An obstacle that seems to define US-Pakistan relations is the lack of a common enemy recognised by both parties. There is a mutual threat within the military ranks of both nations in the form of infiltrators, using their military training to assist extremist groups. Pakistan’s Army has maintained a double-policy of fostering and punishing extremists within its ranks while the American military is witnessing a rise of white extremists in its midst that have planned and executed terrorist attacks against American citizens.
Though the US officials have critiqued the Pakistani Army for failing to rout out extremist officers, they run the same risk, if they fail to pay closer attention to the rising amount of American military personnel joining racist militias. This might be an opportunity to stabilise the US-Pakistan relationship, if the two countries emphasise their common internal threats, rather than focusing on their disagreement over external enemies.
In 2002, after Pervez Musharraf agreed to join the US War on Terror, some of his own officers hatched a plan to assassinate him as they pledged allegiance to militant groups that rejected Pakistan’s assistance of an “imperial power.” After two assassination attempts against General Musharraf, the Army conducted investigations of its officers. Asia Times Online reported that the conclusion of the investigation was that “the attempts on Musharraf's cavalcade were an exclusive job of over a dozen brainwashed air force technicians who … were directed, motivated and armed by a Pakistani contact person in al-Qaeda.”
Throughout its recent history, the Pakistani military has made attempts to probe its personnel due to suspicion of double-dealing with banned militant outfits with limited success. There have been several high-ranking military officers that were court martialed for having ties to extremist groups. In 1995, several high ranking officers led by Qari Saifullah, the leader of extremist group Harkat-Ul-Jihad-Al-Islami, plotted to overthrow Benazir Bhutto’s government and assassinate the entire military command. The officers were court martialed and given various prison sentences for their involvement in the planning. In 2009, the Pakistani Air Force court martialed 57 employees for having connections to banned groups.
Despite these efforts, the institution is plagued by double agents that plan and fund attacks against their fellow servicemen and women. In May 2011, Tehrik-e-Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on the Mehran base which left 18 service-members dead. Suspicions were raised that the attackers had “inside help” due to eyewitness accounts that claimed the militants were dressed in military uniforms and seemed to know the facility and its protocols.
In the aftermath, five officers of the Army were court martialed for having ties to a banned extremist group, Hizb-ul-Tahrir. This included Brigadier Ali Khan, a high-ranking officer working in the Army’s headquarters, who was sentenced to five years in jail. While the prosecution of such officers is a promising sign, dissidence in the ranks will likely grow as General Kayani attempts to stabilise the relationship with the US. His efforts will evoke a vicious response from anti-American militant groups, as well as the military officers serving them.
When one turns to the US, there are three distinctions that must be drawn at the outset. First, the US government and military have better capacity to deal with this threat than Pakistan as they possess well-financed long-running institutions that successfully investigate and prosecute all forms of violent extremism. Second, the threat posed by American white supremacists pales in comparison to Pakistani extremists, who have been able to siege the most secure military complexes in the nation. Third, unlike the mixed signals sent by Pakistan’s generals who have flirted with the idea of incubating extremists as strategic assets for their endgame in Afghanistan, the US military has resoundingly denounced racist militants for decades.
The existence of race-based extremists in the US Army seems surprising when one considers that the US Army was one of the first institutions to become desegregated in America. Through Executive Order 9981 passed by Harry Truman, the US Army prohibited discrimination based on race. Programs were later introduced to train more minorities for high-officer positions. However, in practice, the social norms of the society pervaded and African American soldiers suffered a great deal of racial abuse from white officers and fellow soldiers.
While de facto racism persisted, the growth of organised white supremacists and their recruitment of military personnel did not take place until the 1990s. The threat posed by extremists with military training was evidenced through Timothy McVeigh, a veteran of the Gulf War, who executed a terrorist plot that caused 168 deaths in 1995. The next year, a self-avowed Neo-Nazi paratrooper stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina murdered an African American couple in cold blood.