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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2705

Pakistan Army: Unwavering Support for Cross-border Terrorism

By Gurmeet Kanwal

The joint statement at Havana notwithstanding, the Mumbai bomb blasts and the terror plot uncovered in the United Kingdom in early August have once again clearly established Pakistan’s complicity in harbouring terrorist organisations on its soil. Though the West continues to be in denial mode and its leaders lose no opportunity to praise General Musharraf for his cooperation in fighting international terrorism, the fact remains that despite loud protestations to the contrary, Pakistan is still the hub of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism. In order to understand this proclivity to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds, it is necessary to examine the deeply ingrained mindset of Pakistan’s ruling elite that is led by the Pakistan army.

According to a cliché popular in the strategic community, normally a state has an army but in Pakistan the army has a state. The Pakistan army has directly guided the nation’s destiny for more than half its history. During the other half, the army was engaged in driving from the backseat – a classic case of power without responsibility. The army sees itself as the natural guardian of the idea of Pakistan and a guarantor of its sovereignty. While it has tolerated short interludes of civilian rule, the army has always dictated Pakistan’s policy towards Kashmir, which it considers the unfinished agenda of Partition. It has also called the shots on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, the defence budget and senior army appointments. These issues were considered sacrosanct and no civilian prime minister could dare to interfere – not even Nawaz Sharif with his brute majority in the National Assembly.

The Pakistan army’s stated aim is to wrest the Kashmir Valley from India at all costs. While it appears to have given up its plans for the military annexation of Kashmir, especially after its ignominious defeat in the Kargil conflict in 1999, it is continuing with its proxy war strategy to “bleed India through a thousand cuts” and make it difficult for India to ever integrate Jammu and Kashmir fully with the Indian Union. As India is growing economically by leaps and bounds, even though it is not growing strong militarily due to the myopic vision of successive governments, the Pakistan army leadership has come around to the view that the best option to destabilise India and force it to negotiate on Pakistan’s terms is through multi-dimensional sub-conventional conflict or irregular warfare. Continuing terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere in India is but one manifestation of this carefully crafted strategy to weaken India internally through a gradual process of attrition. Also part of this policy is the employment of ISI modules to create a communal divide and exploit ethnic tensions.

Clearly, the Pakistan army has a stranglehold over the nation’s polity and is the real threat to peace and stability on the Indian Sub-continent. The half a million strong Pakistan army has a vested interest in continued hostility with India. Peace with India will inevitably lead to a reduction in the army’s size and the Generals will lose their power, perks and privileges. Quite naturally the question arises: why, then, is the Pakistan army engaged in a peace process with India? There are two main reasons for this sham rapprochement. Firstly, post-9/11, with the Indian army and air force arrayed for war after the December 13th attacks on the Indian Parliament, the US Administration left General Musharraf with no choice but to clamp down on state-sponsored terrorism against India and begin a dialogue for the peaceful resolution of disputes.

Secondly, the Pakistan army found itself overstretched and could not have fought successfully on three fronts simultaneously: on the eastern front in Kashmir, on the western front against the al Qaeda and the remnants of the Taliban in support of the US offensive in Afghanistan and against the Islamist Jihadis who were wreaking havoc internally. For many decades Pakistan had nurtured and supported the Taliban and the ISI had sponsored virulently fundamentalist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayebba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed. When the Frankenstein monster struck back, Generals found it difficult to keep their own house in order.

Hence, the rapprochement process with India was a tactical ploy to face the new dangers and not a strategic change of heart.

Either the Pakistan army is incapable of stopping terrorism against India emanating from its soil or it is unwilling to do so. Perhaps the reality is that it can turn the tap off with some effort but it is beholden to the Islamist parties for the smooth functioning of the National Assembly and is, therefore, not in a position to discipline the Jihadis. Pakistan’s negotiating strategy is deeply nuanced and finely calibrated to keep the talks going without conceding an inch on Kashmir and other important issues, while simultaneously thwarting India’s efforts towards reconciliation with the Kashmiri people by sustaining a base level of violence and infiltration from across the LoC. The Mumbai bomb blasts had a blunt message for the Indian government: CBMs are all right but intransigence on Kashmir is no longer acceptable – take this as a warning shot.

Continuing hostility towards India is the raison d’être of the Pakistan army and, quite obviously, this situation is unlikely to change. In the years ahead, Pakistan’s proxy war against India will become more sophisticated and will focus on easier deniability.

Pakistan will also seek to destabilise the Indian economy, for example through the circulation of fake currency and by providing a safe haven for hawala trade (money laundering) to the criminals that it denies are hiding in its cities. Its new weapons of choice will be information warfare and cyber-terrorism. Inadequacies in India’s preparations to prevent chemical and biological terrorism and explosions using radiological dispersal devices in densely populated areas and markets may also attract Pakistani Jihadis.

For too long has India exhibited strategic restraint and banked on soft options. Public opinion against wanton acts of terrorism emanating from Pakistan is gradually hardening and the threshold of tolerance is slowly coming down. Soon the government will have no option left but to adopt pro-active measures to stop Pakistan’s proxy war.

Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd.) - author is Senior Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi. Views are personal.

- Asian Tribune -

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