Home / Politics / Policy /  Pakistan: The rumble in India’s neighbouring jungle

No country receives as much attention in the Indian media as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This is not surprising. The process of partition on communal lines seven decades ago was violent, as thousands perished and over fifteen million fled their homes.

India chose to adopt a secular constitution and way of life, which respects and cherishes the linguistic, religious, cultural and ethnic diversity of its people. Pakistan chose to become a Theocratic Islamic State, where unity became synonymous with uniformity. In the meantime, the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani military refused to respect linguistic and cultural diversity and democratic freedoms. This inevitably led to the separation of its Eastern half, with the creation of Bangladesh. Pakistanis find it convenient to blame India for this breakup, while forgetting the atrocities their army inflicted on the people of Bangladesh.

More importantly, the Pakistani military, humiliatingly defeated in the 1971 conflict, with 93,000 POWs in Indian custody, has chafed at being disgraced before its own people and the world. The military is determined to get even with India, not by war, but by waging a “low-intensity conflict" against India—a euphemism for terrorism.

Booster aid

Thanks to large doses of American aid, Pakistan grew faster economically than India in its first four decades. But, the end of American aid, combined with a low rate of savings of around 10%, and dwindling foreign exchange reserves, led to a drastic fall in economic growth rates. India soon bypassed Pakistan and moved ahead, as economic liberalization and its high rates of savings of over 35% triggered sustained high rates of growth. Pakistan is today an economic basket case, needing IMF bailouts virtually every decade. The Americans are infuriated by Pakistan’s assistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan and have ended both economic and military assistance to Pakistan.

Notwithstanding its humiliating defeat, the Pakistan army continues to dominate the country’s national life and history repeats itself. Moreover, despite being disgraced in the Kargil conflict in 1999, the incompetent army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, staged a coup and ruled the country for nearly eight years. His successor, General Kayani, faces accusations of enriching his family from American funds, originally meant for logistical support for the US’ “War on Terror." Kayani lives comfortably in Australia. The next Army Chief General Raheel Shareef lives in Saudi Arabia, having manipulated Pakistan’s policies to get appointed as Commander in Chief of forces of a handful of Islamic countries, tasked to promote Saudi interests.

The present army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa took office when Nawaz Sharif was opposing the army’s support for radical Islamic groups, like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. The army moved against Nawaz, even persuading a pliable judiciary to back its moves to frame charges against Nawaz Sharif and his family on dubious grounds. Pakistan’s politicians have been warned again by the army not to tread on its toes.

This means ceding to the army primacy on national policies, particularly on relations with India, Afghanistan, China, the US, and Islamic countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani judiciary has reduced itself to a farce, by recently bending to army pressure and sacking a high court judge for some critical comments about the army.

Pakistan’s Northern neighbour, Afghanistan, remained steadfastly neutral in past conflicts and disputes that Pakistan had with India. This was despite the fact that Afghanistan never recognised the British drawn “Durand Line" as its border with Pakistan. Afghan territorial claims extended up to the town of Attock, on the banks of the Indus. This position has not changed. But, Pakistan got to change the dynamics of its relations with Afghanistan, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

The ISI got into the act with the CIA, to force the Soviets out of Afghanistan, by providing the Afghans with arms and financial assistance. The ISI has, thereafter, provided armed assistance and safe haven to the Taliban, who emerged from radical Madrassas in Pakistan. This continued even after the 9/11 terrorist strikes, with Pakistan taking the gullible Americans for a ride, by running with the Taliban hound, while hunting with the American hare.

It is Pakistan’s policy to secure American withdrawal from Afghanistan and install a Taliban dominated Government in Afghanistan, with support from Russia and China. How far this will succeed remains to be seen, especially given Pakistan’s need for American controlled IMF funds to deal with a looming economic crisis. The Pakistan Army believes that by establishing a Taliban dominated government in Afghanistan, it can use its “strategic depth" in Afghanistan to intensify “low-intensity conflict" throughout India, starting with Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.

Main aim of ISI

A former Head of the ISI, who has become a household name in India by co-authoring a book with an Indian counterpart, was asked in closed gathering in Islamabad in 1999 what he would say was the main aim of the ISI. He replied: “Our aim is to weaken India from within and we can do it". General Musharraf had once proclaimed that “low-intensity conflict" with India would continue, even if the Kashmir issue is resolved.

While Pakistan avers that Kashmir is the “core issue" affecting normal relations with India, it would be naïve to believe the ISI would be satisfied even if the Kashmir issue is resolved, given its larger objective of “weakening India from within". We should not forget that even after independence, a disgruntled Jinnah proclaimed that what he got was a “moth-eaten" Pakistan. His larger ambitions included not just Kashmir, but also Indian Princely States like Hyderabad, Junagadh, and Bhopal, while even attempting to secure the accession of Princely States like Jodhpur and Baroda.

In more recent times, the ISI has persuaded itself that apart from promoting terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, India must be “weakened" from within by creating a Hindu-Sikh divide in Punjab and reviving the sort of armed militancy and separatism it promoted in Punjab the 1980s. The huge publicity Pakistan is giving to opening the Holy Kartarpur Gurudwara, just across the international border, is primarily meant to promote separatism in Punjab through not too subtle efforts, like using expatriate Sikh communities in Canada and UK to call for “Khalistan" when Indians visit Sikh holy shrines in Pakistan. I have personally witnessed such efforts in the past.

Period of thaw

Despite these factors, India and Pakistan did witness a period when cross-border terrorism virtually ended between 2004 and 2007. Following the American intervention in Afghanistan and the use of heavy cross-LoC fire by us in J&K, President Musharraf sued to a cease-fire in October 2003. This was followed by an Agreement between Musharraf and then Prime Minister Vajpayee averring that “territory under Pakistan’s control" would not be used for terrorism against India. There were also secret “Back Channel" negotiations between Special Envoys of both countries, which were largely based on then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s proposals in Amritsar. These proposals held that while borders cannot be changed, they could be made “irrelevant" and “just lines on a map". Manmohan Singh also proposed that people on both sides of the Line of Control should be able to move freely and trade with each other.

The “Back Channel" reportedly led to a broad framework for resolving the Kashmir issue. But, as Musharraf’s position weakened internally in Pakistan, the army, under his successor General Kayani, rejected the progress made. Terrorism against India was resumed—leading to the 26/11/2008 terrorist strike, on Mumbai. Cross-border terrorism against India has been unrelenting since then. There have also been efforts since then to resume a dialogue, to no avail.

“Where do we go from here", is a logical question that is often asked. Quite obviously, Imran Khan, himself a protégé of the army, is hardly going to be able to persuade the army to end support for terrorism against India, or end support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Pashtun (Pathan) population living in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan are, like the Baluchis, seething with discontent. The Pakistan army operations in the Pashtun tribal areas, after the attack on the Army school in Peshawar, drove out nearly a million Pashtuns from their homes. Peaceful protests by the Pashtuns, who constitute around 15-20% of Pakistan’s population, have been ruthlessly quelled. Afghanistan, with a near majority Pashtun population, has an interest in seeing its Pashtun brethren in Pakistan get a fair deal. Afghanistan has never accepted the present borders with Pakistan, which were imposed by the British. Being preoccupied in border tensions with both Afghanistan and India is something Pakistan cannot be comfortable with.

While Pakistan wants dialogue on its terms, where its ideas on Kashmir prevail and terrorism finds bare mention, India should express its interest in having talks focused primarily on terrorism. Since Pakistan’s army predominantly controls its security policies, including resort to terrorism, we could agree to “backchannel" talks to reduce tensions between the two armies at the high level of Vice Chief/Chief of General Staff.

This has to be accompanied by talks between the Heads of Intelligence outfits, the Heads of the Heads of RAW on our side and the ISI on the Pakistan side. More importantly, experience has taught us that easing procedures to permit visitors from Pakistan to meet friends and relatives, visit Sufi Holy shrines, and attend conferences and discussions in India are very beneficial. Such measures create lobbies in Pakistan, who draw attention to the futility and dangers of present ISI-driven policies on India and Afghanistan.

The Pakistan establishment is urging us to resume dialogue with their government and attend a scheduled SAARC Summit in Islamabad. Their main aim is to deflect attention and continue support for terrorism.

The “Comprehensive Dialogue" Pakistan wants to marginalizes the importance of terrorism and enables it to dwell on the propaganda on so-called “human rights violations" in Kashmir, and other peripheral issues. This is a trap we should not walk into.

India should insist that there can be no meaningful discussions on what Pakistan wants till its concerns on terrorism are fully addressed. Pakistan should also be left in no doubt that there can be no movement on holding a SAARC Summit in Islamabad till it removes current trade and transit barriers on Indian exports, like other SAARC members do, and also fully abides by the letter and spirit of the SAARC Free Trade Agreement.

Pakistan is under international pressure to address concerns on terrorism, by members of the International Financial Action Task Force. India should not relent on putting pressure on Pakistan on issues of terrorism and Free Trade in South Asia. We should, meanwhile, reach out to the people and civil society in Pakistan to create pressure, both domestically and internationally, on their military establishment. These pressures should be relentless, in order to force Pakistan to bear the costs of its actions and policies.

G.Parthasarathy is a former diplomat. He served as India’s high commissioner to Pakistan and Myanmar. This is the concluding part of a series on India’s extended neighbourhood.

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