Pak­istan is still the epi­cen­tre of ter­ror

Rifts in Is­lam­abad’s do­mes­tic pol­i­tics and mil­i­tary trans­gres­sions are af­fect­ing its neigh­bours

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - COMMENT - TCA Ragha­van is a for­mer high com­mis­sioner to Pak­istan The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

While at­ten­tion over the past month has fo­cused on the af­ter­math of United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s broad­side, three sep­a­rate is­sues loom over Pak­istan: one do­mes­tic; and two ex­ter­nal. Trump’s tweet, ac­cus­ing Pak­istan of lies and de­ceit, was fol­lowed by a sus­pen­sion of se­cu­rity as­sis­tance, but ev­i­dently this is only the be­gin­ning of a process.

Since the dra­matic pres­i­den­tial an­nounce­ment of “no more”, Afghanistan, through Jan­uary, wit­nessed a wave of vi­o­lence. There were three ma­jor at­tacks in Kabul — on the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal ho­tel (Jan­uary 21), an am­bu­lance bomb (Jan­uary 27) and the at­tack on an Afghan army base (Jan­uary 29). Th­ese, at the very least, un­der­line that what­ever the ul­ti­mate prog­no­sis of the US’ new Afghanistan-pak­istan pol­icy, the grind will re­main a very hard one. Th­ese high-pro­file at­tacks get so much at­ten­tion that there is a rel­a­tive ob­scur­ing of the Afghan army’s fierce fight­ing with the Tal­iban also tak­ing place in the prov­inces.

While it may be tempt­ing to see this clus­ter of ma­jor at­tacks as a di­rect re­sponse to Trump’s tweet, the fact also is that in Afghanistan lin­ear ex­pla­na­tions are not al­ways the only ones. This lat­est wave of ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence be­gun be­fore the tweet with the at­tack on a Shia ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre in Kabul on De­cem­ber 28 and on a fu­neral in Jalal­abad three days later. The US pres­i­dent’s tweet it­self was only the hardest of a se­ries of US state­ments on Pak­istan in 2017 as the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan steadily de­te­ri­o­rated.

How Pak­istan will re­spond re­mains an open ques­tion, but one track which it is try­ing is to re­duce the cur­rent lev­els of fric­tion in the re­la­tion­ship with Afghanistan. This is through the ne­go­ti­a­tion of an Afghanistan-pak­istan Ac­tion Plan for Peace and Sol­i­dar­ity (APAPPS). This idea emerged with the cur­rent wave of at­tacks and fol­low­ing Afghanistan’s ac­cu­sa­tions that it was from bases in Pak­istan where th­ese at­tacks were planned and launched. The point ev­i­dently is of Pak­istan’s keen­ness to en­gage with Afghanistan as a means of con­vinc­ing the US of its bona fides. Pre­dictably, two rounds of talks on the APAPPS have failed to make progress.

In­ter­nally, for­mer Pak­istan Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif con­tin­ues on his path of de­fi­ance against the ju­di­ciary’s ver­dict that un­seated him. His main point is re­it­er­ated con­stantly in public meet­ings and ral­lies: The higher ju­di­ciary in Pak­istan has al­ways played a par­ti­san role against civil­ian politi­cians. The sub­text is point­edly the in­ter­ven­tions of the army in the do­main of pol­i­tics. This, of course, is hardly new given the his­tory of mil­i­tary coups in Pak­istan. What is also pos­si­bly be­ing al­luded to is that un­like in the past when a coup was fol­lowed by swift ju­di­cial vin­di­ca­tion the army now acts more con­sti­tu­tion­ally with the grow­ing con­ver­gence be­tween it and the ju­di­ciary or through the main­stream­ing of ex­trem­ist groups to put up elec­toral chal­lenges to more cen­trist par­ties.

Some of the Sharif’s sup­port­ers have spo­ken on this with even greater aban­don. How sen­si­tive the ju­di­ciary is to this is il­lus­trated by the one-month im­pris­on­ment awarded to a sen­a­tor from the rul­ing party for con­tempt of court. There are other on­go­ing con­tempt pro­ceed­ings as well.

How­ever, all this is ac­com­pa­nied by mount­ing ev­i­dence that Sharif is re­ceiv­ing a groundswell of sup­port at the grass­roots as he tours Pak­istan, es­pe­cially in the Pun­jab prov­ince. Not­with­stand­ing the his­tory of what is called Pak­istan’s ‘20 year coup cy­cle’ (1958, 1977, 1999) the fact is that enough has changed to give the forth­com­ing gen­eral elec­tion great sig­nif­i­cance.

Fi­nally, 2017 is in­creas­ingly be­ing de­scribed as the year that saw the most in­tense clashes along the Line of Con­trol (LOC) since the 2003 cease­fire was de­clared. The most ob­vi­ous rea­son as­cribed for this is that at a time when there is a diplo­matic freeze, the sit­u­a­tion along the LOC is no more than symp­to­matic of the state of bi­lat­eral ties. But there are other rea­sons also, the most prom­i­nent be­ing the Pavlo­vian con­di­tioned ap­proach of the Pak­istan army to do what it can to keep the sit­u­a­tion in Kash­mir ‘hot’.

Th­ese fac­tors cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where cease­fire vi­o­la­tions are in­evitable and lo­cal and tac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions have a ma­jor role in ex­plain­ing flare-ups. There is nev­er­the­less a third re­gres­sion that his­tor­i­cally has un­der­writ­ten flare-ups along the LOC over the past decade. Do­mes­tic tur­bu­lence in Pak­istan, and in par­tic­u­lar poor civil-mil­i­tary equa­tions, have im­pacted the cease­fire and put it un­der se­vere strain — as is the sit­u­a­tion to­day.


A vil­lager holds mor­tar shells fired from across the bor­der, at Pindi in Ar­nia district, Jammu and Kash­mir, Jan­uary 18

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