Pakistan has landed itself in deep trouble

As the US determination on compelling Islamabad to act increases, India should also insist that the neighbouring country takes action against anti-India groups.

 |  6-minute read |   07-08-2017
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Pakistan is now facing pressure from all directions. Internally, it continues to reel under turmoil, as Nawaz Sharif, though out of power, remains a force to be reckoned with. His rally in Lahore is likely to draw immense support as the nation has realised that the judgment passed by the Supreme Court has been biased and delivered at the bidding of the Pakistani army.

Internal policies prevent the public from criticising these two pillars of power, even on social media. However, public support in Sharif’s rally would indicate the national mood.

India continues to counter all attempts by Pakistan to ferment trouble in the Valley. Its ceasefire violations are being countered aggressively while terrorists infiltrating into India are being culled. The Indian Army’s Operation All-Out is paying rich dividends.

Pakistan's staunch supporters, the Hurriyat is being isolated as the NIA closes in and the public is losing faith in them as news of their amassed wealth at the cost of innocent blood gains ground.

Their calls for bandhs are now being ignored and they are being incarcerated in Delhi, away from the area which they influence. India has accused Pakistan of following a policy of selective terrorism, the words now being resounded from the White House.

Afghanistan has begun to openly accuse Pakistan of striking terror, which has increased in intensity in the country. The two nations, which could have been allies are now on opposite sides of the fence, enabling India to manoeuvre into the space.

Afghan national security advisor, Hanif Atmar, is known to have stated that the Taliban cannot be defeated unless we defeat the sanctuaries and support structures outside Afghanistan, in Pakistan. The echoes of his words are now being heard from Washington.

pak_080717032617.jpgSupporters of Nawaz Sharif during a rally to condemn his dismissal in Lahore on July 28. (Credit: AP photo)

US President Donald Trump has, in a statement issued over the weekend, stated that the US would need to see a change in the behaviour of those in the region, which includes countries providing safe havens and support bases to the Taliban, Haqqani network and the others.

His national security advisor, HR McMaster, was quoted as saying, "This is Pakistan that we want to really see a change in and a reduction of their support for these groups."  The US appears to be moving forward with its strategy of winning the war in Afghanistan, and it is clear that Pakistan would need to play a major role.

Pakistan’s desire to make Afghanistan a client state, subdued to it, has compelled it to support anti-Afghanistan groups. However, such policies can never pay dividends in the long-term. Its claims of fighting terror groups on its soil has been accepted, but with riders. McMaster clarified the Pakistan policy when he stated, “Pakistan is taking great losses. They have fought very hard against these groups but they have done so really only selectively." These are clearly the words India wanted to hear.

Among options against Pakistan being openly discussed in the US include, expanding drone strikes deep within Pakistan, redirecting aid to the country and ultimately downgrading its status as a major non-NATO ally.

The writing is now on the wall, Pakistan has to act, or would face pressure and humiliation, when its territorial integrity is violated at will by US drones. Pakistan has very limited options. If it launches operations against the Quetta Shura, the name for the Taliban and Haqqani network based in Quetta, they could turn against them, only adding to their woes.

If it doesn’t, the US would launch operations across the border, denting the image of the Pakistani army. A shaky government at the helm, subdued by the deep state only adds to the woes of the nation.

Pakistan knows that at present, the US has more enemies than friends in the region. Iran, against whom the US recently placed sanctions and whom Trump has been threatening, has borders with Herat and Farah provinces of Afghanistan. Although the Taliban is a Sunni force and Iran is the bastion of Shia Islam, yet it has openly supported the Taliban in these two provinces.

Recent strikes in the region have Iranian support to the Taliban written across them. It is seeking US withdrawal with failure on their face. Russia, which has now moved away from the US, is in touch with the Taliban, through Iran and Pakistan and is believed to be providing them with weapons. The drone strike which eliminated Mullah Mansour, was launched on his return from Iran. China is also known to be in contact with the Taliban.

Despite the involvement of other nations, it is Pakistan which faces the brunt, solely because it had openly admitted to providing safe sanctuaries to the Taliban.

Sartaj Aziz, who is set to return as the adviser to PM on foreign affairs, had admitted in the US that since Pakistan provides some sort of sanctuary and support to the Taliban, it does possess some leverage over it.

Hence, Pakistan would be forced to act, if it does not do so, its territorial integrity would be violated at will, by drone strikes, against whom it can only object, but not retaliate.

It had hoped that the new US policy could be one of withdrawal, which could provide it with a leeway in handling Afghanistan, but now that it has misfired, Pakistan has limited options.

It could sit quiet, cry hoarse over its own situation and hope the US finally withdraws, leaving Afghanistan to its fate. Secondly, it could act partially against terror groups, just enough to pacify the US, while maintaining a façade.

Thirdly, it could apply enough pressure on the Taliban and Haqqani network to reduce their strikes, thus preventing any attack on its soil. Finally, it could compel the groups to leave its shores and seek sanctuary either in the mountainous belt of Afghanistan or Iran, which could anger them and make them turn in direction.

It is only US determination which could compel Pakistan to respond and save the Afghan population from unwarranted bloodshed.

If it does not act or gives up its determination, Afghanistan could become the next Syria and involve all major powers in resolving the crises and containing its spread.

Pakistan has to bear the consequences, it has no choice, after all it is responsible for the present turmoil.

As the US determination on compelling Pakistan to act increases, India should insist on Pakistan acting against anti-India groups too. A tough call, but can work.  

Also read: How Pakistani army feeds off the Kashmir dispute

Writer

Harsha Kakar Harsha Kakar @kakar_harsha

The author is a retired Major General.

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