LOC violence: Game changer in Afghanistan
Monday, October 28, 2013 – Abandoning our long term Kashmir policy was the cost we paid for joining the American alliance. I call it cost because it has brought little appreciation and no visible benefits. The government of General Pervaiz Musharraf when it signed the cease fire agreement with India in 2003 antagonized the Islamic jihadists groups and also threw away the only card it held and used in its Kashmir policy that hurt India. Subsequently peace prevailed on LOC only because Pakistan’s vital cooperation was required to support the coalition forces in Afghanistan. Its airspace and land routes were required to move hundreds of air sorties and thousands of trucks carrying coalition forces logistics. This requirement has ebbed away now and so has the peace and quiet that prevailed on LOC for eight long years.
Pakistan’s rise in 2001 from the ashes of being declared as a ‘failed state’ or a ‘terrorist state’ to become a major non NATO US ally and a world partner in the war against terror was something that India never accepted. 9/11 was seen by India as an opportunity to make Pakistan a target rather than a US partner in the war on terror. From the time it made attempts to push the Bush administration to include Pakistan’s name in the ‘Axis of Evil’ State’s list to just a few days back when its prime minister at the UN forum called Pakistan an ‘epicenter of terrorism’ nothing much has changed on how India thinks about Pakistan.
What the Indian Prime Minister actually failed to tell the world in his address to UN General Assembly was that in eight years of peace that prevailed on LOC India hardly made an attempt to shake its neighbor’s hand. Even when shaken it was not held to promote a binding friendly relation. All it did was subject Pakistan to a barrage of ultimatums and threats. It failed to cash on the opportunity presented by the Pakistan and its army’s decision to fight against the very militants that were once used as bargaining chips and military tools to conduct a clandestine war in Kashmir.
Our about-faced policy on Kashmir the only beneficiary of which was India and which resulted in ceasefire along the LOC enabled India to mend and construct the border fence along the LOC but it failed to inspire Indians to mend its relationship in any meaningful way with us. If for eight years peace and calm prevailed along the LOC why then has 2013 become the year in which not only the Islamic jihadists are accused of making attempts to cross over the borders but also the troops manning the borders on both sides of the divide have become very trigger happy?
When eastern front was quiet all Pakistan army did was shift its troops and get busy clamping down on Islamic militants. Indians could have worked together with Pakistan to jointly declare militants as the common enemy and could have helped Pakistan to understand the benefit of its revised Kashmir policy. India instead chose to reciprocate the Pakistani gesture of hitting its underbelly in Kashmir by carrying the clandestine war to Pakistan’s underbelly in Balochistan. Now accused of supporting the insurgency in Balochistan the Indians are adamantly in the same denial role as once Pakistan was in Kashmir.
It was during the war on terror that the India-Pakistan rivalry shifted to Afghanistan. Today what is happening on the LOC may be part of a well planned military strategy being executed by either side to protect their future interests in that country. From the Indian point of view the strategy is to force the Pakistan army to divert and shift its attention, resources and troops from the western border. Only by doing this can the Indians prevent Pakistan army from supporting and deploying an efficient and effective pushtun led Afghan resistance against the Indian interests in Afghanistan. With fewer troops on the western frontier Pakistan army will also fail to comprehensively clamp down the militant threat.
Embroiled in fighting internal militancy with insufficient troops on the western front Pakistan army will never have the biting teeth to show to the Indians on the eastern frontier. From Pakistan point of view rising escalation on the LOC may just be a way to convey a message to the Indians that the government may be soft but the army and the ISI may have little option but to seek a strategic realignment. Given there is no progress on the Pakistan-India peace dialogue and the continuation of alleged Indian support to Balochistan insurgency the 540 miles LOC may yet again become too long and too porous for Pakistan army to prevent non- state actors from infiltrating across the border.
A military mind is boggled to think why would the Indians want Pakistan army to shift its attention, troops and resources from the western to eastern front? If the current violations on the LOC lead to a 2001 like military buildup the resulting chaos will only benefit the jihadists groups who regardless of any alleged State support will not only have extra motivation but also considerable room to maneuver and execute their evil designs.
The way forward is for both countries to stop looking at the violence and its escalation on LOC as a possible game changer in future Afghanistan. The two states may be gambling at this stage to seek ascendency in how situation on LOC may strategically secure their interests in another country but this is a dangerous game they play. ‘The most dangerous place in the world’ is what US President Bill Clinton called the LOC. Time for political leadership of the two countries to realize this. Maybe increase the frequency of military to military contact and if still peace does not prevail stop subcontracting what is happening there to their generals. Maybe start holding them accountable for the violations.
—The writer, a retd Lt Col, is a research scholar doing PhD in civil-military relations from Karachi University.