Pakistan’s Military Adventurism

Right environment to turn the heat on Islamabad

Pakistan’s military adventurism on three fronts across its borders with India, Afghanistan and Iran has created just the right environment to turn the heat on Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Apart from mounting a media offensive, it is time for India to get world attention focused on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and the plight of Baluchis, Shias and other minorities in that country”, says the author who was a career diplomat.

Just over a year ago Mr. Nawaz Sharif was swept back to power, prompting expectations that he would tackle the country’s security and economic crises, and improve relations with India. But one year is an eternity in the politics of Pakistan. The US is refusing to pledge additional aid beyond what was promised earlier under the Kerry-Lugar legislation. Even “allweather friend” China has expressed disappointment that Sharif’s government has not done the requisite preparatory work for utilizing aid that Beijing had promised for the development of Pakistan’s ailing power sector.

The only silver lining is the increased remittances from Pakistan’s workers in the Gulf despite calls by Imran Khan to workers to halt such inward remittances. Instead of acting circumspectly in such a situation, Pakistan has chosen to escalate tensions on its borders with Iran, Afghanistan and India. The tensions with these three neighbors with whom Pakistan shares land boundaries have arisen because of support to cross-border terrorism. This support is rendered by state agencies to extremist Sunni groups, ranging from Lashkar e taiba to the Afghan Taliban and Jaish e Adl.

The tensions with Iran have risen because of the support that the extremist Sunni group Jaish ul Adl receives in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province, where the Pakistan army is simultaneously engaged in a bloody conflict against Baluchi separatists. Tensions with Iran escalated last year when Jaish e Adl mounted cross-border ground and missile attacks in Iran, resulting in Iranian casualties.

An Iranian spokesman warned that the Iranian forces would enter Pakistani territory if Pakistan “failed to act against terrorist groups operating on its soil”. Virtually coinciding with this was an incident when Jaish e Adl kidnapped five Iranian border guards and moved them into Pakistan. Iran not only warned Pakistan of cross-border retaliation, but also brought repeated incursions from Pakistan soil to the notice of the UN Security Council in writing. Ever since the pro-Saudi Nawaz Sharif, whose links with radical Sunni extremist groups are well documented, assumed power, Pakistan has moved towards rendering unstinted support to Saudi Arabia, even in the Syrian civil war.

It has also unilaterally annulled the Pakistan-Iran oil pipeline project, prompting action by Iran, seeking compensation. While Nawaz Sharif was commencing negotiations for a peace deal with Tehriq e Taliban in the tribal areas of North Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan, the Army Chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, disregarded the views of the Prime Minister. He launched a massive military operation, involving over 50,000 military and paramilitary personnel, backed by artillery, tanks, helicopter gunships and fighter jets. An estimated one million Pashtun tribesmen have fled their homes.

They are now homeless and facing barriers, preventing their entry into the neighboring provinces of Punjab and Sind. Not surprisingly, ISI “assets” like the Mullah Omar-led Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network have been quietly moved out from the battle zone, quite obviously into ISI safe houses. Unrest is brewing amidst the displaced Pashtun tribals as the army is unwilling to coordinate its operations with civilian relief agencies. The displaced and homeless Pashtun tribals, will inevitably, in due course, resort to terrorist violence across Pakistan.

The special treatment meted out to ISI assets like Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network would have been carefully noted by the new Ashraf Ghani dispensation in Afghanistan, as a prelude to more serious attacks by the Afghan Taliban acting out of the ISI and army protected safe havens in Pakistan. Pakistan’s western borders will be neither peaceful nor stable in the coming years. The escalating tensions with Iran, the partisan stance on Saudi Arabia-Iran rivalries and the military action in North Waziristan have invited criticism within Pakistan. The escalation of tension with India across the Line of Control and the international border has to be seen in this
context.

What better way for the army to divert attention from its misadventures in the west than to revive the “India bogey” in Pakistan? Such an action would also test the resolve of the Narendra Modi dispensation in India to deal with crossborder terrorism. Moreover, with state assembly elections due in J&K in December, the Pakistan army would strive to ensure that the credibility of these elections is questioned by ensuring a low turnout. Hurriyat leaders like Shabir Shah and Yasin Malik have already been commissioned to stir up discontent and discredit the Indian Army during the floods.

What Pakistan had not bargained for, as it attempted to test India’s resolve from August onwards, was the robust response that it received not only from the Indian Army, but also from the Border Security Force. This was accompanied by an ill-advised diplomatic effort to seek UN intervention in Jammu and Kashmir. Both Nawaz Sharif and his otherwise realistic NSA Sartaj Aziz seem to forget that the world changed dramatically after 9/11. The Western world led by the United States has come to realize that Pakistan-backed terrorist groups are as much a threat to their security as to that of India.

Pakistan also seemed to ignore Mr. Modi’s unambiguous stance that dialogue and terrorism cannot go hand in hand. They also evidently misread the significance of the Obama- Modi Joint Declaration averring action for “dismantling of safe havens for terrorist and criminal networks, to disrupt all financial and tactical support for terrorist and criminal networks such as Al Qaida, Lashkar e Taiba, Jaish e Mohammed, the DCompany, and the Haqqanis.”

Pakistan’s military adventurism on three fronts across its borders with India, Afghanistan and Iran has created just the right environment to turn the heat on Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Apart from mounting a media offensive, it is time for India to get world attention focused on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and the plight of Baluchis, Shias and other minorities in that country. In any case, there should be no question of a sustained dialogue process till Pakistan fulfils its January 2004 assurance that territory under its control will not be used for terrorism against India.

(The author is a former diplomat.)

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