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Home > India > News > Columnists > Sushant Sareen

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Why Pakistan is reactivating the Kashmir front

August 26, 2008

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The repeated violation by Pakistan of the ceasefire along the Line of Control [Images] in Jammu and Kashmir [Images] has left many analysts in India scratching their heads over Pakistan's strategic game plan.

At a time when Pakistan appears to be engaged in a life and death struggle on its western frontier, logic and rationality demands that Pakistan avoid any flare-up on the eastern front with India. After all, being caught in a pincer from east and west has long been Pakistan's ultimate strategic nightmare.

But then logic and rationality are highly subjective concepts and what is rational for an Indian need not necessarily be rational for a Pakistani. Had this not been the case, the Kargil [Images] intrusion would have never taken place. At that time, India thought that in a nuclearised strategic environment military adventurism by Pakistan had become a thing of the past; Pakistan on the other hand felt that the possession of nuclear weapons gave it an opportunity for undertaking military adventurism without having to worry about India widening the theatre of war. The ceasefire violations must therefore be seen as a considered move on the part of Pakistan, one that makes a lot of strategic, diplomatic, political and military sense from the Pakistani standpoint.

In his columns in the Pakistani press, the former chief secretary of North West Frontier Province, Khalid Aziz, has revealed that "cooperation between the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban [Images] and Kashmiri Mujahideen [Images] has become visible in various fights in Waziristan, Kohat and Swat." But according to Aziz in recent times the presence of 'considerable' number of Kashmiri combatants in the troubled North-West has reduced and the reason for this is that "it is very likely that they are shifting towards the Kashmir LoC´┐Ż"

There have appeared other reports in the Pakistani press that talk about Punjabi jihadist groups joining up with the Pashtun Taliban in their fight against the Pakistani security forces and the American and NATO troops.

Although the Punjabi and Kashmiri jihadists and the Pashtun Taliban share a common ideology and worldview, for the former Kashmir is the primary battlefield, while for the latter the primary battlefield are the Pashtun lands in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But with Pakistan pulling back on its sponsorship of jihad in Kashmir, the Punjabi and Kashmiri jihadists gravitated towards the Taliban.

By reactivating the Kashmir front and diverting the jihadists to Kashmir, the Pakistan security agencies believe that they can break the growing compact between the jihadists and the Taliban. This will not only deplete the ranks of the Taliban but also prevent the Taliban from making use of jihadist networks in Punjab, which they could have used to devastating effect in both Punjab and Sindh.

The Pakistani agencies have also tried using the predominantly Punjabi jihadists like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, which for all the bluff and bluster of its chief, Hafiz Saeed, is a most obedient jihadist group and does not deviate from the line given to it by its handlers, to drive a wedge in Taliban ranks. This ploy however backfired and Lashkar cadres led by a local commander Shah Khalid were worsted by the Taliban who saw through the game. Quite expectedly, the Pakistani intelligence, with the support of jJihadists like the Harkatul Mujahideen chief Fazlur Rehman Khalil and jihadist ideologues like Dr Sher Ali Shah, pulled out all stops to rescue the Lashkar cadres, who were being held hostage by the Taliban in Mohmand agency. And, probably as a sort of quid pro quo, groups like the Lashkar and Harkatul Mujahedin have been allowed to once again infiltrate and spread terror in Jammu and Kashmir with the support of the Pakistan army [Images].

By reactivating Kashmir, the Pakistani national security establishment is also trying to send a signal to its proxies in the state that it hasn't abandoned the Kashmir cause. Many Pakistani proxies were disillusioned by what they saw as Pakistan's u-turn on Kashmir and were now exploring ways of making their peace with the Indian state, more so with elections in the state around the corner.

Many of these people will now pull back on their overtures towards India. What is more, if violence erupts in the state it will help to sabotage the elections there. The political disturbances in Jammu and Kashmir over the Amarnath shrine land issue will only give further impetus to the agent provocateurs from Pakistan to stir up trouble in the state.

For the moment however, the ceasefire violations have been very carefully calibrated to try and ensure that things don't deteriorate beyond a point. Perhaps the Pakistanis are only sending a signal to India that unless India shows flexibility on Kashmir, Pakistan can quite easily ratchet up the violence in the state. But even if hostilities commence along the LoC and the peace process breaks down, the Pakistanis will not be too worried. Their calculation will be that they will be able to use the situation on the diplomatic stage against India.

The Pakistanis will argue that India did not show any flexibility to resolve the issue despite General Pervez Musharraf's [Images] very bold proposals and 'Indian intransigence' will be waved before the international community. What is more, there is little danger of Americans acting against Pakistan on India's behalf especially since they are depend so heavily on Pakistan to carry out their war effort in Afghanistan. Another benefit will be that if hostilities commence with India it might make many of the Pakistani Taliban go slow on Afghanistan (something which will certainly please the Americans) and shift their attention to India.

For the political establishment in Pakistan, the ceasefire violations along the LoC are a credibility test. Perhaps their domestic political compulsions will force the Pakistani political establishment to take a somewhat hard line on Kashmir. But taking a hard line on Kashmir, which can be explained as a sovereign and political right of any government, is very different from either sponsoring religious terrorist organisations or using military force against a neighbouring country in pursuit of irredentist claims.

The inability or unwillingness of the civilian government to stop ceasefire violations and the rising intrusions by terrorists in Kashmir means that either it is powerless before the army or else it subscribes to the manufactured and coerced national security consensus that has been fostered on Pakistan by the country's national security establishment.

Quite clearly, the reactivation of the Kashmir front is a clear signal to the politicians that they should not even think of making any deal with India without taking the views of the Pakistan Army into account. In other words, the army is in a position to sabotage any political initiative, secure in the knowledge that no politician can afford to take on the army on an issue like Kashmir.

By reigniting the flames of jihadist terror in Kashmir, the ISI (President Musharraf calls it Pakistan's first line of defense) and the Pakistan Army are probably doing what they are doing as a part of a national security strategy that they think best serves Pakistan's national interest. It is of course an entirely different matter that the Pakistani security establishment's view of national interest might actually be jeopardising the country's national security. Fires lighted in the house of a neighbour have a nasty habit of blowing back and consuming the house of the arsonist. For evidence look no further than the Islamist insurgency that is wrecking havoc in Pakistan today.


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