond mere punditry on the affair. So that gives me some room for maneouvre. In the past months I noted how it is difficult to gauge the contradictions in Pakistani state agents' behaviour - state agents meant here as anyone from an ordinary Khasadar tribal militia-police force member to the most secret James Bond/Jason Bourne-type asset of Pakistani intelligence. Just think of how U.S. soldiers manning FOBs in the Afghan-Pakistani border area see one thing the other day, then wake up to something entirely different the next. Seasoned analysts are worried one day that things are flying off the handle completely, then the next they just wave that the event of concern for them the previous day can't really have happened without tacit approval or even direct involvement of Pakistan's security services.
So, in hard times like that, I just resort to formalising things in the most simple way conceivable, often suggested even in the mainstream media: I say that we might have, within Pakistan's security sector, at least a Faction A (Realpolitikers) and a Faction B (Islamists). To illustrate how the interplay of those could work out, think abstractly of what happens when a militant, sought after by the U.S., turns up at some checkpoint in border-stan. Faction A may say the guy is no threat to Pakistani state interests as such, let him go. Faction B will happily see him get past the checkpoint. If Faction A says the guy has to be arrested, Faction B may be in a position to still let the person slip through unnoticed.
So, can it happen then that Faction A doesn't mind if a militant slips through checkpoints on the way to Afghanistan, and yet that person gets stopped? Well, that's where kind of a Faction C may come into play, not really as a coherent faction, but rather as the unconnected group of individuals anywhere who can be motivated by financial or any other incentives to do so. And thus the militant in question may still be shot dead at the given checkpoint if there's enough money on offer as reward to get him, for instance by the U.S.
In this situation, for Faction A both Factions B and C are threats, but Faction B is one that can be used for a number of purposes (state interests, perceived in a particular way). For Faction B both Factions A and C are threats, but Faction A is one that has to be co-opted for now. So basically it's not cool to be C in this set-up, even if it may pay nicely on occasions. Factions A and B may look like black snakes to each other, but Faction C will be an outright enemy for both. Of course a Faction C could exist in the form of a network of informers as well, but such a network might find it hard to survive, and its external masters may find it hard to establish if it is capable of maintaining its credibility as a provider of reliable information over time. So it's not so cool to be an outsider to Pakistani affairs, either, especially a Western one at that.
Benazir Bhutto is dead now. She was shot first, then blown up. Not the most simple suicide bombing scheme imaginable. She was killed at a site that's difficult to defend, in circumstances in which providing security is no easy job. But officially many were actually involved in the business of protecting Bhutto. Officially many were responsible for protecting her.
Musharraf may not have known a thing - the factions' unfathomable interplay may be enough in and of itself for complications. One thing is sure, if Bhutto at the current stage was naturally closer to any faction within Pakistan's security sector according to the above formula, that might have been Faction C mostly, if there is anything like that. Sounds hopeless enough? Well, it seems hopeless enough on the basis of what happened today.
This reminds me of a long article from the Asia Times Online by former Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar, in which he basically warned that Western outsiders shouldn't assume they might have anything even close to a capability of micro-managing domestic politics in Pakistan. Not with their means, and with their interests (rather incompatible with Faction A's interests).
It's that, the possibility of talking about this in terms of state interests (those of getting 'reliable' politicians elected, "sovereign democracy"-style, and geopolitically counterbalancing India), that I'm not at all sure if one can talk exclusively of state failure here (in fact I'm certain one cannot). That is true even if Musharraf in particular may not know of everything that's going on behind his back, given how for that there's just not enough transparency in the Pakistani setting now.
So even any Faction B may be smaller than comfortable analysis has it imagined often-times. Although it's also fairly sure that armed actors external to the army-state complex have become empowered much more by now than a really strategically acting, abstract Faction A, of the model outlined above, might find it comfortable.
But I won't blog more on Pakistan in the future, perhaps not even if all hell breaks loose there (which I don't expect). I'll rather just watch from the sidelines as the more knowledgable sort things out.

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