Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Afsir Karim
The bold attacks in Kabul on American and Afghan security forces, suicide attacks in Pakistan and new terror attacks in India are a clear signal of a more powerful and vigorous jihadi movement in the region. These developments are pushing the moderate elements in the Pakistan army and the civil society on the defensive, and prospects of regional peace and developments are receding. The rapid deterioration in the relations between America and Pakistan are further adding to the turbulence in the region and jeopardising peace initiatives. It is in these circumstances that we look into various developments and growth of Islamic terrorism in the Af-Pak region and some parts of India.
The peace process between India and Pakistan and between Afghanistan and Pakistan has slowed down as the real decision makers—the Pakistan army and the ISI—have yet to show any change in their policy of exporting terrorism. There is a warlike situation on the Afghan- Pakistan borders. There is almost a daily exchange of fire between Pakistan and Afghan forces in border areas and frequent raids across the borders.
The military brass talks of war, with the possibility of a nuclear confrontation with India. A report in the media states 25 more nuclear missiles with a range of 700–1,000 km are to be added to Pakistan’s arsenal. If Pakistan successfully achieves this target, this would be the highest addition of missiles to Pakistan’s arsenal ever in a year. The air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles would be capable of hitting a target in all major Indian cities. Pakistan has been rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal, and according to some reports, the number of warheads it possesses has already surpassed that of France.
Hostility between India and Pakistan for over 60 years has been a fact of life. Later, Pakistan embarked on a plan to destabilise India so that the balance of powers shifts in its favour in South Asia. The annexation of J&K was a pivotal part of this scheme. Despite India’s gesture of peace, the Pakistan army shows no inclination to demolish the infrastructure that supports cross-border terrorism. Infiltration across the borders continues unabated, and Pakistan is keeping its options open to mount major terrorist attacks across the borders.
Pakistan has been following a dual policy of continuing a dialogue with India and Afghanistan and supporting terrorist groups. The Pakistan army still seems to believe that pressure must be maintained on India and Afghanistan so that they do not ignore Pakistani claims in the region. Many in the Pakistan army seem convinced that terrorist assaults will ultimately become unbearable and force India and Afghanistan to accept their demands and change the status quo in the region in favour of Pakistan. If the terrorism sponsored by Pakistan is not controlled in its present form, no peace process can make progress and chaos will ultimately overtake the entire region.
INDIAN MUJAHIDEEN (IM)
The mujahideens in India have lately become more aggressive, and there have been nine terrorist strikes since 26/11, in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Varanasi. The government believes that IM is involved in most of these attacks. The security agencies still do not seem to know what the real motives behind such attacks are and whether they are all indigenous in nature or sponsored and directed from across the borders by Pakistani terrorist groups supported by the ISI.
Some attacks came after the arrest of members of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) in India, who were reported to be planning to kidnap a VIP and demand the release of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri who was sentenced to death for his role in the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001. An e-mail message purported to be from “Indian Mujahedeen” received by some news channels before the explosions indicated that these explosions were planned by them. The message also referred to 17 September, when according them the total number of Kashmiris killed in Jammu & Kashmir crossed 100. Many of the messages in the past have borrowed the text from some messages from Osama bin Laden.
Recently, a powerful bomb placed outside the high court in New Delhi killed at least 13 people and wounded more than 100. All we know is that it was 2 kg bomb and it left a crater 3 to 4 feet deep near the main reception counter, where passes were being issued for lawyers and visitors. This was a second attack in the same area, but so far few clues have been found to establish which organisation was actually responsible for these attacks.
The series of terrorist strikes carried out by the IM and Pakistani organisations across India outside Jammu & Kashmir since the Mumbai blasts of March, 1993, show that jihadi terrorism has become a permanent threat to India. Several bomb attacks in large Indian cities in recent years connected to the IM are said to have support from Pakistan-based militants.
ROLE OF THE PAKISTAN ARMY IN TERRORISM
There are a lot of stories doing rounds around the world about whether Pakistan was directly involved in hiding and maintaining Osama bin Laden in Pakistan for so many years, hoodwinking the world about its role in promoting al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Now, a new story maintains Osama was provided protection in Pakistan against huge amounts as protection money. Of course Pakistan has rubbished these reports. The report, however, seems quite feasible as both the policy and religious belief in Pakistan support jihad and terrorism against those they consider infidels. The on-going terrorism against the Americans and European countries and others like India and many African countries has proved Pakistani involvement with al-Qaeda and other domestic terrorist outfits fostered by its army and the ISI.
A report claims that the Saudis were paying money to the Pakistan army and intelligence (ISI) to keep bin Laden in a safe house in Abbottabad, a city with a high military presence and after ascertaining bin Laden’s presence in the town, the U.S. approached Pakistan’s military leaders for their cooperation in capturing Osama, of course, in return for cash and assured them complete secrecy about their role.
Such reports indicate that Pakistan has been fooling the world and America completely from day one since Bush and Musharraf came to an agreement to become close allies in fighting al-Qaeda and combating jihadi terrorism. It is believed that Pakistan has gained huge amounts by playing a double game all the time and that it has been getting huge amounts from the Arab countries, al-Qaeda and other unknown sources, besides American aid. The Pakistan army is training and supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan for strategic reasons, but it also gets huge sums from jihadi groups and has a large share in the billion-dollar illegal opium trade flourishing in Afghanistan. This being the case, peace will not return to the region whether American troops stay or withdraw from here. Recent reports from China suggest that Pakistani terrorist groups are even involved in brewing trouble in Xinjiang province of China through the Gilgit region. All this indicates a huge worldwide network of terrorist groups supported and trained by Pakistani elements, and it is a money-spinning trade.
If Pakistan army is gaining millions by playing such a game, it will never give up supporting or sponsoring terrorism in neighbouring countries and keep the terrorist groups safe and well oiled. India, of course, will remain its main target, and since we neither plan to attack nor otherwise destroy Pakistani terrorist groups, so far we remain extremely vulnerable. The world has yet to find some ingenious plan to neutralise Pakistan terrorist groups; however, in these circumstances, Pakistan cannot remain stable and grows internally weak and vulnerable to subversion, terrorism and disruptive forces. No one can help Pakistan in fighting internal enemies unless the public is united in convincing the Pakistan army to give up its dangerous game.
PAKISTAN-U.S. FACE OFF
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who led the way among senior U.S. officers in urging the administration to have a close look into the dual role of Pakistan in Afghanistan, just before retiring, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Pakistan’s spy agency—the Inter-Services Intelligence—played a direct role in supporting insurgents who attacked the American Embassy in Kabul the previous week, killing 16 people. He also said that ISI supported the Haqqani network in planning and conducting an earlier truck bombing on a NATO outpost that killed 5 people and wounded 77 coalition troops, besides other recent attacks in Afghanistan on American troops.
It is believed that Admiral Mullen and some other top U.S. officials in the past have been repeatedly pleading with Pakistan to sever all ties with the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other extremists who are spreading violence both inside and outside Pakistani borders. According to the Pakistan army’s Web site, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani dismissed the recent statements from Admiral Mullen as “very unfortunate and not based on facts.” Pakistan’s prime minister went a step further and warned the U.S. that it “could lose an ally” if it keeps humiliating Pakistan with unsubstantiated allegations.
The U.S. administration still hopes that Pakistan will change its present stance. That, however, is unlikely even though the extremists pose a great threat to Pakistan itself. The main reason for this is that the Pakistan army considers all terrorist groups as strategic assets in the event of an Indian invasion and hence intends to nurture and support them.
The Americans have limited options open to them in these circumstances to coerce Pakistan as they need Pakistan to fight terrorism and they need direct access to the intelligence sources inside Pakistan about the al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. They also need Pakistani routes to deliver military supplies to its forces in Afghanistan. Although there are now alternatives available to America, they are not easily available and may make the operations in Afghanistan more risky. Americans cannot just walk away and leave their most dangerous enemy undefeated or leave Pakistani nuclear assets at the mercy of the extremist forces.
The Obama administration has already suspended or cancelled $800 million in military aid to Pakistan this year, and more could follow, but this is unlikely to bring Pakistan to heel. In these circumstances, America has to go for Haqqani forces on its own in whatever way it can without provoking Pakistan to a major war.1
Pakistan stands accused of being a state sponsoring terrorism and faces the possible threat of sanctions and even the use of force by America, but if this really ever happens, Kayani and the other military leaders will retaliate and not take this lying down—they will turn to China and Saudi Arabia for military hardware and financial aid.
Pakistan denies the charges of official complicity in the attacks on the U.S. embassy, the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and a 10 September truck bomb attack and refuses to take military action against the Haqqanis. However, it may go slow in attacking targets across the border into Afghanistan. It may try to bring the Haqqanis to the negotiating table if the U.S. softens its stand and gives a more favourable deal to it in Afghanistan. As the endgame in Afghanistan comes nearer, the U.S. is bound to soften its stand and expect Pakistan to cooperate, but this may not be easy after Admiral Mullen said the “Quetta Shura” and the Haqqani network were not only hurting prospects for security but also “spoiling possibilities for broader reconciliation.” He also added that Islamabad’s support for these groups “continues to jeopardize Pakistan’s opportunity to be a respected and prosperous nation with genuine regional and international influence.” This suggests that Pakistan could be kept out of the Afghanistan endgame.
Regardless of all this, Washington cannot afford to rupture relations with Pakistan at this critical juncture and Admiral Mullen himself emphasised the need to maintain good relations with Pakistan recently. “A flawed and strained engagement with Pakistan is better than disengagement,” he said.
The possibility of penalising Pakistan by other means has not been ruled out. Sanctions may not be immediately imposed, but by highlighting Pakistani complicity in the attacks on U.S. targets in Afghanistan, the U.S. has turned global opinion against the Pakistan army and the ISI and has moved closer to mounting new attacks on the Haqqani group and some other targets in Pakistan.
Sanctions, or withholding of further U.S. aid, are unlikely to coax Pakistan into changing its fundamental strategic thinking. If the U.S. resorts to the use of force, Pakistan would be forced to respond. There is a fiercely anti-American mood in Pakistan, and Kayani and his top generals are a bit concerned about the growing influence of fundamentalism in the army’s middle and lower ranks. Any perceived compromise with the U.S. may trigger a near mutiny. The worse situation would be if the army splits.2
Many observers believe that, as a result of the U.S.-Pakistan duel, India will face a heightened threat to its security because of regional turmoil. Presently, India is prepared to face the new terrorist threats, but the main threats to India arise from a military confrontation between the U.S. and Pakistan in which may get embroiled. The U.S., which for long has turned a blind eye towards Indian problems regarding the role of the ISI in planning and sponsoring terrorist attacks against India, is now no longer in a position to ignore India’s concern after finding direct involvement of the ISI with the Haqqani group in mounting attacks on American establishments and U.S. assets in Kabul, which were masterminded by the ISI. America must now accept the fact of Pakistan’s double game and reshape its policies in South Asia.
The U.S. has declared that it will do “whatever it takes” to protect its security interests in Afghanistan—hinting at unilateral strikes that may be far more damaging than the sorts that led to the killing of bin Laden. There is increasing belief in the U.S. military in aggressive “hot pursuit” of terrorists who strike in Afghanistan and disappear into the rugged frontier terrain of Pakistan. This, however, would mean U.S.-NATO forces crossing the Durand Line, which is an internationally recognised border, and will entail a risk of an escalation of violence along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Pakistan may pose a new dangerous terrorist threat to India and be ready for a far more audacious terrorist strike in India. Its calculation will be that the Indian government will be forced to respond militarily to the provocation, which will draw U.S. attention from Pakistan’s western borders and force the U.S. to pullback from the brinkmanship with Pakistan. The best course for America, therefore. may be to seek cooperation from Pakistan and avoid any military confrontation with it.3
The killing of Osama bin Laden and continuous U.S. drone strikes on al-Qaeda and the Taliban targets in Pakistan’s tribal lands strained U.S.-Pakistan relations greatly. Of course, the continuing refusal of the Pakistan army to launch attacks on the militants of North Waziristan has made matters worse. The Pakistan army is still unable to see that its terror-based policies have boomeranged and are wrecking its own country and economy. Those monsters it raised to execute its covert agendas in India and Afghanistan have now come home to attack Pakistani establishments, and innocent people are now dying daily by blasts triggered by those who had raised it in the first place. The ISI headquarters in Rawalpindi itself, apart from some of its offices in the provinces, have been targeted lately.
The Pakistan army still wants all these terror organisations as part of its strategic assets to be employed against India, Afghanistan and the United States forces operating in the Af-Pak region. The Pakistan army and the ISI continue their game, and it is not possible to establish peace in the region unless these two instruments of Pakistani power are brought under control of a civilian government in Pakistan.
Conflicting interests and internal factions have made the civil government in Pakistan ineffective. Unless the military and the ISI change their strategy of supporting terrorist groups, the situation will not change in South Asia. The terrorist groups and its supporters have already grown stronger than the state. If the terrorists lay hands on the nuclear weapons of Pakistan, they will threaten the entire civilised world.
Notes and References
1. Source, New York Times. <http://www.nytimes.com>.
2. Source, Time.com <http://www.time.com/time/world/ar>.
3. Venky Vembu. “India at Risk of Being Caught in US-Pak Crossfire.” First Post, 25 September 2011. <http://www.firstpost.com/world/india-at-risk-of-being-caught-in-us-pak-crossfire-91888.html>.