It’s time for Islamabad to think bigger.
Indian-administered Kashmir is in the grip of violent tension following Hizbul Mujahideen commanderBurhan Wani’s killing three weeks ago. India has accused Pakistan of fueling unrest in the region.
The protests were a spontaneous internal response to the unabated heavy handed Indian rule in the valley, but Pakistan’s past policy of using jihadis to pursue the Kashmir cause makes it easy for India to make allegations of external involvement.
The fact is that a relentless campaign of terror within the country lasting nearly a decade has awakened Pakistan to the mortal danger of religious militancy. There is also a realization that democracy and extremism cannot exist together, nor will the country’s economic future be secure in an illiberal society. But as perceptions have not been transformed into policy the world community may have reason to be skeptical. After all, Pakistan has had a very troubled last three decades or so.
Pakistan used to be a moderate society up until the early 1980s, when Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization opened it up to radical influences. This ideological Pakistan served the political imperatives of the military regime as well as the strategic purposes of the United States and Saudi Arabia. The Afghanistan jihad the three presided over in time led to the Taliban and then exploded into international jihad. Pakistan became the home of growing radical influences, including a network of India-centric jihadist organizations enjoying state patronage. Pakistani Islamic parties and their political cadres of madrassah students, indoctrinated with the literalist interpretations of Islam, glorification of war, and exclusivist narratives provided the hinterland, and the growing religiosity of the population, the social context for this radical landscape.
More than 60,000 terrorism-related deaths (including 5,000 military personnel) later, Pakistan today is counting the cost of its mistakes and those of its external benefactors. Following the massacre of nearly 150, including more than 100 children, at the campus of Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, the military and political leadership forged a consensus to fight against terrorism in the form of 20-point National Action Plan (NAP). Together with Operation Zarb-e-Azb, already underway in the tribal North Waziristan, since June 2014, measures taken under NAP have yielded tangible results. According to an independent think tank, the Pak Institute of Peace Studies, terrorist incidents dropped by 48 percent in 2015 compared to 2014.
But much work needs to be done, especially in dealing with long existing sectarian and India-centric jihadist outfits that are based inland beyond the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. So far only Afghanistan war inspired groups (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Central Asian jihadis) have been targeted while Kashmir and India inspired and sectarian outfits (Jamat-ud-Dawa, Jaish-e-Muhammad, etc) largely remain untouched. It was not until India blamed the January 2 Pathankot airbase attack on JeM that Pakistan began to nab its operatives. But Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) leader Hafiz Saeed continues to address large crowds, inciting them to conduct jihad against India. Recently, he led a rally on “Kashmir’s Accession to Pakistan Day” in Pakistan. DuJ and associated organizations such as Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation openly raise funds from the public in the name of welfare activities.
If Pakistan is serious about fixing itself, especially through democracy, the redefinition of its security paradigm should be its central national priority. Much of the onus of the change, in the short term at least, will be on the military, who should unambiguously renounce their religiously denominated security narrative in which radicals had been important allies.
The involvement of jihadists in Kashmir has allowed India to confuse Kashmiris’ struggle for their rights with international terrorism, which has undermined their just cause. It is not enough to withdraw state patronage from jihadists. Pakistan must oppose and dismantle the radical networks not only for the sake of Kashmiris but also for the sake of its own internal security and international image. These elements help sustain the infrastructure of hate and intolerance, for which the country has already paid a very heavy price in terms of lives lost in terrorist incidents, economic downturn, social and political polarization, and international isolation. They share a mindset and world outlook that glorifies war, conflict, and exclusivity. Indeed, they represent a different vision of Pakistan.
Radical forces are obstructing the break out of a modern, progressive, and prosperous Pakistan, for which the country has all the necessary ingredients – human and natural resources, resilience, and a certain faith-based optimism. The leadership cannot leave this contest between the two visions of Pakistan to play itself out. Right now the state’s fear of those who want to take Pakistan backwards seems to be greater than its courage to support those who want Pakistan to move forward. What is needed is moral clarity and hard choices, and policies inspired by vision, not by force of circumstances.
With its nuclear capability and a good professional army, Pakistan is secure enough. It is time Pakistan felt confident about its defense capability and focused attention on building a more prosperous, tolerant, cohesive and internally secure country, for which it has the potential. And above all, Pakistan must find a new framework of relations with its neighbors. All these conditions are logically coherent.
In the final analysis, both India and Pakistan need each others’ help in meeting their own challenges and realizing their ambitions. The much-celebrated China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will bring a massive Chinese investment of $46 billion, may not yield the expected results if Pakistan’s internal security and the regional stability continue to face questions — at the heart of which lie Pakistan’s security paradigm and India Pakistan relations. Similarly, Pakistan will be missing massive economic benefits by blocking India’s transit trade to Afghanistan and Central Asia. If the move is meant to force India to solve the Kashmir dispute, it has not worked as it is Pakistan, not India, that suffers.
As for India, it must not give Pakistan a legitimate cause to see it as a threat. New Delhi must also stop portraying Pakistan as a state that promotes terrorism. This vitiates the atmosphere for normalization. Shifting the onus of its failures in Kashmir to Pakistan will not work; nor will attempts to isolate Pakistan internationally. The Kashmir dispute will not be resolved even if Pakistan backs away. Its resolution is now fully in India’s hands and the hands of Kashmiris.
Kashmir has gone well beyond an India Pakistan dispute. It has ever more become a question of destiny of a people. Its resolution will make it easy for Pakistan to isolate the radicals and open up to India facilitating India’s rise as big power and Pakistan’s realizing its full potential as a peaceful, stable, and prosperous state.