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Pakistan’s home-grown terror is its biggest enemy

It is a widely held belief among many Indian analysts and policy-makers that the Pakistan army will lose its very raison d’être if it stopped considering India the greatest threat.

analysis Updated: Sep 25, 2018 16:47 IST
Rezaul Hasan Laskar
Rezaul Hasan Laskar
Hindustan Times
A new report published by a US-based think tank that cited Pakistan army officers as perceiving home-grown terrorists as a greater threat than India was received with considerable interest(Hindustan Times)

A new report published by a US-based think tank that cited Pakistan army officers as perceiving home-grown terrorists as a greater threat than India was received with considerable interest.

However, similar views expressed by far more authoritative figures in the Pakistani military establishment and included in an official publication that provides insights into operational doctrines have not led to any change in the Pakistan army’s India-centric approach.

The report “The Quetta Experience”, published by the Wilson Centre, and written by a retired US army colonel, focuses on the views of Pakistani officers attending the Command and Staff College in Quetta, a prestigious institution that provides a yearlong course for hundreds of officers with about a decade of service.

The report is based largely on accounts given by US military officers attending the Quetta college of their interactions with their Pakistani counterparts — in other words, second hand information.

Through interviews with US officials who attended the college during 1977-2014, the report states that Pakistani officers have gone from describing India as the “number one threat” in the 1980s to calling for better relations with India. We never get a sense of what percentage of the Pakistani officers in an annual batch — the Quetta college states on its website that each course includes 365 Pakistani and about 40 foreign officers — hold these changing views on India.

But long before the publication of this report, former Pakistan army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, had several times spoken publicly about the country’s “internal threat” assuming a greater dimension than the external threat (read India). This was mostly at the time when Kayani’s troops were engaged in a bloody campaign to drive out Pakistani Taliban fighters who had set up a parallel administration in the Swat Valley of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

Addressing the passing out parade at the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul on October 25, 2008, Kayani talked about combating home-grown terrorism, which he described as an “internal threat that warrants immediate action”.

On July 3, 2009, while addressing a commissioning parade at the naval academy in Karachi, Kayani fine-tuned his force’s approach further by saying that while the “external threat to Pakistan continues to exist, it is the internal threat that merits the immediate attention” of the country.

However, during a formal interaction with Pakistani journalists in February 2010, Kayani famously asserted that the Pakistan army will remain an “India-centric” force as long as the Kashmir issue and differences on the sharing of river waters with India were not resolved. He also said the Pakistan army’s “frame of reference” for addressing issues related to Afghanistan included India-specific concerns.

Several years later, the 2013 edition of the Pakistan army’s Green Book, which provides insights into the force’s operational doctrines and internal debates, declared internal threats as the biggest security threat. For the first time, the Green Book included a chapter on “sub-conventional warfare” that referred to the threat posed by terrorist groups, mainly the ones operating near the Afghan border and in the country’s northwest.

The BBC cited an unnamed Pakistani officer as saying at the time that this was done to “prepare the army to fight this new threat”. Lt Gen Talat Masood, a respected defence analyst, had said this was the first time the army had admitted the real threat was internal and not emanating from India.

Just five years later, the Pakistan army is back to where it has always been — eyeing India as the number one threat and with a majority of its troops arrayed along the eastern borders. There has even been talk of avenging the blood spilt along the Line of Control (LoC) even after the two militaries agreed to adhere to the 2003 ceasefire along the frontiers in Kashmir.

It is a widely held belief among many Indian analysts and policy-makers that the Pakistan army would lose its very raison d’être if it stopped considering India the greatest threat.

All of this brings to mind an off-the-record interaction between a group of Indian journalists and senior Pakistan army officers at a hotel in Rawalpindi in April 2011. The journalists kept grilling the officers about action being taken against the Lashkar-e-Taiba and other anti-India groups but most of the officers were evasive. Finally, a two-star general replied by comparing action against the LeT and similar groups to a large ship executing a turn. “It takes some time,” he said.

Based on the evidence so far, that ship still seems to be turning.

rezaul.laskar@htlive.com

First Published: Sep 25, 2018 16:40 IST