JONATHAN POWERPatience is wearing thin. “The Pakistan-jihad nexus is as old as the Pakistani state,” Professors Paul Kapur and Sumit Ganguly wrote earlier this month in Harvard University’s quarterly journal, International Security. “From its founding in 1947 to the present day, Pakistan has used religiously motivated militant forces as strategic tools.” However, Kapur and Ganguly say the policy has now become “dangerous and potentially catastrophic.”
Until recently the policy was an unmitigated success, putting India, the other claimant to the majority Muslim state of Kashmir, which Pakistan has long claimed, on the defensive. Later some of the same fighters that Pakistan allegedly sponsored in Kashmir joined the Taliban and other opposition militants in Afghanistan and later still were part of those who waged war on Indian soil, including attacks on India’s parliament and a major Mumbai hotel. This policy has become counterproductive, alienating not just India, but the West and Russia. Pakistan will have to abandon the radicals if it is to avoid catastrophe, even though that will lead to a showdown with Pakistan’s militant religious parties. (Although they win only about 5 to 7 percent of the vote they are capable of creating mayhem at home.)
During the war between Afghani militants and the Soviet Union following the Soviet invasion in 1979, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia funneled large financial and military resources through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) to the Afghani rebels, including the Taliban. But a substantial amount was diverted to the Kashmiri insurgents.
During the 1990s, tired of the inability of the Kashmiri groups to make progress, the ISI reportedly deployed non-Kashmiris, including organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba (implicated in the 2008 Mumbai attack which killed over 200 people). By 1994 Pakistan was supporting the Taliban. The Pakistani political party, Jamaat-e-Ulema-Islam, during the Soviet occupation, had set up many religious schools in Afghanistan out of which emerged the Taliban. Pakistan aided the Taliban’s ascent to power.
Not surprisingly, despite all the promises of total cooperation made to Washington in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the ISI continued to help the Taliban and other movements such as the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Time and time again the Pakistani government has promised to move against these organizations. But with exception of the period during the effort of president Pervez Musharraf to make peace with India the ISI has aided the militants substantially. So secure does Lashkar-e-Taiba feel it has organized large rallies at home. After the deadly attack on Mumbai the government promised to move decisively against the organization. It didn’t.
These days the militants have slipped more and more out of Pakistan’s control. Now organizations such as the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban have effectively seized large portions of Pakistan’s province of South Waziristan. This has provoked the Pakistani military to engage them in combat. But it has alienated the local people.
Pakistan must now realize the cost of supporting the radicals is not worth the return. In particular it must stop aiding the Afghani Taliban. They will always pose a danger of entering Pakistan to pursue their agenda. Pakistan’s attempt to have it both ways — supporting the U.S. and NATO, but backing the militants can no longer work. However, the government fears U.S. and NATO withdrawal in 2014 will leave Afghanistan exposed to Indian influence.
On the Indian side there must be a realization of the Pakistani government’s problem. It is not enough just to blame Pakistan. It must keep its eye on the main prize-making peace with Pakistan over Kashmir. Then the two governments can take on the militants together.
When President Musharraf proposed a peace plan that incorporated the India’s main demands, the Indian government was foolish not to sign it while it was still an offer. Musharraf, as head of the military as well as president, could have delivered peace.
*Jonathan Power is a veteran foreign affairs commentator. The article originally appeared on Khaleej Times online.