Pakistan’s internal and external security challenges
There are two dimensions of Pakistan’s national security: internal and external. Pakistan has been successful in overcoming the internal challenge of terrorism. Since June 2014, the army and the paramilitary forces, supported by the police, launched a massive security operation in the tribal areas. They were able to clear North Waziristan of terrorist groups by 1917. In the next one-year, other tribal areas were cleared. Earlier major successful security operations were: Swat, 2009, South Waziristan, 2009-2010.
It can be safely argued now that Pakistan has controlled 85 to 90 percent of internal terrorism. Some of these terrorist groups have moved to Afghanistan and, from there, they come into Pakistani areas of Balochistan and KP and resort to terrorist activities. There are some home-based isolated groups as well. Therefore, sometime there are terrorist incidents. The overall internal security has improved in Pakistan. The terrorism issues should not be confused with petty crimes or street crimes that take place in urban areas. They do not fall in the category of terrorism and organized violence. Currently, Pakistan’s security forces are constructing a strong fence on most of Pakistan-Afghan border to control unauthorized border crossings by smugglers and terrorists. A similar fence is expected to be built on the Pakistan-Iran border. All this will restrict smuggling and unauthorized movement of people across these borders.
Despite the reduction in terrorist activities in Pakistan and improvement of internal security, Pakistan faces serious issues in its external security. This brings in Pakistan’s troubled relations with India and the fall out of the internal strife in Afghanistan on Pakistan.
India’s hostility towards Pakistan has increased as India’s government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi began to convert India into a hardline Hindu state that sought salvation in religious orthodoxy and religious revivalism. In addition to the negative impact of this policy on India’s politics and society, this has strengthened anti-Pakistan sentiment at the official level in India and its hardline Hindu organizations, called “Sang Pariwar” led by the RSS, have adopted a tough attitude towards Pakistan.
Modi’s government suspended the dialogue with Pakistan in August 2014, and since then, there has not been any dialogue between the two countries on their contentious issues. Given the close linkage between the Modi government and India’s hardline rightwing Hindu groups, the Indian government cannot hold a dialogue with Pakistan because it will hurt Modi’s internal political agenda.
For some time, India’s Prime Minister and the Chief of Defence Staff and the new Army Chief have been issuing hawkish statements against Pakistan. Three weeks ago, India’s Prime Minister said in a statement that Indian military could defeat Pakistan in a war of seven to ten days. You also get hawkish statements against India from Pakistan.
However, the basic difference in the situation in two countries is that, in Pakistan hawkish statements are given by the people who do not make the final decision on war and the use of nuclear weapons. In the case of India, the people who make the highest-level security decisions, including the start of war and use of nuclear weapons, like Prime Minister, Chief of Defence State and the Army Chief, are making highly provocative statements. This includes the threats of war or military action in Pakistani-administered Kashmir to take it over and bring it under Indian control. What worries most is the possibility of Indian staging a bombing incident in Indian-administered Kashmir and blaming it on Pakistan’s militant group and Pakistan’s intelligence agency. India can use such a self-made incident to launch air strikes in Pakistan with the claim that it was targeting terrorist camp.
The Pulwama-Balakot incident in February 2019 was one example of such an action. However, Pakistan demonstrated then that it had the capacity to respond to such military activity. Pakistan responded the next day by targeting areas on the Indian side of Kashmir and downed two Indian aircraft that entered Pakistan’s airspace and captured one Indian pilot. Indian claim was false that its aircraft had killed around 300 terrorists in its Balakot strike.
It is clear from the February 2019 incident that any Indian ground or air operation across the Line of Control in Kashmir will be responded by Pakistan militarily and Pakistan has the capability and determination to do that.
India’s security authorities also suffer from a misperception that they can undertake some military action against Pakistan short of a full convention war. They talk of a limited war or surgical strike by ground and air forces. India’s military action on the Line of Control from time to time is a part of strategy to keep Pakistan under military pressure without engaging in a full convention war. This is a dangerous thinking on the part of India.
Another Indian dangerous thinking relates to the thinking of India’s official and non-official circles to destabilize Pakistan by providing political and material support to dissident and separatist groups. India’s intelligence agency also provides financial support to the factions of Tehrik-i-Taliban-i-Pakistan to encourage them to build security pressure on Pakistan. Various retired military people and political analysts often suggest on Indian TV channels the ways and means to destabilize Pakistan.
India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons with modern missile delivery system. In such a situation, all kind of military adventurism, including what India describes as a limited war or surgical strike, is a dangerous thinking. Pakistan has made it clear that it can go to any extent to protect its independence, territorial integrity and sovereign control of its territories. Pakistan talks of deterrence policy that includes all strategies of conventional and nonconventional security system, described as the Full Spectrum Deterrence. Any conventional attack or surgical strike on Pakistan mainland or on Azad Kashmir will be responded in the same manner. If this escalates to nuclear level, India should recognize that Pakistan has a credible nuclear weapons capability based on land, air and sea as well as possesses the theatre of war nuclear weapons.
The major global powers use their diplomatic influence to stop India and Pakistan moving in the direction of a conventional war and advice both for adopting a policy of restraint and hold a dialogue. However, these powers do not adopt any concrete measure to pressure India to revive the dialogue with India that it suspended in August 2014. The major powers and other friendly countries should actively intervene in the situation in South Asia and pressure India to tone down its anti-Pakistan policies and start a dialogue.
Though Pakistan demands that the political future of Kashmir be decided in accordance with the UN Resolutions of 1948-49, it is in favour of a dialogue on all contention issues that include Kashmir and terrorism. It does not view war as an attractively option. However, as India had suspended the dialogue, it needs to normalize the situation in Kashmir as a proof of its desire to restart the dialogue. However, given Indian government’s policy of boosting religious hardline and the growing power of the extreme Hindu groups, one wonders if the Indian government will agree to a dialogue. The tension and conflict between India and Pakistan are expected to persist.