BY RSN SINGH
The attack on the Indian Consulate at Herat in Afghanistan just two days before the swearing-in of Narendra Modi and his cabinet on 26 May 2014, had the portend to cast a sinister shadow on the momentous event. The attack being the handiwork of Hafiz Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was corroborated by none other than the President of Afghanistan, Dr Hamid Karzai. Subsequently, it emerged that the plan was to kidnap the Indian Counselor.
The LeT has been teaming up with the Taliban in attacking Indian interests in Afghanistan. It may be recalled that in August 2013, the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad was also attacked by suicide bombers, wherein the Counselor and the Consulate staff did not come in the harm’s way, but nine innocent people that included six children were killed. Such is the nature of Pak sponsored terror. This attack was in the wake of assumption of office by Nawaz Sharif on 05 June 2013.
Apart from the Pakistan Military’s nervousness over the uncertainty of evolving contours of Pakistan-Afghanistan-India strategic triangle due to the envisaged withdrawal of ISAF from Afghanistan, the terror attacks on Indian Consulates, therefore has also much been engendered by the internal institutional rivalry and dynamics within Pakistan. Like the recent attack in Herat, the targeting of Jalalabad Consulate by the ISI backed LeT was in a way a stark reminder to Nawaz Sharif about the strategic imperatives and priorities of Pakistan Military. This was also to disrupt any possible rapprochement between the then Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in the following month.
These acts of desperation by Pakistan’s military-intelligence complex can best be explained through the evolution of the three major jihadi outfits impinging on the strategy and security of Pakistan. The respective areas of influence and operations of these three jihadi organizations, i.e. Afghan-Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is given in the map below:
The Afgan-Taliban and TTP, it should be remembered have the same roots. Till very recently, the TTP considered Mullah Omar as its figurative and inspirational head. Both the Afghan-Taliban and the TTP have avowed to establish Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan an Islamic Emirate of Pakistan respectively. Both have avowed to implement Sharia Law in the respective territories. However, while the master and benefactor of Afghan-Taliban benefactor, i.e. the military-intelligence complex of Pakistan has no qualms about the politico-religious objectives of its protégé in Afghanistan, it is loath to brook the same agenda in Pakistan and is therefore locked in a fierce and intractable counter-insurgency war with TTP. It is this naked contradiction that the Pakistan’s military establishment is finding impossible to reconcile. Jihad and jihadi groups sponsored by Pakistan cannot have different religious impetuses, i.e. one for Afghanistan and the other for Pakistan; one for strategic reasons and the other for domestic considerations. The third protagonist in the jihadi dynamics within Pakistan is the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The LeT, as is comprehensively established, is the irregular arm of the Pakistan military, exclusively for use against India and Indian interests. At one time it did decide to become part of global jihad to target western interests but its designs were nipped in the bud by timely action by the American Intelligence. In this project, David Headley played the key role. He succeeded, but the price was 26/11, paid by India. It is reckoned that the LeT, in terms of the strength of personnel has reached two-third levels of the Pakistan Army.
The strategy of proxy war by Pakistan Military in Afghanistan and India via Afghan-Taliban and LeT respectively is now facing a formidable despoiler by way of TTP. The magnitude of the internal threat can be extrapolated from the fact that since 2007, nearly 60,000 civilians and 5,000 security personnel have been killed, attributable to the TTP alone. On the other hand, the casualties attributable to the Operation Enduring Freedom in last 14 years are approximately 70,000 civilians and 3,400 security personnel. The Pakistan military has been compelled to use fighter aircraft against the TTP.
Such is the threat from TTP that Pakistan Army Officers have removed their name plates from their gates at many cantonments. As per the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, Retired Generals have been kidnapped for ransom, wherein assistance has been provided by seminaries within Islamabad. Only today, 31 May 2014, a PML (N) legislator Rana Jameel Hasan and an ISI Official were allegedly kidnapped by TTP in Punjab province, just 150 kms away from Lahore.
The attack on the popular TV anchor Hamid Mir of Geo TV allegedly by the ISI in April this year has in effect intimidated most of the TV channels in Pakistan. These channels stand so scared that they are compelled not to invite those who speak the language of moderation. Leaders of religious groups are having a field day on most channels as they continue to spew venom against India and Narendra Modi. It may also be mentioned that the Geo TV, which has more than 60 percent of market in Pakistan is being accused of being anti-Pakistan by the military-intelligence establishment. Nawaz Sharif is being touted as the major patron of the channel.
Whether out of compulsion or exigencies of politics, the ruling party PML (N) in run-up to the elections in 2013 was seen to be cozying up with the jihadi leaders like Hafiz Saeed. In June 2013, Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab, announced grant-in-aid of Rs. 61.35 million for the parent organization of LeT, i.e. Jamaat-ud-Dawah (Markaz-e-Taiba) at Muridke. Another allocation of Rs. 350 million was made for the same organization for a knowledge park at Muridke and various other (development?) initiatives across Punjab.
The elections in 2013 in Pakistan were no less affected by intimidation of jihadis. Some candidates belonging to political outfits like the Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) could not venture to even campaign in their constituencies. The overall message emanating from Pakistan is that no business, strategic or political is now possible without the factoring and indulgence of the jihadi organizations. The fear of take-over of Pakistan by jihadis of Pashtun extraction is palpable in the country and can be discerned from writings of erudite columnists in Pakistan, a diminishing but plucky tribe which soldiers on against all odds.
Nawaz Sharif, having realized the hopelessness of the situation has been making efforts to reach out to the TTP, thus enraging the military-intelligence complex in Pakistan. The Pakistan Military views the TTP a creation of forces inimical to Pakistan.
It is in this vitiated environment that Nawaz Sharif visited India. What the invitation by Narendra Modi to Nawaz Sharif did in effect was to hold a mirror to Pakistan for the world to see. The reflection displayed the ugly fissures between the military, the polity and the jihadi tanzims within Pakistan.
The attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat was a message intended for Narendra Modi, Nawaz Sharif and Hamid Karzai by the Pakistan Military. For long Pakistan has been trying to manipulate the politics of Afghanistan through its proxies. 26/11 and hence, it has been trying to do the same in India in collaboration with some Indian politicians. One such attempt was bomb blasts to assassinate Modi during his Patna rally in October 2013.
If the TTP continues to gain further ascendance, the strategic manoeuvre space of Pakistan Military with regard to Afghanistan and India will accordingly shrink. A desperate Pakistan then would stage some spectacular misadventure against India to prevent the dissolution of the country or its takeover by the jihadis. This scenario in all likelihood will play out in the near future.
(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)