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At the expense of its neighbour

india Updated: Jan 13, 2013 21:47 IST

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The spike in the Line of Control (LoC) confrontations experienced last year is being seen as evidence of a renewed assertiveness against India by the Pakistan military. The dangerous and ill-conceived manner in which the United States is attempting to end its military commitment in Afghanistan is presumed to be one source of this confidence. What seems counterfactual to any return of confidence are events taking place in Pakistan. Even as Islamabad and New Delhi spat fire over the killings that took place along the LoC, Pakistan experienced one of its own worst days of homegrown terror with four blasts across the country that have killed at least 120 Pakistanis. In addition, the country has continued to experience a sharp increase in drone attacks by the US against terrorist targets on Pakistani soil.

The four blasts were notable because they seem to have been the handiwork of the Tehreek-e-Taliban and its ally, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The latter has an almost single-minded objective of killing Shias and others who it feels do not conform to its ultra-orthodox Sunnism. Attacks on Pakistan’s Shia minority have now become commonplace. If congregations and processions are not attacked, the prominent Shias are assassinated on the streets or in their homes. After a brief lull a few years back, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has become increasingly active again. Tehreek-e-Taliban has also been spreading its tentacles further. For example, it is slowly muscling itself into Karachi and taking over many of the city’s criminal networks. Simultaneously, the US has stepped up its drone attacks as part of its preparations for leaving Afghanistan. The US plans to make drone usage the main plank of its anti-terrorism strategy after its troop presence withers away. While many Pakistanis would welcome the uptick in strikes as a welcome sign that the US is at last leaving, it is also a reminder of how unsettled and lawless the country’s western border remains — and the touchy relations that exist between Islamabad and Washington. Beyond this, there is the delicate state of Pakistan’s economy and the increasingly fractured nature of its polity as general elections approach.

The question is then why would a country with so many problems on its hands at home want to pick a fight with a neighbour who is roughly six times its size. The answer, unfortunately, lies in its men in uniform. Pakistan’s natural evolution as a nation has been arrested by its military who continue to promote and undermine democratic movements as they see fit. All of Pakistan’s experiments with militancy, many of which have come back to bite it as the recent blasts remind, have come from its army. Finally, it is the military that feels it must maintain a permanent state of hostility to India. The reason why the LoC becomes more violent even as Pakistan’s social fabric unravels should, therefore, be obvious. Both events provide the Pakistani military the legitimacy and unrivalled standing that it holds in that country — and all at the expense of Pakistan and its neighbourhood.