Our guest blogger is Peter Juul, research associate at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Yesterday, the New York Times reported on the growing convergence of Punjabi and tribal area-based militant groups in Pakistan. The relationship between these two geographically distinct militant groups is more than ideological — tribal militants and al Qaeda have money, training sites and sanctuaries, and suicide bombs, while Punjabi militants have logistical networks in major cities like Lahore to survey possible targets and safe-house bombers. As Bruce Reidel, a former CIA analyst and the head of President Obama’s Pakistan and Afghanistan policy review, put it, “You are seeing more of a coalescence of these militant groups… Connections that have always existed are becoming tighter and more public than they have in the past.”
As CAP Senior Fellow Brian Katulis and I noted at the end of March, Pakistani militants were more likely to penetrate deeper into a weak Pakistan than they were to conduct their own “surge” against additional American forces in Afghanistan. Using existing links, militants (some still sponsored by elements of the Pakistani security establishment) have mounted increasing attacks deep in Pakistan’s “settled” areas -– especially Punjab -– even before President Obama announced his new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.
This more public alliance between militant groups has been driven not by a build-up of U.S. troops in Afghanistan or increased U.S. drone strikes in the tribal region but by former President Pervez Musharraf’s military assault on the vigilante Red Mosque compound in Islamabad in July 2007. It’s also a consequence of the myriad dysfunctions of the Pakistani state –- which include double games with militant groups, politicians concerned more with intrigue than national interests, and the overall inability to govern the country.
Most people in the upper echelons of the Pakistani state seem to prefer to look the other way as militants gobble up sections of the country outside the tribal areas -– President Asif Ali Zardari recently assented to imposing Islamic law in the Swat region, effectively turning that area over to militants. As a Punjab landlord told the Times, “The government is useless… They live happy, secure lives in Lahore. Their children study abroad. They only come here to contest elections.”