Global Terrorism News

The Truth About Pakistan’s Peace Proposition

Tensions between India and Pakistan have persisted for decades, but in January 2023, Pakistan suddenly expressed its desire to begin peace talks. However, many Indians have doubts about the sincerity of this alleged olive branch.
The Truth About Pakistan’s Peace Proposition

Karachi, Pakistan, November 2022, Pakistan prime minister Shehbaz Sharif in a meeting © Shag 7799 /

March 09, 2023 01:49 EDT

In a recent interview, Shehbaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, expressed his desire to make peace with India. Sharif made great efforts to portray Pakistan as a harbinger of peace and stability, stating that he wants “to alleviate poverty, achieve prosperity and provide education, health facilities and employment to our people, and not waste our energy on bombs and ammunition.” 

Sharif’s statements sparked a plethora of heated debates among the media and the Indian academic community regarding this alleged “olive branch” from Pakistan. However, given Pakistan’s volatile history, India should remain wary of such grandiose statements. 

The Birth of Terrorism 

The radicalization of Islam in Pakistan due to the open preaching of extremist ideologies has made peace extremely difficult. The number of madrassas have grown consistently in Pakistan. Even the 9/11 Commission, formed in the aftermath of the brutal attack perpetrated by Al-Qaeda, recognizes madrassas as “a particular concern”. However, successive governments in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, have failed to curb this kind of dangerous religious indoctrination.  

Pakistan, just like India, has a demographic dividendwith 64% of the population below 30 years of age. However, when the madrassas teachIslamic texts such as hadith, tafsir and fiqh with puritanical interpretation, they turn demographic dividend into a demographic disaster. The majority of the madrassas in Pakistan are Sunni Deobandi, who trace their origins to the fall of  Mughal Empire, after the first revolt of Indian independence in 1857. 

The Darul Uloom Deoband seminary, founded in 1866, is the headquarters for Sunni Deobandi belief. It is situated in the western part of the densely populated Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, in the town called Deoband. The Deobandi beliefs have been a source of controversy due to their alleged links to some notoriously extremist organizations. The Taliban, an extremist group founded by Mullah Mohammad Omar, also derives its ideological beliefs from the Sunni Deobandi school of thought. 

Although the international community has failed to agree on a singular definition for terrorism, several scholars have detected underlying themes. American Historian Walter Langueur wrote in 2000, “Nationalism is the core essence of religious terrorism and that, as such, can be categorized as ‘Right-wing Terrorism’.” He connected the obfuscated and ambiguous boundaries separating nationalism and religious terrorism. Other scholars attribute the fear tactics surrounding the Islamic belief in the afterlife to the successful recruitment of more men to carry out terrorism. The term perpetuated by terrorist leaders to promote the war on non-Muslims is ‘jihad’ or ‘holy war’.

UN-designated terrorist Masood Azhar has evoked the same extremist sentiments, calling his followers to, “Marry for jihad, give birth for jihad and earn money only for jihad till the cruelty of America and India ends”. The Islamic State (IS) uses similar methods to recruit more people to wage the global jihad. These religious dictations have been omnipresent in all conflicts, and are consistently used to recruit fighters for terrorism. 

There exists a misplaced perception among historians that the  implementation of nationalism-based religious terrorism was first witnessed in Afghanistan following the Soviet Union’s invasion of 1979. However, a close reading of contemporary conflicts proves otherwise. It was the then Indian state (now union territory) of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) which faced the initial brunt of religious terrorism.

Religiously-imbibed Insurgency

J&K first witnessed religious terrorism during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947-48, also known as the tribal invasion. Pakistan mobilized Pashtuns from frontier areas to capture J&K, including its capital, Srinagar. Pakistanis built the narrative for invasion around the theory that a Muslim majority region can’t be governed under any other religious interpretation. This extremist Islam interpretation is referred to as Dar al-Harb, or  “house of war.”

Dar al-Harb justifies and makes necessary the waging of Islamic holy wars, and the recapture of any territories which Islamic nations had historically controlled. This kind of extremism is the biggest roadblock preventing peace between Islamic and non-Islamic nations. Similarly, the later Indo-Pak war of 1965, code-named Operation Gibraltar, was a military strategy contingent on the expectation that following the invasion of Kashmir,  local Kashmiris would join Pakistani troops and  incite a rebellion against the Indian military. This sagacious plan combined nationalism and religious terrorism, a brew which the Pakistani president, Mohammed Ayub Khan, hoped would fuel a powerful revolt. 

When Khan’s risky hypothesis failed to ignite a revolutionary spark, the Pakistani military changed its approach to the capture of J&K. This novel approach included supporting the formation of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in 1976, a nationalist insurgent group that fought for Kashmir’s independence from both India and Pakistan. 

By backing the JKLF, Pakistan hoped to instigate violence from within Kashmir by radicalizing the youth. However, the JKLF initially failed to attract enough attention. However, several factors helped the JKLF gradually amass power. These factors included the increase in cross border infiltration, the development of more extremist madrassas in the area, and the unrest following the rigged elections of 1987.

The resulting insurgency destroyed the syncretic culture of the Kashmir Valley. In 1990, the peaceful minority group known as the Kashmiri Pandits, was forced from their homeland and became refugees overnight.. Since then, the environment in the Kashmir Valley has remained tense, as Kashmiri Pandits continue to face attacks from radical forces. Most recently, in February 2023, a Kashmiri Pandit was shot dead by terrorists in Pulwama.

On most occasions, these attacks have been led and carried out by local Kashmiri citizens. This antipathy towards Kashmiri Pandits is a result of indoctrination by local clerics, as well as Pakistan’s manipulative meddling in an effort to alter the demographics of J&K to suit its irredentist territorial claims.

The situation across the Line of Control (LOC) is similar, as in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). As stated previously, many mainstream clerics are spreading ideas of religious terrorism and nationalism in J&K.These clerics, in most cases, enjoy the support of the Pakistani military in return for the clerics’ continued indoctrination of much-needed nationalist fighters to wage religious war in both Kashmir and Afghanistan. Both Shia and Sunni Muslim clerics have participated in this military indoctrination, particularly when it comes to radicalizing the youth.

Why Pakistan Needs Afghanistan

While the Pakistani government denies its support for the Taliban, many scholars are convinced that the Taliban began as a special project for the Pakistani military to achieve strategic depth in Afghanistan. When the US finally withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021, a large number of both Pakistanis and Afghans celebrated.The then Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief for Pakistan, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, visited Kabul in September 2021 to set the tone for future Pakistan-Taliban engagement. 

Hameed played an active role in the reconciliation of the Haqqani and Baradar groups, the two leading factions of the Taliban’s internal power structure. His support was also instrumental in defeating the resistance groups operating out of Panjshir Valley. These groups, known as the National Resistance Front (NFR), operate under the command of Amrullah Saleh, former intelligence chief and vice president of Afghanistan. Also commanding the NFR is Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the former commander of the Northern Alliance who the Taliban assassinated back in 2001. The younger Massoud continues to fight against Taliban takeover in his late father’s footsteps, alongside Saleh, who is the current “acting president” of Afghanistan.   Both Saleh and Massoud have allegedly fled to Tajikistan.

Pakistan’s military considers geopolitics to be a zero-sum game, and believes that gaining so-called ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan is critical to its goal of confrontingIndia. This approach has led to a decline in Pakistan’s military reputation, as Pakistanis begin to point to the armed forces as a source of many economic and social issues. Excessive military funding has also contributed to the destitution across Pakistan, particularly in the port city of Gwadar, where citizens have lost access to “clean water and other basic facilities”. Pakistan has also contemplated the impacts of the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan for a long time. To secure its interests in such a strategic space, it has formed a multi-pronged strategy. 

Pakistan’s multi-pronged strategy rests on two intertwined pillars. The first pillar encompasses    the advantages to obtaining control of Afghanistan. By dominating the Afghan geopolitical space, Pakistan intends to divert its resources from frontier areas to J&K. Using Afghan resources and manpower, Pakistan can bolster its campaign for control of the region. This strategic alignment would only heighten tensions betweenIndia and Pakistan, and put pressure on India to grant concessions on J&K. 

The second pillar of Pakistan’s ruthless desire to dominate Afghanistan arises from its economic compulsions. Aligning with Afghanistan would give Pakistan control of the key entry point into the Mackinder Heartland and the economic opportunities of Eastern Europe.  For control of J&K and access to the Heartland, Pakistan would “wage a war for 1,000 years” according to former Pakistani prime ministerZulfikar Ali Bhutto,   in his speech to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) back in 1965.  After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, several oil companies explored the possibility of building an oil and gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to India, via Afghanistan and Pakistan (TAPI). However, the instability in Afghanistan has brought this plan to a halt. If Pakistan gains viable control over Afghanistan, the TAPI pipeline could become a reality, bringing in billions of petrodollars to Pakistan’s depleted state coffers.

Insurgency and Economic Woes

The Taliban has brought medievalism into Afghanistan, has been funded, supported, and sheltered by the Pakistani state for decades. Despite Pakistan’s aid,, the Taliban havealways maintained that they are fighting ‘to free their land from foreign occupation’, including potential occupation by Pakistan. The Taliban refuse to accept the Durand line as a border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Instead, it claims the western parts of Pakistan for Afghanistan, including the historic city of Peshawar, for historical and demographic reasons. 

Now, the Taliban has completely turned against Pakistan, increasing support to an insurgent group known as the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) which seeks to overthrow the “unIslamic” Pakistani government.  Once the government has been dismantled, the TTP hopes to make Pakistan its headquarters for future jihadi operations, an objective first championed by the now assassinated Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri.

In this quest to ‘Islamize’ Pakistan, the TTP has vociferously attacked military infrastructure belonging to Pakistani police and military. The group has also taken the responsibility for the suicide bombing in the Shia Mosque of Peshawar, which killed more than 100 Pakistani citizens. Currently, TTP militants are infiltrating Pakistan in massive numbers, due to the nation’s porous borders and presence of Pashtuns, with whom many members of the TTP share an ethnic background. 

In addition to Pakistan’s fight against insurgency, the nation is also drowning in debt. Pakistan has already defaulted on several debt payment promises, but was temporarily bailed out using funds from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In a recent report, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) says that its total liquid forex reserves, as of 24 February, stand at US $9.267 billion while the net forex reserves are only US $3.814 billion, barely sufficient to ensure three weeks of imports. 

This situation is turning worse with forex reserves tanking further with each passing day. The same report says that at the end of fiscal year 2021, the net reserves were US $17.298 billion. These statistics show that while the world is recovering from the economic perils of COVID-19, Pakistan is falling deeper into the abyss. Poor economic management has sent the national rupee into a freefall as inflation rates skyrocket. Even more condemning were the devastating floods which plagued nearly 15 million Pakistanis, many of whom still do not have access to clean water.Food and water insecurity combined with civil unrest results in the perfect breeding ground jihadi recruits, which will only bring more instability and bloodshed to Pakistan and the region as a whole. 

US Involvement

During the Cold War, Pakistan was a key state for the US, acting as a lackey to help contain the Soviet Union while receiving billions in military aid from the western superpower. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 made Pakistan even more critical to the US and its “war on terror.” Even today, the US describes Pakistan as important for “Afghanistan’s stabilization.”  

In a recent statement by US State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, the US supported potential peace negotiations between India and Pakistan. However, if peace is desired by all then how come some of the most dreaded terror organizations are operating in the Subcontinent? Why hasn’t the US  sanctioned Pakistan, for its non functioning democracy and for funding and sustaining several terror organizations, while Myanmar, another dictatorship to India’s East, is sanctioned? The answer signifies that interests triumph over values. Myanmar does not sit on the connecting lines to the heartland while Pakistan does. The strategic location of Pakistan makes it much more ‘important’, as the war in Afghanistan demonstrated. 

On several occasions, former US president Donald Trump expressed deep criticism for America’s relationship with Pakistan, before going back on his campaign promise to end the war in Afghanistan once and for all. However, since President Joe Biden took office in 2021, the US has revived its efforts to find common ground with Pakistan and build a modern partnership. Biden even provided Pakistan with $450 million in aviation equipment to help fortify the Pakistani military in its fight against terrorism. However, Biden’s goodwill towards Pakistan was not well received by those in India, who still consider Pakistan to be an imminent threat.

Even more alarming to India, in October 2022, Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited the US. Secretary of defense Lloyd J. Austin III welcomed Bajwa to the Pentagon and ceremoniously escorted the general through an honor cordon, a bestowal conventionally reserved for the highest-ranking US officials. 

Many foreign leaders visit the US, but very few receive the hospitality provided to Bajwa. Despite Bajwa’s grand welcome, both nations remained tight-lipped over the agenda of discussion and divulged little to the public. The Department of Defense broadly summarized the encounter, stating that “discussions focused on opportunities to address key mutual defense interests”. 

American citizens, South Asians, and the world at large deserve to know what was actually discussed between the two military officers. Was India a topic of discussion? How do the US and Pakistan plan on containing  the Taliban? These unanswered questions are pertinent to both regional and international security.

Why India Should Not Trust Pakistan

There are three main reasons why India should be dubious of Pakistan’s call for peace.

First, providing aid to Pakistan in the past has made no impact on its geopolitical aim. Pakistan continues to harbor UN-designated terrorists like Hafiz Saeed, Maulana Masood Azhar and Dawood Ibrahim.  Militants of the Jaish-e- Mohammad, Lashkar-e-toiba, and around 81 other proscribed terrorist groups still currently operate in Pakistan. The madrassas continue to radicalize the young, filling the vessels of their minds with hatred and bigotry. Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to have clandestine relations with China, allowing Chinese officials and military officers to operate in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Balochistan.

Second, the Pakistani government is in a precarious position as deep internal division and civil unrest continue to plague the nation. India cannot rely on the promises of the Pakistani government when so many different separatist groups are still actively trying to dismantle it.

While the Pakistani  military is doing everything it can to ensure the territorial integrity of Pakistan, overstretching, the ambiguity of Pakistan’s national interests and overall political instability are making it very difficult to manage.

Third, at a time when countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are modernizing and incorporating more tolerant values, Pakistan is falling back into medievalism. The destruction of religious places belonging to Ahmadiyyas, a tolerant Muslim sect, are becoming commonplace  in “modern” Pakistan. 

Since the partition of India and its birth as an independent nation, Pakistan has used ‘jihad’ to achieve foreign policy objectives. Since the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani military has succumbed to religious indoctrination and supported religious wars in J&K and Afghanistan. Pakistani media, police and other governmental agencies have also become strongholds of the ‘mullah’ and militantism.

India would be taking a colossal risk if it engages in peace agreements with radioactive Pakistan. Instead, India should focus on its own economic growth and development, rather than investing time and resources in a nation that ultimately appears to be unwilling to reform.

If Pakistan truly desires peace with India, then it should begin by taking concrete actions against terrorism on the ground. A good place to start would be with the destruction of the terrorist launch pads that are spreading across the LOC. Before any real negotiations can begin, both India and Pakistan should take heed of this great proverb: Actions speak louder than words.

[Hannah Gage edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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