Pak­istan Army: Stung in the Tail

India Strategic - - CONTENTS - By Gurmeet Kan­wal

NEW DELHI. On the night of Septem­ber 28, 2016, sev­eral teams of the Spe­cial Forces of the In­dian army launched sur­gi­cal strikes across the Line of Con­trol ( LoC) on ter­ror­ist training camps in Pak­istan Oc­cu­pied Kash­mir (POK). In care­fully mea­sured words the DGMO said dur­ing a press brief­ing on Septem­ber 29 that In­dia’s Spe­cial Forces had “in­flicted sig­nif­i­cant ca­su­al­ties” on the ter­ror­ists and their in­fra­struc­ture.

For the sec­ond time since the 1971 war with Pak­istan the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship of In­dia has ex­hib­ited firm na­tional re­solve. The first was when nu­clear tests were con­ducted in May 1998 at Pokhran.

In keep­ing with the na­tional psy­che, the Pak­istan army has opted to deny that the sur­gi­cal strikes took place so that it does not lose face. How­ever, the Nawaz Sharif govern­ment is clearly non­plussed with the de­vel­op­ments and the blame game has be­gun. In a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view, Im­ran Khan – an op­po­si­tion leader – was se­verely crit­i­cal of Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif’s lead­er­ship. He said he “will show Sharif how to re­spond to Modi.”

True to form, they have once again be­gun to in­dulge in their favourite pas­time of nu­clear sabre- rat­tling. De­fence Min­is­ter Khawaja Asif has once again held out a nu­clear threat to In­dia. ‘Is­lam­abad,’ he said, “open to us­ing tac­ti­cal ( nu­clear) de­vices against In­dia if it feels its safety is threat­ened.” Talk of a coup is once again in the air; es­pe­cially be­cause the army chief, Gen­eral Ra­heel Sharif, is due to re­tire in a few weeks.


In Pak­istan, the army is the state. In fact, the army and the ISI (the In­terSer­vices In­tel­li­gence Direc­torate) to­gether form the ‘ deep state’. The mil­i­tary jack­boot has rid­den roughshod over Pak­istan’s polity for most of the coun­try’s his­tory since its in­de­pen­dence in 1947. While Gen­er­als Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia ul Haq and Mushar­raf ruled di­rectly as Pres­i­dents or Chief Mar­tial Law Ad­min­is­tra­tors, the other army chiefs achieved per­fec­tion in the fine art of back­seat driv­ing. The army re­peat­edly took over the reins of ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der the guise of the ‘doc­trine of ne­ces­sity’ and, in com­plete dis­re­gard of in­ter­na­tional norms of ju­rispru­dence, Pak­istan’s Supreme Court mostly played along.

Al­most since the birth of Pak­istan, the army has ef­fec­tively en­sured that Pak­istan’s fledg­ling democ­racy is not al­lowed to take deep root. The roots of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in Pak­istan can be traced back to Gen­eral (later Field Mar­shal) Ayub Khan who pro­moted the idea of ‘guided’ or ‘con­trolled’ democ­racy. The con­cept of the ‘Troika’ emerged later as a power shar­ing ar­range­ment be­tween the Pres­i­dent, the Prime Min­is­ter and the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). The ‘po­lit­i­cal mil­i­tarism’ of the Pak­istan army im­posed struc­tural con­straints on the in­sti­tu­tion­al­i­sa­tion of demo­cratic norms in the civil so­ci­ety.

Some key na­tional poli­cies have al­ways been dic­tated by the army. The army de­ter­mines Pak­istan’s na­tional se­cu­rity threats and chal­lenges and de­cides how to deal with them. Pak­istan’s pol­icy on Afghanistan and Jammu and Kash­mir is guided by the army and the rap­proche­ment process with In­dia can­not pro­ceed with­out its con­cur­rence. The army con­trols Pak­istan’s nu­clear weapons and the re­lated re­search and de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes. The civil­ian govern­ment has no role to play in de­cid­ing the doc­trine for nu­clear de­ter­rence, the force struc­tures, the tar­get­ing poli­cies and the process of com­mand and con­trol. The army Chief con­trols the ISI and de­cides the an­nual de­fence ex­pen­di­ture and all de­fence pro­cure­ments. He also con­trols all se­nior- level pro­mo­tions and ap­point­ments; the govern­ment merely rub­ber stamps the de­ci­sions. Lt Gen Shuja Ahmed Pasha, DG ISI, was given two ex­ten­sions at the be­hest of the COAS and Gen­eral Kayani was him­self given a three-year ex­ten­sion.

In keep­ing with its vis­ceral ha­tred of In­dia and in or­der to weaken In­dia, as also to fur­ther China’s ob­jec­tives of re­duc­ing In­dia’s in­flu­ence in Asia and con­fin­ing it to the back­wa­ters of the In­dian Ocean as a sub­al­tern state, the Pak­istan army has adopted a care­fully cal­cu­lated strat­egy of ‘bleed­ing In­dia through a thou­sand cuts’. This has been given ef­fect overtly through ir­reg­u­lar war­fare – the Raza­kar and Mujahid in­va­sion of Kash­mir in 194748 and Oper­a­tion Gi­bral­tar in 1965; and, the Kargil in­tru­sions of 1999. A proxy war has been waged through

ISI-spon­sored mil­i­tancy and ter­ror­ism in Jammu and Kash­mir ( J& K) and state-spon­sored ter­ror­ism in other parts of In­dia, like the Mum­bai ter­ror strikes in Novem­ber 2008. In the 1980s, Pak­istan had en­cour­aged and sup­ported Sikh ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions in their mis­placed ven­ture to seek the cre­ation of an in­de­pen­dent state of Khal­is­tan.

The ISI pro­vides op­er­a­tional, in­tel­li­gence, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, training, fi­nan­cial and ma­te­rial sup­port to fun­da­men­tal­ist ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Lashkar-e-Tayebba (LeT) and the Jaish- e- Mo­ham­mad ( JeM) to wage war against In­dia. Sim­i­larly, it pro­vides sub­stan­tial in­tel­li­gence and ma­te­rial sup­port to var­i­ous Tal­iban fac­tions like the North Waziris­tan­based Haqqani Network to op­er­ate in Afghanistan against the Ashraf Ghani regime and against NATO-ISAF forces. This is done de­spite the fact that Pak­istan is a ma­jor non-NATO ally (MNNA) in the so-called ‘global war against ter­ror­ism’ (GWOT). The killing of Osama bin Laden in the army can­ton­ment of Ab­bot­tabad, where he had been housed by the ISI for al­most five years, pro­vided di­rect proof of the ISI’s com­plic­ity in an­tiNATO ac­tiv­i­ties.


Rather than desta­bil­is­ing neigh­bour­ing coun­tries the Pak­istan army should be fight­ing the de­mons within. The de­te­ri­o­rat­ing in­ter­nal se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment in Pak­istan has grad­u­ally mor­phed into the coun­try’s fore­most na­tional se­cu­rity threat. The Pak­istan army has been bat­tling the Tehreeke-Tal­iban Pak­istan ( TTP) in North Waziris­tan since mid-June 2014 with only lim­ited suc­cess. The Al Qaeda has been qui­etly mak­ing in­roads into Pak­istani ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Lashkar-e-Tayebba (LeT), the Jaishe-Mo­ham­mad (JeM), Harkat-ul-Ji­had Al-Is­lami (HuJI), Tehreek-e-Nafaz-eShariat-e-Mo­ham­madi (TNSM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Ay­man Al-Zawa­hari, the Al Qaeda Chief, has an­nounced the launch of a new wing in South Asia, to be based in Pak­istan. The so-called Is­lamic State (ISIS) has also es­tab­lished a South Asian branch in Pak­istan.

Fissi pa roust end en ci es in Balochis­tan and the restive Gil­git-Baltistan North­ern Ar­eas are a per­pet­ual se­cu­rity night­mare. Karachi is a tin­der­box that is ready to ex­plode. Sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence is ram­pant; the mi­nor­ity Shia com­mu­nity is be­ing es­pe­cially tar­geted by Sunni ex­trem­ists. Other mi­nori­ties like the Hin­dus, Sikhs and Chris­tians have also been as­saulted. In­sider in­volve­ment was re­ported in at­tacks on mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ments like the Mehran air­base and the Karachi naval dock­yard. A ter­ror­ist at­tack has been launched on a se­cu­rity gate of GHQ Rawalpindi and over 150 chil­dren were killed when a school was at­tacked at Peshawar.

Creep­ing Tal­iban­i­sa­tion and rad­i­cal ex­trem­ism are threat­en­ing Pak­istan’s sovereignty. If the Pak­istan army fails to con­clu­sively elim­i­nate the scourge in the north-west, it will soon reach Pun­jab, which has been rel­a­tively free of ma­jor in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence. Over the last decade the Pak­istan army has de­ployed ap­prox­i­mately 200,000 sol­diers in the Khy­ber-Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA ar­eas for counter- in­sur­gency op­er­a­tions. It has suf­fered about 15,000 ca­su­al­ties, in­clud­ing 5,000 dead since 2008. The to­tal ca­su­al­ties, in­clud­ing civil­ian, num­ber al­most 50,000 since 2001.

On June 15, 2014, the Pak­istan army and air force launched Oper­a­tion Zarb-e-Azb (sharp and cut­ting strike), their much de­layed of­fen­sive against the TTP in North Waziris­tan. The oper­a­tion be­gan with air strikes and was sub­se­quently fol­lowed up with counter-in­sur­gency op­er­a­tions on the ground. Op­er­a­tions of the Pak­istan Air Force were sup­ple­mented by US drone strikes, which were re­sumed af­ter six months and caused ex­ten­sive da­m­age. Ap­prox­i­mately 30,000 reg­u­lar sol­diers of the Pak­istan army are still in­volved in the oper­a­tion. As a re­sult of the oper­a­tion one mil­lion civil­ians have be­come refugees in their own land. The army claims to have elim­i­nated over 1,500 ter­ror­ists, a large num­ber of them for­eign ter­ror­ists. Most of the oth­ers have es­caped across the bor­der into Afghanistan.

Though the army chief has said that the present oper­a­tion is aimed at elim­i­nat­ing “all ter­ror­ists and their sanc­tu­ar­ies” in North Waziris­tan, no strikes have been launched against the Haqqani network and two other mil­i­tant groups that have been pri­mar­ily tar­get­ing the NATO/ISAF forces and the Afghan Na­tional Army (ANA) – the Hafiz Gul Ba­hadur group and the Mul­lah Nazir group. These three groups are called the “good Tal­iban” by the Pak­istan army and the ISI and are looked upon as “strate­gic as­sets” to in­flu­ence events in Afghanistan now that the NATO/ ISAF draw down has been com­pleted. The Haqqani network has also been em­ployed to tar­get In­dian as­sets in Afghanistan.


So far In­dia has con­ducted its counter-proxy war cam­paign within its bor­ders and on its own side of the LoC. While the strate­gic re­straint shown by In­dia de­spite grave provo­ca­tion en­abled the coun­try to keep the level of con­flict low and sus­tain a high rate of eco­nomic growth, it did not suc­ceed in creat­ing any dis­in­cen­tives for Pak­istan’s deep state.

The ter­ror­ist at­tack on the air force base at Pathankot on New Year’s Day could be deemed to have once again crossed In­dia’s red lines. The at­tack at Uri was the last straw and the rules of the game have now changed. By launch­ing trans- LoC sur­gi­cal strikes on ter­ror­ist training camps with its Spe­cial Forces, In­dia has sent sev­eral mes­sages to Pak­istan. Firstly, the present In­dian govern­ment will not tol­er­ate the wan­ton killing of in­no­cent In­dian civil­ians or sol­diers by state-spon­sored ter­ror­ists from Pak­istan. Se­condly, the sur­gi­cal strikes are a warn­ing to the Pak­istan army that if it does not put an end to cross­bor­der ter­ror­ism, it may ex­pect an even more vig­or­ous In­dian re­sponse.

In or­der to di­vert the peo­ple’s at­ten­tion from the ig­nominy of hav­ing to face up to the sur­gi­cal strikes launched by In­dia across the LoC and from the grow­ing men­ace of in­ter­nal in­sta­bil­ity with which the army is un­able to cope, loose talk of war with In­dia is be­ing en­cour­aged. While war is not in ei­ther coun­try’s in­ter­est, Pak­istan has much more to lose as its econ­omy is in a bad shape and it is un­likely to get any help from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

The two armies are al­most evenly matched, with the In­dian army en­joy­ing a slight edge. The In­dian army can bank on ad­di­tional di­vi­sions from the east­ern front pro­vided China re­mains neu­tral. The In­dian Air Force has a dis­tinct ad­van­tage over the PAF, be­cause it pos­sesses more mod­ern air­craft and has larger num­bers. The In­dian navy has the ca­pa­bil­ity of blockad­ing Karachi har­bour and chok­ing Pak­istan’s econ­omy. ( See chart for Com­par­a­tive force lev­els).

Both coun­tries should en­deav­our to re­turn to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble rather than en­cour­age the drum beat of war. How­ever, for that to hap­pen, Pak­istan will have to stop spon­sor­ing ter­ror­ist groups to launch strikes in In­dia. The two NSAs should take up these is­sues in back chan­nel talks be­fore for­mal diplo­macy can be re­sumed.

– The writer is a Dis­tin­guished Fel­low, In­sti­tute for De­fence Stud­ies and Analy­ses (IDSA), New Delhi.

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