Our J&K strategy can be simple: hold on for 15-20 years, and Pakistan will self-destruct
From a geo-strategic perspective, if India holds on to Jammu & Kashmir for another 15 or 20 years, Pakistan will destroy itself, even without India doing anything substantial to secure this end.
More than 30 years ago, Pakistan launched its proxy war against India, intervening, first, by backing Khalistani terrorism in Punjab and, thereafter, flush with the success of its US-backed ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan, igniting the Islamist-terrorist insurrection in Jammu & Kashmir.
Gradually, the goal of the Kashmiri jihad widened to include the rest of India, and continuous efforts of recruitment secured some ‘successes’, with a rash of terrorist attacks afflicting different parts of the country over an extended period of time.
Even as India frets about the impending release by a Pakistani court of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the mastermind behind the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, we tend to forget that the anti-India activities of the Pakistani Deep State predate even the Khalistani campaign.
Pakistani mischief, in fact, commenced with the ‘tribal raid’ – in fact a covert military invasion – of Jammu & Kashmir in 1947, and comprehends support to virtually every significant separatist revolt in India’s North-east. Another three conventional wars have marked the brief history of the two nations born out of the crucible of Partition.
In this long interregnum, India is yet to devise a coherent policy response to enduring Pakistani trouble-making and is, today, once again, blundering along the same exhausted pathways, the same swings of the pendulum between talks and no talks.
Despite the sheer relentlessness of Pakistan’s campaigns, and the persistence of its amplifying hatred against India, no regime in Delhi has ever evolved a coherent strategic perspective or response to Pakistan’s sustained project of inflicting ‘death by a thousand cuts’ on India.
Indeed, successive governments in India have held stubbornly to the thesis that a ‘strong and stable Pakistan’ is in India’s interest, despite augmenting evidence that Pakistan’s internal difficulties and vulnerabilities have invariably brought great relief from Islamabad’s mischief, and that a ‘strong and stable’ enemy can hardly be in the best interest of any country.
Pakistani persistence and Indian incoherence has inflicted tremendous harm on India.
In more than 26 years, between 1988 and 1 March 2015, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, 43,725 persons have been killed in Jammu & Kashmir alone, as a result of the Pakistan backed jihad. Between 2005 and 2014, moreover, Pakistani-backed Islamist terrorism has resulted in another 829 fatalities outside J&K. The economic damage of this sustained violence has been incalculable, and no value can be estimated for the colossal human tragedies that lie behind these cold statistics.
And yet, India flourishes. It is not Pakistan or terrorism, but the country’s own deficiencies – particularly of leadership and vision – that have constrained growth or periodically undermined stability. The broad trajectory of state, economy and population profiles, however, remains positive.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has steadily advanced its own ruination. More than a decade ago, I had written (“Countering Terrorism: The Core Issue is Pakistan”), “From a geo-strategic perspective, as far as India is concerned, Kashmir is a holding operation, even in the absence of an effective competitive strategy. If India holds on to Kashmir for another 15 or 20 years, Pakistan will destroy itself, even without India doing anything substantial to secure this end.”
In just over 12 years between 2003 and 1 March 2015, according to partial data compiled by SATP (with media access to theatres of conflict severely restricted, these numbers are likely to be significant underestimates) Islamist terrorism within Pakistan claimed at least 56,724 lives, in a population barely a seventh of India’s.
In 2009, the single worst year for Pakistan, at least 11,704 lives were lost to terrorism. By comparison, India’s worst year was 2001, when a total of 4,529 were killed in Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorism across the country, including 4,507 in J&K alone. By 2014, Islamist terrorist linked fatalities in India had dropped to 197, of which J&K accounted for 193. Pakistan saw a ‘relatively low’ 5,496 fatalities as a result of domestic Islamist terrorism in 2014. Between 2008 and 2014, an average of 7,035 were lost each year to domestic terrorism in Pakistan.
Decades of state-supported sectarian violence and the active support of jihad in Afghanistan and India – and, indeed, of jihadi groups, including al Qaeda, operating across the world – has now transformed itself into an uncontrollable conflagration of anti-state extremist Islamist terrorism within Pakistan, with state institutions still trapped in a complex and ambivalent dynamic of collusion and support with the very agencies that now threaten their existence.
Every institution in Pakistan – including the long ascendant Army – has been eroded by this violence and the corrosive ideology of Islamist extremism that underlies it, and that has, indeed, underpinned the very creation and national agenda of Pakistan. While voices of concern grow increasingly anxious in Pakistan today, there is not a single political constituency that dares to articulate a demand for reform and rationalisation of the devastating interpretation of Islam that dominates the political discourse, and violently silences those who disagree, however, marginally, with it. The fate of Salman Taseer, the then serving Governor of Punjab, who sought a peripheral dilution of the existing blasphemy law so that a death penalty would no longer be mandatory, and who was gunned down by his own bodyguard, is a cautionary tale for all Pakistani politicians who may seek religious reform, however slight or moderate it may be.
Pakistan’s economy is now reeling under the cumulative disruptions of decades of violence and state engineered social confrontation, with serious deficiencies in the most rudimentary services – transport, power, water – reaching critical proportions. Educational institutions across the board have been immensely damaged by ideology-driven curricula; Islamism undermines the judiciary – and where there is any assertion of independence, it is stamped out by the fear or the fact of terrorist retaliation; the culture of democracy has failed to take root in national politics; and even the Army now lives under the mounting shadow of terrorism from without, and subversion by extremist officers and soldiers from within. The most significant terrorist attacks against military targets over the past years have had collaborators within the Force.
One of Pakistan’s leading modern poets, Obaidullah Aleem, who was a member of the oppressed Ahmadiya community of the country, at a time when sectarian violence had commenced, but that would seem almost idyllic in contrast to the enveloping Islamist terror today, wrote:
Koi aur toe nahin hai pas-e-khanjar azmaaee
Ham hi qatl ho rahe hain ham hi qatl kar rahe hain.
(There is no other behind this carnage of knives,
We are being murdered and we are the murderers.)
Pakistan has embraced a cult of death as its dominant ideology; this is now the defining element of its destiny. It sought to deploy this lunacy as a strategy against those it perceived as its ‘enemies’; the venom that was being exported has now poisoned its source, and threatens the life of the state.
(The author is a counter-terrorism expert and Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi)
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