Maintenance of Terrorists: Long-Term Effects for Pakistan – I
by Ramtanu Maitra on 13 Jul 2016 3 Comments

For decades now, Pakistan has been recognized worldwide as a virtual warehouse of terrorists and insurgents who pose threats to that country’s neighbors as well as to its own domestic order. Armed with various agendas, these terrorists have set up their bases across the country.


The most active terrorist groups are those along Pakistan’s eastern border with India and along the western border with Afghanistan. The groups in the east were organized to commit and assist terrorism within India; some of those who are active along the western border serve Islamabad’s interest by carrying out raids inside Afghanistan to weaken the Afghan government. There are also a number of insurgent groups operating in Balochistan province, close to Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and Iran, whose particular agenda is to secede from Pakistan. There is yet another pool of Islamic extremists, based mostly in Punjab, whose agenda is to make Pakistan a part of a Sunni Islamic Caliphate.


To date, the territories of these various groups of terrorists have remained reasonably well-defined, even though they do not always operate within these self-defined boundaries. Recent reports point to collusion between terrorists operating in Punjab and a number of groups that have assembled under the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) umbrella and set up bases of operation along Pakistan’s western border with Afghanistan, along the disputed Durand Line.


They challenge Islamabad, routinely carry out terrorist operations inside Pakistan, and are a serious domestic threat. The Pakistani military has absolute authority in dealing with the TTP, and occasionally bears down on them with tanks and guns in an attempt to wipe them out. But those military responses, like the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), have failed to produce any result.


Islamabad’s failure to eliminate the FATA militants stems from the fact that dozens of tribal groups - all of them Pushtuns who abhor the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani military - have undergone religious radicalization over the past several decades. Also, these FATA militants identify much more with the Pushtuns of Afghanistan, residing on the other side of Durand Line, than with the non-Pushtun Pakistanis. They have much more in common with the Afghan Pushtuns, and move freely across the non-demarcated border whenever Pakistan’s military puts pressure on them.


FATA is also the abode of a group of multinational terrorists who operate from Pakistan and carry out terrorist acts in Afghanistan, Central Asia and China. Their presence goes back to the 1980s when the Western nations funded and armed various militant groups, known as the Mujahideen, to fight the invading Soviet Army in Afghanistan. Most were Afghans, but many also came from Central Asia, the Caucasus, Arabia and North Africa to Pakistan to join that fight. Wearing the garb of Islamists and organized by the Pakistani military, they helped push back the Godless Soviet Army. The process began in early 1980 and took almost a decade to complete.


After the Soviets left in 1989, the various Mujahideen fighters created a catastrophic level of instability within Afghanistan. At that point in time, Islamabad, having served the West’s interests and having developed control over most of the Mujahideen leaders, perceived the chaotic situation as an opportunity to bring Kabul under its influence. That gave rise to the Taliban, and their seizure of Kabul in 1996 with the Pakistan Army’s help.


Following the 9/11 attacks in the United States and Washington’s invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, Pakistan, under pressure from its ally, the United States, became engaged in Afghanistan to hunt down al-Qaeda terrorists. While allowing Washington a free hand, Islamabad, under General Pervez Musharraf, managed to protect its terrorist assets and prevent the emergence of an independent and nationalist Afghan leadership. Islamabad feared that such an independent Afghan leadership would oppose Pakistan’s control over Kabul, would continue rejecting the Durand Line as the international boundary, and would develop closer relations with India - perceived by the Pakistan military as its mortal enemy.


While the growth of terrorism inside Pakistan during the 1980s was largely circumstantial and must be attributed to Western-orchestrated instability within Afghanistan to hurt the Russians and keep Russian and Iranian influence out of Afghanistan, a significant cadre of terrorists was already in existence in Pakistan. They had been spawned, developed and deployed by the Pakistani military since 1947 to deny India its control over the state of Jammu and Kashmir in Pakistan’s northeast.


The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), among many other such states not under direct British rule during the Raj, had to decide whether to join India or Pakistan, or to remain independent, when the British left the subcontinent in August 1947. In October of that year, the Pakistan military, dressed as tribals, invaded J&K with the aim of militarily occupying the princely state.


Indian forces prevented a Pakistani occupation, but the subsequent inadequate response from New Delhi left the state divided. Both India and Pakistan have since occupied parts of J&K and claim to be the rightful owner of the entire state. While India possesses a letter of annexation sent by the then-Maharaja of the princely state to join the Indian Union, Pakistan rests its claim on the argument that since J&K is a Muslim-majority state, and India was divided up by the British on the basis of Muslim and Hindu majority provinces, J&K belongs to Pakistan.


While New Delhi, because of inconsistent and gutless policies, could never stabilize the Indian part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan proceeded to unleash their home-grown terrorists to rev up pro-Pakistan and pro-independence Kashmiris. Serious threats, however, did not emerge until the 1980s. Badly mauled by the Indian military in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in the early 1970s - having surrendered and left behind more than 90,000 POWs - the Pakistan military sought ways to get even.


Aided by a military ruler, General Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan set about to create, nurture and maintain Islamist terrorist groups dedicated to undermining the not-so-stable Indian part of J&K. Pakistan set up training camps close to the Indian border, and its military intelligence arm, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), developed close working relations with these terrorist groups. Subsequently, those terrorists began infiltrating in large numbers inside the Indian-held part of J&K, committing terrorist acts and inciting Kashmiris against India. The Pakistan military institutionalized this policy as its “Bleed India” campaign. Those terrorists groups still exist to carry out assigned tasks.


Although the terrorist-led “Bleed India” operation has become virtually irrelevant now because security within the Indian-held part of J&K has been strengthened significantly, Islamabad has shown little inclination to dismantle these terrorist outfits, whether for lack of interest or, perhaps, courage. It is likely that dismantling the Kashmir-bound terrorist groups is difficult, at least in part because they have infiltrated Pakistan’s intelligence and military institution over the years. Moreover, Islamabad may consider such measures unnecessary. It is fair to say that being in contact with these terrorists on an almost daily basis, Pakistan’s military does not perceive them as a threat to Pakistan itself. And one might even assume that this lot of anti-India terrorists has become a part of the country’s security architecture.


In Pakistan’s west, by contrast, the insurgency operation in Balochistan and the pure form of terrorism carried out by the TTP, which has developed capabilities to operate in the FATA-adjacent Pakistani province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, are considered threats. Baloch insurgents, who do not leave Balochistan to commit violence elsewhere, have enough capabilities to harass and undermine all of Islamabad’s efforts to pacify the province with the use of force.


Both of these groups, along with a few others (described later) have the ability to seriously undermine Pakistan’s hope of pacifying its western and southwestern parts. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), one of the projects Beijing has proposed under its “One Belt One Road” connectivity policy, is scheduled to run through Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. If and when it is built, Islamabad claims CPEC will help eradicate militancy in both Balochistan and the Pushtun-dominated areas in the west.


In addition to the threats the Baloch insurgents and the TTP pose to Pakistan’s social fabric and future economic well-being, a myriad of other disruptive elements reside within Pakistan. These militants and terrorist groupings often join hands with radical factions of Pakistan’s various political groups, Islamic militants, and the drug-trafficking and smuggling groups.


(To be continued…)

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