IPCS Special Commentary

From Jalalabad to LoC: Interpreting Pakistan Military’s Objectives behind the Offensive

23 Aug, 2013    ·   4098

D. Suba Chandran links the attacks in Jalalabad and LoC in explaining Pakistan's motivations 

Suddenly there is an offensive against India by Pakistan’s military – both on its eastern and western fronts. If the suicide attack on the Indian embassy across the Durand Line, using its proxy came as a warning against India, subsequent attacks along the Line of Control has confirmed – that there could be a larger design in action by the military in Pakistan and the attacks against India across the Durand  and along the LoC is a strategy.
Both the attacks against India (Jalalabad and LoC) and the primary objectives need to be investigated and understood in the larger context, and not just responding to Pakistan on an ad hoc basis based on a jingoistic media and unruly opposition aiming to score cheap points at the Parliament. The Indian response – political and military has to be measured, keeping in mind long term interests of the country, and the larger designs of Pakistan, especially its military vis-a-vis India, and its non-military arms – the Lashkar and the Taliban.

At the outset, it is perhaps essential to make a differentiation between Nawaz Sharif and the military, in terms of who is the primary factor behind the recent anti-Indian offensive. Though Nawaz Sharif may have been elected with a majority within Pakistan, when it comes to Afghanistan, US, China, Kashmir (and India), Nuclear Weapons and the non-State actors in Pakistan (from Hafiz Saeed to Dawood Ibrahim), the military and its ISI will call the actual shots. Neither the Parliament (with majority or otherwise) nor the judiciary (proactive and selective) in Pakistan have the powers and the reach to make any dent on military’s thinking, when it comes to the above issues. The much debated civil society and a ‘free’ media in Pakistan will be forced to fall in line with the thinking within the armed forces. Military in Pakistan has remained, and will remain the primary actor on the above issues.

The suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Jalalabad, though could not succeed in terms of breaching the security cordon, the objective is clear. The following questions are irrelevant, for they are obvious: Was Taliban behind it? Did Taliban carry the attack under the instructions from the ISI. This would not have happened within Islamabad nudging the Taliban; perhaps, a section within Pakistan would want to see this as an Indian and Afghan conspiracy!
Rather, what needs to be probed is: what are the objectives behind the attack on Indian embassy? Does this signal the strategy that Pakistan is likely to pursue vis-a-vis India in Afghanistan, using its proxy – the Haqqani network?
Pakistan’s Objectives: More the Same, and Perhaps Worse
While Pakistan’s larger objectives in Afghanistan have always been clear and well understood, there was a general belief, atleast within Pakistan, that it needs a revision. With the deadline in Afghanistan approaching for the American exit in December 2014, there has also been an expectation at the international level at the international levels, that the region should play a positive role in contributing to the Afghan stability before and after 2014.
What does the attack on the Indian consulate in Jalalabad signify, in terms of Pakistan’s approach? First, it clearly identifies, there is no shift in Pakistan’s strategy towards Afghanistan, despite the general call for a revision within its own strategic community. It appears, Pakistan would like to treat Afghanistan as its geographic backyard and strategic harem. There is unlikely to be any revision to Pakistan’s original vision of having Afghanistan as its strategic depth. 
Second, Pakistan does want India to be in Afghanistan. Period. The general perception is, why should India be in Afghanistan, especially when it does not share a boundary with the latter? This is a myopic view, that only country that shares border should have a closer relation with another. If that is the case, why should US be in Pakistan? Or, why Pakistan should be in Nepal and Sri Lanka? 
Of course, there will always be an excuse, projected as a fact that India is using Afghanistan to destabilize Pakistan, especially Balochistan and its Pashtun areas. Any objective analysis of Pakistan’s approach to the Pashtun and Baloch questions would reveal, they do not need any foreign intervention to make it worse. 
Though a section in India may believe in using Afghanistan as a base against Pakistan in Balochistan and KP, this view does not have widespread support within India. Nor would such a strategy help India achieve its long term interests in Afghanistan. India should focus all its efforts and resources within Afghanistan, and not attempt to waste any portion of it vis-a-vis Pakistan. India does not have to do anything in Balochistan; Islamabad’s strategies towards Balochistan, KP and FATA are damaging enough, that there is no need for any external intervention.
Third, and more importantly, Pakistan does not want India to be seen as a friend by Karzai’s administration and the larger Afghan nation.  Thanks to history and the people to people relations, the linkages between Afghanistan and India at the State and Society levels are absolutely positive and unparallel. Pakistan do not want this, for it would make Karzai and the Afghan people to look beyond Islamabad. Pakistan would prefer Afghanistan to be its satellite, and perhaps the unofficial fifth province, if not an extension of FATA.
India’s great strength in Afghanistan has been its ability to strike a right chord with the political elite and the larger nation. Unfortunately Pakistan does not have a good reputation in Afghanistan, despite hosting a huge refugee population. Pakistan also has incurred a huge economic and political cost due to its involvement in Afghanistan. Hence, Islamabad expects Afghanistan to be thankful and reliant on Pakistan.
Relationships between the neighbours in South Asia have always been less positive. In fact, this has been a regional curse; India is witnessing the same vis-a-vis Nepal and Sri Lanka. Pakistan is experiencing the same vis-a-vis Afghanistan. If India can live with Pakistani presence in Nepal and Sri Lanka, why cannot Islamabad live with an Indian presence in Afghanistan?
Finally, is there an understanding between the US and Pakistan on the latter’s role in Afghanistan? Though the attack followed immediately after the visit of Kerry to Pakistan, the period is too short to link the two. However, is Indian role in Afghanistan, an agenda in US-Pakistan strategic dialogue? How far will the US go to accommodate Pakistan’s concerns vis-a-vis India in Afghanistan, when the dialogue resumes? This question needs to be debated in detail.

While the attack on the Indian embassy in Jalalabad can be interpreted in simple terms – of Pakistan’s intention to keep India away from Afghanistan, its military’s objectives of the ongoing intrusions along the LoC seems to be a combination of internal, bilateral and external relations.
Though Nawaz Sharif was a product of the military and its ISI to serve a political purpose in the 1980s to keep Benazir Bhutto and her PPP away from the political architecture of Pakistan, in the late 1990s Nawaz Sharif and the military fell out following the Kargil War. In fact the differences between the two – military and the Prime Minister started much before the Kargil War, with the starting of bus service, composite dialogue and the back-channel diplomacy between Sharif and Vajpayee. 
The military in Pakistan will never allow an elected Prime Minister to define the agenda between India and Pakistan. For Nawaz Sharif, it is important that there is an independent political dialogue with India led by him and outside the purview of what his military chief wants. For him strong Indo-Pak relations, would perhaps strengthen his position vis-a-vis the military, by getting the approval of the people as well. The silent majority within the Pakistani civil society, given a “normal environment” would prefer a better Indo-Pak relations, as be the case in India.
For military, both cannot be acceptable. Can the military in Pakistan allow Nawaz Sharif to take the Indo-Pak relations forward, as he has mentioned during and immediately after the elections? More, importantly, can the military afford a “normal environment” in which the majority within Pakistan craving for a better Indo-Pak relations?
The intrusions along the LoC for Pakistan’s military serve two specific purposes within. First, it certainly vitiates the “environment” within Pakistan; neither Nawaz Sharif can have a free hand now in pursuing a positive agenda vis-a-vis India. Nor he will get the public support for better Indo-Pak relations. At least not now. Any reading of the debates within Pakistan would easily conclude the public mood is certainly not in favour of a positive Indo-Pak relations. Clearly, the military has served an important message to Nawaz Sharif, that they will remain the final authority when it comes to Indo-Pak relations. And this has also changed the nature of environment, in terms of general mood of the civil society within Pakistan. Majority consider that India is on a warpath and without restraint!
At the bilateral level, the intrusions also have served two purposes. First, it has clearly indicated the Indian leadership, who the real power is within Pakistan. Any debate within India on Pakistan clearly asks the vital question: whom should we speak to? And what is the point in engaging Sharif, if he will not be able to deliver? Second, the intrusions has also vitiated the atmosphere in India; the debates in the Parliament and the media is equally jingoistic and is not in favour of any Indo-Pak rapprochement. Why should India talk about a dialogue with Pakistan, when its military is violating the ceasefire, and killing our soldiers at will? This question is emotional and difficult to answer.
Finally, the above is an important question we need to find out. Is there a belief within the military that the international environment from Kabul to Beijing, and perhaps all the way up to Washington DC is in its favour? Perhaps.
As mentioned above, certainly the US needs Pakistan more now, than other way around. The inward looking Obama who wants to get out of Afghanistan as fast as he can, with minimum blood at the ground and body bags in the US. From the Doha process to Kerry’s visit few weeks earlier, one could easily sense that the Obama administration perceives Pakistan as a part of the American solution. The forthcoming visit of Hamid Karzai to Pakistan should also be a part of this exit strategy, pressurizing Kabul to work with Islamabad. The road map for the US in the Af-Pak region is clear: Abandon Afghanistan. Come what may, get out of the region before 2014.
Ironically, and fortunately for Pakistan, China’s larger strategy towards the region also fits very well with them. Fearing the American Pivot and the Rebalancing is essentially targeted against China, Beijing is trying to counter Washington’s initiatives. It is unfortunate, that New Delhi has been unable to convince Beijing that the Indo-US nuclear deal and the strategic partnership with the US is not against China. As a result, China has been following a strategy to contain India within South Asia. The recent border intrusions in Ladakh should be seen in this perspective. For Pakistan, especially the military, it fits very well to be a Chinese stooge in the region and help Beijing to contain India within the region. 
More importantly, if there is a flare up between India and Pakistan, is the US likely to come heavy on Islamabad or Rawalpindi, even if there is an open mis-adventure? Perhaps, the Pakistani military thinks the pressure will be more on India; else, they could blackmail the US with shifting the troops from the Durand Line to LoC. Even in the long run, perhaps the new thinking within the Pakistan military is, after 2014, Taliban will have a major role in Afghanistan, hence they can shift the military focus to the east.
Finally, perhaps there is also a belief that the Manmohan Singh government is at its weakest point and is unlikely to give a befitting reply. Perhaps the Pakistani military mind thinks: we have got the Indians trapped now! Return of the 1965 syndrome. 1971 as well. And also 1999.