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Geopolitical faultlines


By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, September 13, 2013


There are three types of faultlines in South Asia - the fractures resulting from the movement of tectonic plates (as shown by the September 24 earthquake), the geopolitical differences that have kept Islamabad and New Delhi in a perpetual state of rivalry, and deprivation, with over half a billion people living below the poverty line in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh together.

The latter expresses itself in the form of various insurgencies and militant movements in all three countries - the Chakma tribes in Chittagong Hills, some 30 armed insurgencies that sweep across India (reflecting an acute sense of alienation of the people involved and sustained mainly by failure to attend to their grievances and human rights violations by the government), and the various shades of militancy in Pakistan (almost all disguised as Taliban, pretending to be working for a socio-economically just society, driven by Islamic Sharia).

Geopolitical faultlines and state interests in certain cross-border groups also aid these militant movements, for example the alleged Indian support for the Bangladeshi tribes and for Baloch insurgents in Pakistan, and the ISI's nexus with major Afghan Taliban groups and its support for Kashmir militancy since 1988. These movements also exploit internal faultlines, such as governance weaknesses, economic inequalities and social injustices.

Pakistan's faultline begins in Kashmir, meanders via the Himalayas and the Karakoram through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and branches off to Kabul and Kandahar via Torkham and Chaman. It is a deadly triangular faultline largely caused by India's paranoia and essentially rooted in a megalomaniac and misplaced Islamist ethos. The anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan provided the crooked General Ziaul Haq with the justification for peddling "jihad" in Afghanistan and eventually in Kashmir for "wresting Kashmir from India in the name of support for the right of self-determination."

Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), the Haqqani Network, and Mullah Omar's Taliban are all inseparable elements of this jihadist ethos that has been the key ingredient of the insurgency in Indian Kashmir. The Kashmir Jihad Council, consisting of 16 outfits, was the major instrument of this insurgency, and operated with impunity for over a decade.

The Indian reaction should therefore not surprise us at all. The latest revelation that former Indian army chief General VK Singh created a Technical Services Division (TSD) for covert operations in Pakistan - going after the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai terrorist attacks and Jamaatud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed. A recent Hindustan Times report chronicled this venture, and quoted a former TSD officer as saying: "Our main task was to combat the rising trend of state-sponsored terrorism by the ISI, and we had developed contacts across the Line of Control in a bid to infiltrate Hafiz Saeed's inner circle."

Given the history of mutual mistrust, hostility and cross-border covert operations between Islamabad and New Delhi, one can safely assume that Gen Singh's TSD reflects only a small aspect of India's possible involvement in Pakistan. 

If the US CIA had been running alleged espionage networks through development and private security contractors (such as Raymond Davis), why wouldn't India do the same to map, profile and counter India-focused groups such as LeT or JeM?

In his Brookings essay "A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India" (June 25, 2013), British historian William Dalrymple acknowledges this inter-play of state interests as a triangular proxy war between India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The hostility between India and Pakistan lies at the heart of the current war in Afghanistan. "At the moment, Afghanistan is all [Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani] thinks about and all he wants to talk about. It's all he gets briefed about and it's his primary focus of attention. There is an Indo-Pak proxy war, and it's going on right now."

These proxy wars threaten the Afghan peace process and have spelt disaster for the people of India and Pakistan, depriving them of clean drinking water, food and jobs. At the same time, these deprivations have fuelled intolerance and stoked resentment among the poor.

The spin-off of these policies has been debilitating for the socio-political fabric of Pakistan. The deadly twin suicide bombings at a Church in Peshawar on September 22 are the latest manifestation of this. While we bemoan victims of religiously-wrapped political terrorism, we must also ponder the havoc this notion of national security and "jihad" has played with the Pakistani society, with 25 million children either out of school or unable to attend school, sinking investments, a stagnating economy and raging terrorism.

Religious intolerance and militancy have subsumed vast segments of the society, not only in Pakistan but across South Asia and in parts of the Muslim world.

Unless the security establishments in the region disengage, militancy, intolerance, and social unrest will continue to hurt South Asia.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk