Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
I admit I was wrong in assessing that Pakistan was changing its stripes after the Paris attacks and that the Americans probably did some plain speak to General Raheel Sharif. My perception arose out of the serious international concerns about radicalism that were evident after the Paris attacks. It was rational to believe that states that supported some form of radical belief, even for their politico-strategic ends, would be under pressure. However, after the attempts by India to try and bring sanity to Pakistan’s thinking by seeking to break the ice through some form of dialogue and the response from the Deep State, it is increasingly becoming evident that things are unchanged. The Pakistan security establishment demonstrated a false resolve by going after the radicals in Karachi and the anti-Shia sectarian groups. It lulled the world but the desire to destabilize India runs too deep in the Pakistani DNA. It is virtually the clichéd raison de etre for the existence of the Pakistan Army and its cronies and that is about the only reason why it continues to befriend and nurture anti India terror groups such as Jaish e Mohammad and Lashkar e Toiba against whom it will not act. This forms the essence of its twin track policy of fighting the internal war against the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) while continuing to nurture the India focused terror groups, as strategic assets to be used whenever it wishes to calibrate its ‘war by a thousand cuts’.
The two track policy is an unnatural one. The Peshawar attack on the Bacha Khan University complex confirms that belief. A nation cannot hope to incubate hatred and continue to nurture elements to translate that into violence against neighbors while hoping to protect itself from home grown terrorists who target internal stability and wish to deeply radicalize society and polity to their skewed belief. There can be no water tight geographical limits which can be ensured; the attack at Wagah was a case in point where Punjab and that too a highly militarized zone was penetrated by non-India focused elements. Radical belief which drives both the sets of terror groups, the India focused ones and the internal focused ones, is only spreading.
It is indeed surprising that as professional an organization as the Pakistan Army refuses to realize how the India focused groups are taking it for a royal ride. Ashley Tellis in a seminal article in 2012 wrote – “….. since its establishment in 1987, LeT’s objectives relating to Kashmir and, more generally, India were fundamentally embedded in wider ambitions, with its focus on the subcontinent deriving mainly from its practical circumstances”. The LeT is an Ahl-e-Hadith adherent to the principles of Sunni Wahhabism. Its foremost aim is to establish a universal Islamic Caliphate and recover all lands that were once under Muslim rule. This objective likens it as much to the Al Qaida as to the Islamic State (Daesh). LeT does not have the network for a worldwide footprint. It is under control of the ISI which allows it to do fund raising through every dubious means. I also perceive that the ISI has effective control on its activities which do not allow it to proliferate beyond the Indian subcontinent even though Hafiz Sayeed, Abdulla Azam and Zafar Iqbal, its original founders, all had much more ambitious vision. It arose out of Zia ul Haq’s strategy of Islamization of Pakistan and its armed forces; the trio, along with others, were the facilitators to whom this was outsourced. Zia probably never imagined that the genie let out of the bottle would actually contribute to international terror and Islamization in the way it all panned out. What was intended against India found its way to Afghanistan and proliferated beyond with historical way points which could not have been perceived. It then came back to target Pakistan itself. To imagine those organizations like LeT and their ideologues will stay contained and remained tethered to the Deep State’s concept of proxy war against India is to be naïve beyond any understanding. Pakistan’s inability to contain the Taliban should have taught it many lessons. Ideology can be a great unifier even as political objectives remain different; that difference can only be temporary. The reluctance of the Deep State to draw in organizations such as LeT and JeM, despite realization that they are now adversely affecting Pakistan’s interests , is simply because it fears a backlash in the form of the TTP and these India focused groups now unifying in a common cause. If the malaise spreads in a more decisive way into Punjab it is the end of all control. The main constituents of the Deep State fully realize this but are currently unable to exercise control because that will trigger something far beyond what it had ever intended. The reluctance to act against the JeM and the LeT can be best explained with the above analogy. The political and military establishment of Pakistan is truly between the rock and a hard place. Lip service will be extended to demands from India and the US to curb the LeT and JeM with such cosmetic measures as detaining Azhar Masood and two or three JeM operatives, hoping that the situation will blow away. It is clear that actions to clean up Karachi, other sectarian groups and target the TTP in its bastions have achieved only a temporary reprieve. Any decisive pressure on the India focused groups will drive them closer to the TTP. It is Pakistan which is responsible for the malaise it finds itself in. No easy solutions exist. An organization such as LeT is straining at the leash for greater role in worldwide terror; its containment will create a backlash within Pakistan. The reluctance to act against it will only embolden it and any controls that exist will cease to be effective. India must therefore brace for more. LeT may not wish to be a surrogate of Daesh because that will place bring it into greater focus of worldwide efforts at containment. It will wish to retain its flexibility but could well succumb to pressure of competition. Remember how Daesh upstaged Al Qaida. The result of that is not difficult to comprehend.
The US holds the key. Its reluctance to sufficiently pressurize Pakistan flows from the perception that it needs Pakistan for the stabilization of Afghanistan. This is unlikely to change anytime in the near future unless the situation in Afghanistan improves or stabilizes which is highly unlikely. Pakistan will continue playing the victim and with more acts by TTP will effectively postpone any action against the India focused groups.
The subcontinent is therefore unlikely to witness any change. The Indian Government’s strategy of remaining ‘engaged’ with Pakistan may not give any dividends but is effectively the only option in the muddied waters of the very complex strategic environment. It has to keep the Pakistan civilian Government’s head above water to prevent greater turbulence in the neighboring state. Just remember, Pakistan going under will make the situation in Syria look like kids play. Syria’s population is 23 million; its civil war has had consequences as far as France and most of Western Europe. Pakistan has over 190 million and Pakistan is India’s neighbor.
(The writer is a former GOC of the Chinar Corps and now a part of two major Delhi think tanks, Vivekanand International Foundation and Delhi Policy Group)
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain