December 24, 2009

The jihadi nexus in Pakistan

G Parthasarathy

Defence Minister AK Antony announced recently that the Government is withdrawing two divisions, comprising 30,000 troops, from Jammu & Kashmir. This announcement followed a reduction in infiltration of ISI-backed jihadis across the Line of Control and a determined effort by the State Government led by Mr Omar Abdullah to expand, train and equip the police to deal with terrorist violence, especially in urban areas.

There now appears to have been a change in instructions from across the LoC to the separatist leadership on how the fight for ‘azadi’ has to be carried forward. The predominant emphasis on jihad has been set aside for the present. The aim now is to seek opportunities to mobilise people by hurling baseless allegations of atrocities, excesses and even rape against the armed forces. The incident at Shopian involving the mysterious deaths of two young women appears a classical example of mobilisation through hysteria and disinformation.

The announcement of troop reductions also addresses the growingly aggressive anti-Indian propaganda unleashed by even normally restrained Pakistani political leaders like President Asif Ali Zardari and influential academics like Ahmed Rashid, claiming that the Pakistani Army cannot deploy more troops on its borders with Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, because of an Indian “threat” on its eastern border. Pakistan asserts that unless the United States, the European Union and China join hands to force India to the negotiating table and mediate and guarantee a resolution to the Jammu & Kashmir issue, the Americans cannot expect the Pakistani Army to deploy enough troops to confront the Taliban.

These developments are taking place at a time when the Pakistani military establishment has successfully cornered Mr Zardari and his close associates by manipulating events to lead the Supreme Court to declare the National Reconciliation Ordinance, under which the present political dispensation was elected, as unconstitutional. A shaken Mr Zardari is now finding his close associates like Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, his PPP and MQM supporters in Sind, and even his own Principal Secretary Salman Farooqui coming under pressure, with threats of arrest.

The Army has repeatedly made it clear that it will not yield ground on its control of issues of national security and relations with the US, India and Afghanistan. Sensing that Mr Zardari was attempting to clip its wings by using the American aid legislation to curb its powers, the Army has hit back by mobilising Right-wing opinion to claim that Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are being eroded by American meddling.

A rattled Obama Administration has responded with Sen John Kerry and others paying obeisance to Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not bother to shake hands with Pakistan’s Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar while spending nearly three hours in talks with Gen Kayani and ISI Chief Shuja Pasha. While Mr Obama has proclaimed, “We cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear,” Gen Kayani has steadfastly refused to act against the Quetta-based political leadership of the Taliban led by Mullah Omar, or the Taliban military leadership of Sirajuddin Haqqani, now operating against American forces in Afghanistan from safe havens in North Waziristan.

The Pakistani Army is thus prepared to even defy the Americans to protect its Taliban ‘assets’. Is it, therefore, realistic for anyone in India to believe that a weak and fragmented political leadership in Pakistan can act against the Army’s hottest favourite — the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba led by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed?

There seems to be a total lack of understanding in India, even in high levels of the Government, about why Pakistan is frantically pushing for a resumption of the ‘Composite Dialogue Process’. Pakistan is now becoming increasingly uncomfortable about the growing and almost daily revelations of the links of its military establishment with terrorist and extremist groups on its borders with both India and Afghanistan.

The influential Pentagon-related Stratfor Website recently noted that operatives of terrorist groups like the LeT and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, which operate against India, are “able to travel, raise funds, communicate, train and plan operations with seemingly little interference. This is a stark contrast to Al Qaeda, which is hunted, on the run and experiencing a great deal of difficulty moving operatives, communicating, raising funds and conducting operations. The links between David Coleman Headley and his associates to current and former Pakistani military officers and Government officials are likely what is affording LeT and HuJI their operational freedom”.

The almost hysterical calls for resumption of the Composite Dialogue by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is a protégé of the military establishment, and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, are meant to divert attention from the real issue which is tearing Pakistan apart, which is ISI-sponsored jihadi terrorism, by claims that lack of progress in resolving the ‘core issue’ of Jammu & Kashmir is the root cause of all the terrorism that the Pakistani Army has unleashed on Afghanistan, India and within Pakistan itself.

This, after the present military establishment led by Gen Kayani has returned to old and hackneyed rhetoric on resolving Jammu & Kashmir and disowned all that was achieved in moving forward on this issue through back-channel talks with the Musharraf dispensation between 2005 and 2007. The withdrawal of 30,000 troops from Jammu & Kashmir effectively counters the Pakistan propaganda. India has to emphasise that it is ISI-sponsored terrorism, and not Jammu & Kashmir, which is the root cause of regional tensions.

Given the dynamics of the developments within Pakistan, particularly on its borders with Afghanistan, which have arisen primarily because of backing radical Islamic groups, both by the military establishment and mainstream political parties, there is very little India can do to influence the course of events within Pakistan.

It seems unlikely that Gen Kayani and his cohorts will be able to quell unrest and violence in Pakistan’s Pashtun heartland, even as they remain determined to back Taliban elements that bleed the Americans in Afghanistan. Stability in Pakistan is not going to be promoted by getting carried away by appeals for Indian magnanimity. What India has to ensure is preparedness to deal with the next terrorist strike, whether it is against a nuclear or IT establishment or involves hostage taking of schoolchildren as the Chechens terrorists did in Beslan.

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