History of Pakistan since its independence has been one of a vassal state, mostly of the U.S., which used its (Pakistan’s) pre-eminent geo-strategic location during the cold war, to its advantage. Pakistan, besides facilitating the U.S. in keeping a close watch on the two communists giants, also helped America in keeping a hawk eye on the happenings in the Mediterranean, West Asia and the Gulf. This close clinch between the two seemingly incompatible countries, for most of the initial four decades after Pakistan’s creation, ensured that it not only survived as a nation, but became strong enough to threaten India, even going to war with it in 1965.
However, with the America’s own relations with China improving subsequently, and Europe becoming a far more important theatre of big power play geo-politically, the United States would have had little use for Pakistan. But Allah had something else in mind to ensure that America stayed as a steadfast friend. This happened immediately when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The third ‘A’ of those who run Pakistan, i.e., its Army (America and Allah, being the other two), was at hand to ensure that Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1978, was turned into an opportunity to its own advantage. Gen Zia-ul-Haq, the new dictator of Pakistan, turned the Pakistan-American clinch into a bear hug. The close cooperation between the two countries during this entire phase of soviet occupation of Afghanistan, was such that during a press conference in Washington DC, Zia-ul-Haq, in the presence of Ronald Reagan said, “Our hearts beat in unison.”
Pakistan took full advantage of being a frontline state in the U.S and its allies’ war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It got everything it wanted; military hardware, dollars in abundance and international support for many of its policies which would, otherwise, have been frowned upon by the international community. Developing nuclear weapons and starting insurgency in Punjab and Kashmir, being just the two of these.
After the Soviet armies were thrown out of Afghanistan, the Taliban, products of ISI run refugee camps of Peshawar during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, gained power in the war-torn Afghanistan. America, having already achieved its objective of throwing the Soviet armies out of Afghanistan and freeing most of Eastern Europe from the Soviet control and breaking the Soviet Union, now lost interest in South Asia.
Pakistan’s role as a strategic ally had little use in the changed geo-political calculation in a unipolar world, of which the U.S. was now the only super power. But Allah wished otherwise. The Taliban, now ruling Afghanistan, hosted Osama bin Laden, who created Al Qaeda, which hit the U.S. on 9/11, in the biggest terrorist strike to take place on the American soil. Despite enormous pressure exerted on the Taliban and their mentor, Pakistan, the U.S. was unable to get the custody of their nemesis, Osama, the prime suspect in the 9/11 strike on the World Trade Towers in New York.
Under American threat of being “reduced to stone age”, Gen Musharraf, the new dictator of Pakistan, had to give up on their blue-eyed boys, the Taliban. Thereafter, America invaded Afghanistan, using Pakistan’s proximity to the latter and its knowledge of the Taliban network to its advantage.
Thus, Pakistan once again became a ‘Stalwart Ally’, as Gen Collin Powel, the U.S. Secretary of State, put it. For the next over decade and a half, Pakistan, once again, got bailed out economically and militarily by the U.S., even though reluctantly this time.
In the meantime, Pakistan continued to develop its relations with its all weather friend, China; both strategically, as also economically. Development of Gwadar as a trading and military port on the mouth of the strategically important Gulf, extending the Karakoram Highway, cutting right through Pakistan, till the Gwadar port, and cooperation in the nuclear field ensured that Pakistan remained an entity in the existing geo-political environment in the post 9/11 world.
Pakistan’s notorious ISI, with the help of CIA and Saudi Intelligence agencies, created and sustained the huge terrorist infrastructure to ostensibly fight Soviets in Afghanistan. However, on the quiet, it also spread terrorism in India’s Punjab and later created insurgency situation in Jammu and Kashmir and still later, carried out terrorist strikes in mainland India. This has been going on since middle of eighties and continues till date. As a matter of fact, this policy has now become part of the Pakistan’s state diplomacy, in that, some terrorist groups, like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad are treated as strategic assets by Pakistan in its confrontation with India.
Nevertheless, such a policy has had two detrimental effects on Pakistan. Firstly, it came to be widely seen as a sponsor of terror worldwide and became a pariah state and secondly, it gave rise to numerous terrorist groups within Pakistan, which refused to toe the ISI line.
Some extreme religious groups like Lashkar-e-jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba (both Sunni militant groups, who have been targeting Shias and other non-Muslim groups in Pakistan and have killed many of them during the past two decades) and the breakaway faction of Taliban, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP- who have repeatedly struck against the existing state set up in Pakistan) have destabilised the Pakistani society by indulging in grave human rights violations (attack on Army Public School, Peshawar, just to quote one such strike). Even the most prosperous and progressive state of Pakistan, i.e., Punjab, has not been spared by these terrorist groups.
Though theoretically, ISI has been trying to sell the theory of differentiating between good terrorist and bad terrorist, but in practical terms this differentiation has not worked. Today, when Pakistan says that “it, itself is a victim of terrorism”, it must realise that it is situation that Pakistan has itself created.
After the Peshawar attack on the Army Public School, in which over 150 innocent children were slain in a most barbaric manner, the all powerful Army decided to launch a crackdown on the militant groups. The fact that most of the children killed were Army wards, did contribute to such decision making. It is a moot point whether such a crackdown would have been launched had the children belonged to non-military families.
Nevertheless, in the subsequent crack down, two types of militant groups were targeted. The first one was the TTP and its allies who were and are in the forefront of anti-Pakistan militancy; the second one included the sectarian religious groups who have been targeting Shias/Christians and people belonging to other minorities. The latter are wholly driven by their desire to wipe out those whom they consider Kafir or apostates.
Nearly three hundred terrorists, whose death sentences were held in abeyance, have been hanged till now. This included the killer of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. In its campaign against such sectarian militant groups, some important leaders of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba too were killed in encounters.
Despite huge protests against such killings, Pakistan’s powerful Army continued their relentless operations against these militant groups, including in Punjab.
However, the policy of leaving Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad untouched during these operations, has once again confirmed that as far as these groups are concerned, Pakistan is unwilling to change its long held policy, i.e., state sponsored terror against India will continue to be a part of its state policy and to achieve that objective, Pakistan will continue to treat these anti-Indian terror groups as strategic assets.
Pakistan is therefore, unwilling to accept that it has to eliminate all forms of terrorism, root and branch, and not treat some of them as strategic assets for future use against India. These double standards are at the root of the existing dilemma that Pakistan faces.
India’s reaction has been on the expected lines. Its policy towards Pakistan is based on the assumption that the elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, will deliver on its promises; be it Mumbai, Pathankot or granting MFN (Most Favoured Nation) status to India. But like most prime ministers before him, Narendra Modi too is likely to eat a humble pie. Pakistan’s foreign policy is dictated by the General Headquarters at Rawalpindi and not by its foreign office at Islamabad.
In fact, the present government put a great deal of its reputation at stake by going out of its way to placate the elected government in Pakistan. But the recent events have confirmed that the present Army Chief, Gen Raheel Sharrief, is determined to use the powerful Army to sidetrack the elected government, particularly when it comes to Pakistan’s policies towards India, Afghanistan and the U.S. The fact is that ever since its creation, Pakistan has rarely had a civilian government which did not have the powerful Army breathing down its neck – i.e., when the Army did not rule directly.
In the eighties, due to the patronage showered on them by the military dictator, Gen Zia-ul-Haq, the radical Islamic parties too became powerful and were co-opted into the governance of the country at certain levels. This made them disproportionately powerful, compared to the actual support they enjoyed among the masses. However, as a consequence, it also contributed to the radicalization of Pakistani society, thus posing a serious threat to the very fabric of the Pakistan’s inter-provincial cohesion.
But now, it appears that the present Army Chief is unwilling to share power with these parties and has, therefore, gone after them. Needless to say, it has created a piquant situation in the country. The Islamist parties have turned against the government, further leading to enhanced levels of violence directed at State machinery, some sectarian groups and minorities.
With Army launching an all out offensive in Baluchistan, FATA and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, fissiparous tendencies in many provinces have further accentuated. Baluchistan is far from being quiet; Even in PoJK voices of dissent have become shriller and recent events indicate that clamour for Azadi has grown there; TTP is nowhere near annihilation and democratic institutions are getting emasculated with every passing day.
In the meanwhile, the U.S. continues to patronise Pakistan by supplying modern aircraft and weaponry in the hope that somehow these supplies will keep it floating, as the former has no stomach for creating another Iraq for itself. It is, of course, a different matter that it is India that will get adversely impacted by the arming of Pakistan. But the U.S. thinks that India can manage such a situation in view of the expanding Indo-U.S. strategic cooperation. As far as China is concerned, its cooperation with Pakistan is strictly in keeping with its (China’s) national interests. It is using Pakistan to outflank India, gaining access to the Gulf through Gwadar and establishing a foot hold in PoJK, so important for it to protect the Karakoram Highway.
Before the arrival of Daesh (IS) on the scene, nearly every terrorist strike in the world had a Pakistani connection; be it the terrorists themselves, their training, logistics or funding, etc. But Pakistan’s continued relevance due to reasons mentioned above, ensured that it got away with its Shenanigans. Today, as far as the international community is concerned, its focus has shifted from Pakistan to IS (Daesh). Therefore, as of now, Pakistan is no more than a lesser liability than the IS, unless another terrorist strike, having Pakistan connection, brings it back into international glare. As far as India is concerned, Mumbais and Pathankots will continue to occur so long as Pakistan continues to use terrorism as a state policy. India has to live with this headache.