“[J]ihad has constituted nothing less than a central pillar of Pakistani grand strategy,” writes Naval Postgraduate School Professor S. Paul Kapur in his new book Jihad as Grand Strategy: Islamist Militancy, National Security, and the Pakistani State. This insightful case study illuminates how Pakistan’s Islamic Republic has pursued politics by means of Islamic proxies that are perpetrating faith-based violence, a phenomenon with immense implications for South Asia and beyond.
Kapur notes the Pakistani eye in the contemporary jihadist storm, as post-Cold War “one recurring theme concerning terrorism is strikingly clear: A disproportionate amount of it has been linked to Islamist militants based in Pakistan.” This includes Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Osama bin Laden’s numerous Pakistani connections to Al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attacks. Yet this is nothing new: “From 1947 to the present day, Pakistan has used religiously motivated non-state actors as strategic tools to confront stronger adversaries and shape its strategic environment without the costs and risks of direct combat.”
Kapur traces the origins of Pakistan’s linkage with jihadist religious warfare to the 1947 partition of British India into the independent states of Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India. “Pakistan suffered from material and domestic political weakness so severe that it threatened the new state’s viability” amidst disparate ethnicities in what had been British India’s neglected frontier regions. Accordingly, Pakistan’s leaders ultimately decided that “Pakistan would need to become a Muslim state; it could not simply serve as a secular state for Muslims.” The “new country would have to become a state based on a concept meaningful to the majority of ordinary Pakistanis, regardless of their ethnic, economic, or geographical interests or backgrounds.”
With this founding state ideology, “all South Asian Muslims constituted a single nation of the faithful,” including Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority province and a territory contested by the two states along their border, Kapur observes. Therefore Pakistan’s creation was a “fundamentally revisionist project, opposed to the territorial status quo in South Asia.” Yet “Pakistani leaders believed that such a negative identity, focused on opposition to so-called Hindu India, would most effectively unify the country.”
Kapur details how Pakistani authorities have employed Islamic ideology to inspire jihadist guerilla groups in successive campaigns to “liberate” Kashmir from Indian control, including the 1947 and 1965 Indo-Pakistani wars. India currently deploys about 400,000 security personnel in Kashmir to combat an insurgency that “has lasted nearly three decades and cost India more blood and treasure than all of its other wars combined.” “At the diplomatic level, the Kashmir dispute remains on the agenda of the international community, despite India’s claim that it is a solely bilateral issue.”
Kapur also analyzes how Pakistan has used jihadist proxies across its western border in Afghanistan in order to establish friendly regimes there. Pakistan had already been supporting such proxies in their struggles against disfavored Afghan governments during the 1970s when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. “From the beginning, the Pakistanis had viewed the Afghan war not simply as a danger, but also as an opportunity.”
When the United States and others subsequently supported through Pakistan Afghan guerillas fighting the Soviets, Kapur notes that “Pakistan insisted on serving as the exclusive link between international aid donors and the mujahideen.” With little oversight, “Pakistanis were able to divert considerable resources — one estimate puts the amount at 30 percent or more — away from the war to other uses,” such as supporting Kashmiri jihadists. Pakistan’s ruling dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, “reportedly referred in private to the war in Afghanistan as ‘the Kashmir jihad.’”
Pakistan’s control over aid to the mujahideen would create other unintended consequences for the United States, Kapur notes. “The Pakistanis ensured that the most hardline Islamist groups…received the lion’s share of the assistance.” Therefore, “US efforts to combat the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s inadvertently supported Islamists whom the US would have to fight post-9/11.”
Following the Soviet Union’s 1989 withdrawal from Afghanistan, Kapur examines how Pakistan gave extensive military and economic aid to the Taliban. Pakistan was also the first state in 1997 to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers. He thus concludes that the Taliban consolidation of power by 2000 “could not have occurred without Pakistani backing.”
Kapur examines numerous cases of Pakistani subterfuge in response to foreign pressures to eliminate the dangers posed by Pakistan’s jihadist proxies, particularly after 9/11. The “Pakistanis ultimately managed to have it both ways in Afghanistan” and were able to “hoodwink the United States, purportedly supporting the US campaign against the Taliban while continuing to aid and protect their Taliban allies.” Meanwhile, Pakistan received large amounts of American aid, approximating $24 billion between 2002 and 2012.
Such advantages of Pakistan’s jihad strategy are merely one side of Pakistan’s “jihad paradox,” Kapur warns. “Political and material weakness originally made Pakistan’s militant policy attractive and useful. Now, however, that same weakness makes Pakistan’s support for militancy extremely dangerous.” Jihad abroad like the devastating Pakistan-based November 2008 attack upon Mumbai is provoking India to modernize its military for quick retaliatory strikes against Pakistan. Jihad at home is meanwhile destabilizing, as a Taliban offshoot, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, has shown with an insurgency in Waziristan that has tied down 150,000 Pakistani troops.
Irrespective of American actions like sanctions, Kapur emphasizes that Pakistani abandonment of jihad will require revolutionary change analogous to the Soviet empire’s dissolution under Mikhail Gorbachev. Pakistan facing India “resembles a fish that cannot stop swimming. It must continue to move in an oppositional direction if it is to survive in its current ideological form.” “Reconsidering jihad would thus require an intellectual reformulation of the Pakistani state.”
As Kapur noted at a recent Washington, DC, Heritage Foundation presentation, his analysis of Pakistan is also applicable to other states like Pakistan’s neighbor Iran. Nuclear proliferation in this fellow jihadist state would allow Iran to emulate Pakistan by combining a nuclear deterrent with proxies like Hezbollah. Such developments make Kapur’s concise book all the more necessary for policymakers and the general public.