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Pakistan: Compulsions for Realigning Regional Strategy

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By K.N. Pandita

Pak watchers have noted a flurry of events taking place in succession during a couple of weeks in recent past at GHQ with drop scene in Washington. While GHQ is mulling realignment in Trump era, Pakistan foreign office is in hectic activity at Washington to do some damage controlling exercise. These events need to be examined along with their hindsight.

What are the catalyzing forces for enhanced political activities at GHQ? We try to itemise.

  • 1. The GHQ views in disquietude President Trump’s 21 August announcement in the American Congress of his administration’s revised South Asian policy. In particular, Trump’s blunt demand that Pakistan stop providing safe havens on its soil to Haqqani group and Taliban terrorists fighting the Afghan government and NATO forces. For Pakistan Generals this may not be a totally unexpected accusation but US’ hint at revised policy is a matter of much concern to them. It has two major aspects; China, and safety of Pak nuclear arsenal. Will Pakistan make China the caretaker of her nuclear assets? Or will she give some concessions to the non-state actors meaning jihadists to handle limited number of localized nuclear devices?
  • 2. Trump administration has made it clear that it is not going to be a taker of Pakistan’s denial theory. Secretary of State has been clear in reiterating President’s stand that terror engine is well greased in Pakistan. Some plain speaking made by the US defence secretary Tellis during his recent talks in New Delhi, and also the content of joint communiqué indicating strategic cooperation between the two countries in jointly meeting externally sponsored terror could not go unnoticed by the GHQ. In the 2015 G-20 meet in Turkey, President Obama was lukewarm when PM Modi raised the issue of need for global response to the phenomenon of terrorism. Today the situation is its reverse. Will Pakistan push its huge jihadi assets into an armed clash with India?
  • 3. China’s subtle reaction to American pressure on Pakistan, indicating support to client state – once “more aligned to the US than her allies” to quote a Pakistani Field Marshall- but now singing a different tune, is bound to impact regional balance of power. Pakistan’s search for counter-alignment (Moscow, Ankara and Beijing) has to be understood in this background.

On Indo-Pak or sub-regional level, Pakistan may contemplate chartering her re-alignment map along following parameters:

  • 1. Indian media has, for the first time, released official video recording of Army’s surgical strike into PoK at four places after Uri attack in the beginning of this year. The has immensely discredited Pakistani army in the eyes of her people who were fed all the time with falsehood that the Indian claim of surgical strike was no more than a hoax. Pakistan’s discomfiture is reflected in her foreign minister’s loose statements recently given during his visit to the US; two are notable. One, he said that Indian Prime Minister is a ’terrorist.’
    Second, he said that Indian Air Force Chief said his force may undertake surgical strike to destroy Pak nukes. Both speak of his frustration over Washington coo down towards his country for reasons other than Indo-Pak acrimony. Having become a prisoner of its own lies, Pak Army will work out a strategy of regaining the lost credibility for which she will need to tell another lie or denial.
  • 2. ‘Operation All Out’ in J&K conducted jointly by security forces and State police has forced GHQ, and its jihadi affiliates, to re-cycle their proxy war strategy. For the first time after Uri attack, our field commanders have been given powers to deal with local security situation as they deem fit. General Rawat put it bluntly saying our troops kill the terrorist not to catch them alive in a proxy war like the one in Kashmir. Many top commanders of LeT and JeM operating in the valley have been liquidated during past six months.
    Additionally, local crowds obstructing anti-militant operations have begun to understand the danger inherent in politically motivated rallies as demonstrators must face bullets and tear gas shells invoking sympathy from none and abuse from all. What will be the contours of Pakistan’s realigned strategy to offset the impact of new political phenomenon in Kashmir will be of much interests to Pak watchers.
  • 3. The biggest threat to Pakistan’s strategy in Kashmir is gradually unfolding and gaining ground. Large numbers of Kashmiris are bringing intelligence to the sleuths and also the Military Intelligence chapter about the hideouts and movements of the militants. 95 per cent destruction of militants and their hideouts have happened as a result of upgraded flow of intelligence from civilian channels in Kashmir. The reasons are (a) militants are targeting Kashmir Police personnel, which, in turn, has evoked hatred against militants and dire reaction among the people (b) streamlining of second and third tier of intelligence collection mechanism, and (c) more result-oriented interaction among the sleuths, conduits and informers.
    Today almost every Kashmiri youth, boy and girl, wants to run down militancy. The question is will ISI let things slip out of its hands in Kashmir or will it realign the strategy of misleading Kashmiris through new elements to put a halt to the downward trend?
  • 4. Government of India’s strong and decisive action in exposing the hawala money recipients among Hurriyat leadership and their separatist accomplices has taken the wind out of the sails of separatist groups in the valley. No major public demonstration against NIA’s anti-hawala campaign has been witnessed. It indicates deep distrust of ordinary Kashmiri of the sincerity of separatist leadership to Kashmir cause particularly when their popularity is gradually weaning.

No less significant is that Trump administration is not mincing words in conveying to Pakistan that it is sceptic about the stability of the Government of Pakistan. The assertion came after the elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was forced to resign on the basis of the report of JIT on whose composition there is a big question mark. The team was formed under Court’s orders and two of the three members of the JIT, namely Brig. Muhammad Nauman and Brig. Kamran Khursheed, were from the ISI and MI respectively. What justice could Nawaz Sharif expect from the JIT where his enemies were sitting on judgment? The US still believes that but for the overdoing by Pak Army Nawaz Sharif could have provided stability to government. This must have been in the mind of the US Secretary of State when he made the cryptic remark. It also means that the US is highly sceptic about the stability of Pakistan government because of various negative forces locked in the interplay.

Inner circles in the corridors of power know that Trump administration’s warning about Haqqani groups and the Taliban would not go unnoticed. Pakistan COAS Gen Bajwa was obliged to pay unsolicited visit to Kabul on October 2. Visits carried out under duress are nothing more than eye wash. Until now, Afghanistan has not been particularly receptive to the newer Pakistani approach, choosing, instead, to insist that Pakistan is an impediment to peace regionally rather than a genuine partner in dialogue. How far Gen. Bajwa has been able to dilute this impression from the mind of Afghan authorities is a moot question. Afghans have bitter experience of Pak’s ambitions of depth westward. Nevertheless, it does indicate Pak Army’s unease over her domestic and external affairs.

Two days after his return from Kabul, Gen. Bajwa called a meeting of all Corps Commanders at the GHQ. They remained huddled for seven hours and half in the closed door meeting presided over by the COAS.

Seven hour-long meeting of Corps Commanders is rather unusual. Obviously, commanders were grappling with serious issues arising out of Washington’s less expected volte face. Donald Trump, Afghanistan, India, Nawaz Sharif’s ouster, rising crescendo of Theo-fascist organizations in Pakistan, downslide in Kashmir jihad, Imran Khan’s anti-American rant to the chagrin of the Generals etc. could have been the anticipated subjects on its priority agenda. The thorny question is what next if Army and ISI are forced to dump Haqqani and Taliban and what could be the consequences of a development like that.

But more notably surfaces the scenario of India and US coming closer to formulate common strategy of facing terror globally and giving new shape to strategic cooperation in the background of looming shadow of Pakistan’s domestic political instability and souring relations with the US on the one hand and something like unholy alliance with the Dragon on the other. Reconciliation of these diametrically conflicting approaches, perceptions and objectives makes Pakistan’s identity weird.

Pak army cannot disown either Haqqani or the Taliban because both are their creation although they had the blessings of the US at one point of time. Pakistani foreign minister was not wrong when he said recently that the terrorist commanders were ‘the darling of the US at one time and dined and wined with them”. This notwithstanding, the worry of the Army is (a) what if US stops special aid for Pak Army? Should Army compromise with the TTP and what would be the repercussions? Compromise means reducing the status of Pak Army as the arbiter of the destiny of that nation. In that case real power will shift to the hands of Theo-fascists in Pakistan, and with that the control over nuclear arsenal may be in jeopardy. That is one thing Washington is seriously worried about when it says it is sceptic about the stability of Pak government. (b) What will be the configuration in regional strategy if Pak-US relations turn fully sour? Hind sight at Pak-US relations shows that they may disagree on peripheral issues but the core of the relationship remains unaffected.

Normally, after the conclusion of the meeting of Corps Commanders, the Inter Services Public Relations issues a release summing up the parameters of the meeting. But no such note was issued after the meeting. However, a day later, the Director General of ISPR, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor gave a press interview in which he responded to some of the question from media persons. He said Afghanistan, India and the US, internal security and civil-military relations were the main topics discussed. The press conference followed a visit to Kabul by Chief of Army Staff Bajwa and Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif’s meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on matters of mutual concern. The important question for Maj. Gen Asif, in his own words, was “whether the threat was because of a state or non-state actors”. While creating bogey of perceived threat from Eastern border (India) is the patent rhetoric of Pakistan Army, what is more significant is that the Army is envisaging threat from the “non-state” actors.

Who has created and befriended non-State actors in Pakistan? If Haqqani and Taliban were the darlings of the US in the words of Pak foreign ministers, whose darlings are Hafiz Saeed, Lakhvi, Azhar, and scores of others? Why does Pakistan now consider these people as threat to her security? The US Secretary of State was precisely hinting at the ability of these forces to destabilize Pakistan government and endanger her nuclear arsenal.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre for Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar).