In Pakistan, there are three distinct categories of militants: the Afghanistan-focused Pashtun militants; the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants; and foreign terrorists including the Arab militants of al-Qaeda, the Uzbek insurgents of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Uighur rebels of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The foreign, transnational terrorists number only in a few hundreds and are hence inconsequential.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is mainly comprised of Pashtun militants, carries out bombings against Pakistan’s state apparatus. The ethnic factor is critical here. Although TTP likes to couch its rhetoric in religious terms, but it is the difference of ethnicity and language that enables it to recruit Pashtun tribesmen who are willing to carry out subversive activities against the Punjabi-dominated state apparatus, while the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants have by and large remained loyal to their patrons in the security agencies of Pakistan.
Although Pakistan’s security establishment has been willing to conduct military operations against the TTP militants which are deemed a security threat to Pakistan’s state apparatus, but as far as the Kashmir-centered Punjabi militants, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Afghanistan-focused Quetta Shura Taliban, including the Haqqani network, are concerned, they are still enjoying impunity because such militant groups are regarded as ‘strategic assets’ by the security establishment.
For the half of its 70-year-long history, Pakistan was directly ruled by the army, and for the remaining half, the security establishment kept dictating Pakistan’s foreign and security policy from behind the scenes. The outcome of Ayub Khan’s first decade-long martial law from 1958 to 1969 was that Bengalis were marginalized and alienated to an extent that it led to the separation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971; during General Zia’s second decade-long martial law from 1977 to 1988, Pakistan’s military trained and armed its own worst nemesis, the Afghan and Kashmiri jihadists; and during General Musharraf’s third martial law from 1999 to 2008, Pakistan’s security establishment made a volte-face under Washington’s pressure and declared a war against the Pashtun militants that ignited the fire of insurgency in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
Although most political commentators in Pakistan nowadays hold an Islamist general, Zia-ul-Haq, responsible for the jihadist militancy in the tribal areas; however, it would be erroneous to assume that nurturing militancy in Pakistan was the doing of an individual scapegoat named Zia; all the army chiefs after Zia’s assassination in 1988, including Aslam Beg, Asif Nawaz, Waheed Kakar, Jahangir Karamat and right up to General Musharraf, upheld the same military doctrine of using jihadist proxies to destabilize the hostile neighboring countries, Afghanistan, India and Iran, throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
A strategic rethink in the Pakistan Army’s top brass took place only after the 9/11 terror attack, when Richard Armitage, the US Deputy Secretary of State during the Bush administration, threatened General Musharraf in so many words: “We will send you back to the Stone Age unless you stop supporting the Taliban.” Thus, deliberate promotion of Islamic radicalism and militancy in the region was not the doing of an individual general; rather, it has been a well-thought-out military doctrine of a rogue institution. The military mindset, training and institutional logic dictates a militarist and aggressive approach to foreign affairs and security-related matters. Therefore, as a matter of principle, military must be kept miles away from the top decision-making organs of the state.
Regarding Kashmir, the insurgency in Kashmir erupted in the fateful year of 1984 of the Orwellian-fame when the Indian Armed Forces surreptitiously occupied the whole of Siachen glacier, including the un-demarcated Pakistani portion. Now, we must keep the context in mind: those were the heydays of the Cold War and the Pakistan Army’s proxies, the Afghan so-called ‘mujahideen’ (freedom fighters), were winning battle after battle against the Soviet Red Army, and the morale of the Pakistan Army’s top brass was touching the sky.
Moreover, Pakistan’s security establishment also wanted to inflict damage to the Indian Armed Forces to exact revenge for the dismemberment of Pakistan at the hands of India during the Bangladesh War of 1971, when India took 90,000 Pakistani soldiers as prisoners of war. All the military’s top brass had to do was to divert a fraction of their Afghan jihadist proxies towards Kashmir to ignite the fire of insurgency in Kashmir. Pakistan’s security agencies began sending jihadists experienced in the Afghan guerilla warfare across the border to the Indian-administered Kashmir in the late 1980s; and by the early 1990s, the Islamist insurgency engulfed the whole of Kashmir region.
Finally, after losing tens of thousands of lives to terror attacks during the last decade, an across the board consensus has developed among Pakistan’s mainstream political parties that the policy of nurturing militants against regional adversaries has backfired on Pakistan and it risks facing international isolation due to the belligerent policies of Pakistan’s security establishment. Not only Washington but Pakistan’s ‘all-weather ally’ China, which plans to invest $62 billion in Pakistan via its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, has also made its reservations public regarding Pakistan’s continued support to jihadist groups.
Thus, excluding a handful of far-right Islamist political parties that are funded by the Gulf’s petro-dollars and historically garner less than 10% votes of Pakistan’s electorate, all the civilian political forces are in favor of turning a new leaf in Pakistan’s checkered political history by endorsing the policy of an indiscriminate crackdown on militant outfits operating in Pakistan. But Pakistan’s military establishment jealously guards its traditional domain, the security and foreign policy of Pakistan, and still maintains a distinction between the so-called ‘good and bad Taliban.’
Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and Middle East regions, neocolonialism and petro-imperialism.