Pakistan Army: Stung in the Tail
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.
ARMY’S ROLE IN GOVERNANCE
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.
PAKISTAN’S REAL ENEMY IS WITHIN
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.
PREPARING TO FIGHT INDIA
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.