Articles and Commentaries |
May 13, 2019

Re-imagining India’s Afghanistan-Pakistan Policy

India’s Afghanistan and Pakistan policy is intertwined as a hyphenated Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) policy. Its Pakistan policy is centred around the Kashmir issue and is focused on preventing and countering export of violence in the region by Pakistan. India’s Afghanistan policy is also centred around security concerns, wherein it is perceived that terrorist violence in Afghanistan can have a spill over impact on India, especially in J&K. It can thus be seen that India’s policy towards both Pakistan and Afghanistan is designed to contain and neutralise violence that is being exported from its Western neighbours. Fundamentally, it is a human security policy expressed within the ambit of India’s national security policy doctrine.

India’s military gets into the frame when Pakistan supported terrorists attack military personnel and installations within India.1 Pakistan calls such personnel operating from its soil as non-state actors, but that is mere rhetoric as Pakistan actively aids and abets groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahidin and others to attack targets in India, in effect waging a proxy war on the country.

Indian newspapers frequently write on the Indian economy being attacked through fake Indian currency notes (FICN), which originates in Pakistan and is pumped into India via Nepal and Bangladesh. They also regularly cover the sporadic violation of the ceasefire agreement between the two countries by Pakistan, wherein villages near the LoC (Line of Control) as well as the Indian troops deployed on the LoC are subjected to machine-gun and mortar fire from Pakistani positions. Unfortunately, no Indian newspaper ever covers the blatant abuse of human rights by the Pakistani establishment in Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJ&K). This includes both the region of Gilgit-Baltistan as well as the region of Mirpur-Muzaffarabad, called Azad Kashmir by Pakistan. This silence by the Indian media on what is happening in POJ&K is hard to explain. India still treats Pakistan with kid gloves, despite the fact that terrorist groups that carried out major attacks in India such as the attack on India’s Parliament, the attack on the Akshardham Temple and the Mumbai attacks to mention but a few, were all supported by the Pakistan military. Evidently, Pakistan is waging a proxy war against India, in line with its doctrine of ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts’.2 Pakistan is also in illegal occupation of Indian territory (POJ&K). Pakistan continues to suppress these people, and the human rights abuses inflicted on this hapless population knows no bounds. They continue to be denied their fundamental rights and have no recourse against the atrocities being inflicted on them by the state. There is thus a need for India to review its policy with respect to the Af-Pak region and view it in a more realistic framework, to enable the charting out of a fresh course which can bring peace to the region and which can have a beneficial impact on stability in South Asia and indeed on the world.

Until March 2019, Pakistan authorities were loathe to admit that they created ‘militants’. However, for the first time, such an admission came from no less a person than the Pakistani premier, Mr Imran Khan. Khan’s electoral rhetoric was venomously anti-India and it was due to his intransigence that both the Sindh and Punjab Assemblies of Pakistan passed resolutions regarding Kashmir against India. The admission from Khan was made in April 2019, while briefing a group of foreign journalists, wherein he stated that Pakistan created these ‘militants’ during the Cold War to fight the Soviet Forces in Afghanistan and that Pakistan is now ready to dismantle these assets. Khan also went on to state that both the Pakistan Army as well as its intelligence arm, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) are also of the same resolve.3

However, such statements make little sense and have even lesser sanctity. If, at any time in the future, the Pakistan military establishment wishes to withdraw the statement made by the Pakistani Prime Minister, then all that is required is that the Pakistani Assembly will pass a unanimous resolution disassociating itself from the statement made by Khan. There is thus no reason for India to feel elated at the statement given by Prime Minister Khan. By itself, it carries no weight and is worthless.

For some reason, many in India get carried away by such Pakistani theatrics. It must be remembered that a chance for peace was derailed by General Pervez Musharraf, when Pakistan attacked India on the Kargil heights. The Pakistani premiers attempt to remove Musharraf did not only not succeed, but resulted in a coup and the ouster of the elected Prime Minister himself! After the coup, Musharraf visited India and was accorded a red carpet welcome! It is only to be hoped that in future course of time, the likes of Hafiz Saeed, the head of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, are not accorded such VIP treatment! India thus needs to review its South Asia policy. As of now, the policy appears to be tactical, and has little strategic impact.

What exactly has changed since 2013 in Afghanistan and Pakistan? The period saw Nawaz Sharif being deposed from the office of the Prime Minister. It also saw the SAARC Summit becoming conditional to the drawdown of terrorism emanating from Pakistan. We have seen the flare up of tensions along the Durand Line with Afghan and Pakistani troops clashing across the Line. We also see the complete breakdown of the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan, with violations taking place almost on a daily basis. The period has also seen the emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan, which has been named the ‘Khorasan’ module, but which in effect is ISIS ‘Lahore’ module. There also appear to be Pakistani links to the 9/11 attacks in the US as also to the St. Petersburg metro blasts. In all, the security situation remains grim.

Pakistan-Afghanistan relations also exhibit similar indicators of unending conflict as existing in the India-Pakistan relationship, with all initiatives for peace coming to nought. It is unfortunate, that in the minds of the Pakistani establishment, Afghanistan is little more than a colony of Pakistan. The Pakistan government’s persistent meddling in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, with Prime Minister Khan seeking a change in government also adds to tension in the region. Another factor to be considered in this equation is the presence of three terrorist groups in Afghanistan: the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaida and the Islamic State. If Afghanistan has a truce with the Afghan Taliban, the latter is likely to be replaced by the ISIS. This game, if it can be called such, is unlikely to end, as it has too many players and too many conflicting interests.

The world apparently, has also not focused sufficiently on understanding, why a Sindhi student from Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences (LUMHS), in Jamshoro district, Sindh province, actually joined up with the Islamic State in Lahore. The student, NaureenLaghari, was arrested in Lahore, during a security operation. She was a brilliant student and never exhibited any extremist leanings, yet she chose to join the Islamic State and was planning, along with three other colleagues, to target Churches and Christian gatherings during the Easter festivities. It appears she was radicalised through the social media.4 It is apparent that the Islamic State has established roots in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as in other countries in South Asia. In April 2017, the US used a large yield bomb, the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), commonly known as “Mother of All Bombs” to destroy a network of tunnels and caves in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, in which a large number of terrorists who were from the Islamic State were killed.5 According to Afghanistan Times, the cave complex also had some fighters who had earlier served in the Pakistan military as well as from groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

It is apparent that the Islamic State as well as other terrorist groups have a foothold in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan. Both the countries also have indigenous movements which are fighting the state. Ultimately, what needs to be secured is human security for the entire South Asian region, but this can only come about if terrorism is eliminated from Pakistan and Afghanistan, which are the tectonic plates from which terrorism emanates. What therefore needs to be done to bring out this outcome?

The following requires consideration:

l  A return of all the fighters to their respective countries. This outcome is easier said than done, as fighters from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Philippines, Central Asia, Russia, China, Thailand, Africa, Europe and North America are  dispersed in various trouble spots across the world. On return, these fighters would need to be put through a process of de-radicalisation.

l  For the Muslim masses, the education system must now inculcate programmes, which can insulate the youth from embracing a radical culture.

l  There is a danger of the Pakistani nukes falling into the hands of radical groups. It may be worth considering if such assets could be shifted to Sindh, the only province so far in Pakistan that has not been completely radicalised. The government of Sindh too, needs to see that Punjabi influence, which has dominated life in the whole of Pakistan since 1947, is curtailed and there is greater space for regional aspirations. The Sindhi and Baloch Diaspora could also play a greater role in achieving such an outcome.

l  The international community, with India taking the lead, could look into the possibility of holding a referendum in Pakistan, in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the local people could vote to remain with the state of Pakistan. If the people desire to do so, then a state-building and state-making process along with the nation-making process in Pakistan should be kicked off. Based on the Lahore Resolution of 1940, Pakistan must transform itself into a confederation, or perhaps a union of Indus Republics.

For sustainable peace in the region, we could also look into the possibility of having an International Security Force intervention in Pakistan to eradicate terrorist elements, which have inflicted a reign of terror and insecurity, not only in Pakistan, but across the world.

For peace in south Asia, the initiative must be from within South Asia and not from outside the region. Prime Minister Modi has to some extent broken the mould when he spoke about the Rohingya issue and of the rights of the people of Balochistan. This change in the Indian approach must be pushed through with vigour by the Indian foreign policy.

(Mr. Zulfiqar Shah is a Sindh and Balochistan civil and political rights activist.)


1   Some of the more dastardly attacks were the attacks on an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in January 2016, attack on a brigade HQ in Uri in September 2016 and a suicide attack on a police convoy in Pulwama in February 2019.

2   Gates, Scott, Kaushik Roy (2016). Unconventional Warfare in South Asia: Shadow Warriors and Counterinsurgency. Routledge. pp. Chapter 4.




(This article is carried in the print edition of May-June 2019 issue of India Foundation Journal.)



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