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Nawaz Sharif, please look within Pakistan before talking about Kashmir

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  • July 16, 2016

    Signalling that India-Pakistan relations continue to remain mired in a quagmire, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced after a cabinet meeting that Pakistan will observe July 19 as a "black day" to protest India’s "atrocities" in Kashmir.

    He said, "Pakistan would continue to extend moral, political and diplomatic support for Kashmiris in their just struggle…"

    Mian Nawaz Sharif forgets that while the Kashmiris who are part of India are ruled by a duly elected representative government, those who reside in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) are ruled from Islamabad, with the concurrence of GHQ (General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army), Rawalpindi.

    He also forgets that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have no rights and that the Baloch people’s quest for freedom has been suppressed by the military jackboot ever since independence from the British.

    According to Nawab Brahumdagh Bugti, head of the Baloch Republican Party, "Balochistan is burning since the forceful occupation by state in 1948. Five major military operations had been launched by the armed forces of Pakistan and the latest of them still continues full-fledged. During this period of 66 years, Balochistan has suffered from gross human rights violations by the Pakistani forces which have been getting worse and accelerated with the passage of every single day."

    Nawab Bugti had said two years ago, "140,000 Baloch had been killed and at least 20,000 Baloch were missing since 2006."

    The deteriorating internal security environment has gradually morphed into Pakistan’s foremost national security threat.

    Karachi remains a tinderbox that is ready to explode.

    The Al Qaeda is quietly making inroads into Pakistani terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Harkat-ul-Jihad Al-Islami (HuJI), Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

    The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has consolidated its position in North Waziristan despite Operation Zarb-e-Azb launched by the Pakistan army two years ago.

    Fissiparous tendencies in Balochistan and the restive Gilgit-Baltistan Northern Areas are a perpetual security nightmare.

    Sectarian violence has become almost a daily occurrence.

    The organised elimination of Shias and Ahmadis has become so common that it barely makes it to the evening news.

    Pakistan’s Hindus have also been receiving rather shabby treatment.

    Meanwhile, creeping Talibanisation is making deep inroads into civil society. Even the armed forces have been penetrated and attacked with virtual impunity.

    The naval base at Mehran, Karachi, and GHQ, Rawalpindi, have been attacked, though the attackers were gunned down at the gate of the army’s headquarters.

    Nawaz Sharif would do well for Pakistan if he were to look within and come to grips with the challenges confronting the country, the job for which he was elected with a huge majority.

    Despite facing the grave danger of a possible collapse of the state, the Pakistan government's counter-insurgency policy had until recently lacked cohesion.

    The commencement of a peace dialogue with the TTP in February 2014, despite the abject failure of several such efforts in the past, allowed the terrorist organisation to re-arm, recruit and train fresh fighters.

    In March 2014, the TTP had offered a month-long ceasefire.

    The army honoured the ceasefire but soon withdrew its pledge and blamed the government for failing to make any new offers.

    In the face of mounting public and army pressure, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reluctantly agreed to approve military strikes.

    He was apprehensive that General Raheel Sharif, the COAS, may unilaterally decide to launch an all-out offensive.

    The PM said that he will not allow Pakistan to become a "sanctuary of terrorists" and that the military operation will continue till all the militants are eliminated.

    Realisation about the gravity of the internal security situation took time to dawn on the Pakistan army as well.

    Two successive army chiefs have declared publicly that internal instability is the number one national security threat.

    However, the Pakistan army is relatively inexperienced in counter-insurgency operations.

    General Kayani had declared 2009 as "Military Training Year" to re-orientate the army to internal security duties.

    Before becoming the COAS, General Raheel Sharif had developed the training manuals for counter-insurgency.

    Over the last decade, the Pakistan army has deployed more than 150,000 soldiers in the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA areas.

    It has suffered over 15,000 casualties, including about 5,000 dead since 2008.

    On June 15, 2014, the Pakistan army finally launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb (sharp and cutting), its much delayed ground offensive against the TTP in North Waziristan. The army claims to have killed several thousand TTP cadres, but the restive province continues to defy the army.

    Hurt by a series of Taliban successes in "liberating" tribal areas and under pressure from the Americans to deliver in the "war on terror", in the initial stages the Pakistan army employed massive firepower to stem the rot – as had been visible on television screens worldwide when operations had been launched to liberate the Swat Valley (Operation Rah-e-Rast, May-June 2009) and South Waziristan (Operation Rah-e-Nijat, Oct-Nov 2009).

    Fighter aircraft, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery were freely used to destroy suspected terrorist hideouts, irrespective of civilian casualties.

    This heavy-handed, firepower-based approach without simultaneous infantry operations on the ground failed to dislodge the militants, but caused large-scale collateral damage and alienated the tribal population even further.

    Counter-insurgency operations against the TTP in South Waziristan earlier had driven most of the fighters to North Waziristan.

    North Waziristan has rugged mountainous terrain that enables TTP militants to operate like guerrillas and launch hit-and-run raids against the security forces.

    When cornered, the militants find it easy to slip across the Durand Line and find safe sanctuaries in Khost and Paktika provinces of Afghanistan.

    Ahmed Rashid, the author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos, has written: "Not only does North Waziristan house Pakistani and Afghan Taliban; it is also a training ground for al-Qaeda, which attracts Central Asians, Uighurs from China, Chechens from the Caucasus and a flow of militant Muslim converts from Europe."

    Quite clearly, the Pakistan army is in for the long haul and will undoubtedly suffer a large number of casualties.

    Recent attacks against the army are clearly indicative of the ability of Pakistan’s terrorist organisations to strike at will and underline the helplessness of the security forces in taking effective preventive action.

    Political turmoil, internal instability, a floundering economy and weak institutions make for an explosive mix.

    Pakistan is not yet a failed state, but the situation that it is confronted with could rapidly degenerate into unfettered disaster.

    All institutions of the state need to stand together if the nation is to survive its gravest challenge.

    The Pakistan army and the ISI must concentrate on fighting the enemy within, rather than frittering away energy and resources on destabilising neighbouring countries.

    The article was originally published in the DailyO.