Pakistan’s – Achilles Heel

The legend of Achilles has it that his mother Thetis dipped him into the river Styx in order to make him invincible. The water, however, didn’t cover his heel and an arrow wound to his heel later killed him.

Pakistan, in comparison, has multitude vulnerabilities, primarily as a result of Pakistan fauj’s “strategic culture stemming from pathological geopolitics infused with a Salafi jihadist ideology, suffused by paranoia and neurosis” as recently observed by Col. Robert Cassidy, Ph.D., U.S. Army. And while the vulnerabilities extend to include socio-ethno-religious spheres of public life, and wreck havoc to its national fabric – the Pakistan fauj with its control over governance, foreign-security policy, infusion of political Islam and NGO/media bullying has skillfully managed the national narrative to its favour.

Recently, Prime Minster Modi, in his address to the Nation on the 70th Independence Day, for the first time in history of India spoke about suppression and persecution of people in Balochistan by Pakistan. And while there is great truth that Pakistani government and its various agencies have treated ethnic Baloch unfairly and repressively, since the forceful annexation of Kalat by Pakistan in 1947. And continues to exploit the mineral rich region for the benefit of rest of Pakistan & primarily Panjab – for example, in Saindak copper mine, the Pakistani and Chinese central governments will take 50% and 48% of the proceeds, leaving 2% for the province. Similarly, Balochistan is also gas rich but only 17% of the gas produced is consumed in Balochistan while the rest is consumed in other parts of Pakistan, feeding into the alienation belief of ethnic Baloch (Reference: International Crisis Group, 2006) – but it is equally true that both Pakistan and India understand the limitation of Baloch card. Unlike Bangladesh, which had the advantage of border with India and population, Baloch on the other hand are merely 3.5% of overall Pakistani ethnicities (approx. 6million) and as well, limited by their lack of border with India.

Even assuming entire Baloch rise up in Balochistan against Pakistan, they are still only 55% of population share, and has been consistently reducing with the influx of Afghans and migration from other provinces of Pakistan.

Therefore, despite genuine grievances and repression, Baloch are unlikely to succeed in their quest for independence, even with assistance from India.

What then has PM Modi achieved by making a public statement on Balochistan, apart from ruffling few feathers in Rawalpindi & Islamabad, and infact giving Pakistan fauj legitimate ground to continue it’s ruthless suppression of Baloch right activists?

In my opinion, India, has calculated the benefit of using the Baloch card, and would possibly continue to use it at various national & international forums, with the limited objective to embarrass Pakistan and remove the potency of Kashmir card used by Pakistan.

And though using the Baloch card directly challenges Pakistan, perhaps also delegitimizes Baloch struggle; the subtext of PM Modi’s Baloch card is unmistakable: Get serious about terrorism, or expect strike at Pakistan’s Achilles heel – the Pashtuns.

Pashtuns are the second largest ethnic group after Panjabis, constituting approximately 16% of the population (30million) in Pakistan, and have a fraternal relationship with Pashtuns of Afghanistan, who account for another approx. 12million.  The rulers of Pakistan have been always wary about Pashtuns since prior to independence Pashtuns led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan aligned with Congress as they considered Muslim League pro-Colonialists. Further, right after the formation of Pakistan, Afghan–Pakistan relations rapidly nose-dived, after a military aircraft from the Pakistan Air Force bombed a village on the Afghan side of the Durand Line. In response, the Afghan government declared that it recognised “neither the imaginary Durand nor any similar line” and that all previous Durand Line agreements were void.

Kabul on its part until the late 60s, extended support to Pashtun nationalists inside Pakistan and flirted with the idea of “Pashtunistan.” After loss of East Pakistan, the Panjabi dominated polity remaining in Pakistan, grappling with insecurities, resorted to use of political Islam against Sardar Daud’s government to pre-empt repeat of another Bangladesh. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government created the “Afghan Cell” and assigned it a policy to empower Islamists in exile in Pakistan, and establishing a Pakistan “friendly” government in Kabul.

Against this backdrop, even prior to arrival of Soviets and initiation of US funded Afghan jihad, Pakistan had principally and individually supported Islamists, in their quest for elusive strategic depth. Over the years, Pakistan, led by its Panjab dominated fauj has treated and exploited Pashtuns as cannon fodder, including its own citizens on this side of Durand line. Pakistan fauj believes that Pashtuns are living on a geostrategic fault line and therefore takes a binary approach, which makes them insensible to the concerns of Pashtuns, something reflected in Human Development Index and Literacy rates, where Pashtuns rank poorly compared to Panjabis.

What you pursue, will pursue you:

Pakistan, fueled by fear of being sandwiched between archrival India and an independent Afghanistan, has pursued the policy of injecting toxic political Islam in Pashtun society, at the cost of national anarchy. And despite the price that Pakistan continues to bear, there are no signs of let down in it’s policy. Viewing everything through the prism of security, Pakistan fauj led by former General Raheel Sharif, missed the opportunity to mend ties with Afghanistan and scuttled President Ashraf Ghani’s peace overtures – possibly making it their costliest mistake of the present decade.

Pakistan fauj continues to believe and invest in Taliban project, and uses population-bordering Afghanistan to bring in a regime change in Kabul, in turn wrecking havoc within Pashtun society.

Since 2009, Pakistan fauj has diligently orchestrated the expansion of Haqqani network – the main actor of its Taliban project – in tribal Kurram Agency. Kurram is a region of special strategic importance to Taliban. In the past, it served as a launch pad for Afghan jihad. This expansion of Haqqani Network and like-minded terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda & LeT is having troubling consequences for security and stability, not just in eastern Afghanistan but also in Pashtun dominated Kurram.

Kurram has a mix of Shia-Sunni Pashtun population, with the upper Kurram, bordering Afghanistan, dominated by Shias. Backed by Pakistan fauj, the Haqqanis’ using violence has masterfully created irreparable division between the two communities. It is estimated that, the violence had left over 2000 dead and 3500 wounded. But more importantly giving Haqqani the leverage to mediate in peace talks between the communities, resulting in Shia agreeing to provide safe house/ passage for Haqqani to operate inside Kurram.

In pursuit of the elusive strategic depth, Pakistan has alienated Pashtuns on either side of Durand line, which is now open to manipulations by foreign powers, including India.

Prime Minister Modi gave an example of its possibility and potency very recently when Pakistan witnessed its worst terrorist attacks of this year, starting from Parachinar (Kurram) to Lahore to Sehwan (Sindh). While the attacks are claimed by various factions and off shoot of Taliban project, from a geopolitics observational stand point, it is obvious the attacks were in response to former Gen Raheel Sharif’s authorized rail network attacks in India. What followed the attacks was along expected lines, especially for India – as Pakistani state sensing loss of control for Haqqanis in Shia dominated (Parachinar) Kurram responded with witch-hunt and stereotyping of Pashtuns, who essentially are both victims and pawns in this rivalry.

Pakistani states unimaginative and repressive approach to dealing with terrorism, as well as continued pursuit of Taliban project has ruptured and widened the Pashtun vs Panjabi divide. Pakistan faces existential crisis, internally, specifically because of its own policies and relatively because India is both able and now with PM Modi at helm, willing to payback Pakistan in the same coin. And with no visible change in Pakistan’s policy towards terrorism, the question, therefore is not who and how, it is rather when – will India irrevocably decide to strike at Pakistan’s Achilles heel.

The writer wants to remain anonymous but prefers to go with @GernailSaheb on twitter.

The Afghan Tribune | Anonymous | Published: July 26, 2017, 04:5o PM

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