Countering Militancy and Terrorism in Pakistan: The Civil-Military Nexus

Based on interviews with civil and military officials and politicians, this report details the poor governance and imbalance of power in Pakistan and offers key recommendations for the military, civilian institutions, parliament, and civil society to achieve the goals and objectives outlined in Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP). The need for an assessment of the National Internal Security Policy and subsequent NAP became evident as the heightened military action under Operation Zarb-e-Azb entered its second year. Much remains unclear due to the lack of transparency in operations of both civil and military institutions and the absence of active parliamentary oversight.


  • Pakistan resides in an unsettled and hostile neighborhood and faces an existential challenge from domestic forces of sectarian and ethnic militancy and terrorism.
  • Many of Pakistan’s domestic problems are related to poor governance and the imbalance of power and operational ability between civil institutions and the military.
  • Shortsighted policies of successive civil and military governments and a dynastic political system have hobbled efforts to develop a strong, stable polity and economy.
  • Civil and political institutions remain weak and dysfunctional; a well-organized and disciplined military continues to dominate key strategic sectors related to foreign policy and security and currently retains control over the Afghan border region.
  • Recent military operations to clear the northern border regions abutting Afghanistan of terrorist bases have had some success, but the effort inside Pakistan remains unfinished.
  • A well-defined objective and longer-term timetable are needed for the use of the paramilitary Rangers in Punjab and Sindh. Karachi may be the test for these efforts.
  • Governance would be strengthened with better coordination and collaboration between civil institutions and the military.
  • Greater willingness by the military to bring civilians into their military campaign planning processes and to train and assist civil institutions (particularly the police force) in growing into their roles and responsibilities would bolster security.
  • The central government should establish a clearer vision and a process for decision making related to antiterrorism and antimilitancy efforts; devote more resources to its security institutions; and better organize its relationships with individual provinces.
  • Parliament should play a more active role in defining and measuring the success of efforts to counter terrorism and militancy.
  • Civil society must play a more active and informed role in this process.

About the Report

The need for an assessment of the National Internal Security Policy and subsequent National Action Plan of the government of Pakistan became evident as the heightened military action under Operation Zarb-e-Azb entered its second year. This report is based on conversations with civil and military officials and politicians inside Pakistan and on focus group sessions with leading civil and military thinkers, including retired officials, members of the media, and members of the police force. Much remains unclear due to the lack of transparency in operations of both civil and military institutions and the absence of active parliamentary oversight or questioning of operations. A key element of the review was the ability of the military and the civil government to work together effectively at both the federal and provincial levels. As a corollary to this, it was important to see the opportunity for the central government to assert its supremacy. This report focuses on the civil-military nexus, especially in the context of the Apex Committees at the provincial level, and identifies areas that demand attention if the National Action Plan is to succeed.

About the Author

Shuja Nawaz is a Pakistani-born strategic analyst based in Washington, DC. He was the founding director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council, where he is now a distinguished fellow. He writes for leading newspapers, journals, and websites and speaks on current issues before civic groups, at think tanks, and on radio and television worldwide. He has also advised and briefed senior government and military officials and parliamentarians in the United States, Europe, and Pakistan.

Flashpoint South Asia: Opportunity knocks

As President-elect Donald Trump finalizes his cabinet and receives his intelligence briefings, among other things, he will be told about the potential for a nuclear conflagration in South Asia. This populous region with its age-old religious and sectarian rivalries has posed a challenge to US policy makers. Other than a departure plan for an unfinished engagement with Afghanistan, we still do not have a clear or comprehensive regional policy for this volatile yet critical part of the emerging global order. For too long, we have adopted a band-aid approach and single-country policy or at best hyphenated pairs of countries in this region (as in the Af-Pak odd couple). We now have the capacity to craft a broader approach and thus sustain peace and stability in Greater South Asia while opening up larger markets for US goods and services. We need to create relationships that will endure. This demands a regional overview, one that will save the US taxpayers expenditures on fighting wars and US exports and influence in Greater South Asia.

An effective regional policy for Greater South Asia has to include more than India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal; Afghanistan and Iran have ancient cultural, economic, and religious ties to the region. Indeed, for example, more Pakhtuns live in what is now Pakistan than do in Afghanistan. And Pakistan has a Shia population that exceeds 40 million, and more Shia live in India and Pakistan than the total population of Iran.

When previous US piecemeal policy failed, our government abandoned the region in frustration. For much of the post-World War II period, the US and India were not in the same camp. Today, they are. For the first time in recent history, the United States has developed relations with all the countries of the Greater South Asia region, one that contains around 1.7 billion people and perhaps the largest agglomeration of the Middle Class in the world. South Asia may well be the engine of growth and stability of Asia as a whole in the 21st Century and provide a counter balance to the growth of China.

The United States now has an opportunity to help knit together this region to foster trade within South Asia, between South Asia and the Pacific region, and between Central Asia and China. South Asia already has powerful economic ties to the Middle East, providing much of the expatriate labor force that has built up the Gulf States and Arabian Peninsula economies. According to the World Bank, in 2015 more than $116 billion of the total $581.6 billion of remittances from the Middle East flow to geographic South Asia. The slowdown of the Middle Eastern economies following the drop in oil prices will likely have serious consequences for the region. Further, as the Economist Intelligence Unit states “The expected raising of US Federal Reserve policy interest rates from 2017 will also add to downward pressure on the [Indian] rupee and, to a lesser extent, on those of its smaller neighbours.” Creating a regional market, with US help, could help the countries of the region and the United States.

India’s huge trade of nearly $100 billion a year with China rivals that with the United States. This economic codependency may help keep these powerful nuclear neighbors from pursuing the path of conflict. Similarly, Pakistan and India have the potential to increase their trade from the current paltry $2.6 billion that favors India to five times that number in the short run, and eventually a high approaching $100 billion a year, helping cement economic ties and shifting the focus away from conflict. The United States needs a game plan to assist in these directions and away from conflict. China is working with Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan to establish closer trade routes and economic ties. Its One Road, One Belt policy hopes to knit economic ties with Central Asia and other neighboring areas. This fits in nicely with the United States’ New Silk Road initiative, as former Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman recently argued. And both initiatives could tie the China Pakistan Economic Corridor into trade routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan and Central Asia and the Gulf.

The US, with its European partners, should be crafting policies that will assist the creation of a thriving regional economic network in Greater South Asia, based on infrastructure and development of human capital. Helping Afghanistan will be key. Pushing for an extension of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement to India should be among these objectives. This will assist the United States in developing economic and political ties to the people of these countries rather than with status-quo elites or military clients alone.

As a start, President Trump should drop the outmoded Af-Pak model. Reviving and revivifying a Central and South Asia Bureau in State and a reorientation of countries in two regional commands, PACOM and CENTCOM, in the Pentagon, to bring all of South Asia into the same orbit would be important changes to consider. This would allow, among other things, for the Indian and Pakistani navies to work together to protect the sea-lanes of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. Despite the rhetoric of collaboration across the Pentagon’s regional commands, the walls between them are too high and impervious.

A big challenge will be to help Pakistan transform itself from what was once termed an “Ally from Hell” to a partner in creating regional growth and stability. Helping Pakistan effectively fight terrorism and militancy inside its own borders, opening up South Asia trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia, and allowing Pakistan to benefit from access to Iranian gas and oil as a first step to linking Iran’s oil pipelines to India’s refineries should be high on the priority list. Further securing its nuclear weapons from radical groups would involve building on the already well-established ties between its nuclear community and that of the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Pakistan also needs help in transforming its anachronistic educational system laden with radical Islamist dogma to an open-minded curriculum. The British government is concentrating on rebuilding the education sector. The US could ride in the British wake. Greater communications and cooperation between India and Pakistan on the nuclear front and on water and glacier management, especially in disaster management planning and control are also areas where the United States’ research and experience can play a key role.

If countries in the region are willing to benefit from this enhanced US engagement, economic and financial assistance and advice could then be provided via the International Financial Institutions where the United States has a powerful voice and vote. Afghanistan will need such aid for many years to come. Pakistan has just graduated from an International Monetary Fund program but is not out of the Bretton Woods yet. It relies heavily on World Bank project lending and grants and credits from its subsidized lending programs via the International Development Association. India is not an IMF borrower but still has World Bank and IDA loans and grants on its books. However, it could benefit from advice, as needed, as does Iran.

All these are opportunities waiting for a strong and clear-headed policy leadership in Washington. This will involve taking a harder position with countries that demand US assistance so that they take greater ownership of their projects and programs and set attainable benchmarks for success. The US aid program should not be taken for granted or as an entitlement, as was the case with Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past. Further, we need to work more directly and closely with grass roots and civil society groups so we can empower them rather than the often corrupt elites in the capitals of aid recipient countries. And we must forge a partnership that spends aid money in the countries rather than siphon it off back to consultants inside the Beltway or allows aid to be spirited to offshre accounts of ruling elites. Results-based budgeting in this process is a must. This will help us get out of the trap of cash-for-hiring local partners that has characterized our lending and grant making for decades.

A clearly enunciated regional policy for South Asia will help remove the doubts surrounding an impending pell mell withdrawal from the region. Afghanistan must not be left in the lurch again, as we did in the 1990s. Engagement is also critical with the other countries of the region. A stable and growing South Asia would not only be good for the region but will also help the United States fulfill its global obligations as a leader and friend of democratic forces and expand the market for our own exports. Delay in addressing the needs of South Asia will add to the list of potential flashpoints around the world and detract from President Trump’s ability to tackle the emerging issues at home. Opportunity is knocking.

Shuja Nawaz is Distinguished Fellow at the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council in Washington DC and author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within, (Oxford 2008) which he is now updating to the current period.

Crossed Swords

Crossed SwordsBased on 30 years of research and analysis, this definitive book is a profound, multi-layered, and historical analysis of the nature and role of the Pakistan army in the country’s polity as well as its turbulent relationship with the United States. Shuja Nawaz examines the army and Pakistan in both peace and war. Using many hitherto unpublished materials from the archives of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army, as well as interviews with key military and political figures in Pakistan and the United States, he sheds light not only on the Pakistan Army and its US connections but also on Pakistan as a key Muslim country in one of the world’s toughest neighbourhoods. In doing so, he lays bare key facts about Pakistan’s numerous wars with India and its many rounds of political musical chairs, as well as the Kargil conflict of 1999. He then draws lessons from this history that may help Pakistan end its wars within and create a stabler political entity. Forthcoming April 2008, Oxford University Press (Pakistan) and May 2008 OUP, USA. Updated 2nd edition 2017.

To order from OUP USA please visit here.

To order from please visit here

Advance Reviews

“This is by far the fullest and most authoritative analysis yet published of Pakistan and its army and intelligence services”
William Dalrymple, The New York Review of Books, Feb 12, 2009

“Shuja Nawaz has used his considerable expertise to delve deep into the Pakistan Army. The result is an insightful study of an institution that has been, and remains, the center of gravity in Pakistan. This superbly researched book comes at a critical time in Pakistan’s history. A must read to understand the past and the ongoing events.”
General Jehangir Karamat, Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan. 1996-98

“This exceptionally authoritative book, rich in insider history, could not have come at a better time as a key to understanding the underlying power structures of Pakistan as it struggles to find its place in the world.”
Barbara Crossette, former South Asia Bureau Chief, The New York Times

“Shuja Nawaz’ study is as definitive as we are likely to get: no other book has penetrated so deeply into the army, and so carefully examined this powerful institution in the context of Pakistan’s history and politics.”
Stephen P. Cohen, The Brookings Institution, Washington DC, author of The Pakistan Army, and The Idea of Pakistan

“An exhaustive account of the most powerful pillar of the Pakistani state structure, this is more than just a study of a single institution. It is an insider’s considered view of sixty years of Pakistani history. Using information culled from an array of hitherto unused sources, including some rare interviews and the Pakistan army’s own archives, the author blends astute analysis and gripping historical narrative with consummate skill. Containing a welter of insights into the military mindset, its partnership with the civil bureaucracy and attitude towards the political fraternity, this is a book no serious student of Pakistan can afford to miss.”
Ayesha Jalal, Mary Richardson Professor of History, Tufts University

“To understand Pakistan you need to understand the army and to understand the army you need to read this book.”
Owen Bennett-Jones, BBC, author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm (Yale 2002)

At a time of crisis and peril for Pakistan, this ground breaking book offers unprecedented information about and provides unique insights into the country’s most important and powerful institution. Nawaz opens new ground on the army that has ruled Pakistan for half its political life. The army wields immense power in troubled Pakistan. Nawaz explains why and how in the most well researched and lucidly written book of its kind.”
Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban, and Jihad: the Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia

“Running at more than 600 pages, this densely researched study of Pakistan’s army – the country’s premier political institution – is set to become a standard reference. Based on a wealth of primary documentary sources and privileged access to key players, both domestic and foreign, it lays bare the less-than-benign role of a power broker that has dominated Pakistan’s national politics and that could yet determine its future course”.
Farzana Shaikh, Associate Fellow, Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), London

‘Crossed Swords is extremely authoritative and based on extensive research; it balances the in-depth knowledge of the insider with the critical eye of the scholar; and is both accessible enough for students while invaluable for specialists. In short, it is much needed and fills a longstanding gap on the existing literature on Pakistan.’

Yasmin Khan, author of The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (Yale University Press 2007)

FATA — A Most Dangerous Place

FATAIncreased militancy and violence in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan has brought FATA into sharper focus, as U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani leaders attempt to find solutions to the problems underlying the situation there. This most dangerous spot on the map may well be the source of another 9/11 type of attack on the Western world or its surrogates in the region. Should such an attack occur, it likely will be spawned in the militancy that grips FATA and contiguous areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan today. The principal actors are the Taliban, in both countries; their allies—former Soviet-era mujahideen commanders including Gulbadin Hekmatyar of the Hezbe Islami and the Haqqani group (headed by Jalaluddin and his son Siraj); Sunni militants from Central and Southern Punjab; and al Qaeda, which benefits from links to most of these insurgents. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar is suspected to be hiding in southwestern Afghanistan and Pakistani Balochistan. The Taliban are engaged in a struggle against foreign forces inside Afghanistan and now against the military in Pakistan. Hekmatyar has spoken against the Pakistani government but has not yet taken up arms against it. The Haqqanis have also not provoked a battle with the Pakistani forces as yet. The Punjabi militants, however, have become franchisees of al Qaeda and have been linked to attacks on the Pakistani state and its army.

While many ideas have been put forward for tackling the issues facing FATA, too often they rely on longer-term plans and solutions. This report attempts to define the conditions that spawn militancy and violence among the Pakhtun tribesmen that inhabit FATA and suggest practicable ways of approaching them in the short and medium term. Concrete actions by the principal actors—the U.S., Afghan and Pakistan governments and the U.S. and Pakistan militaries—are suggested. These will need to be underpinned by a national debate in Pakistan, in particular, on the nature of the country’s polity and the need to tackle terrorism and militancy as domestic issues. But the debate will need to be rooted in a clear consensus among the civil and military leadership on the nature of the Pakistani state and society and how to tackle the growing militancy inside the country and in broad-based support from major political parties and the general public. The United States needs to forge a longer-term relationship with Pakistan and its people, shifting from a transactional relationship to one built on strategic considerations and respect for Pakistan’s political and development needs. Failure to bring peace and to restore a modicum of stability to FATA will have widespread repercussions for the region and perhaps the world.

This report by a team sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies of Washington DC was released on January 7, 2008. The principal author is Shuja Nawaz.

You can download the report as a PDF file: FATA – A Most Dangerous Place

The video and audio can be reached at,com_csis_events/task,view/id,1893/


JourneysJourneys is Shuja Nawaz’s travelogue that traces a complex of journeys across the globe. But wherever he goes, the pull of memory draws him towards Pakistan. He captures the sounds and the sights of his homeland while viewing foreign lands through the lens of a native Punjabi. He attempts to revisit and revive many of the rhythms and rhymes of Punjabi poetry in English verse, using his experience with translations, including that of the Potohari verse of the late Baqi Siddiqui of Rawalpindi. This book of verse is a celebration of Shuja Nawaz’s deep and strong emotional links with the land of his birth. Published by Oxford University Press 1998. Out of Print.

In Afghanistan, President Ghani’s First Steps Will Be Critical

President Ashraf Ghani took over from President Hamid Karzai in Kabul today in an historic transition. A long dispute over the election result was resolved with a rare compromise that brought Dr. Ghani’s opponent, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, into government in a new position, as “chief executive,” that is shaped as a kind of prime ministership. The flood of commentary that preceded this inauguration was marked by extreme views, divided between those who saw the Afghan glass as half full and those who saw it emptying fast.

The mission for President Ghani will be to ensure that the glass remains unbroken. For Afghanistan’s sake and for the sake of its global and regional partners, who have invested heavily in this democratic transition, it is critical that Ghani leads in set up a governance system that works, is corruption-free, and lays the ground for stability and prosperity. He faces the task of doing so in the face of a Taliban insurgency that contests, or has displaced, state authority in disparate swaths of the country.

Ghani’s first challenge will be to ensure that government ministries are not treated as spoils for the winners. He will have to create, with Abdullah’s cooperation, a self-monitoring mechanism that will deter malfeasance and ethnic or tribal favoritism in sharing out the Afghan state’s own and borrowed or gifted resources.

The new president then will need to rebuild the confidence of his global partners by renewing ties that Karzai left to wither in the past year or two. Signing the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States likely will be on top of that list of promises he made. That will let a small US troop contingent stay in the country to train Afghan forces after the NATO-led combat force ends its mission within three months.

Ghani has the knowledge and experience of regional economics and politics that will let him revivify ties with Iran, Central Asia, Pakistan, and India. Rather than use India as a foil for Pakistan, he should work to catalyze an India-Pakistan partnership that would create a regional energy and open trade market with Afghanistan as a hub. He also could use Afghanistan’s deep cultural ties with Iran to help that country work out differences with the United States and Europe, and also resolve bilateral issues of drug smuggling and water-sharing across the Afghan-Iranian border.

His challenges abound, both at home and abroad. Besides the war, corruption and the illegal narcotics trade are pervasive, undermining the weak government machinery upon which Ghani will rely. Amid all this, Afghanistan has a largely young and heavily urbanized population that will need help in maintaining the progress that Afghan society has made in the past decade or so. Education, and especially of girls, has been a major achievement. Participation of women in the work force has grown. Health care has improved.

If Ghani can retain the progress made by persuading others to follow his personal example, and if he and Dr. Abdullah act visibly in concert to fight corruption and narcotics, they will be able to set Afghanistan on the right path. A path that Afghanistan’s friends would be better able and willing to support.

Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.

Nawaz on Pakistan’s Intelligence Director

NBC quotes South Asia Center Director Shuja Nawaz on Pakistan’s new intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar:

““Its good news that a professional soldier and not someone from the intel branch has been brought to the ISI,” said Shuja Nawaz of the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

“However, the ISI’s size is so large — larger than any other military command at his rank — that it cannot be controlled down to the lowest levels.”

While the military’s rank-and-file incur heavy losses in the militant-prone border areas, there have been instances of soldiers turning on their own. Assassination attempts in 2004 on a former president, retired Gen. Pervez Musharraf, involved military personnel, for example.

And earlier this month, a failed mutiny by navy personnel inspired by militant Islam almost led to a naval frigate being hijacked.

So Akhtar’s got a big job ahead of him, according to Nawaz.

“That’s going to his biggest operational challenge: Will he succeed in controlling this institution where his predecessors have failed?”

Nawaz: Pakistan on the Brink, Again

South Asia Center Director Shuja Nawaz writes for Foreign Policy on the mass protests in Pakistan demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Shar

With thousands of young Pakistanis besieging their capital to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan — a key element in the United States’ plan to withdraw from neighboring Afghanistan by the end of 2016 — is slipping into political anarchy. Only one year after the country’s first-ever democratic transfer of power, the elected government in Pakistan is at risk of another military takeover. Yet Washington is showing little sign that it is paying the situation the urgent attention it requires.

The youthful horde in Islamabad — led by former cricket player and current leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice) party Imran Khan, and a religious teacher from Canada named Tahir ul Qadri –demands electoral reforms, and Sharif’s removal from office for corruption and alleged fraud in the May 2013 election, which gave him a huge plurality in the parliament. From its headquarters in Rawalpindi, adjacent to the capital, the powerful army waits, calculating its next moves.