TWQ: The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Islamist Militancy in South Asia - Winter 2010
January 1, 2010
Throughout its history, Pakistan has deliberately used non-state actors as a strategy of asymmetric warfare against stronger adversaries such as India and the Soviet Union. Islamist militants were armed and trained by elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence services, and funded by a sophisticated international financial network. This enabled Pakistan to attrite Indian and Soviet resources via proxy, without having to face either country in a direct conflict.
Now, however, Pakistan’s strategy has given rise to what we call a ‘‘sorcerer’s apprentice’’ problem. The jihadi organizations, like the magic brooms in Goethe’s tale, have taken on a life of their own. Along with the government, the army, and the intelligence services, such groups now comprise one of the main centers of gravity within Pakistan. As a result, the militants are in a position to pursue their own policy. Similar to Goethe’s brooms, they often act against the interests of their creators, attacking security personnel, assassinating government officials, seizing large swaths of territory within Pakistan, and launching attacks on India that could permanently scuttle the Indo—Pak peace process and trigger a large-scale war. Although Pakistan is largely to blame for creating and nurturing the jihadis, it is no longer wholly in control of them, and they should not be seen simply as tools of Pakistan’s policy.
Neither India nor Pakistan has reacted to these developments constructively. Pakistan has largely remained in a state of denial, refusing to take responsibility for its role in causing the jihadi problem. It has occasionally moved against the militants, but has never truly attempted to shut them down. Nor has it made serious efforts to deliver services and create social conditions that could make militancy less attractive, preferring instead to invest resources in pursuing its ongoing conflict with India. India, for its part, is working to coerce Pakistan into preventing further anti-Indian terrorism, despite limits on Islamabad’s control over jihadi organizations.
Furthermore, many of the coercive tools that it is acquiring, such as enhanced conventional military capabilities, are inappropriate to the task. Indeed, they may encourage further support from Pakistan for militancy by making the country less secure. Thus, neither India nor Pakistan has been able to play the role of regional sorcerer and rein in the jihadis.