Pakistan: Living in Disharmony with Neighbours
Some habits, they say, die hard. Pakistan’s history of meddling in affairs of its neighbours is one such habit. This has also been the root cause for confrontations and instability in South Asia. The constant state of hostility with its eastern neighbour for over six decades has led to three bloodied wars and a near war, restricted to Kargil Heights between the two countries. A comprehensive defeat in all hostilities and loss of half its territory leading to birth of Bangladesh has failed to diminish its appetite for interfering in state of affairs of its neighbours resulting in a volatile situation in the region.
The situation along Line of Control between India and Pakistan has remained unstable resulting in a constant state of eyeball to eyeball confrontation in Jammu and Kashmir due to continued interference and support to Kashmiri separatists. It is a testimony to an ulterior mindset aimed at keeping the pot boiling for an establishment whose sole reason for existence is a continuous bogey of insecurity and perceived threat to Pakistan’s security.
A rundown or review of incidents and instances of disharmonious conduct during the last couple of weeks reveals an unstable and worrisome future for the region.
Pakistan and Afghan troops exchanged heavy fire, including mortars, along Tokhram border crossing in June resulting in deployment of tanks and APCs. The hostilities increased due to Pakistan erecting a fence along the border ostensibly to prevent Afghans from crossing into Pakistan and initiating steps to check documents of Afghans who continue to have family relations across the Durand Line which has never been recognized by Pashtuns as a formal border. However the real reason for increasing animosity between the two countries has been Pakistan’s desire to be the sole arbitrator of state of affairs in Afghanistan and a desire to supplant a pliable government through anointing Taliban, the charade of talks through QCG notwithstanding. It has also continued to put pressure on Afghan government by repeatedly using Haqqani network to attack Indian interests in Kabul besides Afghan National Army and other vulnerable targets.
President Ashraf Ghani on assuming his office had extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan to mend fences so as to bring peace to his country. He agreed to take action against TTP and had hoped for reciprocity to help bring Taliban to the negotiating table. But Pakistan’s persistence to control Taliban and the situation in Afghanistan made President Ghani see Pakistan’s game plan resulting in tension between the two countries and impacting Pashtuns living across the Durand Line.
The sectarian divide within Pakistan has had its impact on its relations with Iran with whom it shares approximately 900 kilometers long border. In recent years there have been numerous clashes along the borders, the last one being on 6 July 2016, which Iran attributed to Pakistan based Al Qaida groups. In addition two branches of Pakistan Taliban, Jandullah (Soldiers of God) and Jaish-ul-Adl (Army of Justice) have carried out numerous attacks on Iranian soil aimed at Shias.
The fact that Pakistan has not been able to control terrorist acts against Shias within its territory, there is little chance that it can control terrorist attacks against Shias in Iran, whether by design or otherwise. Pakistan’s close relation with Saudi Arabia and funding of anti Iran activities from its soil is not totally ruled out. Although Pakistan has denied its involvement in the attacks, the message of its complacency in facilitating the acts is not lost on Iran. The increasing bilateral relations between India and Iran and signing of trilateral Chabahar Agreement has also riled Pakistan leading to its enhanced and active role in fomenting trouble in the region.
The relations between the two countries have been described as “ironclad friendship”, “sweeter than honey”, one rising “higher than the Himalayas” and “all weather strategic partnership”. The relations have indeed continued to grow with near total reliance of Pakistan on Chinese defence hardware. The increased trade ties between the two countries have been cemented with China committing US $ 46 billion to develop the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). However China remains wary of Pakistan for its support to Chinese Muslim separatists and claimed that Uighur separatists had received training in Pakistan for carrying out attacks in Kashgar in southern Xinjiang. During 2011 China had pressurised Pakistan to expel Uighur separatists, operating from its territory.
A Pew research Centre survey of 2014 found that while 78 percent Pakistani respondents viewed China favorably, the corresponding figure for Pakistanis by the Chinese was only 30 percent.
Though not an immediate neighbour, Bangladesh once the Eastern part of Pakistan but separated by land and distance gained its freedom after a bitter struggle for independence. Pakistan continued to meddle in the affairs of Bangladesh considering it as its extension through the Jamaat-e-Islami which provided it a platform to penetrate into all spheres of polity. The trial of Jammat leaders for war crimes and a check on ISI activities by the present government after Idris Sheikh, a suspected member of the banned Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), told a Dhaka court that he received 30,000 taka ($380) from Pakistani diplomat Farina Arshad led to her and another diplomats expulsion from Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka in December 2015.
The most recent involvement of Pakistan in fomenting terrorist activities in Bangladesh was revealed by Hossein Toufique Rehman, Political Advisor to Prime Minister who categorically pointed to the role of ISI and Jammat-ul-Mujahideen in massacre of 20 foreign nationals on 02 July in an upscale bakery in Diplomatic Enclave area of Dhaka.
It is an established fact, not stated without evidence, that Pakistan has been using non state actors and militant proxies as a tool of statecraft to further its interests in immediate neighbourhood. All countries, with exception of China (notwithstanding the 2011 episodes), have accused it of actively conniving with terrorists to operate from its territory. It would be in its own interest to introspect whether such statecraft is paying it dividends or in turn playing havoc within its boundaries, bringing misery to its own people.