Pakistani general discusses deterrence and renaissance

May 27, 2011

Brigadier General Feroz Khan (Download Image)

Pakistani general discusses deterrence and renaissance

Robert H Hirschfeld,, 925-422-2379
Did Pakistan know where Osama bin Laden was living?

Retired Pakistani Brigadier General Feroz Khan, now a lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, answered that question and others during a presentation at the Lab where he spoke about "Pakistan: Between Deterrence & Renaissance." Khan served in the Pakistani Army for 32 years, including helping establish his country's nuclear policy.

Regarding the bin Laden raid, Khan believes either people were looking the other way, or the state did not have the capacity to handle such a situation.

According to Khan, "The whole Pakistani system out there is not working like it does here. People are scared to report; people don't go to the police station when they see some suspicious activities going on, because the one who did the reporting will be kidnapped, or his child will be killed the next day."

"It's not that the people are defending the society simply because they like what's going on," he said. "They hate it. I mean, how many people have died in every town and city?"

When asked about persistent reports that Afghanistan's Taliban received support from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Khan said, "It's true that the ISI was sustaining and supporting the Taliban right up until 2001."

But after the U.S. attacked Afghanistan, Khan said the ISI abandoned the Taliban. It was the ISI agents who left Kabul, he said, who are the ones who provided tactical and physical intelligence information that helped facilitate the overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. According to Khan, Pakistan currently faces two major external threats. To the east is India, armed with nuclear weapons, and engaged with Pakistan in an ongoing boundary dispute over Kashmir, which requires extensive military operations. Khan spent time during his 32-year career commanding troops in a mountainous border region running some 750 kilometers, where altitudes can exceed 20,000 feet. Other border areas are urban and desert, requiring entirely different types of military equipment.

"This is not just a border dispute," said Khan. "This is the longest perpetual military deployment anywhere in the world today, 63 years now."

To the west is Afghanistan, with its 2,500 kilometers of unsettled, rugged frontier and adjoining tribal territories, often affiliated with Al Qaida or the Taliban.

These external threats are so major that they overshadow issues of internal security and result in bad governance, said Khan.

"Pakistan is compelled to face more challenges than it can sustain," he said. "That's the nature of the problem of the country's location and its very existence from the beginning."

Adding complexity to the situation is the fact that India and Pakistan both have arsenals of nuclear weapons.

Pakistan established its status as a nuclear state with five underground tests in May 1998, codenamed Chagai.

Following the tests, the fledgling Pakistani nuclear establishment faced the question, "What next?"

They debated the need for what were called "deterrent forces." Khan suggested at the time that his fellow military commanders needed to answer three questions: "Deter who, deter what, and deter how?" They were simple questions, but they were needed to begin the actual military planning process that lasted for the next dozen or so years.

"Pakistan is perhaps the only country among the world's eight nuclear powers that considers its nuclear capability as sine qua non to its national survivability," he said. "That's a very important factor in their national psyche. That is at the core of their thinking."

There have been several instances of nuclear saber rattling on both sides of the border. But Khan explained, "Yes, there's been a lot of rhetoric, a lot of drama, some survivability exercises, a little bit of panic here and there, but actually mating nuclear weapons, or really carrying on preparations to execute the threat of nuclear war, Indians and Pakistanis have not done that."

In fact, according to Khan, "They've fought pretty civilized wars with each other, if warfare is ever civilized. They haven't bombed each other's cities, killed a lot of civilians. They've remained confined to the battlefield. They're bitter enemies, but they're pretty disciplined."

According to Khan, Pakistan has weak political and civilian structures, but a stronger defense institution. But with what he described as a "prostrate economy," maintaining large defense forces becomes an enormous challenge, and thus Pakistan must take a two-pronged approach: rely on external alliances with the U.S., China, and Muslim states in the Middle East, as well as what he called "internal balancing," namely military forces and nuclear weapons.

When the British left Pakistan in 1947, the country was left with a massive vacuum, caused by factors such as a leadership crisis, weak political institutions, a non-existent constitutional direction and economic challenges. However, Pakistan inherited an intact military structure, with well-trained and educated junior commissioned officers.

In contrast, social institutions were weak or non-existent, power was held by feudal lords and tribal leaders, much of the population was uneducated and ethnic groups were polarized.

This has led to an unfortunate succession of political leaders who have been assassinated, fired, or overthrown.

In fact, there has been only one peaceful transition of power, following the death in September 1948 of Pakistan's first leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who died of natural causes after just 13 months in office.

Khan responded to an audience member's question about the semi-autonomous tribal region in Pakistan's northwest corner known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Pakistan's constitution recognizes FATA has having a special status. Originally, said Khan, the founding fathers assumed FATA would eventually become absorbed into the country's mainstream political landscape. But it hasn't happened yet, primarily due to a complicated mix of domestic politics, as well as uncertainty over the future of Afghanistan.

Khan believes Afghanistan will continue as a trouble spot until India and Pakistan are both satisfied that the government in Kabul has settled down and does not pose a geopolitical threat to either country. And Iran is also a factor, he added.

As for the future, Khan suggested that Pakistan must accept a rapprochement with India. "Stop engaging in a debilitating conventional arms race and throw in the towel," he advises. It may not be a popular opinion among Pakistan's military establishment, but Khan believes in opening the borders and encouraging cultural, business, student and religious exchange programs, among others. "But," he admitted, "It's easier for me to say that right here than for the policymakers to carry it out."