On January 2, 2016, terrorists attacked an Indian Air Force at Pathankot, in the northern Indian state of Punjab resulting in the deaths of seven soldiers and six terrorists. The next day terrorists attacked the Indian consulate in Mazar e Sharif, in northern Afghanistan. The Pathankot and Mazar e Sharif attacks demonstrate that the worldview of the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment has not changed with respect to India as the existential threat and jihad as the lever of foreign policy.
From New Delhi’s perspective every step forward in India-Pakistan relations results, within a short period of time, with a stab in the back that harms relations between the two countries.
In February 1999 Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee undertook his famous bus yatra, where he along with his top officials, crossed the border into Pakistan and signed the Lahore declaration with his counterpart Nawaz Sharif. Within a few months the Kargil conflict occurred when the Pakistani army and affiliated jihadis intruded on the Indian side of the Line of Control near Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian military launched a campaign to repel this intrusion.
In July 2001 Prime Minister Vajpayee invited then Pakistani military dictator and President Pervez Musharraf to India to re-start the peace process between the two countries at the Agra Summit. In October 2001 there was an attack by jihadis on the Jammu and Kashmir assembly which resulted in 29 deaths and in December 2001 a terror attack on the Indian Parliament in which 12 people were killed and 22 injured
In September 2008 soon after taking over as Pakistan’s civilian President, Asif Ali Zardari, in an interview to an Indian journalist stated that in his view, India was not the biggest threat to Pakistan. On November 26, 2008 Mumbai, India’s financial capital, was struck with a series of terror attacks that resulted in 164 deaths and 308 injured.
On December 25, 2015, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook a gamble by a surprise visit to Lahore to meet his counterpart Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and restart the peace process. On January 2, 2016, jihadis attacked an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, Punjab. The United Jihad Council, an umbrella group of jihadi organizations located in Pakistan, has claimed responsibility. However, most analysts agree that the group behind the attack is Jaish e Mohammad, founded by Maulana Masood Azhar, one of the three jihadis freed by India after the 1999 Kandahar airplane hijacking when an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Delhi was hijacked to Kandahar by jihadis demanding the release of their associates.
Pakistan’s founding generation believed that India and Indian leaders had not accepted the creation of Pakistan and would always try to undo Partition. India was thus seen as the existential threat to Pakistan and as Ambassador Husain Haqqani notes in his seminal work Pakistan Between Mosque and Military a national security state was created around this belief.
For the last six decades, Pakistan’s foreign and security policy has been centered on seeking parity with India. Conventional military parity has been impossible with India, a much larger and economically more powerful neighbor. So, jihad has been used as a lever of foreign and security policy with the aim being to create enough internal domestic problems so that India’s focus is internal. Pakistan’s support of Jihadis in Afghanistan and India is tied to its belief that these proxies will further Pakistan’s foreign and security policy of securing parity with India and preventing Indian influence over Afghanistan.
For decades, as the only American ally in South Asia, Pakistan was able to convince Washington to look the other way when it came to jihad and terrorism in the region. From the 1990s onwards when ties between New Delhi and Washington became closer American administrations started to apply pressure on Pakistan.
Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment then changed its tactics and as demonstrated in two excellent books on US-Pakistan relations — one by Ambassadors Teresita and Howard Schaffer How Pakistan negotiates with the US and other by Ambassador Husain Haqqani Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding — what we see is a series of Pakistani army chiefs from Musharraf to Raheel Sharif who are able to convince Washington of their desire to change Pakistan’s policies.
Right from the 1950s, Washington has often been seduced into believing that if a leader speaks English, dresses in a suit (civilian or military) and former American Ambassador to India Chester Bowles wrote in his diary “knows the difference between an olive or an onion in a martini” they are the right person to deal with. Pakistan’s army chiefs have fallen in this category starting with General Muhammad Ayub Khan right down to General Raheel Sharif.
The reality however, is that Pakistan is unwilling to change its policy on the use of jihadi groups and their ideology even as it tries to reassure the international community that it is ready for a drastic transformation. All it seeks to do is to speak the right words and use the right body language and implement enough cosmetic changes that will convince the U.S. that Pakistan is serious about giving up its decades old sponsorship of terrorism.
After 9/11, then military dictator General Musharraf was able to convince Washington that he was going to eliminate all terrorist groups but all he did was take action against some foreign militants while allowing those he referred to as freedom fighters – those fighting in Afghanistan and Kashmir – to maintain their safe havens. Musharraf admitted recently that his government continued to support Afghan Taliban even after ostensibly abandoning them at Washington’s behest, to ‘counter India’s influence’ in Afghanistan. In a recent interview Musharraf asserted that the jihadis fighting in Kashmir were freedom fighters and not terrorists.
In the last year the Pakistani military has taken action against some jihadi groups but only those that attack the Pakistani state, which means some elements of the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan. No action has been taken against groups like the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and the India focused groups like Lashkar e Taiba (http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/let.html) and Jaish e Mohammad (http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/jem.html) that attack Pakistan’s neighbors, Afghanistan and India.
Jaish e Muhammad is one of the two main jihadi groups focused on India that are favored by the Pakistani military, the other being Lashkar e Taiba, that was responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. For now, however, it looks like Lashkar has been asked to lay low primarily because of sustained international pressure on Pakistan to act against Lashkar e Taiba, especially from the United States. This may be the reason why Jaish, which has been inactive for a number of years, now, has been suddenly reactivated in the last few months.
In November 2014, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz asked “Why should Pakistan target those who do not pose any threat to its security. Some of them are a threat to Pakistan, while others pose no threat to Pakistan’s security. Why should we antagonize them all?”
In November 2015, General Raheel Sharif was feted on his second trip to the United States and his words that Pakistan was no longer differentiating between jihadi groups were taken at face value. This time again Washington could either fall for Pakistan’s narrative, as it has often done in the past, or accept the reality that Pakistan became its ally only to advance its rivalry with India.
Pakistan’s military sees India as the main threat, as always, while seeking American arms on the pretext of fighting communism or terrorism. There has been no change in the narrative of the Pakistani security apparatus. What has grown in the last few years is the size of the security establishment’s propaganda machinery. Today the largest wing of Pakistan’s intelligence services, the Inter Services Intelligence Division or ISI, is its media wing called ISPR or Inter Services Public Relations. A colonel led at one time ISPR, today it is headed by a Lieutenant General.
Pakistan’s military intelligence establishment believes it can still play the games of yesteryears and be a critical player in its region and beyond. And it has built a massive propaganda machine that helps it sustain that belief within Pakistan and use Pakistani media as the echo chamber to propagate the message internationally.
There has been no introspection over the Pakistani national narrative that allows the country to violate all international norms as long as Pakistan can be seen by the world as India’s equal. Instead of accepting fresh promises from people who have repeatedly broken each one of the earlier ones, maybe the United States needs to understand that Pakistan’s security establishment will continue to use terrorism as long as it believes Washington will keep buying its promises of change.