Geopolitics

Pakistan's Threat Perception
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Geographically, the creation of Pakistan was most unnatural. Right from its inception, the Pakistani leaders of all hues, at a subconscious level did realise that the historical, sociological and economic arguments for a separate state were untenable. Therefore, the only galvanising force for nationhood for nascent Pakistan was Islam and anti-India rhetoric. An enemy – India had to be invented.

Dawn, which was the mouthpiece of the Muslim League, stepped up its vilification campaign against Hindus and India after the creation of Pakistan. Muhammad Ali, the Cabinet Secretary of Pakistan, was candid while privately admitting to India’s civil servant, BK Nehru, soon after the creation of Pakistan that the anti-India canard was a deliberate policy for nation building. He added that Pakistan would pursue this course for at least five years.

The only galvanising force for nationhood for nascent Pakistan was Islam and anti-India rhetoric. An enemy – India had to be invented.

The Pakistani leadership, which had been able to secure the separate state of Pakistan, was also apprehensive about the alleged Indian agenda of undoing the partition by force. Pakistan’s failure to hold on to its eastern wing (now Bangladesh), allegedly because of Indian intervention, and India’s nuclear tests were seen by the Pakistani establishment as attempts to emasculate the country. The anti-India posturing thereafter became more vicious and Pakistan’s unidirectional anti-India foreign policy gained further momentum.

Pakistan sought to negate India’s geographical size, large population and economic base, and conventional military superiority by embarking on pan-Islamism, nuclear weapons programme and fomenting internal disturbances in various parts of India including J&K through its ISI — Islamic fundamentalist / terrorist organisations network.

One Pakistani intelligence official had quipped that Pakistan would make India bleed through a thousand cuts. Once Pakistan’s covert nuclear programme had reached a fruition stage, it began to factor its nuclear capability into its strategic and operational doctrine. Nuclear weapon capability must be acknowledged to have a deterrent value. Therefore, AQ Khan’s first public confirmation in March 1987 that Pakistan had the nuclear bomb was part of a deliberate strategic posturing. Pakistan thereafter felt that it could encourage terrorism in J&K and other parts of India with impunity i.e. without risking conventional operations by India in retaliation. The initiation of the Kargil War by Pakistan can be construed as the high point of Pakistan’s ‘low intensity conflict strategy’.Pakistan’s India-centric threat perception and foreign policy makes it view the entire sweep of regional and global developments through the anti-India prism. Its exercise of relations with China, Afghanistan, West Asia, Central Asian Republics and the US is pitched around the kernel of undermining India.Other than historical and religious arguments, there is also a strategic compulsion behind Pakistan’s claim over entire J&K. The irrigation system in the undivided Punjab was developed by the British based on the network of the River Indus and its tributaries, the Ravi, Beas, Sutlej, Jhelum and Chenab. Partition eventually entailed the division of these river waters between the two countries.An Indus Water Treaty was signed between the two countries in 1960, during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Pakistan. As per the agreement, the rivers were grouped into two categories i.e. the Eastern Rivers (Ravi, Sutlej and Beas), whose waters can be stored by India; and the Western Rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab), whose waters are available to Pakistan. In respect of the latter rivers, India can only use the running water but is not permitted to store.

The initiation of the Kargil War by Pakistan can be construed as the high point of Pakistan’s ‘low intensity conflict strategy’.

The water sharing arrangements between India and Pakistan has held good even during Indo-Pak wars. Nevertheless, with water becoming a scarce resource due to an exponential increase in population and consequent rise in water consumption, it has the potential to become a contentious issue between the two countries.

At present, J&K has an inadequate water supply, which is severely affecting its agricultural and horticulture output. Even though the Indus Water Treaty permits the use of the Western Rivers for generation of electricity by India, it has not materialised because of objections by Pakistan. As a result, J&K, which could have been surplus in electricity, has to buy it from other states of India. Lack of irrigation and electricity in J&K has badly impacted the state’s economy and can be considered partly responsible for the insurgency and terrorism in the state.

In an age where analysts and thinkers are predicting the future wars to be ‘wars over waters’, the lower riparian countries all over the world have a reason to feel apprehensive and threatened.

The Indus River and its tributaries, the Jhelum and Chenab, are a lifeline for Pakistan. The Indus originates in Tibet from the glacial streams of the Himalayas and enters Pakistan in the northeast. It runs generally southwestward the entire length of Pakistan, for about 2,900 km, and empties into the Arabian Sea. The Indus and its tributaries provide water to two-thirds of Pakistan. Therefore, incorporation of J&K in Pakistan’s reckoning, for which it has been fighting all these years, will no longer leave it at the mercy of India, the upper riparian country.

Even though the Indus Water Treaty permits the use of the Western Rivers for generation of electricity by India, it has not materialised because of objections by Pakistan.

As regards Afghanistan, Pakistan has geo-strategic compulsions in having a favourable or proxy regime there for the following reasons:

  • Pakistan inherited very little strategic depth vis-à-vis India, thus rendering its combat assets vulnerable to Indian pre-emptive strikes. Afghanistan could provide the much needed strategic depth to Pakistan for survivability of its key combat elements and strategic assets. Conversely, an inimical Afghanistan could open up another front for Pakistan compelling it to dilute its combat resources deployed against India. There have been some reports in the media that once the Taliban regime was entrenched in Afghanistan, some of Pakistan’s nuclear assets were allegedly relocated to Afghanistan’s soil. Rumours about de-induction of these weapons were rife in Pakistan when on 12 September 2001 i.e. less than 24 hours after 11 September terrorist attack on the US, Islamabad and some other major airports in the country were shutdown for all civilian traffic and an abnormally high level of military air traffic was observed. The other rumour afloat was that senior officers and valuable equipment on loan to the Taliban were being lifted back from Afghanistan. However this appears to be less plausible as the time available was rather too short to organise that kind of airlift and did not necessitate the closure of airports for such a long time. Indeed, if all Pakistani military personnel in Afghanistan were withdrawn on 12 September 2001, where was the need for airlifts carried out by Pakistan spread over several days (30 to 40 aircraft missions) from Kunduz airfield (Afghanistan) in November 2001 before it fell to the Northern Alliance. This could not have been without the knowledge of the US, as it had complete control over Afghanistan’s airspace by then. These events have spawned a lot of questions whose answers have not been found with any degree of accuracy, therefore, nothing can be ruled out.
  • For Pakistan, Afghanistan holds the gateway to the newly constituted Central Asian Republics, therefore, the fall of the Taliban has restricted its reach to these countries.
  • Given the ethnic Pakhtun affinities in the border regions of the two countries, Afghanistan has the potential to impinge on Pakistan’s internal security situation, as it happened in the ‘80s during the Mujahideen fight against Soviet Forces in Afghanistan and now in the ongoing ‘war against terrorism’ – the Pakistan-Afghanistan boundary is of little consequence for the remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
  • The Afghanistan-Pakistan border region is notorious for gunrunning, smuggling, Islamic fundamentalism, drug production and trafficking. The ISI had been using these to its advantage for recruitment of Islamic terrorists, who after indoctrination and training are eventually deployed in J&K. The Asian Transport Mafia (ATM), which comprises mainly Pashtun truckers, largely control the smuggling and drug trade in the region i.e. Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia. The Taliban and the jihadi elements initially relied heavily on the financial assistance provided by the transport mafia. Till 1979 i.e. before the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the ATM used Iranian territory to route narcotics. Later, it began to route these consignments through India and Pakistan. When Pakistan began to officially back the Taliban, a nexus between the Pak ISI, Pak Military, Pak Government and ATM emerged and grew over the years. According to the World Bank, smuggling costs Pakistan Rs140 billion every year owing to losses in custom revenues i.e. 4 percent of its GDP.
  • The Durand Line, which was drawn as part of an agreement in 1893 between the ruler of Afghanistan and Sir Mortimer Durand, the Foreign Secretary of the colonial government of India, was repudiated by the Afghanistan Parliament in 1949. Since then, every government in Islamabad, military and non-military, has desperately tried to reach a bilateral agreement with successive regimes in Kabul to convert the Durand Line into the international border but without any success. Under an unfavourable regime in Afghanistan, the issue can become contentious, more so because of the common Pakhtun identity that transcends the border.

Pakistan had sought to address the above concerns by installing the Taliban regime. However, the exit of the Taliban has ushered in newer forces led by the US, whose presence and influence in Afghanistan is likely to endure in the foreseeable future, thus leaving Pakistan very restricted space for manoeuvre in the exercise of its relations with Afghanistan. Its reach out to the Central Asian Republics has also received a setback as a consequence of the renewed US focus and presence in the region. The Jihadi military machine that Pakistan had assembled is active but is in disarray and under stress. It is quite possible that in the absence of external causes and targets they may begin to focus inwards. The recent attempts on Pervez Musharraf’s life could be attributed to this growing threat.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan border region is notorious for gunrunning, smuggling, Islamic fundamentalism, drug production and trafficking. The ISI had been using these to its advantage for recruitment of Islamic terrorists, who after indoctrination and training are eventually deployed in J&K.

More than the external, it is the internal threats that have long term implications for Pakistan. The Pakistani leadership has a tendency to ignore the ramifications of their ill-considered and shortsighted approach in formulating religious and political policies. Politicians and military dictators have resorted to divisive policies to perpetuate their rule. Whenever these have boomeranged, the ‘Indian hand’ has been a convenient excuse. The culture of guns – narcotics – jihad combination took root in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1989). Although the training and assistance to the Mujahideen groups in their fight against Soviet troops may have been a security and strategic exigency, there were no efforts on the part of the military regime under Zia to control or calibrate their activities. Pakistan and the world community is now paying the price for it, as the sweep of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism is 360-degrees.

The Punjabi (60 percent of the population) domination on all aspects of governance in Pakistan, and their demographic assault on Sindh (Sindhi population – 14 percent) and Balochistan (Baloch population – 4.5 percent), as also the ethnic pulls between the Pakhtuns (13.5 percent) straddling both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border; are some of the controversial facets of Pakistan’s internal dynamics with a potential for a flare-up. There have been a number of occasions since 1947, when the Pakistan Army has been deployed in these areas to quell disturbances or to crush separatism. The movement for the reunification of Pakhtuns of Afghanistan and Pakistan under a separate state ‘Pakhtunistan’ had the support of Afghanistan.

However, the movement has subsided because the Pakhtuns in Pakistan are disenchanted with the condition and ways of the Pakhtuns in Afghanistan. During the Mujahideen fight against Soviet troops in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Pakhtuns provided shelter and assistance to Afghani Pakhtuns in keeping with the tribal tradition of hospitality. However, they began to lose their patience with the Afghani Pakhtuns when they continued to stretch the hospitality even after the Soviet troops had withdrawn from Afghanistan. Nevertheless, in the Pakhtun dominated areas of Pakistan, the Taliban and the Al Qaeda elements do enjoy considerable support and have managed to find safe havens.

The latest in the list of disaffected areas is the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA); comprising districts of Gilgit, Ghizer, Diamer, Skardu and Granchey. The area covers 75 percent of the 78,000 sq km that Pakistan occupied illegally. It has a geographical interface with China and India, and is, therefore, militarily sensitive. Moreover, the Karakorum Highway, which links Pakistan to China, runs through this area. The Gilgit region, with its numerous glaciers is considered to be world’s second largest water resource. It came under Pakistan’s direct administrative control, following the Karachi Accord in 1948. It was re-designated as FCNA in 1973. The people of this area, under the umbrella organisation, All Parties National Alliance (APNA) have begun to clamour for greater human and political rights and the re-unification of the area with Azad Kashmir.

Pakistani society is under ideological stress, and the fissures thus created are bound to have serious manifestations. It is not that the intelligentsia or some policy makers are not aware of the internal threat posed by the Islamic fundamentalists, but they tend to ignore it,

The Northern Areas is home to 2.8 million residents as compared to 2.5 million in Pak designated Azad Kashmir. The population in the Northern areas comprises various ethnic groups such as Baltis, shias, Pathans, Ladakhis, Turks and Kashmiris. The FCNA does not have a President or Prime Minister or even a Legislative Assembly as in the case of the rest of POK. Instead it has a Legislative Council consisting of 24 elected members with powers no greater than those of a municipal corporation. While Article 370 of the Indian Constitution debars outsiders from settling in J&K, in the FCNA there has been uncontrolled migration of Pathans. The MMA, which runs the government of NWFP and Balochistan have been encouraging this migration to spread Sunni Islam in an otherwise Shia region. There have been widespread rumours that the Al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden and his followers had set up their camp in Diamer in the Northern Areas, which is one of the two districts which has witnessed maximum Pakhtun immigration.

US Special Forces, along with the Pakistani Army are known to have launched several operations in the area in their hunt for Osama bin Laden and his followers. Of late, there have been a number of Shia-Sunni clashes in the region. Over years, with encouragement from Pakistani authorities a large number of retired soldiers have been settled in the area. There are apprehensions amongst many Pakistani authorities that the Shia-Sunni divide, and the fissures between the locals and the outsiders could explode into violence of greater magnitude than what India has experienced in Kashmir. These apprehensions have probably led to the relocation of 11 of the 14 battalions of the FCNAs’ Northern Light Infantry (NLI) out of the region to Punjab and Wazaristan after the Kargil conflict. There are also media reports to suggest that the NLI’s ethnic composition is being re-engineered and the Shia composition has gone down from 70 percent to 40 percent.

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The bane of Pakistan has been that it did not stop just at declaring itself as an Islamic state. As it is, the Christians, the Hindus, and other minorities in Pakistan have accepted their status as second-class citizens. However, Pakistan as an Islamic state has gone further in assuming the responsibility of defining as to who is a real Muslim and who is not. This approach to governance continues to alienate sections of the populace who resent government sponsored Islamic interpretations and strictures being imposed on them.

The moderate and progressive elements within Pakistani society are at severe odds with the jihadi variety, but unfortunately cannot match them in their violent methods or even government’s patronage. Pakistani society is, therefore, under ideological stress, and the fissures thus created are bound to have serious manifestations sooner or later. It is not that the intelligentsia or some policy makers are not aware of the internal threat posed by the Islamic fundamentalists, but they tend to ignore it, compelled as they are by the exigencies of power.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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4 thoughts on “Pakistan’s Threat Perception

  1. Pakistani leadership and Army are least bothered about others as long as their coffers are full. The people do not matter to them at all. Pakistan’s existence lies in hate India campaign, They will time and again continue to perpetuate terror attacks against India. It is time for the people of Pakistan to stand up against the despotic rule of Pak Army backed Govt, as the erstwhile East Pakistani bengalis’ did in 1971 and got themselves out of the clutches of Pak oppression. The day will not be far when Pakistan will break up and disintegrate.

  2. Right from the start India herself created the situation that Pakistanis were forced to hate India. Mass murder by Indians during the migration and forced annexation of Kashmir were the two bad endeavors by our predecessors which fueled hate between two states..

  3. “The anti-India posturing thereafter became more vicious and Pakistan’s unidirectional anti-India foreign policy gained further momentum.”

    These days world media is working on only one agenda that is to make realize Pakistan that india is not an enemy but a friend.It seems just like,
    “Don’t afraid of dog as it is very friendly but a lamb is dangrous”

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