How Pakistani army feeds off the Kashmir dispute

The longer the conflict over the Valley continues, the more money the Pakistani army makes.

 |  5-minute read |   07-06-2017
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Pakistanis have been fed on a diet that the core dispute with India is Kashmir. It isn’t.

The last thing Pakistan’s shrewd army generals want is a solution to the Kashmir dispute. It is their bread, butter and jam. The Pakistani army lives off the Kashmir dispute. Take that away and the Pakistani army would lose the enormous fortune that a low intensity, low-cost conflict in Kashmir brings it.

Consider the facts. Pakistan’s GDP is around 10 per cent of India’s. Yet its defence budget is nearly 25 per cent of India’s. Much of the surplus funding is siphoned off by the army’s top brass. On retirement senior army officers get large land holdings as a send-off gratuity.

The best business in Pakistan is the business of the Pakistani army. Even junior officers are well looked after. The Pakistani army is an outsized entity for a relatively small country. It has a total strength of 6,50,000 soldiers with another 5,10,000 reservists.

The Pakistani army functions like an illicit business organisation. Less polite descriptions would call it a well-oiled mafia operation.

It beheads Indian soldiers, kidnaps local business tycoons for ransom, murders journalists, commits genocide in Balochistan, trains, arms and funds suicide bombers in Afghanistan, provides safe havens for the Taliban, extorts money from the United States, and rents vast swathes of its territory to China.

stone-body_060717051313.jpg'Pakistani army functions like an illicit business organisation.'

While it does all this, it keeps one beady eye on India. The longer the conflict over Kashmir continues, the more money the Pakistani army makes.

No one in the Pakistan government can question the country’s dubiously large defence budget. The civil society in Pakistan treated former chief of army staff General Raheel Sharif like a hero. The army has succeeded in making the majority of Pakistanis believe in its indispensability. Without an “enemy” (India) and without a “core dispute” (Kashmir), that indispensability would fade rapidly. 

An all-out war with India’s superior conventional forces would shatter the Pakistani army’s carefully nurtured image among ordinary Pakistanis of its invincibility. Rawalpindi doesn’t want a repeat of 1971 or 1999.

A slow-burning insurgency in Kashmir suits it far better. Unemployed young men from poor families are used as terrorist cannon fodder. When killed by the Indian army or the Border Security Force (BSF), their families are generously rewarded with land and money. It is a classic mafia operation: money for blood.

Unfortunately, like all mafia operations, this one too is beginning to run into a wall.

The recent truck bomb attack in Kabul’s diplomatic enclave near the German embassy that killed 150 people is an inflection point in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations as Afghan president Ashraf Ghani declared at the opening session of the multilateral Kabul peace conference on June 6.

The Afghans could prove the Pakistan army’s nemesis.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Sindh (especially Karachi) and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (including Gilgit-Baltistan) are in ferment. Punjab, which comprises 55 per cent of Pakistan’s population but less than 25 per cent of its territory, is deeply resented by these provinces. They see key resources – water, power, infrastructure – being monopolised by Punjab. 

Kashmir is a business opportunity for Pakistan’s Indian minions as well. Raids by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Srinagar, Delhi and Haryana last week unmasked how the Pakistan terror-funding network operates.

The Hurriyat is a longtime front created by the ISI. Its separatist “leaders” are paid handsomely. Hizbul Mujahideen, as the recent raids by the NIA revealed, works closely with the separatists. Like the mafia, each tentacle in the network has its uses and functions.

Separatists instigate stone-pelters. The Hizbul conducts terror attacks in the Valley. Subverted Indian journalists in Delhi and Srinagar provide amelioratory editorial cover. Indian NGOs and activists organise seminars, calling for an end to the “occupation of Kashmir”.

The Pakistani army, flush with funds, privately refers to these Indians as “useful idiots”. They serve a purpose: keeping Kashmir simmering but not boiling over.

Note that unlike Afghanistan, there has rarely been a suicide bomb terror attack in the Valley. Insurgents pelt stone, not bombs. Hizbul terrorists use guns not suicide vests.

The ISI is shrewd enough to recognise what will work in Kashmir’s essentially Sufi culture and what won’t. Despite its efforts to convert the Valley into an Islamist state, only a fraction of Kashmiri youth have bought into the radical Wahhabi ideology. Even the Hizbul is at odds with the Hurriyat on whether Kashmir is a political or religious struggle.

Money for nothing

In the Valley, everybody is on the take. Money trumps ideology. The separatists happily took money from RAW for years before being busted. Pakistan’s generals similarly, but on a larger scale, have taken billions off the Americans and are doing the same with the Chinese.

How long can the shrewd generals in Rawalpindi continue their terror-as-business scam? Till India calls its bluff.

Fortunately, the Indian army under General Bipin Rawat has begun imposing a cost on the Pakistani army along the Line of Control (LoC). When casualties among Pakistani soldiers rise beyond a threshold level, dissatisfaction among the ranks can set in.

Water is another weapon. Hydro-electric projects in the Valley have been fast-tracked. Under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), India is legally entitled to a higher quota than it has, bafflingly, been using for decades. Less water to Pakistan as a result of the new hydro projects in Kashmir will impose a cost on Pakistani agriculture.

The proceedings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will, meanwhile, soon recommence, focusing international attention on the Pakistani army’s propensity to kidnap and torture as exemplified by the abduction of Kulbhushan Jadhav.

The generals in Rawalpindi are accountants. Only when the cost of abetting terrorism becomes unaffordable will they be compelled to change their behaviour — behavior that is driven not by concern for Kashmir, but the commerce it delivers.

Also read: Kashmir, China and Pakistan: What India must do to avert a three-way disaster


Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

The writer is the biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. He is a media group chairman and editor. He is the author of The New Clash of Civilizations

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