The nexus between the Pakistan Army, jihadists and hardline nationalists shall continue to drive Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy agenda
As we usher in a New Year, few realities pertaining regional security and stability in South Asia do not seem to be changing or moving towards the better. Most worrying among these is Pakistan, a nation that continues to be entrapped within as fundamentalist ideology seemingly tightens its grip over state and society. Consequently, this wave is not just driving the domestic political agenda and ranks within the military, but causing a cascading effect in the immediate South Asian neighbourhood. Given that the military, intelligence and nuclear establishment are not accountable to Pakistan’s civilian government, the situation is not likely to change the nexus. Pakistan’s military, polity and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have historically targeted India and Afghanistan most of the times to divert attention away from a much fractured domestic fabric and in-house chaos—a trend that is most likely to carry on and plague the regional security scenario in South Asia. Three recent incidents involving Pakistan in the past three weeks reveal and seal the undeniable picture being thread together.
Fishing Boat Incident
First, and most recently, on December 31, 2014, India acted upon credible intelligence inputs that a suspicious fishing boat carrying explosives had taken off from the port of Keti Bandar in Pakistan’s western Sindh province and was approaching India’s western coastal state of Gujarat. Lately, the Indian Coast Guard and other security agencies have been maintaining high vigil in India’s maritime and coastal areas given that several inputs on threat emanating from the sea have been received. In the post-26/11 Mumbai terror attacks scenario in 2008, the Indian Coast Guard was additionally designated as the authority responsible for coastal security in territorial waters including waters to be patrolled by the coastal police.
The boat in question was intercepted by the Coast Guard approximately 365 km off the port city of Porbandar in Gujarat as a follow-up of Coast Guard aircraft which undertook sea air coordinated search and located the suspect fishing boat. The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) had been picking up intercepts for over a fortnight before the incident which reportedly tracked conversations between the crew onboard and officials at the Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency (MSA) and associated “handlers” in Thailand. Based on the intercept passed on by the NTRO to the Coast Guard, Dornier aircraft took off to track the suspicious boat. Upon being spotted, the boat tried to speed away and switched off the lights, while making a desperate attempt to escape towards Pakistan’s side of the maritime boundary. On failure to do so, the crew members onboard set the boat on fire following which it exploded and eventually drowned in the waters. Apparently, the intercepts also reveal that nearly $8,000 was being transferred into the accounts of each of the four sailors aboard.
With Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar unequivocally saying that the Coast Guard did the right job at the right time based on intelligence inputs and the fact that the boat, laden with explosives, did not venture on a ‘normal busy route’, leaves no room for any doubt or attempts to mollify India’s outrage at this spiteful attempt by Pakistan to pull off a terror incident yet again aimed at India.
Attack on Army Public School
Secondly, the gruesome fidayeen attack on December 16, 2014, by the Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan at the Army Public School in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that witnessed the horrifying slaughter of 145 persons including 132 children who were studying at that hour. The Taliban presumably struck in retaliation to the Pakistan Army’s operations in North Waziristan. This is the latest among many such brutal attacks by militants on high security Pakistani military installations, thus raising apprehensions about Pakistan’s security set up. Earlier, in October 2009 there was a brazen attack on Pakistan’s most secure military complex, the Army Headquarters (GHQ) in garrison city Rawalpindi, just a few Kilometres away from the capital of Islamabad GHQ and the police training school. Yet another daring attack came in May 2011 when militants from the Pakistan Taliban entered PNS Mehran naval base, and targeted two highly valued possessions – US-made P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes at the Mehran Naval Air Station. What becomes hard to accept is that how this attack could be planned and executed without any collusion from within the military ranks, given that the militants knew the exact location of the Orions.
Transition in Afghanistan
Thirdly, as 2014 drew to a close, Afghanistan’s politico-security situation witnessed rapid transition with Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai taking over as President of NATO formally announcing end of the war in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan’s continued tryst with worsening insurgent violence, threat of Taliban strikes, suicide bombings and gun attacks. The question remains, now what? To all who reject Pakistan’s strategic depth policy by virtue of which, Islamabad must have formidable say in Afghanistan’s affairs, India’s growing proximity and acceptability in Afghanistan still causes considerable discomfort in the power corridors of Pakistan as well as around the rugged terrain surrounding both sides of the 2,640-km-long Durand Line that runs between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Relinquishing support to the Taliban in Afghanistan will not be acceptable to Pakistan’s decision-makers at all. India has perennially paid a price for receiving vast popularity from among the Afghans. Recall that in the summer of 2014, the Indian Consulate in Herat came under heavy attack, one among a series of aggressive moves against Indian establishments in Afghanistan. Interpreted as the spring offensive launched by the Taliban, similar onslaughts are expected to recur, and not necessarily sporadically, now that the NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan is over.
Any purported expectations from Pakistan’s national security policy will have to first address the real challenge. Pakistan’s real problem is the state apparatus which directly and indirectly nurtures terrorists and extremists for transnational missions. The curative measures to secure the nation from the perils of this hazardous network hinges upon Pakistan’s ability to exact its historically skewed civil-military power equation. While it was being speculated that the Peshawar attacks could well become Pakistan’s watershed moment, the reality is that there are no visible signs that Pakistan’s military and the ISI are anywhere near of putting an end to running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. The nexus between the Pakistan Army, jihadists and hardline nationalists shall continue to drive Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy agenda. The lesson for India is, in order to survive troubled neighbours, fasten your fences.
Dr. Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, and a columnist on foreign policy and strategic affairs for The Sunday Guardian newspaper.