An Unfriendly Neighborhood, by Bakhtiar Qayyum
Pakistan is located at the nexus of the most volatile regions of South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. It provides the most strategic route to the Central Asia through Khyber Pass and the legendary Silk Route. These passages were used from ancient times by migrants and invaders from Central Asia to reach the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Pakistan has a 1046 kilometer coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south which had always attracted adventurers from the land-locked regions in central and north Asia to explore the unknown lands in the south. On the land Pakistan is bounded by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the north-east. Tajikistan lies further north, separated by the Wakhan Strip, which is part of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the region had always been the epicenter of conflicts among regional stake holders and world powers. It is perhaps the fault of our foreign relations or the pundits devising these policies embeds these cracks on purpose. We will try to shed some light on these fault lines or motives behind them if any.
When the British left the sub-continent after the creation of Pakistan and India as independent sovereign states in August 1947, it was expected that the issue of conflict between the Hindus and Muslims has been sorted out for ever. But in fact it served as the beginning of a new era of disputes, aggression and war between the two. Since then the two countries fought four wars and have been involved in numerous skirmishes and military standoffs. The Kashmir dispute had been the main center-point of all these conflicts with the exception of the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, which resulted in the secession of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Numerous attempts had since been made to improve the relations between the two countries but they all remained short of a permanent solution to core issue – the Kashmir dispute.
The non-resolving Kashmir issue is imbedded in the partition formula of 1947 given by the outgoing British rulers. At the time of partition the subcontinent also had 680 princely states, which were not directly governed by the British, but rather by an Indian ruler under a form of indirect rule such as suzerainty or paramountcy. According to the British plan for the partition of British India, all the 680 princely states were allowed to decide which of the two countries to join. With the exception of a few, most of the Muslim-majority princely-states acceded to Pakistan while most of the Hindu-majority princely states joined India. However, the decisions of some of the princely-states were not taken according to this formula. One was Junagarh, which had a majority of Hindu population but ruled by a Muslim ruler Nawab Mohabat Khan. The Nawab, acceded the state to Pakistan but the Indian government did not accept it for the reason that the state had a majority of Hindu population and it was bounded on all sides by Indian territory. It was also against the tenet of two-nation theory, which was agitated by the Muslims of India in demanding a separate homeland for themselves. Another princely-state which was disputed at the time of partition was Kashmir, which had a majority of Muslim population but a Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh. When the new states emerged on 14/15 August 1947, the Maharaji wanted to join India but was hesitant because he thought that his Muslim subject would not accept it. Meanwhile, rumors spread in Pakistan that Hari Singh was trying to accede Kashmir to India. The Pakistani authorities’ got alarmed by this threat and dispatched a team of Pakistani forces into Kashmir. Kashmir's security forces were too weak and ill-equipped to fight against Pakistan. At this juncture the Maharaja asked for India's help but as Kashmir did not come under India’s jurisdiction the Constitution of India barred the Indian Armed Forces' to intervene into Kashmir. The Maharaja was too desperate to get India's help and get Kashmir back in his own control, so he signed the Instrument of Accession with India on 25 October 1947. The fighting continued at a low tier until Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, took the issue to UN Security Council, where a resolution was passed on 21 April 1948 after setting up the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNCIP). The resolution imposed an immediate cease-fire and called on Pakistan to withdraw all military from Kashmir. The resolution restrained Pakistan from interfering into Jammu and Kashmir politics and allowed India to retain a minimum military presence there. The final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir was to be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. The ceasefire was enacted on 31 December 1948. The plebiscite was never held and both India and Pakistan had been accusing one another for creating hurdles in the way of a peaceful solution to the dispute.
The second Indo-Pakistan war over Kashmir was fought in 1965, when over 30000 soldiers of Pakistan army crossed over the line of control in the garb of locals to incite insurgent activities in Indian occupied Kashmir. They met with success in the beginning but when Indian troops also launched the offensive with the help of its Air Force, Pakistani troops were forced to retreat back to normal borders. The war ended after signing an agreement by both India and Pakistan to retreat to pre-August position. The agreement was reached through the good offices of United Stated and Soviet Union and signed at Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, the then Soviet territory, in the presence of Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin.
The 1971 war between India and Pakistan was sparked by the Bangladesh liberation war. It has been alleged that Pakistani troops present in East Pakistan in a bid to suppress the insurgency, particularly targeted the Hindu population, which led to approximately 10 million people fleeing to the neighboring Indian states. The influx placed an intolerable strain on Indian economy, leading to Indian troops entering East Pakistan. In retaliation Pakistani troops initiated an attack from West Pakistan. On 16 December 1971, Pakistani forces fighting in East Pakistan were forced to surrender to Indian Military Command. The Instrument of Surrender of Pakistani forces stationed in East Pakistan was signed by Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, Commander of Eastern Command of the Indian Army and Lieutenant General A. A. K. Niazi, Commander of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. Approximately 90000 Pakistanis, including military and civilians present in East Pakistan were taken prisoner of war. East Pakistan was declared Bangladesh, General Yahya Khan Chief Martial Law Administrator of Pakistan stepped down after handing over the government to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto managed the release of prisoners of war after signing Shimla Pact with Indian Prime Minister Indra Gandhi in Simla, India on 2 July 1972.
Next was the Kargil war, which took place between May and July 1999. The cause of the war was said to be the crossing over into Indian administered territory of Kashmir by Pakistani troops in the garb of Kashmiri militants. Pakistan laid the sole responsibility of war onto Kashmiri insurgents but evidence coming from the left behind Pakistani casualties and the statements of Pakistani authorities showed involvement of Pakistani forces. At the start of the war Pakistani troops captured a number of abandoned Indian positions and inflicted heavy damages to the Indian forces but when they retaliated with the support of Air Force, they recaptured most of their positions. Later Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had to request the US for a cease fire and withdrawal of their forces to pre-escalation positions.
Apart from these full fledge armed conflicts and their variant causes; India accuses Pakistan of 2001 Indian Parliament attack, 2008 Mumbai attack, Sir Creek dispute in Rann of Kutch marshland and Line of Control (LOC) dispute on the Siachen Glacier in the north. Though confidence building measures were occasionally taken by different governments on both sides of the border to ease the tension but the gage of the Indo-Pak relations had always been a very sensitive domain of the Military Generals in Pakistan. They are the sole guardians of the national borders as well as its integrity and ideological ingenuity. Sometime they exercise this assumed responsibility to take the reins of governing the country into their own hands. But whoever is in the saddle, the India bashing is adopted as a national strategy on the whims of the generals. A few generals after years of retirement from active service, military or others, have admitted of being the initiators of all the military conflicts with India.
Relationship with Afghanistan, our neighbor on the north-west, with whom we share approximately 2640 kms long common border known as Durand Line, was never favorable. Despite close ties between the two based on historical, religious, cultural, linguistic, ethnic, trade and economic linkages the trust factor was always missing. Both states are Islamic Republics and part of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. But assertions made during the cold war era insisted Pakistani security apparatus to declare Afghanistan its ‘Strategic Depth’ to block the expansion of former Soviet Union towards the warm waters of the south. The notion was further elaborated when Soviet troops entered Afghanistan in December 1979. The US waged a proxy war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union using Pakistani territory. As a result of the war nearly 3 million Afghan Refugees took refuge in Pakistan thus putting extra burden on the Pakistani economy. Contingents from these refugees were given military training and pushed back into Afghanistan to fight the Soviet troops. Millions of tons of arms ammunition and latest weaponry were pumped into Afghanistan, which literally tore apart the length and breadth of the country. Ultimately, the Soviet Troops withdrew in February 1989 and cease fire truce was signed. During the same period, the breakup of the Soviet Union brought an end to the cold war, thus affecting the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan. The abrupt end to the war and absence of proper governing system in Afghanistan created a vacuum, leading to civil war and ultimately Taliban grabbing power in Kabul. The new paradigms of power in the war trodden country created safe adobes for criminal and terror groups from around the world. One of these groups, the AlQaida was held responsible for the 9/11 attack on the US. The US waged another series of warfare to eliminate the AlQaida and Pakistan once again became partner of the US in this new crusade targeting Afghanistan. Today Afghani people accuse Pakistan for ravaging their country.
Pakistan’s relations with Iran registered a change in 1979 after the Islamic revolution and the end of Pahlavi Dynasty. It was also the year of Soviet intervention into Afghanistan. The shift in the foreign policies of regional countries created new friends and foes. The end of US influence in Iran and the advance of Soviet Union into Afghanistan induced US to come closer to Pakistan. It was not taken as a good omen by Iran, hence the clash of interest between the two Islamic Republics started. The sectarian polarity came into play when General Ziaul Haq declared Islamic injunctions and Shariah based on Hanfi school of thought to be implemented in Pakistan and Imam Khamini imposed strict Islamic law based on Jaffria school of thought in Iran. Consequently Iran started supporting Sunni interests and criticizing the growing US and Arab influence in Pakistan. Iran also accused Pakistani government of giving refuge to Iranian fugitives. After the events of 9/11 the ingress of Sunni extremists in Iran and the alleged genocide of Shia Muslims in Pakistan through terrorist activities against them and their holy places incited the Shia regime of Iran to lodge strong protest with Pakistani authorities.
China, our fourth neighbor in the north with which we share a small common border of 520 kms, had always been a reliable friend through all thick and thin of history. The small strip, which connects the two countries provide the ancient silk route through legendry Khunjrab Pass, used since pre-historic time for trade between the north and the south opening a window for China’s silk to the rest of the world. Very recently that lifelong friendship between the two countries got a jolt when China lodged an official protest with Government of Pakistan that Islamic extremism was being exported to neighboring Chinese province of Xinjiang by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Initial probe into the two different bomb blasts in Kashgar had shown that the heads of the group involved in the bombing had learned skills of making explosives and firearms in overseas camps of the East Turkistani Islamic Movement (ETIM) in Pakistan before entering Xinjiang to organize terrorist activities. The charges were later withdrawn after Pakistani government provided all cooperation to China against ETIM and Top leadership from Pakistan visited China to redress their concerns. However, the fact remains that the Pakistan-based ETIM has claimed involvement in a series of militant attacks in Xinjiang, including the one in Kashgar.
Every time when there was an armed encounter, a military standoff, counter strategy to a threat perception or simply an unintended violation on border, the posture adopted by the Pakistani side was to some extent proactive. Out of 65 years of independence, the country was ruled by military for almost 33 years and territorial security was adopted as a strategy to deal with the regional issues. So the Armed Forces became the face of Pakistan known to the outside world. Up-gradation of our Armed Forces and annual defense spending were taken as war hysteria. Better equipping our military was considered as intimidation to war. Our nuclear program was declared as a threat to regional peace. Islam was taken as a violent policy for expansion and we were accused of exporting violence to neighboring countries and regions. With India we had been in a constant state of war; in Afghanistan we interfered twice and bear the wrong of destroying that country; Iran accuse us of giving refuge to her fugitives and now China blame us of exporting Islamic radicalism. It is time that we review our foreign policy contours and make it more acceptable to our neighbors without compromising our security paradigms. It is said that our foreign policy is controlled and managed by our armed forces and national security is always our main concern. The generals are trained to fight and go to war so in all our foreign policy indictments war is always a not too distinct option. This option table needs to be changed. As the French statesman Georges Benjamin Clemenceau puts it “war is too important to be left to generals”; so should be the case with foreign policy; instead of generals it should be left to diplomats, who are trained to negotiate and find solution to issues without waging wars. The problems of humanity have taken huge dimensions and we need collective efforts to solve them without going to war.