Pakistani governments had grown comfortable spending massive amounts of money on defense and almost nothing on education during the days of Afghan jihad when US and Saudi aid flowed freely. In the 1990s, after US-imposed sanctions due to Pakistan's nuclear program, the economy almost collapsed and the education infrastructure deteriorated rapidly.
For the poor, the madrassas offered a place where their children could get free boarding, food and education, and it turned out to be an irresistible option when compared to crumbling or non-existent government-funded secular schools. Pakistani governments also encouraged this to avoid spending much on education. The sheer magnitude of this increase can be fathomed by this simple statistic: according to former Pakistani diplomat Hussain Haqqani, only 7,000 Pakistani children attended madrassas as early as 20 years ago. That number has grown today to closer to 2 million, by conservative estimates.
In the United States, many voters have the impression that we are spending more and more on a public school system that gives results that are less and less satisfactory; many families wish they could send their children to school in a place where the family's values will be respected and reinforced, not attacked by unfriendly policies and eroded by bad influences. Perhaps considering our concerns in the United States will help some of my American readers to better conceptualize the attractiveness of the madrassas for people in Pakistan.
The Pakistani army on its part saw the large number of madrassa-trained jihadis as an asset for its covert support of the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as its proxy war with India in Kashmir. While the NWFP madrassas supplied both Afghan refugees and Pakistanis as cannon fodder for the Taliban, the Binori madrassa and associated ones formed the base for Deobandi groups like Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammed, which sought to do the Pakistan army's bidding in Kashmir. The many Ahle-Hadith seminaries supplied Salafi groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Arab sheikhs funded madrassas in the Rahimyar Khan area of rural Punjab, which formed the backbone of hardcore anti-Shi'ite jihadi groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba, and its even more militant offshoot the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. All these groups shared training camps and other facilities under the aegis of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence(ISI).
So, mujahideen who had military- or paramilitary-style training -- perhaps not in the madrassas, but in facilities associated with them -- not only fought the jihad against the Soviet Union, but could help keep any undesired Iranian influences in check, and could even serve as a proxy army in Kashmir.
We now take a break from our article to consider a 2002 paper written by Bruce Riedel, who "was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East and South Asia Affairs in the National Security Council at the White House from 1997 to 2001." The paper is entitled American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House; here are excerpts:
KARGIL AND KASHMIR
For fifty years Pakistan and India have quarreled over the fate of Kashmir. The dispute is not a cold confrontation like that between the two superpowers over Germany in the Cold War. Rather it is a hot confrontation, which has been punctuated by three wars. Since the early 1990s it has been particularly violent with almost daily firefights along the Line of Control (LOC) that divides the state and within the valley between the Indian security forces and the Muslim insurgency. Both India and Pakistan deploy hundreds of thousands of troops in the area.
The situation in Kashmir began to flare up in the early 1990's, and then remained hotter.
That would have been enough time for the jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviets, and then the Soviet-backed regime of Najibullah, to have ended, after which some of the jihadis went northward, into Tajikistan; but others could have moved eastward, towards Kashmir.
In the spring of 1999 the Pakistanis sought to gain a strategic advantage in the northern front of the LOC in a remote part of the Himalayas called Kargil. Traditionally the Indian and Pakistani armies had withdrawn each fall from their most advanced positions in the mountains to avoid the difficulties of manning them during the winter and then returned to them in the spring. The two armies respected each other's deployment pattern and did not try to take advantage of this seasonal change.
In the winter of 1999, however, Pakistani backed Kashmir militants and regular army units moved early into evacuated positions of the Indians, cheating on the tradition. The Pakistani backed forces thus gained a significant tactical advantage over the only ground supply route Indian forces can use to bring in supplies to the most remote eastern third of Kashmir. By advancing onto these mountaintops overlooking the Kargil highway, Pakistan was threatening to weaken Indian control over a significant (yet barren) part of the contested province.
What was all the more alarming for Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's hardline Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was that the Pakistani military incursion came after the Prime Minister had made a bold effort in early 1999 at reconciliation with Pakistan by traveling by bus to the Pakistani city of Lahore for a summit with Sharif. The spirit of Lahore was intended to be the mechanism for breaking the two giants of south Asia out of their half century of violence and fear and moving the subcontinent to a better future. Instead, the Indians felt betrayed, deceived and misled by Sharif and were determined to recover their lost territory.
By late May and early June 1999 a serious military conflict was underway along a hundred fifty kilometer front in the mountains above Kargil (some of which rise to a height of 17,000 feet above sea level), including furious artillery clashes, air battles and costly infantry assaults by Indian troops against well dug in Pakistani forces. Pakistan denied its troops were involved, claiming that only Kashmiri militants were doing the fighting — a claim not taken seriously anywhere.
The "Kashmiri militants" were used as cover....
The situation was further clouded because it was not altogether clear who was calling the shots in Islamabad. Prime Minister Sharif had seemed genuinely interested in pursuing the Lahore process when he met with Vajpayee and he had argued eloquently with a series of American guests, including U.S. UN Ambassador Bill Richardson, that he wanted an end to the fifty year old quarrel with India. His military chief, General Pervez Musharraf, seemed to be in a different mold. Musharraf was a refugee from New Delhi, one of the millions sent into exile in the 1947 catastrophe that split British India and the subcontinent. He was said to be a hardliner on Kashmir, a man some feared was determined to humble India once and for all.
And it is unclear to what extent Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif even knew about the situation; hardly was the situation seen to have been at his instigation.
Notice the view presented of General Musharraf -- "a hardliner on Kashmir, a man some feared was determined to humble India once and for all."
This crisis developed into a serious showdown. To defuse the situation, Sharif flew to Washington to meet with President Clinton.
The paper, which makes extremely interesting reading, was written by an assistant to President Clinton, who witnessed, first-hand, the discussions between Clinton and Sharif on July 4th.
Picking up with another excerpt later on in the paper:
THE 4TH DAWNS
The President's advisers gathered early on the 4th to brief him on the meeting ahead and provide advice. The mood was somber. Sandy Berger opened the session by telling the President that this could be the most important foreign policy meeting of his Presidency because the stakes could include nuclear war. He had to press Sharif to withdraw while also giving him enough cover to keep him in office to deliver the retreat. Strobe noted the importance of being very clear with Nawaz and not letting the Prime Minister be alone with the President so that he could later claim commitments not made. A record of who said what was critical. Rick and I briefed the President on the latest information we had.
Continuing again with another excerpt later on in the paper:
Everyone left the room except Sharif, Clinton and myself. The President insisted he wanted a record of the event. Sharif asked again to be left alone, the President refused. The Prime Minister then briefed the President on his frantic efforts in the last month to engage Vajpayee and get a deal that would allow Pakistan to withdraw with some saving of face. He had flown to China to try to get their help to press India to agree to a fixed timetable for talks to resolve Kashmir. Sharif's brief was confused and vague on many details but he seemed a man possessed with fear of war.
The Prime Minister told Clinton that he wanted desperately to find a solution that would allow Pakistan to withdraw with some cover. Without something to point to, Sharif warned ominously, the fundamentalists in Pakistan would move against him and this meeting would be his last with Clinton.
Clinton asked Sharif if he knew how advanced the threat of nuclear war really was? Did Sharif know his military was preparing their nuclear tipped missiles? Sharif seemed taken aback and said only that India was probably doing the same. The President reminded Sharif how close the U.S. and Soviet Union had come to nuclear war in 1962 over Cuba. Did Sharif realize that if even one bomb was dropped... Sharif finished his sentence and said it would be a catastrophe.
The potential for nuclear war was real between Pakistan and India.
Use of "Kashmiri militants" was seen as one way to avoid nuclear devastation -- it gave powerful people in Islamabad plausible deniability regarding Pakistan's involvement, thus making it less likely that a general war would break out between India and Pakistan. The "Kashmiri militants", trained in facilities associated both with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and with the madrassas, provided the cover needed to proceed with an operation in Kashmir, while avoiding a punishing general war with India.
Notice also the connection between the militants and General Musharraf -- these militants weren't just tied to Pakistan, they were tied a very anti-Indian faction in Pakistan's military, a faction headed by General Musharraf.
Sharif agreed with a hard-bargaining Clinton: Pakistani forces must first withdraw. Another excerpt from near the end of the paper:
The Prime Minister was good to his word. He ordered his army to pull back its men and its allies and they did so. India was jubilant, Pakistan morose. The fighting had taken a toll. Estimates of the dead on both sides vary. Indians usually claim 1300 killed on both sides, Pakistanis cite around 1700.
The President also lived up to his word. As soon as the Pakistani forces were back across the LOC he pressed India for a cease-fire in the Kargil sector. After this occurred he privately invited Sharif to send a senior trusted official to Washington to begin discrete discussions on how to follow up on his "personal commitment" to the Lahore process.
It soon became apparent, however, that all was not well in Islamabad. For weeks the Prime Minister did not respond to our queries to send someone to discuss Kashmir. The only explanation offered was that it was difficult to decide whom the right person combining the PM's trust and the background on Kashmir was. We concluded the Pakistani internal situation was not ripe for Sharif to take action.
Finally in September Sharif sent his brother, the governor of Lahore, to Washington for the long awaited discussions. Rick Inderfurth and I met with him for hours in his suite at the Willard Hotel. A day-long downpour of rain made the capital a wet and dreary place.
We tried to get a feel for how the Prime Minister wanted to pursue the Kashmir issue. Instead, Shahbaz Sharif only wanted to discuss what the U.S. could do to help his brother stay in power. He all but said that they knew a military coup was coming.
On October 12, 1999 it came. Ironically, it was Nawaz who provoked the coup's timing by trying to exile Musharraf when he was on an official visit to Sri Lanka. His plane was denied permission to return to Karachi or anywhere in Pakistan. The military rebelled and forced open the airport. Within hours, Nawaz was in jail and the army was in control.
The "Kashmiri militants" were used as cover. The Pakistani military, especially the ISI, was pulling the strings. Funding comes, in large part, from Pakistan's close ally, Saudi Arabia, and permits the training of a proxy army that then does the bidding of factions in Islamabad.
To be sure, the militants may not know they are being used, and they may be far more than mere puppets. Still, the ties to Pakistani authorities are clear.
And let us keep this in context -- we often speak of "rogue elements" in governments, and I have used this term in relation to Pakistan and the ISI. The ISI, however, is a professional organization. It is run by military officers -- civilians can only rise to the equivalent of "major", and military officers of that rank and above are assigned only for 2-3 years to keep them from accumulating too much power. The constant interchange between the ISI and the regular military ensures that the ISI does not become a "rogue element"; instead, it is a professional organization -- mainstream, and which follows orders.
Consequently, the bigger the operation, the more unlikely that it is an operation of exclusively "rogue elements".
The madrassas are associated with places where militants are trained; the militants, recruited via the madrassas and trained in these special locations, form a proxy army for Pakistan, under the influence and control of Pakistan's highly professional ISI. The head of Pakistan's military, "a hardliner on Kashmir, a man some feared was determined to humble India once and for all", General Musharraf, was calling the shots within Pakistan's military when these militants began a war with India. After being forced to withdraw by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a coup developed that ousted Sharif and left General Musharraf in power; Musharraf continues to rule Pakistan today.
Considering this, it is little wonder that, in the wake of the events of late 2001, the Taliban retreated to the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, from where they originally came, and where recruits and other support could be found.
Considering his ties through the military to the madrassas and the mujahideen training centers associated with them, neither is it surprising that now Musharraf seems unable to drive the Taliban out of Pakistan, nor does he seem able to find Osama bin Laden in the border area, nor will he allow US forces to go in and get bin Laden.
We now have to view the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in this light. She was killed in a complex operation near Rawalpindi, which is home to some of Pakistan's most sensitive government installations, including both military and nuclear facilities -- an area where, presumably, security would be pretty high. Rawalpindi has served as the headquarters for Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, an organization that has the expertise and resources to have organized her assassination. Bhutto's assassination was blamed on militants, whose training occurs in camps tied to Pakistan's ISI.
Were people taking orders from Musharraf when "Kashmiri militants" crossed the Line of Control in 1999? Were the Pakistani armed forces taking orders from Musharraf when they prepared nuclear weapons for use against India as the crisis escalated?
General Mahmoud Ahmad was the corps commander at Rawalpindi at the time of the coup ousting Sharif and leaving Musharraf in power. He then became head of Pakistan's ISI, and was in the United States on 9/11. General Mahmoud Ahmad was linked to a substantial funding transfer to the 9/11 terrorists prior to the attack. General Mahmoud Ahmad opposed the US invasion of Afghanistan, arguing that the Taliban -- which some elements in Pakistan had helped create -- were better for Pakistan.
Was General Mahmoud Ahmad, corps commander for Rawalpindi and later chief of Pakistan's ISI, following or disobeying orders from Musharraf when all this happened?
We are told that we must support Pakistan's "President" Pervez Musharraf, lest hardliners seize power if Musharraf's government should fall.
What we are not told is that the hardliners take orders from Musharraf, and have been doing so for years.
From a PBS INTELLIGENCE INVESTIGATION in the wake of the 9/11 attacks:
MARGARET WARNER: We turn now to, we hope two long-term intelligence experts. With me here James Woolsey, who was Director of Central Intelligence during the Clinton administration....
JAMES WOOLSEY: ... And this time this administration, I hope and trust, will not brush aside the idea that there might be state involvement. We may well find that Osama bin Laden or some other terrorist group in the Mideast or elsewhere, probably the Mideast, is behind this. But they may well be a subcontractor or a junior partner. There conceivably could be a state behind this. Iran is possible. But I think we should focus very hard on the possibility of state backing.