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A Watchful Eye on Kashmir

Ryan Clarke was Visiting Intern at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • October 26, 2007

    Pakistan has at present a great many internal and external troubles to cater for. Islamabad is still feeling the after-effects of the Lal Masjid operation, while simultaneously fighting a seemingly uphill battle to rein in support for militancy within the political, defence, and intelligence establishments. In addition, Islamabad is struggling to keep a lid on the instability that plagues its western border regions. On top of this is the looming threat of a possible US military operation in the tribal regions and there exists suspicion that US Special Forces are engaging in limited cross-border operations already. Further confounding this already complex equation is the return of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto from self-imposed exile and if the recent suicide bombing in Karachi is anything to go by, Pakistan is heading into a very volatile period at least up until the Parliamentary elections in January 2008.

    General Musharraf, whose efforts to crack down on militancy within Pakistan’s borders has been half-hearted and selective at best, is also still facing a challenge to his own survival. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the validity of the most recent Presidential election and his popularity continues to fall, all while levels of violence in neighbouring Afghanistan have spiked. In addition, he is currently commanding an Army that has seen its lowest morale in decades and is facing the very real threat of desertions, failure to follow orders, or even active collusion with the Taliban and other subversive forces. However, although the odds seemed stacked against him, due to his resilience and deft political manoeuvring, Musharraf will likely survive these next few months, though not unscathed. Imposing emergency would result in disaster and the end of Musharraf’s reign as he would lose support of both the Army and the United States. Because of this, the most plausible outcome is a civilian form of President Musharraf (albeit with close ties to the defence and intelligence apparatus) in a power-sharing deal with Bhutto and the PPP. There will be numerous disagreements over specifics such as the lifting of corruption charges against Ms. Bhutto, Musharraf’s ability to dissolve Parliament, which parties to include in the governing coalition, etc… As a result, Islamabad will remain preoccupied with political wrangling and its ever-growing security threats from both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

    So what does all of this mean for Kashmir? Because of a temporary lull in militant activities in the state in recent months, predictably, calls for troop reductions and/or withdrawals are being made. To heed these calls would be unwise for several reasons. Firstly, one does not have to read many speeches by Pakistani leaders to understand the seriousness of Islamabad’s claims over the entire territory of Jammu & Kashmir. As has been demonstrated in the past, drops in violence and attacks against Indian targets tend not to last. The most striking example is the nearly two decade period of relative calm between the conclusion of the Pakistani civil war and the insurgency that sprung up in 1989. For years, Pakistan only made verbal references to Kashmir and many in New Delhi incorrectly interpreted this as a sign that the issue was resolved. Unfortunately, thousands of lives and billions of rupees later, India’s strategic thinkers have come to realise that they were mistaken.

    Pakistan’s scaling back of support to militant groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) is not due to a desire to moves towards a meaningful peace agreement with India, but rather a result of distraction and preoccupation. Although the Army is indeed the most powerful institution and absorbs a disproportionate amount of its GDP, Pakistan possesses only finite resources and must distribute them accordingly. At present, Islamabad has determined that the greatest threat to the Pakistani state comes from the west and not from India. As such, the Army and the intelligence community have chosen to focus their energy on the largely secular Balochi nationalist groups (ironically through the cultivation pro-Taliban Islamist groups), segments of al Qaeda, and weaker branches of the Pakistani Taliban. However, the presence of JeM militants in Lal Masjid and the continued functioning of LeT’s headquarters in Muridke clearly demonstrate that Pakistan has no intention of abandoning its support for insurgents in Kashmir.

    Pakistan will not abandon the fight for Kashmir because the leadership has become dependent upon it to stir up ethno-religious nationalism, keep the public focused on an external threat, and justify the Army’s continued self-serving dominance in Pakistani polity and society. It also keeps many Afghan war veterans and other Pakistani militants gainfully employed and prevent them from looking back towards the secular political leadership in Islamabad. Although there have been several attempts on the lives of Pakistani leaders by militants, including on Musharraf himself, the situation could be much worse. Because of these factors, Islamabad tends to view Kashmir as an insurance policy and an indispensable component of its strategic vision.

    For better or worse, India must maintain its troop presence in Jammu & Kashmir in the near-to-medium term. A sizeable scale-down would result in increased infiltration and the establishment of more sleeper cells. Once embedded in Kashmiri society, they would prove most difficult, if not impossible, to permanently uproot. Indian security forces must remain vigilant and bear in mind that once the domestic situation settles in Pakistan, there is a high likelihood of an increase in cross-border infiltration and attacks against Indian targets in the state.

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