Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorist groups to achieve its foreign policy objectives can be linked to three events that shaped and continue to shape the security discourse in the region. These were the Cold War that raged between the Soviet Union and the West after the end of World War II, the India Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971 and the revolution in military affairs that took place due to advances in communication technology and weapon delivery systems.
The Cold War placed Pakistan in an advantageous position where it could exploit its geographical location to extract economic and military aid from the West. The middle of the previous century was a time when the Cold War was at its peak and rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union was at an all time high.
Pakistan astutely sided with the West, joining the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) in 1954.The purpose of the organisation was to prevent communism from gaining ground in the region. Although Pakistan was not a part of Southeast Asia, the appeal in joining the pact lay in the potential to receive economic and military assistance from the western powers, ostensibly to fight communism, but covertly to be used in its struggle against India.
A year later, Pakistan joined the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO), originally known as the Baghdad Pact, along with Iran, Iraq, Turkey and the United Kingdom. US pressure and promises of military and economic aid were the key ingredients which helped forge the alliance. The United States too, joined the military committee of the alliance in 1958.Pakistan was acutely conscious of its importance as a frontline state in support of US efforts to contain communism. It played its cards with panache and finesse, and in the process, bolstered its economic and military capability.
During this time, India was hampered by a slow growth rate, a fallout of Nehruvian socialism. Internal disturbances also plagued the country, which further debilitated the economy.
The debacle suffered at the hands of the Chinese in 1962 had left deep scars on the national psyche and consequently, India in the early sixties, was arguably at its lowest ebb, economically and militarily. India’s perceived weakness was seen by Pakistan as an opportunity to wrest Kashmir from India by force. However, as India was slowly but steadily augmenting her military capability, post the 1962 debacle, policy makers within Pakistan veered to the view that this window of opportunity was limited in time. Pakistan had already missed an ideal moment to capture Kashmir in October 1962, during the Sino Indian conflict. It was now focused on keeping the Kashmir issue on centre stage in the international arena, and using all the means at its disposal to grab the state by force.
Though Pakistan had modern tanks and aircraft that were technologically superior to anything that India possessed, It was still hesitant to take on India in a full scale war. Pakistani planning therefore focused on keeping hostilities limited to the state of Jammu and Kashmir and towards that end, it planned to create an armed uprising in the state to tie down Indian troops. This operation, code named ‘Operation Gibraltar’, envisaged the infiltration of thousands of regular and irregular troops dressed as Kashmiri guerrillas into Jammu and Kashmir, who wouldmingle with the local population. It was envisaged that the local population would rise against the Indian state and paralyse the state administration. The Pakistan Army would then launch an operation to capture Akhnur and threaten Jammu, thus severing the only land link to the Kashmir Valley. This operation, code named ‘Grand Slam’ was designed to deliver the coup de grace by exploiting the success achieved by Gibraltar. Kashmir would, like a ripe plum, then fall into the hands of Pakistan.
Gibraltar failed because the local population did not rise up against the state. The infiltrators were either killed or taken prisoner by the Indian Army and the few that survived made their way back to Pakistan. Grand Slam very nearly succeeded in its aim of capturing Akhnur, with the attacking force beingstopped just a few kilometres short of its objective. Here, Pakistan made a grave strategic miscalculation. It lacked the capability to win an all out war and its offensive towards Akhnur was predicated on the assessment that India would not enlarge the conflict across the International Boundary. That hope got belied when India launched operations all across the Western Sector to relive pressure on Akhnur, forcing Pakistan to pull back most of its armour deployed there for the offensive. When the ceasefire was declared, Pakistan had lost more in territory than India and its war machine was crippled. But more importantly, the realisation dawned on Pakistan that it could no longer hope to take Kashmir by force. The 1971 India Pakistan war put the final nail on that belief. If Kashmir had to be retaken by Pakistan, then the means to do so would have to be other than conventional conflict.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan put Pakistan back into centre stage. As a frontline state in the war against Soviet occupation, it once again received massive aid from the West. The Mujahideen was formed in Afghanistan to resist Soviet occupation and it received arms, equipment, training and funding from several countries, most notably the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. After a decade of war, the Soviets were driven out of Afghanistan in February 1989. The decade of war in Afghanistan was also the time when Pakistan was ruled by a military dictator, Gen. Muhammad Zia ul Haq. Zia assumed power in September 1978 and remained in office till his death in a plane crash in August 1988. It was Zia who postulated the policy of bleedingIndia with a thousand cuts, as a means of wresting Kashmir. After the Soviet withdrawal form Afghanistan, Pakistan through its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), started promoting terror in India, primarily in J&K, but also in other parts of the country. The lesson learned from Mujahideen operations by the ISI were that if a super power could be defeated by giving support to local guerrillas, then a similar methodology could be applied in Kashmir to force the hand of the Indian government. After the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, many fighters were available for employment elsewhere and some of them accordingly found their way to Kashmir. In addition,Pakistan had set up training camps within its territory to train anti India terror groups. These training camps still continue to train, equip and arm such groups for terrorist and subversive activities against India. By 1991, the Soviet Union had collapsed and the West had lost interest in the region. Pakistan’s promotion of terrorist organisations for use against India was thus largely ignored by the major powers as they were not affected by the scourge and India was left to fight the menace on its own.
The attacks by al Qaeda on the United States on 11 September 2011, once again brought Afghanistan on to centre stage as the al Qaeda was basedin Afghanistan under the patronage of the Afghan Taliban government. Pakistan did a volte face and astutely sided with the US in its war against terror. The Afghan Taliban was overthrown in a swift campaign launched by US led coalition forces, but the foot soldiers of the Taliban escaped to the mountainous region to the North and West of the country and its leadership took refuge inside Pakistan in the rugged border areas in Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. From their bases in their mountain hideouts, they continue to battle the security forces of Afghanistan and the US led NATO forces supporting the elected Afghan government. US dependence on Pakistan for its supply lines to support the Afghan regime have forced it to take a muted stand on Pakistan’s support to Afghan terrorist groups such as the Haqqani network and the Quetta Shura which are based in Pakistan and receive support from the Pakistani establishment.
Pakistan’s support to terrorist groups to further its foreign policy objectives have had a negative fallout for Pakistan itself, as it is now embroiled in waging a bitter war with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) a loose coalition of militant groups based in FATA along the Pakistan Afghan border. That however has not impacted on Pakistan’s policy of providing support to those terrorist groups which it views as its strategic assets. Pakistan hence will continue to use terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and others to strike at India. The dramatic improvement in information technology as part of the RMA has also enable Pakistani handlers to remotely control the actions of such groups when tasked to operate in India and also provide them with intelligence, communication and logistic support. Zia’s concept of a war with a thousand cuts is hence a strategy with the Pakistani establishment will be loathe to discard, considering that it is a cheap option to keep the pot always boiling in India, more so in Jammu and Kashmir.
It can thus be seen that the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 and the geopolitical environment of the latter half of the previous century have contributed to the shaping of the current security environment in the country. Asymmetric warfare as a concept has come to stay and remains a useful tool for the weaker nations to resist stronger powers. Such conflicts are playing out in West Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar and to some extent in certain parts of India. The question that naturally comes to mind is, what next?
Pakistan is unlikely to give up its policy of bleeding India with a thousand cuts. The asymmetric war it has been waging against India over the last nearly three decades has been executed with minimal cost to Pakistan, but India has been forced to pay a heavy price to defend its territory. India’s policy options against Pakistan have for long remained defensive, with focus being on attack prevention, but little was done to punish Pakistan for its intransigence. This defensive mindset is slowly yielding to a more proactive policy wherein Pakistan is being held accountable for its support to terrorist groups. This is becoming increasingly visible on the political, diplomatic and military front. Political and diplomatic initiatives to isolate Pakistan were most visible in the recent Heart of Asia conference held in Amritsar in early December 2016, in which 40 countries participated. This will remain an ongoing process, seeking to make the Pakistani establishment accountable for its continuous support to terrorist groups. This is a welcome change brought on by the present government and should yield results over a period of time.
Militarily, the policy too has undergone a sea change. The response to the Uri attack was a surgical strike across the border which disconcerted Pakistan a great deal. A new normal has now been set into the equation of dealing with acts of terror in Indian soil. The Indian Army’s attack on militant hideouts in Myanmar in 2015 had drawn the possibility of such attacks being carried out against Pakistani terror networks too. At that time Pakistan had boasted that it was no Myanmar and that any attack on its soil by Indian forces would not be tolerated. Pakistan also indulged in nuclear bluster, warning India that it was a nuclear power and would not hesitate to use any power at its disposal to thwart Indian designs. The Pakistan bluff was called within ten days of the Uri attack, when the Indian Army launched a series of surgical strikes across the LC, on a wide front. Pakistan was now faced with an unenviable option. It could respond through the use of military force on select Indian targets or could play the nuclear card. Failure to do nothing would draw derision from its public. Lacking capability to use its military, and not wanting to be seen as weak, Pakistan chose to deny that an attack had taken place at multiple points on its soil, wherein a large number of terrorists that were trained by Pakistan and were being prepared to be infiltrated into India were killed. The Pakistani Army too suffered some casualties in the Indian response. This served as a face server, for if no attack had taken place, then obviously there was no need for a response!
The overall security situation in the region remains grim with no end in sight to the conflict in Afghanistan, or the multiple conflicts that are taking place in West Asia. A more assertive policy is now being executed by India to isolate Pakistan on the political and diplomatic front and impose heavy military and economic costs to it for its support to terror groups. The war however will be long drawn out and India needs to walk the course it has chosen. The Indian public too must realise that it is not the Indian Army but the Indian nation which is at war with Pakistan. A collective effort is required to make Pakistan mend its ways and change the direction of its foreign policy, if peace is to return to the region.