What does Pakistan gain out of sponsoring terror attacks in India? A strategic advantage yes, but what for? Here are some answers.
1. Permanent hostility: The use of terrorism makes sure India-Pakistan peace remains a distant possibility. There is the familiar pattern of terror attacks taking place whenever the two countries are close to even beginning a process of bilateral negotiations.
Exactly a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to Pakistan in 2016, the Jaish-e-Mohammed carried out a terrorist strike on the Indian air base in Pathankot. When the 26/11 Mumbai attacks took place in 2008, the Pakistani foreign minister was in Delhi. Pakistan’s then president Asif Ali Zardari had just made a remarkable statement that Pakistan was willing to adopt a ‘no first use’ policy for its nuclear warheads, just like India. The Kargil invasion in 1999 had similarly laid to waste the Lahore Declaration signed by the two countries with much hope.
It is clear from the pattern that the Pakistani deep state does not want a rapprochement between the two countries. They know it won’t be possible for the Indian leadership to conduct bilateral negotiations after a terror strike due to domestic pressure.
2. Army with a state: Pakistan, it is often said, is an army with a state. Dissident Pakistani author Husain Haqqani often reminds us: “Pakistan inherited one-third of British India’s army but only 17% of its resources. That propelled the army into the driver’s seat in defining Pakistani nationalism.”
But civilian politicians often try to take over the driver’s seat. To win this argument, the Pakistani army has to demonstrate its relevance. For that to happen, India must appear belligerent and ever hostile towards Pakistan. Low-intensity sub-conventional warfare aka terrorism achieves that purpose.
In her landmark book Military Inc, Pakistani scholar Ayesha Siddiqa has documented how entrenched the Pakistani army is in major sectors of the economy. It must be the world’s only army that sells cement, clothes, meat, insurance and what have you. Its prime interest, though is real estate. If the civilians got the better of the military, Rawalpindi’s parallel economy would be hurt, affecting how many plots a general gets after retirement.
In the 72 years of its existence, Pakistan has been governed by military rulers for 33 years. When it’s not possible to have army rule, they like the civilian government to be their puppet – like the current one.
3. Avenging 1971: It is difficult to meet a Pakistani who harbours bitterness against India for its role in liberating Bangladesh in 1971. Pakistanis understand it was their own government’s unwillingness to share power with East Pakistanis, and its own army’s ethnic chauvinism that resulted in losing the eastern wing of the country. India was merely the accelerator.
But for the Pakistani army, 1971 wasn’t just about Bangladesh. It was also the humiliation of the Pakistani army, which had to surrender to the Indian Army with 93,000 prisoners of war.
“Whether or not we would like to acknowledge it, the humiliation of 1971 has had a defining impact on the psyche of the Pakistani military and its approach towards India ever since. It would be ahistorical to not view its current policy towards India and Kashmir as not being influenced by that deeply entrenched feeling of humiliation,” says Happymon Jacob, a Delhi-based scholar of Pakistan.
Be it in Indian Punjab or Kashmir, the Pakistani army wants to avenge the humiliation of 1971.
4. National identity crisis: Addressing Baloch students in Islamabad in December, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said, “The way Muslims are treated in India has made people realise why Pakistan was born.”
It’s remarkable that a Pakistani prime minister feels the need to justify the creation of Pakistan 71 years after it happened. To solve the national identity crisis, Pakistan needs the glue of an enemy, and hence the permanent hostility produced through terrorism.
Pakistani nationalism is thus a continuing contest with India – or a thousand-year war, as the late Pakistani leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto once said.
Anti-Indianism in Pakistan is rooted from its very birth, when the Indian leadership was seen as having conceded to Pakistan against its will and then doing everything it could to destabilise the new country. Pakistani military propaganda has always presented India as wanting to destabilise and destroy Pakistan.
This narrative was confirmed by 1971, which also complicated Pakistan’s national identity crisis. If Hindus and Muslims were separate nations, why did Bengali Muslims separate from Pakistan? It thus became all the more important to foment and support ethnic tensions in India.
5. The Great Game: This last week, three countries blamed Pakistan for terror attacks on their soil: India, Iran and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s terror infrastructure is global. It began with Pakistan’s training of mujahideen at the behest of the US to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. After the Soviet defeat in 1989, the terror infrastructure was diverted towards Kashmir. History is repeating itself today — as the US is exiting Afghanistan, terrorism in Kashmir is again going up.
The Pulwama attack killing at least 40 paramilitary troops has taken place at a time when the western powers have agreed to come to the negotiating table with Pakistan’s proxy in Afghanistan, the Taliban. The world needs Pakistan to deal with the Taliban and ensure a stable Afghanistan. There couldn’t be a better moment for Pakistan to internationalise Kashmir and put pressure on India. This is also why New Delhi’s talk of ‘isolating Pakistan’ is wishful thinking aimed at the domestic audience.
It’s noteworthy that the Jaish-e-Mohammed, whose links with the Taliban are well known, has revived itself in Kashmir only in the last two years, as the US has turned its attention from the region and Pakistan felt more secure in Afghanistan.
India is thus willy-nilly part of the ongoing Great Game in the region. New Delhi exerts its weight in Kabul in retaliation, which makes Pakistan feel further threatened. Pakistan also accuses India of orchestrating violence in Balochistan through the Afghan border.
6. Kashmir: Liberating Kashmir from India has always been central to Pakistani nationalism. It’s a violation of the two-nation theory. Given Pakistan’s claim over all Muslim-majority areas in Partition, Pakistanis say they should have got Kashmir. It is the unfinished business of Partition, it is the Valley from where Pakistan’s rivers flow.
Liberating Kashmir militarily failed in 1965 and in Kargil in 1999, leaving them with terrorism as the only option. Both those wars gave Pakistan a bloody nose. Today, Pakistan’s Kashmir cause is more an excuse for anti-Indianism. When Pakistan could foment rebellion in Indian Punjab it did, and in Kashmir it finds a fertile ground in New Delhi’s alienation of its own Kashmiri Muslim citizens.
Kashmiri alienation is only the ammunition, the terror groups are the gun. The one pulling the trigger is the Pakistan army. The country where Osama bin Laden was found comfortably ensconced doesn’t really have much plausibility in its denials.