External security has been a principal concern for Pakistan. Two recent security issues have acquired salience and require a new approach in the current regional context: the ongoing armed conflict between India and Pakistan on the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir and the Working Boundary between Kashmir and Pakistani territory in the Sialkot area; and the withdrawal of American and Nato troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new government has adopted a tough line towards Pakistan. It seems that India’s new national security and army establishment and the hardliners in the BJP have decided to apply military pressure on Pakistan. For this purpose, India has escalated violence on the LoC and on the Working Boundary as a punitive measure against Pakistan, with a firm belief that Pakistan would not escalate it to a full-fledged war. This calculation is based on the assumption that given Pakistan Army’s heavy entanglement in North Waziristan and security pressures on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Pakistan would not escalate the skirmishes on the LoC or the Working Boundary.
The Indian Army and security experts, since the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008, have explored the option of taking some punitive military action against Pakistan that would not cause a major war. They thought of carrying out a limited war, surgical airstrikes or punitive military action. They also toyed with the idea of what they described as the ‘Cold Start’ strategy, which called for creating a fast-moving joint ground and other services action to capture limited Pakistani territory. These suggestions were meant to punish Pakistan. However India, under Manmohan Singh, did not resort to these military actions because of the risk of escalation by Pakistan.
Now, the Indian Army and Modi’s national security establishment decided to take a limited risk by striking on Pakistani territory from the Jammu area, which is not separated by the international boundary but by the LoC or the Working Boundary. In this way, India is using the cover of Kashmir to target Pakistani territory. This cannot be viewed as a violation of the international border.
India’s army and its national security establishment is now experimenting with a new strategy to deal with Pakistan. Refusing to subscribe to the well-known argument that a stable Pakistan is in the interest of India, the new thinking in India’s official circles is that it should be more active in supporting dissident and separatist groups in Pakistan and helping militant groups that challenge the Pakistani state. For this reason, relations with, and presence in, Afghanistan is important. This provides India with access to Pakistan’s Baloch dissident elements and some Taliban groups. India is expected increase support to these groups. What these groups need is funding, which can be provided by India and other states that want to take advantage of Pakistan’s internal problems.
Another set of security challenges is arising on Pakistan’s northwestern borders with Afghanistan. The withdrawal of American and Nato troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 needs to be examined in a dispassionate manner in order to cope with the security situation in Afghanistan in 2015 and onwards. If the internal conflict in Afghanistan escalates and the Afghan Taliban become entrenched in Afghan areas adjoining Pakistan, this will have a negative impact on Pakistan’s tribal areas. It is, therefore, important that Pakistan helps the Afghan government to cope with its internal problems. This serves Pakistan’s interests because if the Afghan Taliban become strong, it will embolden the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups.
This calls for paying attention to the control of the tribal areas by Pakistan’s security forces.The current military operation in North Waziristan holds the key to asserting Pakistan’s primacy in the tribal areas. The successes in this operation, so far, create the hope that the Pakistan Army will be able to establish control over the whole of North Waziristan. It should also assert its primacy in other tribal agencies so that the Taliban and other militant elements should not have any territory under their exclusive control. A lack of control of territory by militant groups undermines their capacity to threaten the Pakistani state. This will also make it difficult for foreign fighters to find sanctuary in Pakistan.
Pakistan should also adopt effective measures to strengthen security arrangements on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This should be done even if Afghanistan is not willing to cooperate. The surveillance of the border by electronic and human means should be done. This can be reinforced by strengthening border security posts for controlling the unauthorised movement of people, especially that of militants. If the tribal areas and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are secured, it will be possible to control the negative fallout of the increased internal strife in Afghanistan.
Further, Pakistan must take the initiative to cultivate the new Afghan government so that it discards Hamid Karzai’s anti-Pakistan posture. President Ashraf Ghani and the Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah should be invited to Islamabad or Lahore.
Pakistan should project its new counter-terrorism policy in the tribal areas and on the Afghanistan-Pakistan borders at the international level. This will help build a positive image for Pakistan at the global level. Pakistan’s diplomacy must also expose India’s new aggressive agenda towards it, to all friendly countries, especially the states that have good relations with India.
Pakistan should let the international community know that the armed conflicts on the LoC are not local or accidental incidents. Rather, these are well-planned actions by India against Pakistan. India’s aggressive policy towards Pakistan is not going to fade away. It will continue to build military pressure on Pakistan from time to time. Therefore, while responding to India’s military action in military terms, Pakistan must also resort to preventive diplomacy so that it does not have to shift its troops to the LoC or to the international border with India from the tribal areas and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.