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Fighting by proxy

What are India’s top two fears? A repeat of 1989 when some of the mujahideen groups from the 1979 war against the Soviets in Afghanistan were diverted to augment the Kashmir liberation movement that was in serious upswing in that timeframe. As the latest Afghan war appears to be coming to a close, the fear of a repeat practically rules the mindset of India’s security establishment.

Were such resurgence of the liberation movement to take place, it would only provide much greater fillip to a sharper communal sentiment nationwide in the upcoming elections in 2014, with religion already being touted as the arbiter of the future political course in India.

The BJP is being blamed for numerous communal incidents; in Muzaffarnagar, UP, and Kishtwar in Kashmir. Narendra Modi’s elevation as the BJP’s choice for the premier means even greater sensitivity to the religion card. That would spell the end of the secular overtones that India lays claim to and cause serious sociopolitical distortions.

What then are India’s choices to fight such possibilities? There are two essentially, the first being to find a way to beat the existing sense in the valley of the very large Indian military presence as having outlived its utility. Mehbooba Mufti, a Kashmiri politician of no mean credentials in India, recently called Kashmir India’s colony.

Since 2004, an exemplary ceasefire at the Line of Control (LoC) has not only returned the peace and its economic benefit in the form of a robust tourism industry back to Kashmir, but has also convinced the Kashmiris that any overstay of these 700,000 troops – the densest military presence anywhere in the world – will only mean an even larger number of cases of human rights violations. Hence the calls within Kashmir to evict the military and divest it of special powers under the AFSPA Act.

The second possibility is to try and find a cause to resume its offensive forward posture on the LoC where troops were withdrawn from some logistically difficult positions or excessively forward deployments following a 2004 agreement between India and Pakistan to deploy defensively, as far as possible. No new positions were to be created on either side of the LoC as well, ensuring a virtual status quo in deployments.

All that changed in January of 2013, though, when an overzealous Indian commander in the Haji Pir area chose to improve some of his forward positions that threatened a Pakistani post just across. Tactical discretions led to a strategic conflagration that is just not easing up since.

An enflamed LoC has unravelled the relative calm that the two sides have maintained despite significant challenges in the last fifteen years; while providing the all important ruse to the continued saturation of Kashmir with Indian military presence.

Ostensibly it is meant to foreclose any options of another strategic surprise in Kashmir, while enabling the necessary succour to pervasive Indian fears of the Kashmir cause once again finding eminence in a very complex political environment in the election year ahead.

It provides other dividends too. It helps the Indian military resume its forward-most offensive posture in Kashmir, with obvious potential to gain a ‘territorial creep’ whenever and wherever an opportunity presents, a la Siachen. And, while the LoC is kept alive with frequent bombardment in an action-reaction cycle, it gives ample opportunity to the Indian establishment to cry wolf – shamelessly supported by the Indian media – against ‘cross-border terrorism’.

That ensures Pakistan remains perpetually in the ‘eye of the storm’ while sullying its image incessantly under a defamatory campaign that has meant to induce and reinforce that image of a terror-sponsoring nation. In the meanwhile, the Indian army stays put in Kashmir in excessively overwhelming numbers; Mehbooba Mufti, or her allusions to the colonisation of Kashmir, notwithstanding.

What are Pakistan’s top two fears? Post 1989, as the war against Soviets ended in Afghanistan, the mujahideen steeped in religious fervour, and now unoccupied, found cause within Pakistan to establish their religious bent. The emergence of the Pakistani Taliban since 2007 has been one such deadly evolution. Unless fought to the bitter end, or mainstreamed through some serious de-radicalisation efforts, the danger of their seeping through the body politic and the society remains pervasive to Pakistan’s detriment. This remains the primary challenge for Pakistan.

Second, as Pakistan’s role in this war against terror became increasingly involved, the country has had to shift forces from their eastern borders to the west. Currently, around 150,000 troops are deployed in this war against terror in the Fata-KP region where most of the war still remains to be fought. Subversive support to the terror outfits imbibed with forcing their agenda on Pakistan, as is now popularly recognised with the apprehension of TTP’s second-in-command, Latifullah Mehsud, while on a mission to meet up with the Afghan intelligence chief, exemplifies the momentous challenge that hostile regional forces like India will pose to Pakistan’s stability and territorial integrity.

An overly active LoC is the second supporting plank of this heinous effort against Pakistan aimed at forcing Pakistan to retrench some of its deployed forces in the west to weaken its effort to fight that all-important war against the most devastating and existential threat to Pakistan. India happily plays that all-important fiddle while shouting foul against Pakistan – with other operational and strategic benefits to boot.

The region is already steeped in self-defeating strategies. The emerging context will only make the equation even more complex. There may be some immediate returns to this short-term game-playing but its long-term effect can only be debilitating. 2014 is not 1989, and neither is the regional dynamic that permissive.

Both, India and Pakistan are nuclear powers and remain restricted to a manageable strategic context that urges a cooperative and peaceful coexistence. Freedom struggle within J&K is now an entrenched, home-grown struggle, and has developed its own trajectory independent of the need for sporadic support from outside. Pakistan would be foolish to be seen to interfere in what is patently home-grown and delegitimise its strategic relevance.

More often than not, South Asia is its own worst enemy by playing clever by half in a wishful strategic quest that is unfounded, superficial and, sadly, self-destructive. The fracas at the LoC is its most recent manifestation.

The writer is a retired air-vice marshalof the Pakistan Air Force and served as its deputy chief of staff. Email: shhzdchdhry@yahoo.com

Shahzad Chaudhry, "Fighting by proxy," The News. 2013-10-23.
Keywords: Social sciences , Political issues , International issues , Pakistan foreign relations-India , Media-India , Taliban-Pakistan , Military-India , Human rights , Mujahideen , Tourism , Violence , Narendra Modi , Afghanistan , Kashmir , India , BJP , LOC , TTP , FATA